Nkem Owoh is one movie actor and producer who has carved a niche for himself. He also has a mission, which he believes he has accomplished. Nkem, whose exploits in movies like Yogo Pam Pam, Ikuku, Sawaam Osuofia in London and Osuofia has since earned the title of the power house of laughter, gave some unbelievable revelations about why you should take him serious in spite of comic roles in this interview with AZUH ARINZE. Enjoy…
Having watched a couple of your works, it seems you have a peculiar mission. What is that mission?
If you describe it as a peculiar mission, so be it. But I moved into comedy first, because during the military regime, there were a lot of things that people did and they got queried. And because I wanted to bare my mind, I found in comedy a good avenue to spite the nose of big men and still go ahead to make them laugh. Moreover, I found out that there is a lot of stress, so why do tragedy? Whereas by making people laugh, you release tension. It is very difficult, but I have been on it since 1970, and I am happy about letting people ease off tension by watching my movies.
Will you say you have been able to achieve that mission?
I think so. No; I know so, because you read the achievements by acclamations and encomiums from people. When I was writing New Masquerade and Basi & Company, I will normally come out in the balcony and see a lot of people laughing, which suggests that they are appreciating it. And such reactions make me very happy. And I think I have achieved that mission.
How have Nigerians received your kind of movies?
It has been overwhelming. You see, every producer has his audience. But surprisingly, my movies cut across everybody. Both small children and adults, the illiterates and the elite, they all appreciate my movies.
How did you come into the industry?
Journalism has been part of me right from school. I was a member of the Literary, Debating and Dramatic Society. I wrote my first story for the Renaissance when I was in class 3. That was when Obaigbena was in charge of Anambra Broadcasting Service. So, when I finished my studies, I went to Enugu and worked with Igho Productions between 1979 and 1980. From there I got into NTA. I was in Basi & Company as a script writer and production manager. From there, I went to New Masquerade, where I worked with Kalu Okpi and Peter Igho. They used to come to Lagos and organize workshops and seminars for those of us who were writing for Network programmes. I also did Matters Arising, a station comedy on radio. From there, I did Circle of Doom and Taboo. I also wrote, produced and directed Ikuku, where I played the lead role. But in part II, I was unable to cope. I had to leave the directing to some other person.
Are you satisfied with the standard so far attained in the industry?
The standard is okay! It is even more than okay! Let me say one thing that people don’t understand – the social standard of Nigerians has gone very high. They compare our films with foreign films. Even as it is, we have gone so high, irrespective of our lack of equipment to produce. Though, as a result of the Nigerian factor, a lot of people have come into the industry, leading to some shoddy productions; but a number of producers are doing a good job.
How do you see the industry in this New Year and beyond?
We have just started. People who see the industry as coming to an end are those who are interested in making all the money there is in the industry as quick as possible. They do not have the interest of the industry at heart. We have not started producing on celluloid. People who say that movies are too much are not sincere to themselves. Even the Indians release thousands of films. We have not got to that stage. But I see a bright future. We have remained where we are as a result of the image of the past military governments. We have not started making international connections. But now that we have democracy, things will be much better.
So you are saying that proliferation of movies is in order?
What I am saying is liberalise the market. If you produce a movie and it is not selling, then you go back to the drawing board and find out why.
As a motion picture practitioner, what kind of input do you expect from government now that we have a Ministry of Tourism and Culture?
Personally, I want a situation where government will put eyes on the industry. Piracy is a major problem. The rate of piracy in Nigeria is one of the highest in the world. They should ban video clubs. It is not that video clubs do not exist in foreign lands, but there are rules which regulate their existence. If you want to rent a film, you must have a license. I don’t think any of the video clubs in the country has license to rent any Nigerian movie. Not even the foreign films. So, they have been thriving on illegality. They must all be registered. There is no laid down guidance for setting up video clubs. All they do is rent a shop and just keep renting out films. Even the Censors Board is not supposed to authorise their existence without guidelines. Government should give grants since we are talking about cultural exchange; the language that speaks it better is film. That is the real avenue to export our culture abroad. For instance, children generally associate love films with the Indians. Same with Kung Fu, which they associate with the Chinese. So, if we could use films, people will begin to associate us with a peculiar thing, which we project with our films.
