A couple of days back, popular actor and producer, Lawrence Onuzulike had a bitter bill to swallow. He was harassed, beaten and arrested by the Special Armed Robbery Squad (SARS) while on location of his movie, Blooms Berry Hotel. ENCOMIUM Weekly had a chat with him about his ordeal…
We learnt you were harassed by SARS a couple of days ago, how did it happen?
I was on location shooting my latest film, Blooms Berry Hotel, when a mini-van came in. I went to find out who they were and someone from the van asked if I was Lawrence and I said yes. He said I should enter the car because he would like to speak with me. I was told they were from SARS. I insisted on informing my workers before leaving. The man said that won’t be necessary, that it’s just a private discussion and that I should enter so we can drive to somewhere and talk. But I said no. One of them then said that if I want my workers to see me before I leave with them, then, they will see me in handcuff. They put my hands and legs in chains and said I should now go and tell my workers. I called out to my workers and when people gathered, the team leader slapped me and pushed me around. When people started asking what was going on, the SARS men started shooting all over the place and people started running helter-skelter. And I was taken away.
Who do you suspect and why?
I will advice people to be wary of doing business with an illiterate who has inflated ego. It could be dangerous. Some months ago, I was in a Dubai hotel shooting a movie when one Mr. Eugene Nta approached me. Before that day, I had heard of one Nta that talks too much. So, when he introduced himself as the Nta, I became a bit careful. But over the next few days, he surprised me by being nice. He came to my office everyday and to my movie location. He told me he would like to act and I gave him a small role in my movie, Two Lives. After he shot the first scene, the director and other cast were mad at me. They accused me of trying to mess up the nice film by bringing a person who couldn’t speak English or act. He became very excited. One day he came to my office and told me he would like to partner. What followed after that discussion shocked me. This man started going to the different rooms I lodged my artists trying to sleep with them and when they refused, he will tell them that he has given me N5 million to shoot a movie and if they don’t agree, he will ask me to remove them from the film. I had to address the situation. I invited him to my office and confronted him about the issue. First, he denied but later confessed and apologized.
He said his fantasy had always been to sleep with actresses. I told him if he wants to sleep with an actress and she doesn’t want, he should move on and not use movie roles to get sex. He apologized and promised never to do it again. But I kept hearing from people that Nta kept telling them he gave me money to shoot a movie. He told some N2 million, some N5 million and some N10 million. When the talk became stronger, I decided to stay away from him. And when he noticed that, he reassured me that he wants to partner with me. Because of the way he talks, we had to make an agreement. He wanted 70 percent share of the partnership because he claimed he will be bringing N10 million for us to shoot movies with. We agreed on a 50-50.We did the budget for a film and it came to N1.5 million. We agreed to bring N750,000 each. The next day, he told me he could only bring N700,000. A couple of days later, he brought N300,000. So, we started shooting. And when it was time for him to bring the remaining amount, he only brought N35,000. That was when I knew this man had no money. I was mad at him. He knew quite alright he will struggle to raise his own part of the money. At that point, I knew I was on my own. So, I had to complete the film with my own money.
The editor who normally charges N150,000 agreed to do it for N50,000 and Nta paid him N25,000 to start the job. It took more than three months and many phone fights with the editor to complete the money. Too many things made me know I had to stop doing business with him. I told him to stay very far away from me. The two things that finally made me draw the curtain was when he brought an 11 year old girl to my hotel room and wanted to make love to her. Everywhere in Okokomaiko, people call him a ritualist. So, that afternoon, I stood my ground and told him he would never make love to an innocent girl in my room for whatever reason. He felt bad and left and we didn’t speak for some days.
Later, we started talking again and the second thing was when he tried to rape my PA in my hotel room when I excused myself to answer a call. I heard my PA shouting and rushed back and started banging on the door. When I was finally let in, my PA’s clothes had been torn and she was in a corner of the room half naked and crying. That was the final event that made me call him to a meeting where I told him I never wanted to do anything with him again in my life. That since the editor is editing the movies we’ve shot together, we should wait for him to finish the movie, then sell them and share the money and move on. He tried to reconcile but I didn’t want.
I left that area and moved back home to the Island when he heard I was shooting a new movie, Blooms Berry Hotel. He went to SARS to do what he did. When I got to SARS, I was released immediately because they noticed he lied to them all through. But I am definitely going to sue Nta, not because he hasn’t apologized, but because he halted my movie ,caused me monetary damage and he messed up my name. So he has to apologize publicly and not privately.
Was the case reported to the police, what did they say?
SARS itself is police, so I don’t need to report them to the police again. I was released immediately when they realized he lied to them from the beginning to the end.
Even though a few of his so-called friends tried to manipulate things a little initially when they discovered that the police were now interested in the case they suddenly switched sides and became my friends.
How much did γoυ spend in taking care of yourself?
Even though I was assaulted physically, I wasn’t really hurt so I didn’t need to treat myself.
What are the lessons learnt from the ordeal?
I learnt never to do business with people that talk too much about what they can’t do, especially when they have big ego because one day, someone will dare them to prove their boasts and they will do dangerous things.
Some people alleged you owe people money, is it true?
There’s no business you do that you don’t owe, people owe me millions. But if I owe people, I believe they should be contacting me for their money and not going around saying I owe them like you said. Nta and his friends were too quick to post untrue stories and unfriendly comments on blogs because in their minds, based on the false information he gave to SARS about me, I should be detained or even killed. It shocked them that I resumed shooting immediately, now they are apologizing. But the apology has to be public and not private and it’ll happen soon.
What is the next step now?
The next step is clear. I am rounding off my movie shoot and will be starting another one. And of course, I am suing Nta, for halting my production and making me to lose money. If not for anything but to teach people to stay away from jungle justice.
– SHADE WESELY-METIBOGUN