Paul Obazele, National President of Association of Movie Producers (AMP), is a don in the Nigerian film industry. He is an actor, director and producer. In this chat with Correspondent, Aniefiok Macauley, he bares his mind on salient issues in Nollywood.
Why are you in Akwa Ibom State?
Currently we are working with the Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs, appointed as a consultant to the ministry for the first national youth empowerment programme through entertaintment. We have two sections, the film and the musical sections and with me on board are Zack Orji and Asu Ekiye. Asu Ekiye is looking after music and Zack and I are after the film. Basically it is as a result of what the ministry is doing and the belief to arrest the restiveness of the youths in this region, that is, the nine states of the Niger Delta. Actually, we thought that the only way we can do that is to meaningfully engage these youths. It is said that an idle mind is a devil’s workshop and we have also come to realise that one way we can help our people become self-dependent and have self-fulfillment is through entertainment, either in music or film. By the growth and breakthroughs in Nollywood, we have seen the yearnings of people who want to belong to the entertainment world, who want to become the Duncan Mighty, who want to become the Buchis, Who want to become Asu Ekiye, who want to become Zack Orjis, Paul Obazeles or become the Timayas, name them. Amazingly we keep hearing people say they have not been given the opportunity and that the enabling environment is not created. Then we said we can create this opportunity, we can create the enabling environment via training. This is because if we train them they will be prepared mentally and skill wise to come into the entertainment world. We have been able to convince the government and with the dream of what the Minister of Niger Delta, Elder Godsday Orubebe and his colleague, Sam Ode have, to really pull this through has really given birth to the new generation of entertainers. Amazingly, both of them had the same thought and they said if you do this, and pull out for the ministry people we can sponsor, it would be okay. So from each state we are picking 10 people, five for film and five for music. In film we have film production, cinematography, we have costume design, we have Acting and Script writing. In music, we have the same thing. So in each of the departments, we pick one person.
So we are going to have 90 people that would be empowered. Of these 90 people, studios have been paid for those in the musical where their music would be done and their professional materials looked after and remunerations would be given to them. The same also goes for the film people. They will partake in major film production and that is why you see us here bringing in the best in Nollywood from cinematography, costume design, film production, acting and script writing. So we are looking for people in different states that are super stars that will impact whatever thing they have into others. It is like me emptying myself into you and there is nothing that is as beautiful as giving birth. That is why you are seeing us here emptying ourselves to the new generation of people who will take over from us.
Niger Delta is one region that has been known to be volatile with militants’ activities. Do you think that this empowerment through entertainment will curb the agitation of the youths?
What is the agitation of the Niger Delta people? I had said earlier that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop; now the fact is that immediately the society sees you as a responsible man, you will live up to that name or whatever name the people believes you to be, because there is no nation or region that progresses with war. There is no nation or region that attains great heights with idle youths. Today, one of the biggest economies in the world is California, the entertainment headquarters of the world and meaningfully the government has engaged them. I can tell you authoritatively that outside the federal and states governments, Nollywood is the second largest employer of labour, please confirm that. If I am wrong tell the world that I am wrong. Why do I say so? It is stated that Nollywood is the second largest film production body in the world. Averagely from censors counting, we have more than 5000 movies in a year. Imagine a situation where in a state like Lagos, every week we trigger off a minimum of 15 movies, and each movie directly employs at least 350 people and when we employ these people we are not talking about allied industries. We are not talking about the printers, the distributors, the drivers, the welfare people, we are not talking about the people who paste posters for us and those who stamps those things for us and the moment you bring in that you will find out that it is large and the least paid in the film sector, as it were, is N7000. And now in the allied industry, we are also looking at an addition of between 200 and two 250. So a film is employing in 12-14 days grossly 550 people. And look at a situation where we have 15 sets there constantly, and look at other states like Enugu, Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Abuja, Kano, Katsina. Please find out how many people politicians in this country have been able to employ and yet their manifesto is that they will give you employment. So we have come out on our own to say we can be a support to the federal government, then the Niger Delta Ministry says , we have seen that you are meaningful, let’s join resources together and pull this thing out and we have said okay, let us actually arrest the restiveness in this place. People will get angry when there is no job and when they cannot feed their families, people will get angry when they don’t pay their rents. Nigerians are not lazy, they make a way. Take a Nigerian to a wall and he will break the wall and continue with his life and he is not a violent man but then people have been describing them as violent but I make bold to say no, Nigerians are not. Nigerians are people who love life, they are people who praise God, they are people who will give you reasons to live their lives to the fullest, they are people who want to make a meaning in the society and they are people who wants to turn things around to earn a living.
What gives you the conviction that if there is a change in cabinet that a new minister would be able to continue with the programme?
