Friday, July 27, 2018

A Friendship Brewed By Beer

My father is a very funny man, funnier than all the comedians of the world put together. He wants me to get married to a lady from my hometown. In fact, without my knowledge he always arranges my marriage to this or that girl behind my back.

“Do you know Chief Nnoli?” my father asks.

“You know I don’t know any family in this village!” I retort, feeling very tough.

“Chief Nnoli has this beautiful daughter, well-educated,” the old man says evenly as though he did not hear my somewhat harsh reply. “I believe she will make a good wife…” 

“Not again, Papa!” I protest as a matter of right. “I’ve told you I can only marry a girl who has been my friend for some time…”

“And where is the lady?”

“Give me time…”

“But I have been giving you time since you graduated over a decade ago?”

One thing I cannot deny is that my father is my friend. In fact, any friend of mine instantly also becomes his friend. It’s the same way that his elderly mates also share jokes with me, and end up becoming close friends of mine.

A very close friend of my father, Chief Okosisi from Awo-Omama in Imo State, is fond of drinking 33Export lager beer. He insists on both my father and I sharing the same brand of beer with him. For Chief Okosisi, sharing the same make of beer is the perfect bond of friendship.

While drinking with Chief Okosisi and my father in the rich man’s sitting-room in Awo-Omama, my old man suddenly raises the issue of my refusal to get married.

“He has not taken enough bottles of 33Export to get married,” Chief Okosisi says, laughing. The chief can knock down beers at will but remains quite sprightly.

“Stop indulging my restless son,” Father says, not laughing at all.

Chief Okosisi whispers something in my ear, but I can’t hear him clearly. I urge him to repeat what he whispered but he only laughs on.

Then Chief Okosisi’s daughter walks in. She is tall and dark and sexy. She sashays across the room in her rainbow-tinted mini-gown and greets my father.

“Papa Maximus, is this the wahala Maximus, your son?” she asks my father, pointing at me.

“Yes, he has come to marry you!” my father suddenly says, and the girl and her father burst out laughing.

I am so shy I feel like disappearing into the floor. The lady unabashedly sits by me on the aquamarine settee.

“Let’s leave for them settle their differences,” Chief Okosisi says and stands up, leading my father by hand as they depart the room.

So many thoughts run through my mind. But my father wants me to marry from my hometown. He wants me to marry from the Catholic Church. I do know that Chief Okosisi and her daughter are Anglicans and they are from a different state, Imo, as opposed to our Anambra.

“Let’s be friends,” the girl says, flashing a smile at me.

“But what’s your name?” I manage to say when I find my voice, after many moons apparently.

“Stacy,” she says. “Stacy Okosisi.”

“Well, you already know my name…”

“Who does not know troublesome Maximus?”

In my awkwardness I fall from the settee. She helps me to stand up, and I get weak in the knees with her soft touch.

“I understand you will be in Enugu next week,” she continues, still holding my hand.

“Who told you?” I am intrigued, puzzled.

“We shall meet in Enugu,” she says.

I am in Enugu for the Enugu Trade Fair, and I meet up with Stacy at the Polo Park. All my wild plans of romancing Stacy collapse as she is all over her tall and hunky boyfriend whom she introduces as Berry. There’s another lady in the midst, Judith, a buxom lass, Berry’s sister.

“Write her a poem since you say you are a poet,” Stacy says, shoving me in her unabashed manner towards the personable Judith.

It’s while drinking at the 33Export “Friendship is a Festival” Stand of the Fair that I write the poem.

Judith tells me that there are many suitors asking for her hand in marriage, and these suitors would not let her father rest. She doubts that she can hold them off for much longer…

Now I have to make my move.

I dash home to my father, and I holler: “Pop, I’ve found a wife!”

“What?” my father is thorn between excitement and confusion.

“I plan to go see her father this evening,” I say as my mother saunters out of the backyard to be with Father on the frontage.

“Who is this girl?” Father asks, taking no notice of Mother.

“Judith Nnoli,” I blurt out.

Father looks at Mother and silence arrests the moment.

It is a cool evening. As I make my tentative walk into Chief Nnoli’s ample compound dominated by two twin duplexes I can hear voices that are at once familiar and very unwelcome.

Chief Okosisi is sitting with Father and Chief Nnoli under a lush mango tree by a corner of the compound as I walk in. It’s the longest walk of my life – on very unsteady legs.

As Chief Nnoli motions me to the cane chair by his side, Judith walks out from the house, followed by Stacy. Before I can even say a word, Stacy delivers my 33Export-inspired poem:

 Darling angel, the living goddess,

Siren of sweetness, my eternal friend,

I’m intoxicated you’re all mine,

I’ve been caught by your timeless trap,

And freedom is the least of my needs,

Now I rock the prison of your bosomy embrace.

