The good and bad sides of my Aso Rock dressing —Omoni Oboli
Omoni Oboli is a A-List Nigerian actress and producer. In 2010, she won the award for Best Actress - Narrative Feature at the Los Angeles Movie Awards, and the award for Best Actress at the Harlem International Film Festival. Her first movie recently had a presidential premiere in Aso Rock. She relives this moment, among other things, in this chat with Newton-Ray Ukwuoma and other journalists.
Very recently, your first movie was premiered at Aso Rock with the President and top shots in government in attendance. How do you feel about it?
I am still looking for words. When I find them, I will tell you. But it was more than glorious. I honestly didn’t believe it was going to happen. The producer, The Film Marketers’ Association of Nigeria, wrote the presidency about my new movie. We didn’t expect to get any response from them, not even a quick response, but to our surprise the presidency accepted to watch my movie. Even after the premiere I was telling my sister that if I woke now to realise this was a dream, I was going to be very unhappy. So, I would often pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Yet I couldn’t believe it was real. She told me that both us couldn’t be having the same dream. It was real. I think it is a very big achievement for Nollywood. When things like this happen, it boosts courage; it makes people believe that they could still do more. People would aspire to become better. For us that is a good thing. We all know where Nollywood is coming from.
What was the President’s comment on the movie?
The president said Nollywood has put Nigeria on the map. It has helped the economy of the nation in so many ways. He goes to so many countries and people are saying, “Igwe! Igwe!” For him that means that this industry is huge and cannot be ignored, which is why he is doing everything within his power to promote the industry. And on our parts, looking at the concerted efforts of Mr. President, we need to buckle up. We can only get better. We can only get higher.
This is the first time a sitting president would watch a private premiere of a movie.
Was it just the president?
It wasn’t just the president. The vice-president was the there. The PDP chairman, senators, ministers, two governors and many other statesmen were there. It was a huge event. I don’t know what to say. I got so emotional. I was sitting at the high table with all of these people. I was looking over to make sure, it was me in reality. It was an amazing experience. I didn’t imagine this small Waffi girl would be sitting with the president and his ministers. Not in my wildest dreams did I think I would get such opportunity to sit with the President and the vice president and it is about me. I have been to events that the president was invited, but to screen my first movie privately with him, was major for me.
What did the president say about the movie?
After the movie, there was a time he asked if I had a twin because I played two roles in the movie. He said it was a very good movie. There is a bit of culture in the movie. We shot the movie in different places. We shot in Asaba, Lagos, Ekiti and other parts of Nigeria. He said that the quality was very good. The movie was screened with a projector at the Banquet Hall. And he still felt that it was came out well, so you can imagine if the movie was shot in Silver Bird cinema, how it would look like. This is one movie that can stand side by side with any other movie in the world.
What is the movie about?
It is a romantic comedy. It is basically a fun movie. Something anyone can relax with. Nigerians work very hard. And we are often stressed with work and traffic. The idea of the movie is to make people to laugh away their troubles. That was my line of thought when I was doing the movie. All the same it also has a story line that anyone can relate to.
Was it written by you?
Yes it was.
Do you think Nollywood has the chance to beat other movie industries?
We are already doing that. We are number two in the world right now. Every other country in the world does movies, but not all of them have recognised movie industries. There are only three recognised movie industries in the world and Nollywood is number two. Even England does not have a recognised movie industry, yet England turns in a lot of movies per annum. They don’t have an industry.
What would have to say about the trademark of Nollywood to Nicholas Opara?
I heard about that story. They are working on it right now. Very soon it would be a done deal. Seriously speaking, why would you want to trademark a name that is identified with a whole industry? What point is he trying to prove? Where was this guy when people were suffering to build it? You can’t do that. Ethically it is wrong. Morally it is wrong. It makes him look like a terrible person. Like someone who has a really bad intention.
How do you manage to stay scandal-free.
Really? I said to someone the other day: I am who I am. I am not trying to stay-scandal free. I am just who I am. No one is perfect. And it will be unfair to portray a clean image to say that I am perfect. I am just like the regular person out there. I have my good sides and the bad sides. I am not trying to stay scandal free, I am who I am.
Some people raised eyebrows about the outfit you wore to Aso Rock. Were you styled?
I was not styled.
Did you feel that the outfit was appropriate?
Yes, I felt so. Because there was really no vital part showing if you saw the pictures online. And another thing is that the angles that a picture was taken can portray certain things that was not there.
Why do you think people condemned it?
Actually, you should know that a lot of people are bitter. When people are bitter they try to look for negative things in every positive thing. It is unfortunate that we are in the limelight, because if someone else wore that dressing no one would say a word. It comes with the good and the bad sides. You cannot take the good and leave the bad side. A lot of people are bitter. Some people are thinking why her. Some people have been doing movies for twenty years: why her?
Maybe I should ask: Why you?
It is God’s favour. That is it. It can’t be something else. I shook the president on that day and that was the second time ever that will be shaking him. First was at the burial of his brother that all of us went for, so we had the opportunity to shake him. This was the second opportunity to shake the president. I do not know him personally at all. So, it is just God’s favour. The truth is that favour is not fair. God decided to smile on me. Have I had my bad times? Of course. Last year, there was a time I was crying every day for months. Did anybody hear about it? So, these things happen, it is just God’s favour. And I am not going to let anything pull me down. First of all, I do not read blogs. I do get to see the negative comments. It doesn’t matter to me. My true fans know who I am. And these are the people who matter to me, not the people who see the negative things.
