|Prof. Bob Ejike|
By Omiko Awa
FEATURED in almost all the genres of the art, Prof. Bob Ejike, a multi-talented artiste that made his début in acting in the rested TV drama, Basi and Company and has over 40 home movies aside six albums to his credit, is currently working on a new project — The Icon, a society and life magazine. The prolific writer who at 13 shared column with veteran Ben Okri, a Commonwealth Literature prize-winner, in the defunct Drum Magazine, presently frequents Uganda promoting Nigerian and African movies. He speaks on his latest enterprise.
PRIOR to 1982 when his presence in the entertaining industry was established with the making of the award-winning film Echo of Wrath, the movie that contributed to the establishment of Nollywood, Prof. Bob Ejike had been featuring in a TV drama, Basi and company. And after the debut, he moved into teaching, as a way to augment his earnings from the theatre. He says, “ I was in Nollywood for many years. I made the first Nollywood film Echo of Wrath in 1982. The film started the evolution called Nollywood in the Nigerian film industry.”
Because of poor pecuniary rewards in the movie industry then, Ejike combined acting with teaching.
“I am a restless soul. I like moving and discovering new things and places. I spent 22 years teaching in a University in Italy and now, I live in Kampala, Uganda, where I run a number of recording studios and try to help indigent artistes in the country.”
But what transpired within the period you left the stage. “Nothing really, for even while I was acting, I was teaching; I have always been a teacher. When we started Nollywood, the industry was not financially rewarding or strong enough to sustained anybody, as it is today with artistes making millions of Naira in it.”
“Though, I have found new challenges in Uganda, mentoring upcoming artistes, promoting Nigerian culture and serving as a bridge between Nigerian and East African countries, he continues, ‘I can still play active roles in Nollywood, if I’m called upon to do so. However, I have contributed my quota in the industry by doing about 40 films and worked in the various aspect of the industry. I ‘m one of the very few people that engineered the revolution and have also gone the extra lenght to advertise it abroad. Though, not much of that is talked about, because you don’t see the person from the country; I must say, for our films to go international a lot of public relations were done to make the Europeans to watch them. It was not an accident, efforts were put into the conviction.”
But why go to Uganda when you can be at home to help Nigerian artistes? “We are the richest country in Africa. We have the capabilities to do things by ourselves, but the revise is the case in Uganda. I have more work to do there than in Nigeria, where you make a five-minute recording for N1.5 million,” he says amidst laughs.
Knowing the complex nature of film industries across the globe, Ejike who has dealt so well with the industry will not waste his time to compare one country’s film industry to the other, not even when a particular country’s film industry is still at its infancy.
“Firstly, I will never compare any nation’s film industry with another because each nation has its distinct history, cultural backgrounds, traditions and others. I wonder why people do it; some even compare Nigeria with America and Nollywood to Hollywood without thinking of the billions of Dollars pumped in Hollywood every year. They just run down Nollywood as not good enough without knowing the industry is striving on self-effort — no sponsorship. Though, the industry may have its bad sides, for we can’t throw away the bath water with the baby.”
HOW is the country’s entertainment scene like?
“Uganda has a booming music industry, which is supported by the people’s tradition of visiting places and spending fun time outside their homes. Besides, the security situation encourages people to move at night. Artistes work every night including Sunday; in fact, there is an incredible merriment in the country. There is an active nightlife with many clubs in operation. Clubs have a performer and there are usually live bands every where.”
“At weekends, there are always big shows with popular artistes coming together to performer. It’s difficult to find a show of one or two artistes, as the system allows 20 or more of them to be on stage in a show. The people have a tradition that sustains large concerts,” he enthuses.
However, in the midst of this pleasant situation, Ejike notes, “their recording studios are not developed because of the activities of pirates. They don’t even know it’s a crime! Pirates put out adverts and dub any music openly. If you bring your music to a shop, they put it in the computer and dub it for sale. Artistes don’t target record sales as a way to stardom because of pirates, but depend on stage performance, which give them more money.”
Ejike whose latest work Bright Eyes is enjoying massive airplay in the Nigerian airwaves states, “artistes even give their works to pirates as a way of advertising them.”
But pirates go for popular music. “Yes, in Nigeria; but in Uganda, they popularise artistes’ work. In fact, artistes depend on concerts to make money; that’s how the industry works there. However, it’s working for them because there are many artistes and events; it’s not like Nigeria where things don’t work … our country is difficult.”
Ejike whose stay in Uganda has facilitated some popular Nigerian artistes to perform in the country says, “I’m culturally the bridge between East and West Africa. I’m Emeka Ike, Ramasey Nouah, Pete Edochie and others. I’m Nollywood; they call me Nigerian film. They refer to me as, ‘Chi Nigeria’, which means Nigerian film. My presence in the country has made artistes such as 2Face Idibia, PSquare, Adim Williams, Genevieve Nnaji and others to visit Uganda. I’m, in fact, the most popular public relation officer of Nigeria; I even do more PR jobs than the embassies.”
DO you also promote movies?
“Yes, of course. I’m involved in a project called the Ugawood, which is aimed at extending the Nigerian successes of Nollywood to Uganda aside incorporating local filmmakers. With the project, I do not only promote Nigerian films, but African films across the globe.”
The Bright Eyes crooner, aside serving as a bridge between Nigeria and East Africa countries, is planning of venturing into another area of entertainment, publishing Icon magazine, a society and celebrity magazine.
“We intend to start publishing the Icon, a magazine that publicises the achievements of Nigerians. We have spent so much time, criticising ourselves, but now, we want to peep into those things that make the nation thick and the people behind them.”
“Nigerian is one of the greatest nations in the world and we want to highlight those things that make us great and not the death traps on our roads, erratic power supply, unemployed youths or untapped resources; we don’t want to publish those things you would remember and you would want to cry, but to look at the positive side of the country and its people. We shall be focusing on achievements and people behind them and not necessarily famous people. It’s going to be a general read magazine”
Would this not be a digression of what you are noted for? No, I have been a writer right from my childhood days. I started my career as a poet and then child writer. I shared a column with Ben Okri in the Drum Magazine, now rested, as far back as when I was 13 years. And ever since I have written for several newspapers, including The Guardian and a number of international tabloid and magazines. I publish books; besides, I studied Literature and Communication, so, I’m still within my field. The digression, in the real sense of it, is music and not writing or journalism; though people know me more with acting and music than with other genres of the art.”
OUTSIDE promoting local artistes, Ejike who still makes out time to perform on stage in Uganda says, “I’m one of the most famous artistes in the Uganda and East Africa; so, I’m always on stage. There are stages for artistes to work over there, but I don’t know where our artistes work in Nigeria. I have been going around in the country to find a stage, but I haven’t seen any; I wonder where Nigerian artistes work, may be in Alaba market!”
Your expectations of the magazine. “I want to keep it standing, give information and entertain.”