Cover Stories, Interviews

Saidi Balogun emerges TMA President: Rolls out agenda

Saidi Balogun

STAR actor cum film maker, Saidi Balogun, a.k.a James Bond, has emerged first president of the new association in the movie industry, The Movie Ambassadors (TMA), established purposely to rebrand the industry.  According to the popular entertainer, his emergence as the leader of the association was made possible by the maturity and good leadership style demonstrated by his opponent, Yemi Amodu, a movie director, who bowed out at the last minute to the election proper.

ENCOMIUM Weekly interviewed the versatile role interpreter on Sunday, April 6, 2014, on this new development and what he has for the association.

How does it feel emerging the president of The Movie Ambassadors (TMA), one of the new associations in the industry right now?

It feels so great.  I thank God for that.  It’s not about emerging the first president of the association but achieving the desired results.  I am happy I won, and I thank God so much about that.

Saidi BalogunWhat do you think were the qualities that gave you an edge over your opponent, Yemi Amodu?

Nothing at all.  I believe it’s just an arrangement by God.  I am not in any way better than him and to say the fact the post was keenly contested between the two of us.  It was like a game of 50-50.  I had even concluded to step down for Amodu so as to allow peace to reign, not knowing he also had the same thing in mind.  But he gave everybody in the hall a big shocker when he stepped out to present his one-minute speech which was given to each of us, and said he had stepped down for me.  Immediately he mentioned that, I burst into tears and almost everybody at the venue was also crying.  He stated categorically that he took the decision to pave way for peace as we can’t afford to start with crisis, knowing full well that it’s such a thing that held ANTP backward for years.  And as ambassadors, we should lead by example.  I was touched by his statement.  He said at the end of my two years tenure, if the association deems it fit to have him as president, he would be ready.  I honestly appreciate and salute him for the courage.  I pledge and pray not to disappoint. I understand I am having a great challenge at hand now, and I believe God will be on my side and other members of the executive.

Who are the other members of the executives you’re going to work with?

They are Aishat Abimbola as Vice President, Dare Oyegbola as Secretary General.  Our Treasurer is Laide Bakare, Financial Secretary goes to Gbemi Akintunde while Yomi Fabiyi still remains the Public Relations Officer.  Others include Kunle Afod as Social Secretary, Mistura Asunramu as Welfare Officer, Chief Whip and Legal Officer is Kemi Afolabi, Foluke Daramola-Salako holds Business, Branding and Investment Office and others’ swearing in will be announced later.

With the new development, do you think all the elders in the Association of Nigeria Theatre Art Practitioners (ANTP), will be happy with you?

First and foremost, what’s an ambassador?  An ambassador stands for if we have more than 30 associations in the industry, they’re welcome. If you have done well in your sector or association, you’re an ambassador of that place.  For instance, if you belong to Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), and you have done well there, come and join us, that means you are a good ambassador.  Being an ambassador does not mean you can’t also belong to ANTP, AGN, TAMPAN and others once you follow our rules and regulations because we have rules and regulations that guide our conduct.  And we can as well tell you to denounce the ambassadorial identity if you don’t follow the rules to the letter.

Does that mean anybody who belongs to TMA can also be in ANTP, AGN, TAMPAN and the rest?

If you have the energy and the liver, go ahead.  But what’s most important to us is that we have our rules which must not be flouted.  As an ambassador, you represent everyone of all these associations.  You just come in with your skills and let’s move the industry forward.  Let’s come together and rebrand everything concerning the movie industry.

SAIDI How do you intend working with movie marketers who a lot of your colleagues are accusing or reaping most of the fruits of their labour as producers?