Can you tell us how the screening of your movie by the president is a big thing?
It is a big achievement for the industry. It is not only for me. Like I said earlier, every other person will be thinking: “what else can I do to top the presidential screening?” And that translates into a healthy rivalry. Healthy rivalries anywhere help to improve things. Someone would be thinking I need to do something bigger. And that is the way to grow. It becomes unhealthy when you try to pull me down because you want to be on top. And this is the one thing I feel that the press should talk about in Nigeria. The whole pull-down syndrome is wrong. I always say to people, I do not want anybody to fail. My wish is for everyone to be successful. The fact that you are successful does not stop or hinder my success in any way. If you look up in the sky there are more than a million stars. Have you ever heard that one fell down? No. They are all there. There is a space for every star to shine. Until we start to build ourselves, we are never going to get that level we expect. Until we start to celebrate one another, we are not going to get there.
Some people are also saying that something must have gone under before the president could see your movie. What would you have to say?
Why are they saying that? If it was a guy that did it I know no one would be saying that. That is the problem. It could have been a guy’s movie. Would they say he had an affair with the president? When it is a woman’s case things must take a different dimension. This is wrong. Women cannot always be relegated to symbols of sexual pleasure. I did not have any affair with anybody. It was God’s favour that the presidency was willing to see my movie. That is about it.
How long have you been in the movie industry?
It is going to take awhile to say. This is because there was a break at some point. I started acting when I was in the university for awhile. I left it for over a decade and I came back.
How was it when you came back?
It was tough. Nobody remembered me. I was the new girl, as far as many people were concerned. Unfortunately, I came back at the period no one needed a new girl. Producers preferred the known faces. It was tough to break in. I would talk to producers, and they would be like: “Why did you leave now? By now you would have been this or that”. I would often say, “I am back now. Let’s talk about today”. It was not easy. The fact that I was married became another issue. It was a kind of stumbling block. And I would be like: “I am married; I am married. Take it. I am not going to change that status because I want to be in the movie”. Over years, being persistent and consistent even in the minor roles I got paved the way for more responsibilities. I did every role as if it was the most important role. Another thing that made it difficult for me was that I toed a path most people don’t follow: I wanted to do only good roles.
Wasn’t money one of your motivations?
Money wasn’t my main motivation. However, there were times I was flat out broke and needed money badly. I was brought in a way that tells me that you do not do a bad thing because of money. If the script wasn’t good enough, I just wouldn’t bring myself to do it. There were times I would look at a script and be like: “This money is good o. Let me just do it”. But then again, when I remember that my fans are going to watch it and there are going to be disappointed. I do not want to do things that would insult people’s intelligence or my intelligence. I can’t imagine watching myself and feeling stupid. This part made things more difficult for me.
Your husband is a dominant figure. There is hardly any place he does not follow you to. What role has he played in advancing your career?
A lot of people don’t know that my husband is my manager, which is why he is always around me. The truth is that he works for himself, so it is a little easier to take time out to be with me when I need it. He is not there with me every time. He is there when pictures are taken. That is why it seems he is always there. Anyway, he is always there.
How does he cope?
I think he is a modern-day person. He accepts things that other men would not. As an actress, you cannot afford to marry someone who is traditional in his perception of things. You will soon leave the career or the man.
Can you shed more light on the word traditional?
You know there are some men who believe that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, that a woman should do this, be this, say this, wear this and nothing more. This is why some actresses have issues in their homes. Another issue is when a man starts to compete with you. Nnamdi is not interested in the limelight. The few pictures he took were coerced. For him, it is my thing. He prefers to be the wings beneath the eagle. He wants me to keep flying. He is the push that I have. If it wasn’t for him I don’t think I would be where I am right now. I probably would have burnt out.
Was it your decision to make him your manager?
Yes. Initially I had a managing firm. It wasn’t really working because we had different values. I decided to use someone who shares similar values with me. That is why I decided to use him and it worked.
What has kept you two going?
I think it is friendship and the God-factor because there is no marriage without an issue. People may say we are perfect, but we sometimes have misunderstanding. Sometimes I am like: “Nnamdi, I am not talking to you as your wife right now, I am talking to you as your client. You cannot do this”. We also have our moments, but because we are friends, it is easier to resolve. We both have a strong belief in God. In my marriage it has been the three of us: Jesus, my husband and me. I think the God factor really helps.
As a producer, you have more in your plate. How are you going to manage being a wife, mother, actress and a producer?
I have got to do what I have got to do. I have got to be a mom, an actress, a wife and producer. I believe that women can mult-itask. I wrote an article after I finished producing Mrs Eliot titled, “TyerPeri, My Hero”. He does the whole producing, directing and acting. He sometimes plays multiple roles in a movie. I played a dual role in Mrs Eliot and it was like the hardest job in the world. I can tell you that it is not easy to act and direct because if you don’t have the time you are tired. There are times when we shoot till late at night and while others go to sleep you are awake trying to plot the scene for the next day.