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Emeka Rollas, the President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, tells BABATUNDE TUGBOBO about his career, Nollywood and other issues
The Inspector General of Police recently directed that actors and skit makers who use police uniforms without authorisation should be arrested. What do you make of that order?
It is very easy for the Inspector General of Police to give such an order. I (once) had an interface with the IG through the force’s Public Relations Officer, and we discussed issues like this. We cannot shy away from the truth that before now, a lot of practitioners did not know the position of the law on certain things. However, ignorance of the law is not an excuse. It is time for producers and actors to come together and engage the police in discussions.
On the other hand, the police also needs to know that it is not enough to sit in their offices and only point out areas that affect them negatively. They should know that the industry has also promoted the police positively. It is important for them to engage practitioners and find out how we can promote them even more. In the United States of America, they (authorities) work hand in hand with Hollywood because they know it is a strong medium to propagate many things, even government policies.
You studied Mass Communication in the university. Why then did you venture into Nollywood?
While I was a student at the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State, I got to know about a club called ‘Attractions’, which is still in the school till date. Back then, we used to organise shows. I recall that I did a show then called ‘Rolling Beats Jeans Carnival’. It was the first of its kind in that school. When I left school, I did not immediately venture into acting, until I met a woman, Mrs Nonye Okechukwu, who is presently a costumier in Onitsha (Anambra State). She took me to the late Mike Oriedinma, who in turn took me for an audition. I was eventually given a role, and that was how my acting career started sometime in 1996.
You once stated that Nollywood is not a dump site for ex-Big Brother Naija housemates. Why did you make that assertion at the time?
It is not proper that people criticise Nollywood, yet embrace whatever comes to their screens via BBN. Some people like the things seen on BBN, but if an actor does any of those things, people will begin to shout. In BBN, the contestants are not trained before going into the house. If former housemates who leave the show feel that they want to become actors, then Big Brother should extend a hand of fellowship to the industry, instead of trying to use the platform to create ‘pseudo beings’ who fade away after some time.
Another season of the reality show is on. What measures has the AGN put in place to guard against what you spoke about?
There is not so much we can do, but we have standard practices. If anyone wants to join Nollywood, they have to follow the laid down procedures. There are some people who might have even won the competition but when we check their behaviour while on the show, we feel they don’t deserve to be welcomed into the industry.
We did it with Whitemoney (winner of the 2021 edition of the show). We checked his attitude right from the beginning of the show to the end. We then deemed it necessary to honour him with our membership. He is presently a member of AGN.
There seems to be a great influx of actors into the industry, with little or no experience, thereby causing roles to be interpreted wrongly. What steps is the AGN taking to correct this anomaly?
Anyone who is registered with the guild will have to undergo training before they can be recognised as actors in the industry. The training is done in different state chapters. After that, we have an official induction ceremony, before anybody can become a member. Also, we have categorised membership, where people go through internship while training. In the course of the training, they will be made to understand certain things about acting.
Actors and filmmakers have often lamented the lack of support from the government. In what ways has the guild solicited the support of the government?
One of the greatest problems of the industry is not just about government support. If one needs government money, one must stand on a structure. Nollywood, as it presently is, lacks structure. However, we are trying to structure our guild; not Nollywood. If we are able to structure the guild, we will lead the pack. Many of the people who call themselves ‘filmmakers’ came into the industry to act. But, because acting did not favour them, they began to diversify into other areas, such as producing.
If Nollywood’s structure were intact, it would be easier for the government to put in funding. The last time the Federal Government tried to support Nollywood was when former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration gave the industry a whooping N3bn. One cannot put N3bn into an industry that has no structure. Till today, nobody can give account of what happened. The Bank of Industry also came up with a fund, and outlined what needed to be done for people to access the funds. In the course of that, it was realised that majority of Nollywood practitioners did not have things they could use as collaterals.
How much did the AGN get from the N3bn released by Jonathan’s administration?
When they released the N3bn, the conditions attached to it made some people to be ineligible. Because of the criteria, many non-industry practitioners and even relatives of government officials access the fund. That was possible because there was no structure in place.
