By BENJAMIN NJOKU
The name, Alex Eyengho is formidable in the Nigerian motion picture industry popularly called Nollywood, where he has made impact for more than two decades.
He was the longest serving Secretary-General of the Association of Movie Producers, AMP, former Presidents of the Association of Nollywood Core Producers, ANCOP, and Association of Itsekiri Performing Artistes, AIPA.
He’s currently the Vice President of the International Federation of Film Producers’ Associations, FIAPF, the umbrella body for motion picture producers worldwide.
FIAPF is to film what FIFA is to football. He was elected in 2013 as the first ever African to occupy that office in FIAPF founded in 1933. Eyengho is as passionate with stage play productions as he is with motion picture productions. In this engaging interview, he talks about his political exploits and the historical relevance of Olu Akengbuwa, a play he is staging tomorrow, at the Agip Hall, MUSON Centre, Onikan Lagos.
What’s been happening to your brand generally?
I have been there doing what I know how to do best in the overall interest of the Nigerian creative industries, particularly Nollywood, which is my primary constituency. We have been helping to deepen the Nollywood brand both nationally and internationally.
You went into politics and contested for a position during the February 2019 general elections. What was it like?
I actually went into partisan politics in 2010, under the platform of the now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). I later became the ACN flag bearer for the Warri South West Constituency in the Delta State House of Assembly in the 2011 elections. I lost the election and decided to take a break from running for elective positions until February this year when I flew the All Progressives Congress,APC, flag as her candidate for the Warri Federal Constituency seat in the House of Representatives.
I lost the election and decided to challenge the results at the Election Petitions Tribunal but, also, I lost out. I resolved not to proceed to the Appeal court because I really didn’t see the need. I have since moved on with my professional life in the creative industries. I have always maintained that I am a professional in politics and not a professional politician. My desire was to serve the people as a legislator elected by majority of the electorate or serve the people as an appointee of the Federal Government. I take solace in the fact that what will be, will be. For now, I am back to duty in my primary constituency.
What have you been doing since coming back?
A lot. I have been involved in helping to deepen the Nollywood brand both nationally and internationally. I have also been working on personal projects. For instance, I am about rounding off the post production of a film I shot in March last year. I am also bringing my stage play to Lagos for the very first time.
Let’s talk about the stage play, why are you staging the play now? And who are the actors featuring in it ?
The epic play, Olu Akengbuwa, will actually be staged on Sunday, November 3, 2019 by 2pm (martinee) and 5pm (Command Performance) at the Agip Hall, MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos. There is no better time to stage this play than now when our people, particularly the younger generation have almost completely lost their sense of history.
This play will renew and rekindled interest in Nigerian history. Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s protege, Dede Mabiaku, veteran actors, Norbert Young, Eliel Otote, Soibifaa Dokubo and Haji Omonoba Bello are some of the notable actors that will feature in the historical play.
This play was first staged in 2015, as part of activities that marked the 28 years on the throne of the then Warri monarch, His Majesty, Ogiame Atuwatse II, CON, who joined his ancestors on September 5, 2015. The same year, the Delta State Government under the then governorship of His Excellency, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, CON, sponsored the play to be staged at Asaba and we had a command performance before a high-profile audience right inside the Government House, Asaba, as part of activities that marked his official handing over ceremony to his successor, His Excellency, Dr. Senator Ifeanyi Okowa.
We have had other runs of the play and one of my other plays in Warri in 2016, 2017 and 2018. I believe it is time to present the play to a more critical audience in Lagos, being the commercial and entertainment industry headquarters of Nigeria.
The Olu of Warri, His Majesty, Ogiame Ikenwoli would be leading his High Chiefs and other dignitaries from his kingdom to be part of the historic moment. Bringing the play to Lagos, remains part of our plans to reunite the people from other regions with the story of Warri Kingdom and Niger Delta generally. We hope to also stage the play in Abuja before taking it outside the country. We are doing this because the subject matter treated in this play is of national and international importance.
The issues of power tussle, succession plan, ego-centrism, leadership, family bickering, politics, polygamy etc were treated in the play, using strong dialogues, proverbs, dance, music, culture and tradition typical of Warri people, to creatively tell the epic story. Apart from the fact that we plan to now stage in Lagos annually (every November) a play about the ancient and pristine Warri Kingdom and other pre-Nigeria Kingdoms, we have a bigger plan to stage the play in other climes like the United Kingdom (UK), United States of America (USA), Portugal, France, Germany and Canada in future.
Who are the other notable thespians featuring in the play and what’s the story-line?
We have the likes of Osezua Stephen-Imobhio, Williams Ekpo, Efe Mayford-Orhorha, Raphael-Niyi Stevens, Berney Obi Abuezie, Victoria Ajomeyinje, Matel Alex-Eyengho, Tom Godwin, Toju Ejoh, Femi Olaiya, Edith Amatotsero, Mary Chukwuma, Adenike Ayodele, Abigail Yonwuren among others. Olu Akengbuwa is an epic play about the intriguing incidents that created a lacuna in the historical trajectory of the Warri monarchical system, when for 88 years, the Warri Kingdom had no King. Historians link two of such incidents as immediate cause of the 88 years interregnum in Warri Kingdom: A curse placed on the Kingdom by a certain herbalist from Ife, Oyo empire, and a pronouncement by Olu Akengbuwa against his son, Prince Omateye. Are these facts or myths? The intriguing play revolves around this. I can tell you that we have always wowed the audience in all the places we have staged this play.
Ejike Asiegbu, who played the role of Olu Akengbuwa, when it was first staged on May 1, 2015 in Warri, got a royal blessing from the then Warri monnarch, His Majesty Ogiame Atuwatse II, CON who fell in love with his role interpretation skills. In 2016 and subsequent years when the play was staged again, every member of the cast and crew got a pat on the back, an indication that the play was well received by the audience.
Finally, how profitable is the production of stage plays in Nigeria? From the perspective of the audience, is the stage culture alive?
I will say the production of stage plays in Nigeria and arguably anywhere in the world is as profitable as the availability of corporate and individual sponsors. No standard stage production such as this, with a cast and crew of over 80 creative minds, can make profit on the basis of ticket sales alone without sponsorship and media partnerships. This is a statement of fact. As for stage culture from the perspective of the audience, I think it is much better than it was five years ago. The kind of experiences the audience get from the theatre after watching a stage play, cannot be compared with those they get from watching films, soap opera etc at the cinemas, television at home or the internet. Stage play remains the king of true entertainment.