Theirs has become a dynasty. The Ejiro brothers – Chico, Zeb and Peter – are well known in Nollywood, Nigeria’s movie industry. Born of the same parents, the showbiz trio, from Isoko, Delta State, granted YES INTERNATIONAL! Publisher/Editor in Chief, AZUH ARINZE, an exclusive interview at Chico’s home in Lekki, Lagos. Excerpts…
How does it feel to have roped two of your brothers into your line of business?
Zeb: First of all, I want to thank God. It’s not by my power. I need to give these guys (Peter and Chico) their own credit in their own way because a lot of people passed through me. A lot of cousins and what have you. Chico, from day one, showed that he’s an enterprising man, somebody that is ready to go; somebody that the sky cannot even hold and today, I’m proud of him that he’s done so well. He has taken himself away from Zeb Ejiro. Now, he’s a dynasty on his own. He’s now building his own dynasty and that is great. And when Peter came too, when he left the bank, he too didn’t wait, he started, and today he’s the Rector of one of the biggest film schools in Nigeria, if not in Africa. So, I’m proud of them and I thank God. God made it possible.
What got you interested in your brother’s line of business? You could have towed another path…
Chico: Number one, I will say I love the profession; the entertainment profession, despite the fact that I studied Agric in school. So, while I was in school, I kept coming back home to assist with the then Ripples on NTA and I love freedom; I loved expressing myself from day one. I started doing the job like a part time job. And I loved it and from there, I just developed interest to continue.
Ideally, two of them already in the same profession would have be enough for the family, why did you make the number three?
Peter: Even when I was in the bank, I saw Zeb as an institution in the industry. He was an institution then, because with Ripples, you can’t beat anybody at its helm of affair. So, I said this profession must be glorious, wonderful and I love entertainment as a matter of fact. In fact, when I came in, I said so there’s something like this? Why did I go to the bank even? This is where I belong. You know my first film, Domitila. It was like whaooh! It was an eye opener. Subsequent films – Strange Woman…They started coming. So, I owe the credit to my two brothers who brought me in. It’s been a wonderful time and to crown it all, God has blessed us with this movie school which I’m the head. It’s one of the biggest film schools in Nigeria…
(Interruption) – Tell us more about this film school and what is it called?
Peter: The Film and Broadcast Academy. It’s in Ozoro, Delta State. The difference between The Film and Broadcast Academy and other film schools is that we train employers. Other schools train employees. So, we train the masters. That’s the difference between our school and even other movie schools in Nigeria. So, it’s a unique school. Besides that, we are accredited by the Federal Ministry of Education. It’s not just a corner side school where you just go and do short-time. We award national diplomas recognized by the Federal Ministry of Education. So, we stand distinct from every other film school in Nigeria…
Zeb: And to add to that, the school has a polytechnic status at the moment because it’s approved by the National Board for Technical Education. It is the body that approves all polytechnics in the country. And like he said, we train employers. The motto of the school is ‘empowerment from day one’. We don’t train film makers that will go and queue, we train film makers, we give them the tools and everything and when you come out, you can operate on your own, without going to look for job.
You entered the industry first and later brought your brothers in. Some people would have hidden the fact that there is money to be made here from their brothers. Why didn’t you do that?
Zeb: Well, my nature, the way we were brought up, we were brought up as people that should be open. The sky is so huge, so big to accommodate everybody. Your own water, nobody can take it from you. No matter the crowd that will come into that business. So, even my brothers, some of them came into the business late. Before my brothers, I had given a lot of people chance. From the Andy Amenechis, Fred Amatas, all of them. These are people that passed through my hands. But the truth of the matter is that Chico would have grabbed it in another way, whether I opened it or not. And like I used to operate in those days, I don’t ask where you come from, what I ask is: Can you act? Can you write? Do you want to learn editing? Camera? That’s what I want to hear. Whether you are Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Isoko or whatever, I don’t give a damn. That is not my business. My business is that this business does not understand language. It does not understand tribe, where you come from and all that. What this business understands is creativity and that’s what I believe in.