What informed your decision to contest the position of the national president of the AGN?
I have contested that position for 12 years but different things kept happening. I believe I have a date with destiny, and major aim is to change the narrative. For me, the motivation was to look at the system and see how I could contribute positively to it.
In what ways has this position affected your appearance in movies?
It has had a negative effect, because I don’t have time to be on location anymore. Except I decide to make out time. At a point in Nollywood, we no longer make films; rather, we strike deals.
What has been your most challenging moment as the President of AGN?
The biggest challenge was how to convince my members to be on the same page, and making the members realise how valuable they are. When evil prevails for a long time, people will take evil to be good. In Nigeria today, because corruption has been here with us for a long time, most people feel that is the norm. Actors have been deprived over the years, so many of them have normalised it.
At a time, you named Senator Elisha Abbo as patron of the guild, and this generated a lot of criticism because of the Senator’s negative public image. How were you able to appease disgruntled members?
I reached out to the people who were calling for my head. I also reached out to some senior colleagues, such as Joke Silva, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Segun Arinze and Okey Bakassi. We had a meeting and we decided that we needed to carefully look at what was happening, and through a public relations strategy, we were able to deal with the matter decisively.
Did you regret making that decision of nominating him?
I won’t use the word, ‘regret’. Perhaps, the word, ‘oversight’ is better. If not that I was under pressure at the time, I should have noticed that it was the same controversial senator. It did not occur to me (that he was the one that had been in the news for the wrong reasons after he assaulted a girl at a sex toy shop). It was our members in the North-East who presented his name to me. Because I was under pressure, the thing passed the committee level, got to me and I approved it.
Despite the public outcry, did you retain his nomination still as the patron?
No, I can assure you that he was not retained as an AGN patron.
What are the benefits that come with being the president of AGN?
In any position of leadership that one finds oneself, one should do well, so that the people that one serves will give good testimony about one. So, when one is contesting any other position, people will give testimonials that one did well in the previous position. At this stage, we are still building structures for the industry.
How were you able to unify aggrieved factions that existed before your emergence as president?
I give the glory for that to God. I actually prayed about it. In places where I was supposed to feel proud, I humbled myself. For the factions, I went to see them myself and spoke to their consciences to understand that we need to do this (build the guild) together. Conflict resolution can only be achieved by a determined person. I was determined to make it work.
Sex-for-roles in Nollywood is a challenge that has refused to go away. How is the guild tackling this?
We have a dedicated email address and phone number, through which people can make complaints, whether it is about rape or any form of molestation. However, we have not been receiving reports from people, and I don’t know why. I had to even go to some states to investigate and find out if there was a problem. I also found out that some persons were framing people up, claiming it was because of sex-for-roles that they did not succeed in the industry. However, this phenomenon is not peculiar to Nollywood. It happens in other industries.
What movie shot you into the limelight?
I think it was My Cross, which I acted in alongside Liz Benson.
It is generally believed that entertainers can’t keep their marriages. How have you been able to maintain your marriage for close to two decades now?
I got married in 2003, and this will be the 19th year. Marriage is an institution of God, and it is bound to be attacked. There is no perfect marriage anywhere. I made a decision that nothing will happen to my marriage. Even if it requires me to beg, I will do that to make it work. However, marriage failure is not peculiar to entertainers. I can give you examples of people who have successful marriages in the industry. Every marriage cannot be the same.
Having studied Mass Communication, did you at any point practise journalism?
I once had a brief stint with some ‘junk’ newspapers.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement as the president of AGN?
I don’t like to sound my trumpet. I will prefer that members of the guild speak for me. I have done many things silently, and when I begin to unveil them, people will be shocked. Some of the things we have done are our health insurance scheme, setting up a welfare committee, and a health management committee. I have also made the guild peaceful to the point that people now believe in the AGN.
How does the guild support ailing actors?
In the last four months, we have distributed over N6m (to ailing members of the guild). I keep telling actors that it is what one gives to life that it will give back to one. The period you were doing well, save up something, and guard yourself with different health insurance schemes. When you fall sick, it will definitely help you.
What is your best food?
My favorite food is fufu with okazi soup.