You fill in me the cream of blissful tomorrows,

Your juice soothes the innermost of my marrows.

The sun and the stars, the moon and the skies,

They all worship on the Altar of Beauty,

And what is beauty if not you,

My fount and finale of friendship.  


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Nollywood Founder Chris Obi-Rapu Hugs Anambra As Movie Hub

It was quite remarkable meeting with Chris Obi-Rapu, the director of the epoch-making movie Living in Bondage, in the office of Anambra State Commissioner of Information and Public Enlightenment, C. Don Adinuba, in Awka. Obi-Rapu had come in from the United States where he had been for a while putting finishing touches on his PhD in Organizational Psychology. 

It calls for revelation that the Nollywood phenomenon being celebrated globally started most inauspiciously with Obi-Rapu being the almost unacknowledged director of the Igbo language home movie Living in Bondage which became a blockbuster that launched forth the Nollywood revolution.

Obi-Rapu reveals that at a recent meeting in the US with Professor Jonathan Haynes, the pre-eminent scholar of Nollywood, the don admitted that he has at last met the missing link in the birth of the movie miracle.

Obi-Rapu directed Living in Bondage without using his real name because he was then a worker in NTA. He instead used the name Vic Mordi taken from his maternal side. He organized a camp for the artistes in Badagry to make the movie, and built landmark sets such as the compelling cult scenes.

Obi-Rapu is back in the country with “a better knowledge and better psychology.” He argues that half-baked knowledge is a big problem.

“I want to re-engineer the Igbo mindset,” he stresses, informing that the Igbo embraced education later than the Yorubas but eventually came out tops. “A group without direction is lost,” he asserts.

He has plans to make movies online and hopes to release the movie he shot with his daughter. He believes that Anambra State ought to be the hub of Nollywood. According to him, most movies these days are shot in Enugu and Asaba where the state governments are not harnessing the benefits fully. He argues that it is incumbent on Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State to use Nollywood as a joker in the drive to rebrand the state. Already 51 Iweka Road, Onitsha is recognized as the most popular address of Nollywood movies all over the world.

Obi-Rapu discloses that at the heart of the making of the breakthrough film Living in Bondage is the story and tenacity of one young man known as Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, popularly known as Paulo, after the character he played in Living in Bondage.

It was while studying at the Nigerian Television (NTA) College in Jos that Okechukwu (Okey for short) Ogunjiofor came under the tutelage of Obi-Rapu.

Okey found his niche in the course, but had to make do with hawking at National Theatre in Lagos on completion of the course because he could not get regular employment. Okey had the story of Living in Bondage in his head. Other theatre artistes such as Frank Vaughan, Ruth Osi and Wale Macauley who were rehearsing at the theatre could not understand why Okey should be hawking after his training. The personable Ruth Osi gave Okey 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 Okey 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. The self-assured Okey instantly did an analysis of how Kenneth could quickly recoup his money on the investment. Kenneth then told Okey to bring along his certificate to prove that he was “not a nobody.” Okey went home and brought his certificate. As Okey 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 Okey to put the story together while he made the trip to Japan. It was then that Okey made the momentous contact with his former instructor Chris Obi-Rapu to direct the landmark movie. As already stated, since Obi-Rapu was still in the employ of the NTA he could not append his real name to the project. Even so, he went to work “to turn what would ordinarily pass for a concert play into a pioneering movie.”  

According to Chris 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.”

The making of Living in Bondage, according to Okey Ogunjiofor, 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, Chris Obi-Rapu was paid N10,000. 

Okey stresses that the formula that pushed him on was that unlike in the western part of Nigeria where the Yorubas always went to the theatres to watch movies the easterners, especially the Igbo, needed the movies to be brought to their homes. The words flow almost childlike from Okey’s mouth: “Since 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?”

Chris Obi-Rapu took up the challenge as the director, and Nollywood is now here. He shot other pioneering movies such as Taboo and Circle of Doom.

Obi-Rapu had worked in the NTA from 1973 to 1995, developing and directing such national programmes as “New Masquerade, featuring the inimitable characters Zebrudaya, Ovuleria, Clarus, Giringory and Jegede Shokoya. He flew to Enugu every Friday to direct “New Masquerade” and flew back to Lagos every Monday.  

Popularly hailed as Skippo in his NTA days, Chris Obi-Rapu who hails from Asaba in Delta State is poised to give Nollywood a new lease of life once he is done with his PhD dissertation in the United States.