As the eldest, anytime there’s an issue, how do you people resolve it?
Peter: Like you rightly said, there must be issues, there must be a quarrel. We disagree, but we must agree ultimately. Like you know, I’m a peaceful person. So, I look for the peaceful way to resolve the issue. That’s what has been keeping us together. We have our differences from time to time, but the most important thing is that God has given us that spirit to reconcile ourselves without outside interference. I don’t think there’s been anytime that anybody has said Zeb and Chico dey quarrel, make una go reconcile dem o! or make we go hold meeting. No. We resolve our issues on our own. And God has so blessed me that He gave me that seniority to be able to bring my brothers together. Even when there’s a disparity in opinions and ideas, He gives me that maturity. And my brothers respect me a lot. In fact, I thank God because they are wealthier than me, but they respect me as if I’m everything to them. I just thank God for the brothers He gave to me.
You are the youngest, but you have done more movies than even both of them combined. How do you feel about that?
Chico: I just want to say something before I answer your question. I will say Nollywood is not fair to Zeb Ejiro. Entertainment industry is not fair to Zeb Ejiro. The Nigerian society is not fair to Zeb Ejiro and the entertainment business. Why did I say this? You cannot talk about the so-called Nollywood today without Zeb. Because there was a time his office was the Winnis, the National Theatre. Some people will even come to Lagos and stay in the office for like three months. I don’t want to mention names, but there are a lot of them like that. From Genevieve to RMD, they passed through Zeb. From Fred Amata to Marthias Obahiagbon to Andy Amenechi. All of them passed through Zeb. So, when you look at the name Zeb Ejiro in terms of achievements and personality and recognition, I believe if he’s in America, even Steven Speiberg will be his baby (General laughter)…
(Interruption) – But he has a national honour, MON?
Nooo! (he screams). There should be more to that. Someone like him deserves a position like a minister or a DG in one establishment. I am very, very serious about that, so that he can impart his knowledge. Let me tell you, it’s only in this place that you don’t appreciate a man like Zeb. It’s very, very painful. Back to your question, I feel happy to have achieved so much in this short time and it’s by His grace and the support of my family and friends.
The movie industry, currently, is crawling, what is the way out?
Zeb: I feel terrible, I feel bad about that. At times I sit down and I cry in my bedroom because this is not exactly what we built. This is not where we are supposed to be today. First of all, the industry is so huge that the government is not giving a lot of attention to it. During this past political era, the government used the movie industry to campaign, to bring themselves to power. And after that election, they have dumped the movie industry again, which is not fair. There are people, like my younger brother has said, who know how to drive this industry; who started this industry from nothing. Now the Federal Government has come out with $200 million, but the condition they are giving movie makers to access this money is alarming. It’s so stringent, it’s so alarming, because for God’s sake, we built this industry without government’s support; we built the industry without anybody’s support. No corporate body, no body. It was from our sweat, we the independent producers, and our friends at Idumota (in Lagos) market. All of us came together, we built this industry. So, if the government is giving this industry a $200 million facility, they should sit with us, they should understand the business, how it is done, so that they will be able to understand how we can work out the way; how to access that money. But what they have done, they have created an avenue to empower the cinema owners, those politicians, those movie politicians who sit at the door of government offices, not the core practitioners. And it is sad. So, it is time we put things in proper perspective and that means appoint the right people into various offices and that is the only way we can move this industry forward.
What do you think could be done to enable Nollywood reclaim its old glory?
Chico: One, we have to create a proper structure to see how we can move Nollywood to the next level. Structure in terms of people who understand the business, to run the affairs of the Censors Board, The Film Corporation, to all the different guilds we have in Nollywood. Then, the government, with this their so-called $200 million, they have to look for good practitioners and remove some of those their bank policies if they really want us to access the loan. Then, we need a lot of professionals, we need a lot of collaborations and symposia and seminars and workshops. A lot of enlightenment, investment; change the perception of the people and the industry. Things like that will take it to the next level.
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