September 30, 2016 – Bob Manuel Udokwu Quits Nollywood For Politics, Grants First 2016 Interview
Excerpts from Nollywood actor cum Anambra Governor Senior Special Assistant on Entertainment, Bob Manuel Udowku.
What Does Your New Job Involves
It involves evolving strategies for engaging a lot of youths, discovering talents and making the state an entertainment hub through the relevance of the entertainment industry in the contemporary Nigeria and how it will impact positively on the society.
What idea have you given to the governor on entertainment that can generate revenue to Anambra State government?
There is something that happens in the creative industry. You may have plans to do something innovative. Once you discuss it openly, people will steal the idea. What I would like to say is that there are things we are already doing, there are things we are putting in place and these things will generate employment; they will impact positively on the society, but, then we don’t want to discuss them openly to avoid plagiarism of one’s ideas.
It has happened before and I have learnt from that experience. So we don’t want to start mentioning our ideas one by one here. Don’t forget that with the situation in the country at the moment, various state governments are becoming more creative. We don’t want somebody else to run away with our idea before we start to implement it. I can assure you that there is a lot. The Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, is very much interested in developing the entertainment, culture and tourism sectors of the economy of the state. That’s why he created the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Culture and Tourism.
Now that there is recession, how do you think the entertainment industry can boost Nigeria’s economy?
The policy of the current administration is not encouraging the entertainment industry, because the government has not even adopted any policy that will seem to encourage the entertainment. The last administration was the first and only one so far to see the viability of the entertainment industry. Former President Jonathan actually did something by encouraging the industry through provision of different sources of funding.
People seem to forget so easily that at some time during the last administration, Nigeria overtook South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to two components: oil and gas, which is naturally given to us by God, and Nollywood, which we created virtually out of nothing. I am glad and proud that I am part of the foundation of Nollywood, so if you say given the situation of the country, what is Nollywood doing to sustain itself, I will say Nollywood has always from the beginning sustained itself till the last administration intervened.
The industry is in doldrum and has gone back to self-help. There is no more government assistance at the moment, rather government agencies have been creating road blocks and unhelpful policies for Nollywood, but we have persisted. Jonathan administration supported the entertainment industry and the result came out positively, so much so that it helped Nigerian GDP to overtake that of South Africa.
What is the implication of what I am saying now? What I am saying is this: let the federal government look into the entertainment sector, and call few select professionals in the industry. They don’t need to make noise or propaganda about it, but quietly convoke a meeting of core professionals in the entertainment industry for us to meet with the authorities and devise a way forward, so that Nigeria will gain. But the government is ignoring a very viable and lucrative industry which is the highest employer of labour outside the civil service.
There has been a deafening silence about the entertainment sector. Tourist sites abound here but the leadership of this country has made them unattractive to operate, so Nigerians go and buy what they have already in the house from outside. Why don’t we develop the ones we have here? That is what Nollywood has done here, to show Nigerians that we have home grown talents that are world class and recognizable.
So the government should evolve a strategy where entertainment, culture and tourism sectors of the economy will be given priority in its economic recovery programme. As rich as America is, it does not joke with its entertainment industry. They are exporting entertainment across to the globe. If America as the first world country can see the viability of that industry and utilise it to the full, why do we always pretend as if it does not exist? The creative community here is very resilient, very hard working. The industry has nothing to fall back on; we don’t have the technology, we don’t have the funding yet, Nollywood remains number three globally in terms of output.
You have acted in more than 100 films and they were shot on locations outside Anambra State, yet there is no film village in Anambra State, why can’t the government build a film location to attract investors?
I think there is a misunderstanding of the usage of that word film village. I think we use it in a very wrong way. People look at film village as a place where you go to, a large expanse of land to put a sign board to say this is a film village. Did anybody see any film village before Nollywood started? We have shot movies that depicted cities, 21st century cities in Nigeria.
We have also shot movies that depicted Nigeria in the 1800s in this same country, yet you cannot go to a place and say this is a film village. Hollywood, for instance, is not a film village in America, but a section of Los Angeles where a lot of film corporations have their offices. People outside the industry talk about film village so much; the whole of Nigeria is a film village. I was the longest anchor of the Gulder Ultimate Search for more than five years.
It exposed me to most spectacular topographies that this country can boast of. There were locations that we came to and if anyone had told me that they exist in Nigeria, I will not believe. The answer is, Nigeria is one huge film village, and if you are talking about Anambra State creating a film village, Anambra State is already a film state.
