– Flaunts achievements as AMP President
FRONTLINE filmmaker, critic and National President of Association of Movie Producers (AMP) Zik Zulu Okafor has, at last, opened up on the controversy trailing the N50m the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio donated to Nollywood. In an exclusive interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly on Thursday, October 17, 2013, Zik Zulu cleared his name, explaining that the funds was judiciously used for the purpose it was given months back by the governor before the Association of Nollywood Core Producers (ANCOP), petitioned the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of Nigeria Police, alleging that the fund was at the verge of being squandered.
Zik Zulu Okafor who was at pains with the unfortunate turn of events really poured out his heart, while calling on the leadership of ANCOP and opponents of Coalition of Nollywood Guilds and Associations (CONGA), to close ranks with Nollywood stakeholders to move the industry forward.
He also explained how over N26 million has been disbursed so far before the police waded into the matter.
On the twilight of his first tenure as AMP president, Zik Zulu equally flaunted his score card, beating his chest that he has done creditably. He, however, parried over the issue of seeking re-election when his first two-year tenure elapses next month.
How has it been leading the Association of Movie Producers (AMP) in almost two years?
When we took over the leadership of AMP, what we stated clearly was that we wanted to reposition AMP, so it can become more professional. I would say that my predecessor, Paul Obazele did very well. He was able to set up the first office for AMP. He was also able to establish a relationship with Lagos State. When we came on board, our aim was to raise the profile of AMP, create a platform where both the organized private sector, the political class and AMP would begin to discuss how to help Nollywood to grow and create a new generation of professionals that would use international benchmark as basis of best practices. That is what we have been doing. We have been able to get some eminent Nigerians to identify with AMP. So, we have people like Prof. Fidelix Odita, who is a Queen’s Counsel. We have Justice Abdullahi Umaru, a former president of the Court of Appeal. We also have Chief Tony Azoya, the chairman/chief executive of Techno Crime, one of the biggest private security companies in Nigeria. There is also Oba Frederick Akinruntan, chairman of Obat Oil, then we have former president Olusegun Obasanjo as the grand patron. We are trying to raise the profile of AMP. We have moved from the old office to a new one at No. 16, Bassey Ogamba Street, off Adeniran Ogunsanya Road, Surulere, Lagos. It is a very beautiful place.
We also have the Lagos State governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) as our patron. We did the investiture in his office. And he has been identifying with us. So, we have been making progress.
What has been the challenges so far?
First, is funding if the association has to go on. Unfortunately, nothing much has been coming from corporate Nigeria. They give us pittance. They don’t finance films. They only identify with little things like awards and movie premieres. They don’t really invest in Nollywood.
Can you please give us an idea of the AMP you want to leave behind?
I want to leave behind an AMP that would be committed to making standard films devoid of unacceptable elements like nudity. We want AMP that will encourage its members to produce films that project the image of this country. Films that will rekindle our values, recognize that while film making is business, we must also have national consciousness. Don’t forget that it was films that sold the American ideals, the American culture, therefore, our films must be able to project our ‘Nigerianness’, our values and elements of patriotism.
You have mentioned some of your outstanding achievements in office, so far. So, which one of them are you most passionate about?
I think there are two things. Getting AMP a befitting office and then bringing the whole industry together. I initiated the celebration of Nollywood at 20.
You are in the final lap of your two-year tenure, are you seeking re-election?
The election is still ahead. The time we have will determine whether we are going for a second term or not. But the truth is that I look forward to continuity of our laudable projects and policies, whether I’m coming back or not. I have to make up my mind quickly so that if I have to run, I will make it clear. And if I’m not going to run, I will encourage whoever wins.
So, for now you are not concerned with AMP election campaign?
My immediate concern is to be able to conclude Nollywood @ 20 celebrations. The election is between November/December, 2013. Nollywood @ 20 begins November 2. Once that starts, we would set up the electoral committee.
Have your personal business not suffered these days you are running AMP?
There is no doubt about this. Truth is being the president of AMP has really affected my business.
What is happening to Heavensgate?
We rounded off Heavensgate last year. So, we need to go to Phase 2 of the series. We are doing the script right now. By the end of November, we would go into production.