You know what? The Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs is not doing this thing around himself, it is the ministry. I thank God you used the word if. The president is going to win because he is youth-oriented. He is a man that has a large heart and listens and who believes that every youth should be given a chance. He is a man who knows that the future of this country is dependent on youths and if they are not gainfully employed, we will have the deadness of this country. I thank God for the first time in the history of this country, that a man woke up to say we will give this to entertainment and he made bold to say $200 million. He has found out that the fastest driving force of an economy is entertainment, taking leaf from other thriving nation. Do you know how much music brings into this country? Do you know how much Nollywood brings into this country?
We were one time described as a nation of 419ers, we were one time described as a disdained nation, full of drug peddlers and seen as a nation of human traffickers but all of a sudden a group came out of this country and start showing the world a different picture and perception of this country called Nigeria. This people are film makers and today the world is thinking otherwise and seen the nation from a different perspective and the man who has gone into the chain of progression is standing in to say, we are going to support you, let us change the mindset of people against this nation, let us give this nation a face and a voice. Today, people from different countries are coming in to study this country and the Nollywood at PhD research work because we have been lifted up.
Do you think this three days training is sufficient for you to get the real talent from the people that you are recruiting?
Let me tell you straight that three days is not enough but it is enough for you to know a chicken that will be a cock. So the moment you set the person on a better pedestrian, you have started quenching his taste and yearnings and our duty is to create a platform. There are people who have been seeking an academy to go to, we are the ones who will tell them which academy. So this is a tutelage stage. The superstar that you are seeing today, most of them never had basic training, they had a raw talent but they had an opportunity to read a script and they were chosen and today they are icons in this country. But now we are saying let’s give these people a chance by training them so that they could discover who they are. You had given out over 350 forms and you are taking just 10 people from the state, what are the challenges?
If I take the 10, I have taken 90 and the 90 will be treated as one, they are the pride of the nation because they are the first phase that would push on and it is going to be an annual thing. At this point in time, we are saying that state government should get involved. But we have refused to cry to the states, we needed a situation where they will see that the Federal Government is concerned and every state government should take a cue.
There is a leadership crisis in Nollywood that seems to tear the body apart with different people going different directions. What is reason for this?
There is no leadership crisis in Nollywood. We have Guilds and Associations in Nollywood running the Nollywood structures. We also have the Coalition of Nollywood Guilds and Association and the Association of Movie Producers that I head is the employer of all these people and technically the Actors Guild of Nigeria with the president, Segun Arinze. Sometimes I wonder when people say there is a leadership crisis and if there were to be a leadership crisis, I think the people involved should be able to deal with the situation. It is just like saying PDP or AC and other political parties have problems. Even in a family, husband and wive do have problems, and even siblings born of the same parents sometimes have problems but they must solve their problems. So until the president of the AGN or the board of trustees comes out to report to me that they have a crisis – and I don’t believe they have any crisis – it would be very wrong of me in my own office to assume when officially they have not reported to me.
What have you done to raise the standard of the Nigerian film from what it is today to the next level?
Well, since I took over the leadership, my prayers have always been better pictures, better audio and better stories. That is not to say that I subscribe to the fact that we shoot substandard films, we don’t. I define it that there is no bad film but my definition or argument is that if you are too intelligent for a film, then leave the film. There are some people whose IQ is not as good as yours, so it is appealing to them. But that is not to say that we take the audience for granted. Therefore if you look at the past three years of Nollywood, you would find out that we are back to cinemas. The reason is the cry from AMP and every man you have seen shows his movie in Silverbird, Genesis or in Rainbow and some smaller film outlet. It is as a result of our going back to the drawing board to better what we are doing. I know you journalists can attest to the fact that you have seen better pictures, audio and stories. What we shoot is peculiar to us. What we are telling the government is for them to create an enabling environment and give us enough support to take on the world. I will ask the private sector and the banking industry to truly invest in what we are doing. For fear of this or that, let them meet relevant bodies, the Association of Movie Producers is there, we have rules of engagements, we have rules of professional ethics, and if you find them guilty, jail them but I can tell you that the well over 15, 000 strong membership of the AMP, no man will defraud you.
How do you contend with the issue of piracy?
Let me go back to the issue of substandard film you raised. One of the reasons your fears are coming in is the issue of piracy. A man who brings out about N5 million to shoot a movie and does not get one million back, how do you think he will shoot a better movie, he cannot. The government has paid lip service time in time out. Those they put in agencies like NCC have been dormant and I make bold to say if these agencies are not involved in piracy why have they not prosecuted those pirates. If they are not scared of pirates, why have we not seen them parading them on television? You give them information and after one or two days they will release them. One day we will give you dossiers of the high and mighty of those in government who engages in piracy and who have duplicating machines in this country and you will be shocked