No reason for me to feature in Living in Bondage Sequel –Ogunjiofor (Paulo)

 

 

The recently premiered Living in Bondage sequel directed by Nollywood star actor, Ramsey Noah brought back the thrills and memories of the first film shot way back in 1992 by Okechukwu Ogunjiofor. His brilliant idea to make films for families to watch at home when the cinema culture started fading away, paved way for the Nollywood movie industry Nigeria is enjoying today.  Ogunjiofor was not just the producer that created the movie concept and assembled the whole team; he was ‘Paulo’ the antagonist in the story. In this interview with Ifeoma Ononye, Ogunjiofor who hails from Imo State and presently runs Videosonic studios, speaks on why it would not be possible to feature in the new sequel and why he stopped making movies at that time. 

 

 

 

The first time we saw you acting was in the movie, Living In Bondage in 1992, your acting was perfect. The scripting of the movie is still rated one of the best till date, tell us how the movie came to be and how you got to act that role.

 

It is a combination of so many stories in one. First, I will say that I studied film and television production at Television College Jos. When I came to Lagos, it was to find a platform to practice what we have learned in school. But there was no visible platform.

 

 

At that time, we would recall that in the 1960s and 70s had a quit a number of cinemas in the country.

 

 

Our cinema culture was very vibrant. Then was when we had, Agege Pen Cinema and the likes all over the country. Foreign film makers were making the movies and distributing in cinemas. Back then, there were no VHS machines. They were about to come out. It was only when you go to cinemas that you can watch films. So we went to study, hoping that when we come out, there will be some place to practice but when we came out, the indigenization decree of 1975 between Obasanjo and the regime of Muritala Mohammed had weakened the industry. The decree made all the foreign nationals who made films and distributed films here to leave the country.

 

 

So when we came out of school, the cinema culture was already dying. There were few Nigerian film makers like, Ogunde, Eddy Ugboma, Ola Balogun, Francis Oladele, Nasiru in the North, Fred Amata’s dad and a very few others. They were trying to make films in order to fill the gap that the foreigners left, but it was not enough. So the cinema culture was dying and no one to revive it.

 

 

Some of who came out of school did not have a platform to play. It meant that one of us will have to reinvent the practice for all of us to be relevant. There were pockets of people trying to do television here and there, making soap operas or doing pilots in order to survive. NTA was the only station that could absorb those works and there was an embargo on employment and so we needed to find a way forward.

 

 

That was how I came up with the idea of ‘let’s make a movie and put it on VHS and take it to people’s homes since people do not go to cinemas anymore. While I was planning on the movie, I took to the streets to hawk to raise money. I wanted to save at least N150,000 to help tell the story of the first movie I wanted to make.

 

 

In the course of doing that, someone directed me to Chief Kenneth Nnebue who sponsored the movie ‘Living In Bondage’. Kenneth Nnebue was the marketer of films. His shop was in Oshodi and his office was in Ijesha.

 

 

I went to his office to discuss with him and he said it was a good idea. He too had done some films but they were not professionally made. They get foreign films from abroad and duplicate them and sell. They already had an idea that film is a good business but how to make indigenous films and make good money is what they do not know at the time.

 

 

We got talking and we decided to make the movie. We did not write a script. What we did was to get a sequence outline of the idea that I had. We wrote down what would happen in each scene. Artists who were vast in speaking Igbo were called to paint a picture of the scenario to the actors so that they can use their own dialogue to bring it to life.

 

 

I went around as the producer to bring in cast and crew. I assembled the editors and directors who worked on that film. We rehearsed this job in Kenneth’s office. We rehearsed it for some months and everybody blended together. The movie was well made, away from the normal slapsticks. We chose Igbo language because our calculation was that because Igbo’s don’t go to cinemas but have VHS machines in their home, let us take cinema to their homes instead of taking them to the cinemas.

 

 

The moment we made it their language, Igbo’s bought that film. Because it was well made and the story was a universal one, everybody lashed onto the film because it ministered to them. That was what we did that made the film a super success that gave us the industry that we are practicing today.

 

 

How did you feel when you heard that Living in Bondage sequel has been made and being premiered 27 years after the first one you produced? Were you informed about it?

 

 

I did not hear about it until it was almost made. I was involved in another production, I was doing Queen Amina. May be that is why I did not hear. Nobody approached me to say they wanted to make such a film. When I heard it, they were already going into the production.

 

 

I reached out Ramsey Noah and Steve Gukas, who is my friend and they asked me if I was not told about it. My answer was no, that I was not told. They told me that they are not the ones directly involved, that his principal, who is the sponsor bought the rite from my partner, which is Kenneth Nnebue.

 

 

They expected that Kenneth should have told me. I could not do anything then, since they said that they told the person who sponsored me. I waited for him to speak to me, which nothing happened. People were expecting me to go to court to stop them.

 

 

At first, I felt that that was the right thing to do but I said, ‘these people did not make any mistake by going to Kenneth. So it is not their fault that they don’t know that I should be the one consulted because that movie is my brainchild’. Yes, Kenneth Nnebue gave me the money, but there was no formal agreement between me and Kenneth Nnebue. Of course, the law gives me the right as the producer and the owner of the product but because right the time this film was made till date, I have never really gotten  any money from it.

 

 

With all the super success the movie recorded?

