Chijioke Agwu, Abakaliki
Popular and multiple award-winning actor, Pete Edochie, was in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, recently, for a Nollywood event. He spoke on how he inspired his son, Yul, into becoming a Nollywood superstar and on why he can’t be a politician, among other issues. Enjoy it.
How would you describe the Nollywood industry?
Nollywood is doing very well. But, you see, we require the goodwill and support of the government to expand the dimensions of our operations. In overseas countries, the government helps the people to project them through films. We are victimized in the country by religious conflicts; if it is the same God that created all of us, we should be able to do introspection and harmonize our differences and get ourselves together. It is only when the government shows commitment in financial terms that we can do something like that.
If you go to a place like Dubai, the United Arab Emirate is a predominantly Muslim Emirate. But Dubai has become the economic capital of the world today, because they exposed themselves and the West moved in investments, but in our own case, we seem to be closing the country up. It doesn’t help for development; that is what I am saying. You see, at the risk of sounding immodest, I am very easily, the most celebrated name in the movie industry, internationally, nationally, name it, because by the time I did Things Fall Apart, there was nothing like Nollywood. The book written by Chinua Achebe has been translated into 53 languages. So, the film we shot has been undergoing translations in many languages, Chinese, Japanese, name them, and each time they see my face, they recognize me.
Most times, I have been invited to some of those places but I am afraid of flying; I would abandon them. Today, I have reached a position to advise the government on the nature of films we should be shooting. I did a film with Genevieve Nnaji called Obiagu; it has been taken out of the country. Netflix bought it; Netflix had never bought any film from Nigeria, but I must say that Genevieve invested a lot of money in that production. All the cameramen were from Europe. And if you look at the people who starred in the production, nobody could be described as small or a child. I am the Obiagu; I am the main man. Then you have K.O.K, Zebrudaya and others; the truth is that there is no beginner there. You can see it in the film. The interpretation was fantastic. Who was my wife? Onyeka Onwenu. So, it worked. If the government shows commitment you can expand the movie industry to accommodate every segment of the society. It is the kind of obligation we owe the society. But government should be part of it or it remains a commercial venture by individuals whose interest alone is to make the money. I have gone beyond the stage in my life where all I think about is to make money? No. I am known everywhere today. I cannot do anything that is bad because I can be easily identified.
Your son, Yul, has joined you in Nollywood and he is doing very well. Did you actually prepare him for the industry?
That is a very good question. I am not quite sure I played any major role in his blend of professionalism. Okay, let’s put it this way, perhaps I inspired him to do a course in Theatre Arts at UNIPORT. I didn’t force him; he chose it. And he majored in Directing. But I told him ‘boy, listen, I am your father and I am old in this business, being a Director will not explore your innate potentials to the full. You have a very good voice, you are a brilliant young man, and you are good-looking, why don’t you go in front of the camera instead of going behind it?’ He did, and he still thanks me till tomorrow. Let’s put it that way, but as a rule, I don’t make choice for my children, whatever it is that you want to be; it’s all right by me. Whenever they want to get married, bring the girl to the house, ‘Daddy, I want to marry this girl’, I say ‘go on’. That is the kind of role I play.
Most people only know you as an actor; can you tell us the real Pete Edochie beyond the screen?
I was a broadcaster for 31 years. I trained professionally as a broadcaster with the BBC. Well, if I say I had a distinguished professional career as a broadcaster probably I might be sounding immodest, but that is the truth. I retired as a Director, and in the history of the establishment, I was the youngest man to get to that level. So, by the time I retired, I was still under 60 years, and I had been a Director for 11 years. There was nothing bigger than that except you are waiting for political appointment. So, I was received with open arms by the movie industry. I answered a question there in the studio, and I was praised. Most of the people in the movie industry today, especially our young girls, the moment you do a write-up on them and praise them, it will get into their heads and they will start misbehaving. By March 7, 2020, I will be 73 years, and I am still learning. The moment you stop learning, then no way for you, but if you keep learning, good for you. I have a very big library, both for books and music. I am in love with classic music. I think I can say with every authority that I have more classical music than any individual in this country. It is very expensive but that is my area of interest. Anybody travelling overseas asking ‘what will I get for you?’ I’ll tell such person to get me classical music. So, if I am not reading, then I am listening to classical music. I don’t go out any longer. When I was much younger, the spirit of adventure was pushing me around, but today, no.
Many Nollywood actors are known for moving around corridors of power looking for political appointments, you seem not to be interested in all that; why?
I don’t like politics. Number one, the kind of temperament that I have, I can’t succeed as a politician. Why? I can’t lie to you. When we were in the elementary school, we were told that when 11 birds are perched on an electric pole, if you shoot one, the rest would fly away. In politics, they will tell that you ‘shoot one, the rest would remain’. I can’t be a politician, I just can’t be. You know, it will be difficult for me to lie to anybody. And my father told me never to lie, no matter the situation. And I have many sons, so, I have to raise them like that. I can’t lie.
What do you recommend towards the preservation of Igbo culture?
That is part of the reason I said I want to see Governor Umahi. I will tell you why and with that we just wrap it up. We, as people from the South East, few considerations in politics tend to divide us a great deal. But because Pete Edochie represents culture, I want to use culture to get our people all together. Permit me to talk in Igbo at this point. Soso anyinwa bu ndi Igbo n’awa oji. Soso anyinwa bu ndi Igbo n’ ago oji; onwero ndi ozo na eme ya. (Only the Igbo break kolanut and revere it the way we do). So, if we get all the Igbo together and choose a date every year for our new yam festival, both nationally and internationally, it will be fantastic because most of our brothers in America have been told that they were sold by our forefathers. When they come back, we shall tell them the true story. Remember, it is the white men that came here and took them away by force. We did not sit down and conspire to sell them. They came by force, without invitation and took them away. It is our responsibility to now tell them the truth. And if we do that experiment and it works, then every year, all of them from America and all over the world will come down here and we spread them over the Eastern states – Ebonyi, Anambra, Imo, Enugu and Abia, they will go round and some of them will be given chieftaincy titles and they will wear our isiagu clothes, and they will begin to see things differently. That is what I want to discuss with the governor.
You’ve just finished inspecting projects executed by Governor David Umahi, what is your impression of them?
Magnificent! I don’t know where to borrow words to qualify the magnificence of what he is doing in Ebonyi State. I asked a question: have other governors visited this place? There is a reason why I asked that question. You know, for a man to be executing projects of this dimension and be able to honour his commitment to civil servants at the end of each month, it is an incredible achievement. It is incredible. I come to Ebonyi State regularly; at least I started coming to Ebonyi State during the administration of Dr. Sam Egwu, then from Egwu to Elechi. I have not seen Umahi, I mean face to face, but you see, each time we sit down to discuss in Enugu where I stay, and you mention Ebonyi, the impression you get, I mean the spontaneity of the complement you get is what actually engage your attention. It’s not that anybody has been given money to say the same thing; it is because they have come here and seen things themselves. Ebonyi is now a reference point in quality projects and by the time he finishes his second term, whoever that takes over from him will just relax (laughs). It is impressive and quite incredible. When I was coming to Abakaliki, the Ogoja Road was not like this. I am tempted to ask, ‘does Umahi print his own money? How can you be doing these projects and still be paying workers?’ Then I realised that he is a pastor, so, he can husband resources very well.