What is new for Zulu Films?
Zulu Films would be coming out soon. Heavensgate is one of them. It’s huge and like I said, we are almost set for production. We are going to produce a massive film for cinema. It would be shot in Nigeria and London.
Zulu Films, in collaboration with well-meaning Nigerians are also coming up with a very unique award in 2015. We are putting everything together for its success.
What is the problem between you, President of Directors Guild of Nigeria, Andy Amenechi and ANCOP President, Alex Eyengho?
Alex Eyengho was Secretary General of AMP. He then contested for Vice President position in the association, while Teco Benson contested for President. They lost and left AMP to form the Association of Nollywood Core Producers (ANCOP). Teco Benson has since returned to the association but Alex Eyengho then supported by Madu Chikwendu refused to accept the result of the elections. A committee was set up to look into the complaints of contestants. He refused to honour it. They wrote letters to him instead they went and set up a parallel body called Association of Nollywood Core Producers (ANCOP). And this ANCOP don’t have more than five people there. That is the truth.
But they have more than five people on their website with names and phone contacts?
I’m coming to that, please. So, they set up a parallel body. Of course, AMP could not take that. And so, he was expelled. I was not there. I was an ordinary member of AMP. It was during the reign of Paul Obazele. Yes, they would claim they have many members, you go and interview Madu Chikwendu. He founded ANCOP. He was the arrowhead. Now, he has left the place. Why did he leave? Because there were no membership. They were less than five people. They never had any meeting. All the things Alex do is to write petitions against people. He petitioned because the SGF, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim invited us for a centenary meeting and he was not invited. He insulted the person of the SGF on the internet. Another meeting held by Film and Video Producers and Marketers Association of Nigeria (FVPMAN), to protest the handling of the N3b Federal Government grant to Nollywood was also an issue for Eyengho. He wrote a petition to the Minister of Finance. He has also written against me as regards Nollywood @ 20, saying we don’t represent Nollywood. And now he has petitioned us at the Special Fraud Unit Of the Nigeria Police, alleging we have squandered the N50 million Governor Akpabio donated to the industry. So, you see I don’t like talking about it because I had initiated peace moves to bring the industry back together. I spoke to him and ANCOP Vice President, Lanre Falana, my friend told him we have to come back together. It was while we were on this that he wrote the petition to SFU. So, that changed everything. I’m a man of peace. Alex wrote petition that we have squandered the money. When Governor Akpabio invited us, he told us what the money was meant for. He said it was for award for excellence. We discussed with His Excellency, came back to Lagos. The money was wired into AMP’s account. The Guild of Nollywood Stars was not written by us.
Once we received the money, we decided on the following, in line with Governor Akpabio’s wish: endowment of awards in films and festivals that are already in existence. We said, we won’t give to ones that would likely spring up because of the N50 million. We also agreed on capacity building/training to engender appreciation of excellence in movie production. And because we want this award to continue instead of being a run off thing, we agreed to produce a film. So that proceeds from this film, every year, could be used to sustain the award. We also put a caveat that no cheque would be written in the name of an individual. It was also decided that no cheque would be issued to them until a date has been fixed for the award or film festival. We first invited Fidelis Duker whose Abuja Film Festival was around the corner. Then, Okey Ogunjiofor whose TAVA would have been held before now. We took photographs with them and presented them with the one million naira cheques. N500,000 is for administration while the balance is for the endowment. We also budgeted for Chioma Ude’s Africa International Film Festival, Lagos International Film Festival (Madu Chikwendu). We equally included Paul Obazele’s Legends of Nollywood Awards and this other well respected one HOMVIDA. These were the ones we were to follow before the petition came. The four major guilds and associations were given N2 million each. That is AGN, DGN, AMP and FVPMAN. The funds were further distributed to our colleagues in the North, Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPAN), UMPAN in the East and ANTP in the West. We didn’t recognize unregistered guilds and associations. So, everything was done properly. At the moment, about N26 million plus has been spent. Every association or guild were paid in cheque. The only money that was paid cash was where the recipient said he was wary of dud cheques. The police have investigated and they have seen that the N26 or more million has been accounted for. In fact, the police said the funds have been utilized. The police have now gone to Akwa Ibom State to investigate. From what I heard, they showed them all the letters we’ve written them to show that we are doing what they want us to do. The men of SFU repeated the same at our last meeting with them on Friday, October 11, 2013. Alex Eyengho got angry, insisting that the governor no longer has any say over the N50 million since it belongs to the people of Akwa Ibom State. That is ridiculous! Why I went to the police is to show that we are not hiding anything. ANCOP is not recognized by our industry. He doesn’t have the locus. Now, he is challenging the governor. If you give me money and you said I’m doing what you want with the money, who then has the power to challenge that?