 

 

Not even a dime, except for maybe my allowances when I was producing that film and my transport allowance of about N3,500, I did not make any money from the first Living in Bondage. If I did not make any money from this film for over 20 something years and I didn’t kill anybody, is it now that they are making the sequel from the same person that is cheating me and keeping my money that I will now begin to use money that I didn’t see to go and fight? So I kept quiet because one thing I know about crime is that it does not expire. Any day you believe is time to rise up for it, is your time, for now, I just let sleeping dogs lie.

 

 

The part you played in the first Living in Bondage was phenomenal. Anybody that saw the first one will understand the reason some people wonder why you are not in the sequel directed by Ramsey Noah, if they had invited you to play a role, would you have agreed?

 

There wouldn’t be any reason for me to be in the sequel. This quarrel with Kenneth Nnebue started immediately I made part on of the film.

 

 

When we started writing the part two, I started asking for money. I was coming from the streets. I didn’t have a home. I was squatting with someone in Ajegunle. I needed to have my own home, even if it was one room apartment. The agreement we had, ‘oral agreement’ was that if the film comes out, he would take his money, that is 150,000 and other extra expenditures but we will share the proceeds 50 50. We didn’t get to do that. Immediately the film was released, we had made N20million naira sales. I was asking for money to rent an apartment that would not have been up to N20, 000. He said that he cannot give it to me until we finished making the part two.

 

 

I was naive and very young. At that time, I had finished writing the second part, left it in his locker in his office. I thought that if I threatened to leave the job that he would have a change of heart but that did not happen. I remember that at that time, anytime I entered public transport, people wanted to stone me.  People took that movie serious, especially that character I acted as ‘Paulo’ in the first part. I was being man handled everywhere. And I was begging him to save me by giving me money to at least enter taxi and rent an apartment. Entering taxi in those days was cheap, N20 per hour. He refused and insisted until I finish the part two.

 

 

Foolishly, I left his office and said, ‘if you don’t give me the money I need, I am not producing the part two’. But you see, I was producing in his office, I have already taught him the trade. He already has all the cast and crew which I brought. He already knows how I did the things I did and how I did them.

 

 

He called my bluff and went ahead to produce the part two, purporting to kill ‘Paulo’ in part one. In the beginning of part two, the ‘Paulo’ character was killed. That was how they solved that problem, instead of giving me what was mine. So from that moment, my hand was no longer in the film. Remember that I was from the streets; I didn’t have the financial muscle to fight him. My parents were only teachers. I didn’t have anyone that could help he get justice. I could not call police; I didn’t even register it in any copyright agency back then. The only thing I have is that the production credit was mine. But how do I proceed when I have not fed myself well. He was a marketer and all the adverts on television read, Kenneth Nnebue, Nek Video Links. That was what everybody knows. The guys on the street nobody know me. If you watch the movie, you will see my three credits, as the actor, producer and the technical director but no kobo in my pocket. More than two decades ago, many people cannot remember these details but there is no way I can forget it. That was how I was robbed of my effort, sweat and my first brainchild that God gave me.

 

 

From there, all other productions done by Chief Nnebue, increased in capacity. The movies he did after like Glamour Girls, Blood Money, Dirty Deals and so on were done as professional as we did in Living In Bondage.

 

 

After Living in Bondage, did you feature in other movies?

 

 

Many people must have forgotten but I did other movies. Movies like, Circle of Doom, Nneka the Pretty Serpent and Brotherhood of Darkness. These were all hits but none of them got me up to a million naira. So why should I continue making movies.

 

 

 

I was cheated many times. I was a trail blazer. There was no structure in the industry. Many looked up to me for the structure. Anywhere, I get to and I ended up being cheated, the next people coming after me will correct it. That is how the industry grew to what it was today.

 

 

Printing packets for the films, it didn’t occur to us we needed pictures for that. When we did my first movie, there were no photographs. We had to wear our costume and take pictures so we can have something to print the movie jackets. We learned to carry photographers along from then on. Even soundtracks in the movies, like in Living In Bondage used library music but in Circle of Doom, I made my own music, people following me learned that too.

 

 

It would have been stupid for me to be trail blazing while others are making money.

 

 

The marketers looked at me as a fool that they can cheat. I borrowed money from friends and well-wishers and make a movie and gave it to a marketer, he never put a kobo in that movie. He packed over 100,000 cassettes of the movie in his shop. Duplicated it from one of the master tapes and was selling the duplicate. The movie will be making waves but it is not your own that he is selling. When you come to his to say but people are buying this movie, he will open the warehouse and show you that he has not sold any while his duplicate is spinning millions for him. There is no way to checkmate them from doing that. You end up owing people that gave you loans on goodwill. That soils someone’s name.

 

 

How do you rate how far the Nigerian movie industry has come, do you think that if someone like you had remained in the industry, the structure would have been better than it is now?

 

 

I cannot arrogate the power to make the industry move forward to myself. I have done what I did. All the industry needed was that platform that we created. And I cannot say that I created it alone. If Kenneth Nnebue did not believe in me to give me the money to do that first movie, there won’t be an industry today. If I didn’t have the crop of artistes like Kenneth Okonkwo, Kanayo O Kanayo, Daniel Oluigbo, Ngozi Nwaneto, Ngozi Nwosu, Nnenna Nwabueze, Ndidi Obi, Zeb Ejiro, Niyi Wuruola who was in graphics and the rest, if I didn’t have these people to back me up, there would not be any industry.

 

Is there anything that can make you go back to acting?

 

No I don’t think so. I train people to do that now. When I was an actor, I know I did my best. It is best to leave the stage when the ovation is loud. 

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