Leke Akinrowo is a theare/film producer. He is the founder/CEO of Riveting Integrated Entertainment Limited (RIEL), an entertainment company with interests in film, theatre, music, television, publishing, events, promotion, artistes’ management and arts’ distribution. Akinrowo, in this interview with TONY OKUYEME, talks about his childhood dreams, why he left Chevron, his plans for the entertainment industry in Nigeria and other issues. Excerpts
As a child, what really was it you wanted to be?
As a child, I wanted to be many things. I think my environment played a significant part in that. In the early 1970s when I started school, as you would recall, the Military was in power. The head of state, the governor, and many government officials were Military. So at that point I wanted to be a soldier. My mum also ran a canteen at one Military installation, so I used to go there after school sometimes. This gave me an opportunity to see soldiers up close. Some of the soldiers even allowed me to carry their guns to pretend to be a soldier too. So that influenced me a lot. I also wanted to be an engineer. I can’t remember what influenced me in that direction, but after a while, I changed again and wanted to be a lawyer. This was in high school. I nursed that idea until a friend of mine described to me what “charge and bail” was. He said I would likely be a “charge and bail” lawyer if I pursued that line, so I changed again. Then I wanted to be a university lecturer, until I got to the university in the mid-1980s and realised lecturers were no longer well treated. From there, I just basically allowed life to happen to me.
Interesting. So apart from what you wanted to be, how else was growing up for you?
Our home was always full of uncles, aunties, family friends, and so on. As far as I can remember, we always had a few uncles and aunties living with us or holidaying with us. That made me learn a lot of adult things very early. Some of them were bad adult things, but a lot were good adult things like music, sports and politics. I think I was only about five or six when I started following and listening to Ofege, Fela, Bob Marley, Don Williams, The Jacksons, etc. This was as a result of hanging around older people in our home back then. But I didn’t always like only what my uncles liked. I remember how I became an Enugu Rangers fan, even though my uncles, if I can remember correctly, were Shooting Stars supporters. Where we lived at Anthony Village then, there was a hotel or guest house right in front of our house, where Rangers team members used to stay whenever they had a match in Lagos. I think they used to come and play with Stationery Stores or so. So on Saturday morning while preparing to go to their match venue, they would all come out to the road, and sometimes all the kids in the neighbourhood would come out to watch them. They would even pass the ball to us and we would pass it back to them. I got to see Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okala and many of the Enugu Rangers stars at the time. So whenever we were watching a match involving Rangers, nobody could influence me to support any other team but Enugu Rangers.
How about politics, and what were some of your childhood experiences that shaped your philosophy about life?
It was the same for politics. I learnt very early from the adults around me that there was a thing called progressive and conservative politics. I learnt about welfarism and so on. As I can remember, I chose to be a progressive very early on. I must have been like eight years old or something like that. I understood that was Awolowo’s ideology, and I latched on to it. I even saw conservatism as evil! I’ve liked and supported all progressives all over the world ever since. I support the Labour Party in the UK and the Democratic Party in America. In Nigeria, I can never be found supporting any political party that is not progressive, even though we don’t really play ideological politics in Nigeria. But at least, progressive ideas must be their stated claim, even if they don’t practice it. I believe school also contributed to my philosophies in life. I loved History as a subject, and fantasised about the exploits of great historical figures. I imagined what it was like to be in the world of Mansa Musa, Shaka Zulu, Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, and so on. When I got older and became a Christian, I began to be greatly influenced by Solomon: vanity upon vanity, all is vanity; there’s nothing new under the sun; all streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full… to the place the streams come from, there they return again. You know, all these things shaped my philosophy of life I believe.
Why Dramatic Arts and not Geology?
First of all, I had a slant towards the Humanities early on, but also, I never had interest in the sciences. Geology would have required I did well in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and so on. I didn’t like those subjects. I always ran away from those classes when I was in school. One of our Mathematics teachers liked me for that. He would come in through this door, and see me exiting through the other door. He would then announce to the class, you see that boy, he is a good boy. He knows he doesn’t want to learn Mathematics, and instead of staying in class disturbing everyone else, he does the honourable thing by leaving. Now, anyone of you who doesn’t want to learn Maths should follow him. One or two of my friends would then match out of the class too.
21 years working with Chevron, why did you retire so early?
I retired before the age of 49. I guess that’s because of this gnawing feeling that I can contribute something to the sector I’m in now, and I’m not very good at multitasking, as in working in the corporate world and doing what I’m doing now as a side hustle. I chose to leave and satisfy the urge. I’m enjoying what I’m doing now, even though I’m still waiting for my first breakthrough.
Thank you. That leads me to my next question: were you really prepared for your post- Chevron experience?
I don’t think anyone can be fully prepared for what they don’t know. I knew I’d have to pay my dues and that I’d have to grow gradually in the entertainment space. In fact, that was why I left Chevron early. I wanted to do all the growing while I still have a bit of energy left. I’m learning the ropes, I’m having to endure a lot of growing pains, but I’m enjoying every bit of it. I have hope.
You recently produced Kurunmi by Ola Rotimi. Why Kurunmi?
Kurunmi is a play I read and participated in while in Drama School in the 1980s, and I’ve loved it since then. I always knew that I would produce the play one day, then an opportunity came late 2019 while discussing the state of the nation with a friend. Our discussion went on to how the story of Kurunmi mirrors the events happening in Nigeria today, particularly in the South West. We have a case of Yoruba leaders and elders who are split into two or more ideological camps, and refusing to compromise for the good of the society. That was what happened in the 1860s between Atiba who was the Alaafin of Oyo, and Kurunmi, the Aare Ona Kakanfo and leader of Ijaye at the time. They couldn’t agree on a matter of succession, traditionalism and progressiveness. The disagreement between them led to a bloody war which drew in the powerful armies of Ibadan and the Egba. By the time the war ended in 1861, Ijaye, which was a thriving commercial centre at the time (think of it as the Lagos of the time), had been totally decimated. I think there are useful parallels to be drawn from that bloody incident in the politics of Nigeria today. That was why we ventured into that.
What is your opinion about Nollywood?
I think Nollywood has a bright future. It’s currently attracting a lot of interest globally. I believe in time, that interest will lead to better funding and better productions. It’s looking good. The talent is here, the interest is here too. Soon we will have all the elements come together to have our first truly globally successful movie.
What are your plans?
I’m currently collaborating with two of my friends, Bisi Adigun and Wole Adeniyi, to jointly produce a movie early next year. The movie is tentatively titled Kiss of Death. I wrote the screenplay. We hope to have that made early 2021. We have an Irish director, Terry McMahon, coming in to get that done. We have high hopes for the flick.