Olu Jacobs, the Igwe of Nollywood: Onoshe Nwabuikwu Reviews the AMVCAs and Nollywood at 20

by Onoshe Nwabuikwu

Nollywood at 20 Presidential dinner
Nollywood at 20 Presidential dinner

 I have been a strong critic of Nollywood myself even though I do focus on individual projects and not a rabid critic of the industry as a whole. I don’t get how anyone can be proudly Nigerian and not take some pride in Nollywood’s achievements.

Nollywood @ 20

Nollywood had been on my mind but not because of its 20th anniversary. Quite a few things have been happening (and sometimes not happening) in the industry. Sometimes things appeared too quiet and I would try to figure out which direction the industry is headed. Once in a while, a few movie premieres come up to liven things up and one is encouraged that things are definitely getting better. Then of course came the much talked about Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards, AMVCA that held last weekend in Lagos.

And so Nollywood is 20! Congratulations are in order, not so? The biggest challenge in talking about Nollywood at 20 is the ability to maintain the right balance careful not to lean too much towards any particular extreme. On one hand, there are people who have many issues with Nollywood beginning from the name. They do not think Nollywood sounds African and don’t like the fact that we are copying Hollywood and Bollywood. There have also been arguments as to the fact that what Nollywood produces are not films but videos. But video, film or movies, Nollywood is telling stories with moving pictures. Again there were people who obsessed over the Idumota and Alaba marketers link. This particular issue was settled for me in a piece contributed to this page by Charles Igwe. He educated readers on how Hollywood; the famous Hollywood was started by cigarette sellers through silent movies just to sell their products.

Now the way some people, even Americans talk, you’d think Hollywood has always been the way it is now. Even some Nollywood actors/actresses don’t get it. No interview is complete without mention of their dreams of going to Hollywood. It hasn’t yet dawned on them that their unique selling point is tied to Nollywood. That’s the platform on which they should launch out to the rest of the world. Nollywood shouldn’t be a ‘make do’ until something better comes along. If you’re considered the best actress or actor in a country of over 120 million people, surely that’s a powerful advantage to build on?

In any case, why do we single out Nollywood to compare with its American equivalent? If we agree we are on an equal footing with the US, why not extend the same considerations to our other professionals-doctors, journalists, etc? If then we accept there might be extenuating circumstances that make it unrealistic to compare a first world country like the US with a badly led third world country like ours, why then do some people preface every argument with ‘In America…’ Not that it’s bad to aspire to better things but we do need to have the right perspective.

I have been a strong critic of Nollywood myself even though I do focus on individual projects and not a rabid critic of the industry as a whole. I don’t get how anyone can be proudly Nigerian and not take some pride in Nollywood’s achievements. Although I did write the rather misleading ‘From Nollywood to Nothingwood’ piece some years ago. It was meant as a wakeup call to what could happen if we didn’t make certain changes. My greatest fear was that there could come a time other African countries, having learnt and taken the good points from us would overtake Nigeria and Nollywood would become history just like the Malaysia/ palm nuts scenario. They took palm nuts from Nigeria and soon overtook us as the world’s No 1 oil producer.

Nonetheless, just as there are some who are implacable critics of Nollywood, there are also those who are too high in the clouds to see that anything might be wrong with Nollywood. These people can’t get over their ‘struggle’ and subsequent achievement to appreciate that even if you’ve caused water to come out of a stone, there comes a time for improvement. They view every criticism and suggestion with suspicion.

Still, there must be a middle ground. Just like talking about our dear country Nigeria. Books can be written about the problems but are we all going to renounce our citizenship? Or look for ways to make things better? And surely we can discuss and celebrate what’s good about Nollywood on one hand; yet point out a better way going forward?

Speaking of what’s good, Nollywood is a strong leader in the informal sector in terms of providing jobs to thousands of people especially in the boom days when countless films were churned out weekly as if they were going out of fashion. Between 2008 and 2010, over 2, 000 films were produced per annum. Depending on which figures you access, Nollywood is worth at least half a billion dollars. The 2012 UNDP/UNCTAD Report put the 2008 value of Nollywood at “N522 billion (USD2.75bn).”

One thing that’s not talked about enough is the dignity that Nollywood brought to veterans like Sam Loco Efe, Justus Esiri, Pete Edochie, Enebeli Elebuwa, Olu Jacobs, etc. No one was in any doubt about their talent as they had already proven this. But before 1992, not a few of our talented trained actors had become ‘abe igi’ adherents. Abe Igi (Yoruba for ‘under the tree) was a meeting point at the National Theatre Iganmu where actors met to drink, basically to shoot the breeze, etc. Things were far from rosy as some had even been given up for dead having drifted into obscurity. Then the boom happened.

And like or not Nollywood has given Nigerians a new kind of identity. Yes, there are some issues…. But it has become the most effective tool for Nigeria’s cultural dominance around the continent. A few times outside Nigeria, I have had to bask in a fan’s glowing praise of Nollywood; forgetting any criticisms I may have had. The story was told by Nigeria’s former representative to South Africa how Nollywood gave back Black South Africans pride.

All I’m saying is that Nollywood has come a long way @ 20. And at this particular moment, congratulations are in order.

…So our film industry is over 20 years?

Like the case of our new professional footballers and the veterans, it can be very painful especially to the veterans that they do not get as much recognition as the new players. Especially when it can be argued that some of the new stars are not as good as those who came before them.

This seems like the story of what’s called Nollywood and the film industry in the past. For some reason, there are people who are bent on correcting history. But is Nollywood not really 20? Unfortunately in Nigeria, everyone chooses the history that favours them. When you mention an unfavourable historical fact, these same people would likely tell you too much time has passed. So what’s the solution? Is it to stop celebrating Nollywood because films were being made in Nigeria before 1992? Is it by continuously putting Nollywood down? By the way, the popularity of Nollywood is one of the reasons some of these people are even in the news now as that’s the reason they want people to associate them with film making. Perhaps, this is the time for those concerned to create an appropriate avenue
to celebrate Nigeria’s film industry before Nollywood.

Fact is, I think we can celebrate what’s good in Nollywood and still pay tribute to those who came before.


Olu Jacobs: The Igwe of Nollywood

At last weekend’s Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards, AMVCA, acclaimed Nollywood actor Olu Jacobs was honoured with its first and well deserved ‘Industry Merit Award’. I was reminded of an article I did for this column in 2009 with the above title.

‘When you think of an Igwe in a typical Nollywood movie, what three names come to mind? If you’re like me, your list will be very short. Short or long, I can bet that Olu Jacobs, one of Nollywood’s remaining authentic international stars, would be top on your list. How did he emerge as the actor who arguably has played Igwe more times than anyone in Nollywood? I’m sure there’s an interesting story there somewhere.

Why is Olu Jacobs seemingly at peace with Nollywood? Here’s a man who began acting abroad when it was a big deal, before many of today’s stars were born. He appeared in the famous 1979 film Ashanti as Commissioner Batak alongside Michael Caine.

It’s instructive that the man at the centre of it all doesn’t while away his time regaling anyone who cares to listen about ‘before before’. He has chosen instead to face his job and do it to the best of his ability. Is it any wonder that he’s become the Igwe of choice, a bonafide king? He’s played all the roles he can possible play as a king. He’s played the rich king, with a fleet of luxury cars. He’s played the traditional Igwe. He’s played the cuckolded Igwe. He’s played the devilish Igwe. He has even on occasion played the lover boy Igwe. And so on and so on.

It’s therefore my pleasure to present the Igweeeee’.

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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