By Sylvester Kwentua
Emeka Rollas is the incumbent president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN). He was elected as the president of the Guild, few weeks back in Calabar. In this interview, he speaks about his plans for the AGN and how things should be in Nollywood. Excerpts
Congratulations on your victory as the president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria.
Thank you very much
How did your colleagues in the movie industry react to your victory?
Well, it has been jubilation everywhere; the victory is not just for only me but for everybody with good intentions for Nollywood. This is because in the last five years, the AGN has been involved in one crisis or another but when I came on board as the president of the government of national unity, we were able to stem the tide; we were able to bring peace back to the Guild. We were able to make every stakeholder know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. So, we were able conduct an election void of rancor. Imagine, weeks after the election, we have not heard of anybody being dissatisfied with the election, and that is how it is supposed to be. We met with all stake holders and after series of discussions and deliberations; they all gave their blessings and go ahead for us to conduct the election. The AGN is now a united body and that is how it will be for a long time.
In the past like you rightly observed, the AGN was known to always experience post-election crisis but this time around, there seem to be serenity in the Guild. How did you achieve it?
First of all, I will give it to God. I committed my leadership from 2007 to God and then there are certain ingredients needed for peace to reign. My mother used to say that for you to achieve total peace; you need to get to the grass root to find out what actually caused the problem, then you tackle it. Hope you understand me? I had meetings with all the factions and everybody involved. As a matter of fact, before the election, I met with Emeka Ike and he gave me his blessings and asked me to go ahead with my plan. Then from the Ibinabo angle; when I found out that the then national secretary was interested in being president of the guild, I didn’t give up; rather I became more interested in contesting. I tried closing up the gaps in places where we had factions; I even went as far as visiting states that had factions, just to close up the gap and bring peace to the state guilds and to make sure we worked as one family, under one leadership. Prior to the election, there were suggestions that voting could be done online but I said no, because I felt it was going to be more expensive doing that. So, I made sure that all state guild chairmen attended the election, to show to the world that we are truly united. You won’t believe it that this last election was an election where every stakeholder was present. Desmond Elliot, despite his busy schedule was in attendance, Mr Latin, who is the president of TAMPAN (Theater Arts and Motion Picture Producers Association of Nigeria), was there. The president of the Directors Guild of Nigeria, Fred Amata, was there, Segun Arinze was there, Pete Edochie was there. A whole lot of people were there to show support and solidarity and they added glamour to the election. When people saw all these big shots in the industry, it gave them the confidence that all was well. Like I said earlier, it was God who just took control.
Now that you have been reelected president of the guild, what will you do differently, that you didn’t do previously?
Okay, let me just correct an impression before I answer your question. This is actually my first tenure as president of the AGN; in the other tenure, I was the head of the government of national unity; it was an interim thing. Then, people came to me and said, “Go and head the government of national unity, if you do well, you can then come for your first tenure”. I did well and now, I am the president for my first tenure. Now to your question, leadership, especially when leading an association that is dependent on dues from members, is not one you will come and say, “I will do this or that”, because the money is not a budgeted one, unlike being the president of a country. Being the president of Nigeria for example, means you can plan ahead because you are working with a budget but in AGN, it is not like that. Right now, we need to go down to the grass root to generate the fund needed to do anything at all. Convincing our people that they have a union that can defend them, should be of utmost importance to us a guild. We are actors, not directors. Our major concern is to protect the average actor and care about his welfare, either at location or anywhere else. We need to convince the actors that they now have a viable association that can fight for their rights and welfare. If we say that an actor has to feed well during a shoot, we must make sure that we set up a task force to make sure people are complying with what we say. One of the major problems we have in Nigeria is that a lot of actors don’t even know what the profession is all about; some don’t know it is a career thing. Some just feel it is an avenue to feed themselves. For example, a producer comes to meet you and say he will pay you 10,000 Naira for a job of 50,000 Naira, you will accept it because your mind will tell you that if you don’t take it, you will die of hunger. No! This is not right. In this country today, everybody can just wake up and say he or she wants to be an actor without knowing what it entails. We need actors to know that acting is serious business. As an actor, you are a brand ambassador and the brand wakes up one morning and says your contract has been terminated but when you walk on the street, you see billboards of such a brand and your picture is on it! These are things the Guild can fight. There are a lot of us who are yet to be paid for projects we executed a long time ago. These and many more are some of the things the Guild will fight.
How do you intend fighting piracy?
For us as actors, we are not directly affected as actors. Those who make films are aware of anti-piracy laws and they should be the ones to get legislative backings to fight this piracy. We are actors! You can’t tell a musician to go out and fight piracy when he has a record label to do that for him. We are not a Guild that fights piracy; nobody should rob us of our right, all in the name of piracy. One of the perceptions that I have observed in our industry, is that of actors are being told that they won’t be paid because of piracy. Who does that in advanced countries? It has even gotten so bad, that every actor believes he can’t blow, unless he produces a movie. That is wrong; as a matter of fact, an actor should be able to live comfortably being an actor. Quote me, any actor who goes into production of movies, if properly investigated, is probably broke and is doing this to earn money. If you are doing very well as an actor, raking in money, you won’t even have the opportunity to gather people and say you are producing a movie. Thank you.
So, what will the AGN do to make sure those saddled with fighting piracy, do their job?
First of all, for you to do a job you must be motivated, and motivation comes from interest. If nobody calls on the AGN to support them in fighting piracy, then there is nothing we can really do. Our hands are full with a lot of projects at the moment and we can’t start bothering ourselves on fighting piracy, unless we are called upon. If the DG of the censors’ board calls on us today to give him a few actors who will support them in a law case against pirates, we will gladly be there for him.
How will the Guild protect actors and actresses who face extortion from quack producers, all in the name of making them stars, yet they won’t produce a single movie with these same actors and actresses?
For now, we have not had any official complaint from any actor or actress, but if we get such a complain, we will surely act right, and fight and protect the interest of the affected actors or actresses. Our responses are quicker now. Any case of extortion or sexual harassment would be dealt with decisively.
How cordial is the relationship between the AGN and other guilds in the movie industry?
We enjoy a very cordial relationship, as seen by their presence at our last election