Movie marketers have tried a lot, producers have also tried on their own.  What happens is that if you want to do a business with anybody, you need to sign an agreement. If the person flouts the agreement, the court of law is there where the matter can be properly dealt with.  Movie marketers are good people, they are doing business as you’re also doing your own business.  When you meet in the middle and they want to give you certain money and you collect it. Then, you now begin to raise alarm that they are reaping you off, no I don’t agree with that.  They’ve had a discussion with you initially, you need to follow the terms.  But if you don’t want to agree with their terms, let them be. This is a modern world, and we are all learned.  We all know what is wrong and also what’s right.  But some people know it’s wrong, they will quickly grab it and they will cry foul later.  We won’t take that.  We’re all mature enough, we can’t begin to tell people the decision they will take on issues of their interest.  They are matured to take a decision on who to do business with.  This is a digital world.  “Oh, my marketer says I should own the right, please sign the agreement first.”  If the marketer allows you to own the right, fine.  And if you decide to give him the right, fine also.  But there must be an agreement duly signed by both of you.  So, you won’t say someone marketing your movie has duped you.  The matter is as you lay your bed so you sleep on it.  I personally don’t have any issue with any marketer.

That means you have also been talking with movie marketers on how to rebrand the industry?

Yes, of course.  They are part of the crusade.  When we say rebranding, it must involve everybody.  Let’s all meet at a junction and rebrand each other, both the producers and the marketers.  Even all other stakeholders in the industry.  Okay, I was talking to some people recently, they said, “Ha, our ambassador, do you know they produce low quality film?”  I had to reply them. If you spend about N100 million in shooting a high quality movie, and the government has not passed any hard law on piracy, how would you recoup your money?  Why will you now say it’s the marketer?  So, it’s when the government passes a hard law on piracy that we will know where to meet in the middle.  We cannot say we want to spend N100m on a movie. Everybody is interested in producing quality movies.  Charity begins at home.  For instance, American movies sell better in America than anywhere in the world, Indian movies sell more in India likewise Chinese movies do well in their country more than any other country.  So, why is our own charity lacking?  And let me tell you brief history of who we are.  In the late 60s, we did Bisi, Daughter of the River, which was on 16mm.  We graduated to Ajani Ogun, the population kept increasing.  In the late 70s, we had Ogunde with 35mm, Baba Sala came with Orun Mooru and many more.  All were a sign of good standard then.  We were shooting films of international standard, the films that could be shown anywhere in the world.  And our population kept increasing.  People began to pump into the cinema. That swung into the late 80s when they started with reversal, now home video. Our population kept increasing but our standard keeps declining and degrading.  Nigeria is the most populous African country yet in terms of technology, we’re nowhere to be found, especially as it affects movie production.

Saidi-Balogun-2014-AlabamaU2 (1)So, what’s going on?  Instead of following all our politicians blindly, why not tell them what we want that we know will improve the standard of our job.  Let’s tell those at the National Assembly to help us pass a hard law against piracy so that we won’t continue to be politicians’ stooges.  We’re saying as movie ambassadors that we want to rebrand this profession, we want to grow to the level where we will be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the developed countries of the world, especially in the area of movie production.  For instance, in America, Will Smith and company had donated for Obama to campaign.  There is nowhere I will follow one or two governors that I won’t expect them to give me money, which I think is unnecessary if the industry is working as expected.

What is the best way of fighting piracy which is the main problem facing the industry?