But Alex Eyengho is insisting that ANCOP is recognized by National Film Corporation, CAC and other relevant bodies?
That is not the issue. There are over 60 associations in the industry, but in 2009 we came together under one umbrella called Coalition of Nollywood’s Guilds and Associations (CONGA). Nollywood is pushing for MOPICON. If there is MOPICON, would you just wake up and float an organization in the industry?
How much did you receive from the N50 million?
It is not for me, it is for a movie production.
You also told the police you would spend N1.5 million for location recky, is that not on the high side?
The film production will cost N7.5 million. It includes all production costs. We would rent a Raid camera for 30 days. Go to Kingsley Ogoro’s Klinks Studio and cross check the cost. We are shooting a part of the film here and the other outside our shores. Every cost is well documented. Alex himself knows that Zik Zulu Okafor is above board. I’m at pains, joining issues with him because he is my brother. We are from the same state (Delta). There is no money to share. So, what are we fighting for? I’m not a poor man. You can see where I live. I’m not the hardest working man, but God has been kind to me. The cars I have is worth over N46 million! I’m not a noise maker. I paid N105 million for the house I bought in Lekki, Lagos. Why are they insulting me? This house I’m living in highbrow Surulere, Lagos is it a cheap house? This car (points at a brand new car in front of his mansion) is worth about N21.5 million.
Are all these from film making?
No. I work for people too. I’m a modest person. I’m saying all these because of this issue. I give money to some of my friends who are not financially buoyant. I cannot steal public funds.
Are you still pushing for the N150 million libel case against ANCOP President?
Yes, of course. We have to clear our good names. Our reputation is at stake here.
WE also reached out to the petitioner and President of ANCOP, Comrade Alex Eyengho who expectedly punctured some of the claims of his counterpart in AMP (Zik Zulu Okafor).
Eyengho, who was recently elected Vice President, International Federation of Film Producers Association (FIAPF) in an interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly on Thursday, October 17, 2013, said he would continue with the matter currently being investigated by the police. On the N150m libel suit slammed on him, Comrade Eyengho talked tough, insisting he is not perturbed at all.
AMP President, Zik Zulu Okafor said you were expelled from AMP. He also said that ANCOP is not recognized in Nollywood…
If Zik Zulu Okafor actually said this, then it is unfortunate. Having said this, let me state it categorically that ANCOP is registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). It has registered Trustees and it has been operating since 2008. It has as members some of the founding members of Nollywood. And I must make it clear that ANCOP, in terms of association is new but if you come to membership, some of our members are as old as Nollywood. And these are people who have invested in the industry, people like Chief Gabriel Okoye (Igwe Garbosky) and Chris Ekejimbe. These are pioneers of AMP. They founded AMP. And they deemed it fit to leave the association at a time to form ANCOP. I was not a founder of AMP. Zik Zulu was not a co-founder, too. Around 2008, there was an election with Teco Benson and Paul Obazele slugging it out as president. It was obvious that given a level playing field, Teco Benson would defeat Obazele roundly in the polls. So, a lot of things were introduced during the campaign. Some of us were beaten up in broad day light. Okey Ogunjiofor was harassed and beaten up. Lanre Falana was beaten up. I was attacked. Dickson Iroegbu had to shave his dreadlock because they broke his head.
Who did all these?
It was done by thugs hired by the contestants to intimidate others. I was running for Vice President. So, when I saw that AMP professionally was being compromised in the altar of briggandry, and Paul Obazele was becoming too desperate to be president, we pulled out of the election and he had his way. That was what gave rise to ANCOP.
Were you really expelled from AMP?
