The other name for Nigeria is Nollywood.
Scoff at it, laugh off the phenomenon, but there’s no denying Nollywood as the alter ego of Nigeria in the eyes of an astounded world.
The Nigerian national football team, the Super Eagles, was in 2005 having a pulsating match with the Zimbabwean national team in Harare, and the Zimbabwean football fans held aloft one big banner: “Nigeria – Good only for Films!”
For the Zimbabweans, the prowess of Nigeria in the football pitch was not as great as the accomplishment of the country in the film industry.
The Zimbabweans are not alone. Across Africa and the world the Nigerian home movies are all the rage. Nollywood now jostles in movie production with America’s Hollywood and India’s Bollywood.
It all started quite inauspiciously in 1992 with the making of the breakthrough Igbo language movie Living in Bondage.
Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, popularly known as Paulo, after the character he played in Living in Bondage, lost an opportunity to study law in the university through an unfortunate road accident. He had to settle for studying at the Nigerian Television (NTA) College in Jos where he came under the tutelage of the celebrated NTA Director/Producer Chris Obi-Rapu.
On completion of the course Okechukwu could not get regular employment and had to make do hawking video cassettes at National Theatre in Lagos.
Okechukwu had the story of Living in Bondage in his head – a young man gets lured into the get-rich-quick cult and sacrifices his doting wife only to suffer disastrous consequences.
The theatre artistes rehearsing at the theatre could not understand why Okey should be hawking, and one of them, Ruth Osu, gave Okechukwu a note to meet Kenneth Nnebue who was into the marketing of Yoruba movies on VHS.
On meeting Kenneth Nnebue who would eventually provide the funding for Living in Bondage, Okechukwu said he needed N150,000 to be able to make the film. Kenneth told him that the amount was enough to make three Yoruba movies.
As Okechukwu had said he was not willing to shoot on VHS, Kenneth told him he was about to make a trip to Japan to procure cameras.
Kenneth then asked Okechukwu to put the story together while he made the trip to Japan. It was then that Okechukwu made the momentous contact with his former instructor Chris Obi-Rapu to direct the landmark movie.
Since Obi-Rapu was still in the employ of the NTA he could not append his real name to the project and settled for a pseudonym, Vic Mordi, from his maternal side.
Obi-Rapu then went to work “to turn what would ordinarily pass for a concert play into a pioneering movie.”
According to Obi-Rapu, “What made the Nigeria home video industry to take off was the input from Okey Ogunjiofor and my direction. Nobody had wanted to do anything in Igbo or Yoruba among television producers around then because they felt it was degrading. There had been some shootings of Yoruba and Igbo videos. Mike Orihedimma recorded Igbo home videos in Onitsha, while NEK (Kenneth Nnebue) was recording and marketing Yoruba videos in Lagos. They were poorly produced and hardly ever directed. It is a known fact in filmmaking that it is the director that makes the film. If I had not shot Living in Bondage and Taboo there could not have been any Nollywood. This film business really took off because Living in Bondage was well shot as at that time. If I had not stood my grounds the financier could have influenced the production and direction in a negative way. I resisted him because I knew that he lacked the knowledge of filmmaking. It was a deliberate directorial effort that brought about the home video revolution. It was not accidental.”
On his part, Okechukwu informs that the making of Living in Bondage marked “the first time some people were paid in thousands of naira to act on a film. I got N500 because I had not made a film then. People like Bob-Manuel (Udokwu) and Francis Agu were paid a thousand naira each. As a producer and an actor, what I got was only N500.”
As the director, Obi-Rapu got the flat fee of N10,000.
Okechukwu’s formula for his Nollywood success runs thusly: “Unlike the Yorubas, the Eastern part of this country does not have cinema culture, and all of them are rich enough to have video machines in their homes, why don’t I take the film to their homes so that they can watch it?”
Obi-Rapu who was popularly hailed as Skippo in his NTA days took up the challenge by setting up camp in Badagry as the director.
And as if by magic, Nollywood is now here, a worldwide miracle.