We’re begging for two things, let the government give us one voice.  Today, we have more than 20 associations in just one industry.  And I am sure some will still spring up tomorrow.  We can’t move anyway forward without having a united voice.  Then, let those at the National Assembly pass a strict law against piracy, everybody will enjoy the industry.  If they could pass anti-gay law which attracts 14 years jail term, what’s now happening that they can’t do such to the entertainment industry?  If I enter Congo Republic now, you will see all of the citizens there running after me, hailing me and all that.  They would be telling me they are proud of Nigeria, the third largest film making country in the world.  But I will keep asking myself, what are they proud of?  That means they don’t understand what we’re passing through as entertainers, especially in the hands of pirates.  So, our government should pass that law that will help the growth and development of the industry.  A pirate becomes one when he steals an intellectual property of another person, and there is no law against what he has done.  If there is a law that discourages or stops piracy, I am sure a pirate will also do a legitimate business. If there is law, there will also be standard.  We won’t have the era of 7,000 movies in a year, it will turn to the era of about 600 films because you know once you do a film, you will surely make your money back and get other things done conveniently. But I don’t know what’s going on.  In Nigeria, we have fantastic shock absorber.  If millions of naira disappear now, everybody will just keep quiet.  We will only make noise for few days, we have forgotten about it.  And all my colleagues who are close to the presidency have not for once cried out loud to them up there that we’re suffering from piracy.  Anyway, I love Mr. President, he has open hands to receive all of us.  He had received some of our colleagues, and I am also sure he is waiting for the ambassadors as well.  I believe he will welcome us too except he is telling us it’s a sectional thing. If he now says so, we will then see him so. But as it is now, I believe he is expecting The Movie Ambassadors to visit him.  We also want to make him the grand patron of the association.  But before we give him that, he should first help us restructure the industry. In the ongoing national conference, there is no single artiste taking part, no youth there representing our interest.  And they will want me to do a film the way I think can move Nigeria forward and paint us in good light when my interest is not being represented.  Even a whole Professor Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Laureate is not at the confab, then what are we doing?  The government should just put us where we should be.  We deserve respect and that must be given to us.

Saidi-BalogunCan you now unveil your agenda as the president of TMA?

I have said it all.  Those things I have said are part of our agenda, we need to rebrand, restructure our people.  We need to do business the way it should be done. Let’s be one big family.  Let’s move forward.  If you’re a producer, know what it means to produce.  Let all of us have a common goal.  Don’t see anybody as your enemy.  How do we bring back the glory of the industry?  How do we get back to the periods of the likes of Ajani Ogun, Bisi, Daughter of the River, Orun Mooru, Aye, Jaiyesimi and so on?  How do we invest our money in movie production and recoup our money and still make profit?  All these and many more form the bulk of my agenda as the leader of the association.  Myself and my team are ready to put in place a good structure just as other associations.  We will later come to terms with them and make it known to the government that we’re truly the giant of Africa, not only by mere speaking it.  Basically, the focal point of our agenda is to ensure we rebrand ourselves. It’s no longer the issue of appearing in about 400 movies, and you’re only known within Africa alone while Will Smith will appear in just two films and be known all over the world.

So, that’s the kind of level we’re targeting.  In Nigeria, whatever film you produce, the highest you go is the movie festival.  And to worsen it, you can’t even make your money back.  We need to attain a level where we will be recognized across the world.  And I am sure, this can be achieved because we have good people who can do it but the problem is that our voice is not getting to them.  For instance, if we say if we don’t see any changes in the entertainment industry before 2015, no artiste should be seen on the rostrum of any Senator or member of House of Representatives, especially those in charge of entertainment, you will see changes.  Left to me, I don’t have any problem with the state governors because it’s above their power.  It’s the Senators and House of Representatives members that can do that but they will only be waiting till when someone steals money and they are invited to pass a law.  We want them to pass the law that will better our lots in the industry.

How do you now intend achieving all these?

We put in place all the necessary structures, we train our people, we educate them. Then, we will be inviting people who can still enlighten us further.  With good structures on ground, and all the necessary steps followed, before you know it the National Assembly will be our best pal.  It’s not about fighting them.  All we need is to romance them, let them know our problem so that they can proffer solution to it.

With the development now, what have been the reactions from them?

Let me tell you, they are our fathers.  If we have come to say we want to fight them, that should have been a different thing entirely but we’re saying, “Our fathers, you have done well, can we also try our best to move the industry forward?”  Then, they give us the go ahead.  They only charged us to do well, they even give us like a year to see what we’re going to do.  They reminded us of being our mentors, and also warned that they can stop us if we mess up, and we said yes sir.

So, they are not fighting us.  If anybody now comes forward to fight us, we will tell the person to lead by example.  I will charge the person to go through our agenda, and then give me a better alternative if there is any.  So, all we’re saying is that, we must move forward and the time is now.

 – TADE ASIFAT

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