After we left AMP to form ANCOP, It was this belly aching thing that oh, the spirit of AMP has left to form ANCOP. As I speak with you, 95 per cent of AMP members are not even qualified to be called producers. They don’t have office, no registered company and some of them have never produced a film. I think they met in 2009 and said I have been expelled from AMP. Can you expel somebody from an industry? We have expelled some of our members. That is the much we can do, but we can’t expel them from Nollywood. And when you even look at my so-called expulsion, I was not invited for any meeting.
They said you were invited through a letter but you shunned them.
That is not true. But have you asked them why I was singled out for expulsion? What about those I left AMP with? People like Igwe Gabosky, Lanre Falana, Ifeanyi Onyeabor, etc. I’m their problem. It is all about envy and morbid fear of my growing influence in the industry.
We were also told some of your founding members like Teco Benson and Madu Chikwendu have left ANCOP. So, what are you still doing here?
I don’t know why Zik Zulu would poke nose into what he knows nothing about. First, Teco Benson was not a pioneer member of ANCOP. Madu Chikwendu was invited to join ANCOP by me. And he has said so severally in past publications. We invited him because he was one of those they attacked then. That was how we put him as a pioneer member of board of trustees. The pioneer members of our BOT were Alex Eyengho, Lanre Falana, Madu Chikwendu. But as we went along, Chikwendu was expelled from ANCOP for reasons I wouldn’t want to delve into here. He was expelled by the BOT, National Executive Committee and the General Assembly ratified it. Not only him, his wife who was our treasurer and one other member, the financial secretary were also expelled. So, we won’t be surprised if he rejoined AMP, which he once led as president. Now, they have seen in him an ally to fight ANCOP.
Again, it has been alleged that you are a serial petition writer. You even allegedly insulted the Secretary of the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim for excluding you from the centenary meeting with Nollywood stakeholders?
That is again, their strategy to knock heads. When they tell you this kind of thing they should give you documentary evidence that shows I talked down on the SGF, Senator Anyim. I’m not stupid. I’m more educated than most of them. I will not do that. In the first place, I was not even in the country when this happened. They went there purportedly representing Nollywood and we made it clear they didn’t represent us. We now made our position on what we want in Nollywood clear to the Federal Government. So, I never insulted Senator Anyim Pius Anyim. We even commended and supported the centenary celebration.
What is your take on the story making the rounds that Gov. Akpabio said he is okay with how the N50 million is being utilized?
That is a pure lie. They should give you a letter from him or Akwa Ibom State government. Where is the document? Where did Akpabio say this? They should be able to say this was the letter written by the governor. I can also say Akpabio told me the funds are being distributed well. Comment is free, facts are sacred as you journalists say. The fact is that on March 2, 2013, when Akpabio gave the N50m to Nollywood, it was given for a specific purpose. That it should be used to set up an endowment award in the name of President Goodluck Jonathan. We have documentary evidence. And that money is not Governor Akpabio’s personal fund. It was given on behalf of Akwa Ibom State Government. The money was never meant to be shared by guilds and associations. It was not for associations to buy furniture or festival organizers to run their private businesses or private awards. Zik Zulu Okafor and co should not define Nollywood from the prism of CONGA. They don’t represent Alliance of Nollywood Guilds and Associations (ANOGA). Nollywood is even bigger than both CONGA and NOGA.
Finally, the AMP President also alleged you guys hardly hold meetings?
How does that concern him? First, they said we are not up to five members, now it is that we don’t hold meetings. To dignify them with an answer, ANCOP’s general meetings are held quarterly while BOT meets once in a year. ANCOP can, however, meet if there is an emergency.
So, what is the way out of the controversy trailing this Gov. Akpabio’s N50 million award endowment?
The N50 million should be used for the purpose it was given. And if there should be changes, it must be a collective decision of Nollywood not a cabal.
Are you not worried that the N150 million libel suit the AMP and DGN Presidents, Zik Zulu Okafor and Andy Amenechi slammed on you would still go on?
I’m not moved one bit. I can’t wait for the trial to commence. But let me put it on record that I have not been served. And I hope their lawyer knows what I mean by this. For me, it’s no retreat, no surrender!
– Interviews by UCHE OLEHI