Let’s have more information about your background…
I am from Udi local government area, Enugu. I went to State Primary School and Secondary School in Nsukka. I was at the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu where I obtained my HND in Engineering. After my National Youth Service Corps, I went into this business. Initially, I worked with Walco Engineering, but as a result of the economic downturn then, I was among those retrenched from the company.
Do you have any dream?
Yes! My dream is to have a production house or work with people. So that together, we can set up a production company that is as good as Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount Pictures.
What are your future plans?
I make my plans with what is in vogue.
What do you like and dislike in people?
What I like most in people and what I dislike most in people? They are the most difficult things to deal with. That is what I fear most. But incidentally, I cannot do without them.
Are you married?
I have been married since 1995. But I stayed eleven years with her before we got married.
How is it like as a married man?
It’s tough, a tough thing, but like everything, you learn. You have to try and understand each other. It makes me happy anytime I am going home.
How did you meet her?
I met her on the street where she was trying to help her relation to take some garri to the grinding machine. And she said: “Could you help me”. I looked at her. She was very beautiful. She struck me. So, I collected her credentials. From there things developed.
What was the basic attraction?
Her modesty. It is very rare to find a beautiful young girl in class 5 carrying garri to the engine when she is not from a poor family.
Reading. If thinking is to be regarded as one, I like to create things. I like relaxing by the seaside. If I was not into films, I could have gone into sports.
Can you recall some of the productions you have participated in?
Yes! I started with Ikoro, a series in 1980. I wrote some episodes of Basi & Company, Jagua Nana, produced in the East by Albert Egbe. I did a lot of drama for NTA and ABS: Matters Arising, Telemovies and Memorial Hospital. But for movies, I have participated in Circle of Doom, which was my first movie. I was the associate producer in Taboo; directed Frame Up; Rattlesnake. Ikuku, Heart Beat. Blood Vapour, Osuofiason. Yogo Pampam, Kiss Me Quick, Conspiracy. Crisis, Sawaam…
Of all the movies you have produced, which of them will you say is your best?
I feel happy with all of them. But there is this one that people have spoken so much about. That is Ikuku. It gave me the awards. Others are good too. Sawaam gave me an award too. I love all of them. It’s just like having children, you cannot just say you love one child more than the other.
Your kind of music?
I like traditional music, folk tales. I also like country music and jazz.
Your favourite musician?
Most of them are now gone: Jim Reeves, Nat King-Cool. I also like women folk songs from Imo and Abia and Agbakoribi traditional music.
Do you have any role model?
I used to have some while I was growing up. But my role model now is Jesus Christ. I like Bill Clinton. I also like the good part of people.
What do you like most about Jesus?
I like His righteousness. His approach to things, and how He manages crisis.
Is there anything you hate about yourself?
I hate a lot of things about myself. I hate the fact that I think so much about things that do not concern me. I am always too rigid. I don’t take to advise easily until I try whatever I want to do. I hate the way I associate with people; even bad people, until they hit me, and sometimes they hit me real hard.
Recall the happiest moment of your life
That was the day I was born. Happiness is in various departments. It could come from social angle. When you come tops in exams, it gives you happiness; same with the day you got married. I was happy when I got married, as well as the day I got my first child. I was very happy the day a medical doctor told me he used my movie for psychotherapy and also uses my movies in psychiatric hospitals. I was happy when I won Reel Awards. I have won two Reel Awards, THEMA…
What about your saddest moment?
They also come in various departments, like when there is no money. When my father died, I was very sad because I could not talk to him as a family man. I only talked to him as a child to a father. Another sad moment was when something happened and they needed me so much and 1 vowed never to become poor in my life. She needed money. So I took her to a place where I could get some money. The man said he didn’t have that kind of money. I even came very low and he said he hadn’t that kind of money. 1 came to the lowest, but the man said he didn’t have that kind of money. At that moment, I took a look at my mother and I vowed to become successful just for her sake.