As we speak, so many films are being shot in Anambra State like Ogbunike Cave, Owere Ezukala Cave and Water fall etc. There are spectacular sites in Anambra that are unbelievable. To answer you, Anambra State is seriously doing a lot through the newly created Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Culture and Tourism. If I begin to tell you what Anambra State is doing about encouraging movie making in the state, you will marvel. Anambra state is indeed, “the life of the nation” in every ramification.
Why has Anambra State government not made people like Chika Ukpala, Pete Edochie and host of others as brand Ambassadors?
The government does not need to invite them and pronounce them brand Ambassadors; by the nature of what we do we are brand ambassadors of Nigeria already. I am glad you mentioned Pete Edochie and Chika Okpala. Nigeria has already recognised them with national honours, and Anambra State holds them in very high esteem.
Two weeks ago, I was with two of them in a function in a Owerri where another colleague in the industry opened a radio station. They are people we respect and Anambra State has virtually more entertainment people than any other state in this country. When government is having function, they are invited, but if you say for them to be singled out for appointment that is political. That decision resides with whoever is the Chief Executive. Their place in Anambra society and in the eyes of government is much higher than political appointment.
You made a provocative statement when you said only bloodshed will improve the power sector. Meanwhile, we have not forgotten the scar of the civil war and you are drumming for another?
I was quoted out of context in the social media. The question was, do I feel that steady power supply will be back in this country? I said no, if that will be achieved there will be bloodshed. The issue of power problem in Nigeria did not start overnight. It was a gradual thing. I remember 20 years ago, those who owned generators were out of the ordinary.
Today if you don’t own a generator, that is out of the ordinary. That is because successive governments failed in maintaining whatever was left for us in the power sector due to corruption. Some people became richer than the state and there was a serious decline. Today some people import very big generators, what they call “silent generators “.
I don’t want to call any brand name. Then the small ones that are called “I better pass my neighbor”, today is no longer I pass my neighbour but “I be like my neighbor” because everybody has it. Today, people import container loads of generators every day. The problem we have in this country is that we pretend as if certain things do not exist until things get bad and the result becomes very catastrophic. People are spending money importing these generators and the big generators are imported by very big influential people in this country.
From my research, some of them own shares in the companies that manufacture these generators abroad. How do you think the people that have been importing these generators will fold their hands and allow government to make power available 24 hours in this country? They will lose money and their businesses may collapse because they have been tied up with foreign exchange.
Consequently, they will sabotage government’s effort, and for government to fight back that sabotage, people will die. That was what I meant, that we will have bloodshed before we can have steady power supply in this country. It is not about warfare. It is a war you fight with the people you don’t know.
You were appointed in the last administration under Mr. Peter Obi and now with present government; do you have any political ambition?
Sometime in 2013, like you rightly said that I was in the twilight days of former governor Peter Obi’s administration. In 2014, His Excellency Chief Willie Obiano, the current governor of Anambra State, reappointed me, but I had to resign at some point to vie for a ticket to represent my constituency in the State House of Assembly. I didn’t get the nomination but the governor graciously reappointed me.
The entertainment industry is all comers affair, a stepping stone to make quick money, do you agree?
For those who aspire to be in the entertainment industry, first of all I advocate education. In Nollywood , most scripts are written in English which is our lingua franca. Good education in a relevant field is pertinent. Where somebody who studied medicine or electrical engineering suddenly wants to be an actor is not acceptable. You are depriving those who studied Theatre Arts, literature, English alike.
But we have many who studied other fields and still find themselves in the entertainment industry.
I know but it’s wrong. It is an aberration. Of course for professionalism the industry is trying to put some measures in place. The creative industry is not an industry where there are strict rules. I have seen people who are science inclined and they are talented, but it is always good to go where you can develop that talent in you. Acting is not all about reading script and dishing out the lines. It goes beyond that and the viewing public knows. We need guide the younger people who are coming into the industry.
It is not bed of roses. There are lots of challenges. We also need to evolve a system of training and retraining our talents. A lot of higher institutions offer Certificate and Diploma courses in Theatre Arts. It is a practical based to lay good foundation to grow. If you have a degree in another discipline you should take one year off to go to some of these institutions and enroll for professional grooming. That would also ultimately help you to learn the discipline that comes with the profession.
[By Flora Onwudiwe, Daily Telegraph]