Award-winning actor, producer and director, Bob-Manuel Udokwu is an ‘A’ list artisite in Nigeria’s film industry (Nollywood). He is also the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Anambra State on Creative Media with emphasis on the movie and entertainment industry. In this interview with IJEOMA EKWOWUSI, thespian harps on the success stories of the Gov Willie Obiano administration in the creative industry within the past five years. He dwells largely in the arts, youths, among others. Excerpts:
TELL us your experience as an SSA to the governor?
It is interesting. Ndi Anambra are very industrious, innovative and are futuristic people. It is interesting being here working for the state government and working for the people. It is quite an experience. The Obiano administration has always been in the fore front of encouraging ndi Anambra to invest at home and that is yielding fruit because, when I came here in the first tenure of this administration, the state was not as vibrant as it is now. That means a lot of successes have been achieved in the Akulueuno policy of the government-a lot of achievements.
You can see that Awka, the state capital has changed very significantly from what it used to be; like a sleeping town. People hardly realized that Awka is the state capital of a modern state. Today, it is different. The experience has been quite enriching and shows one that Anambra State is the state where people should be and feel really at home. The usual stress and strains associated with very urban cities are not here. Network of roads are good. So many communities are inter-connected by good roads. You are hardly stuck up in traffic anywhere which makes people spend hours on the road than they should spend on their businesses. On the whole, my experience in the state has been a positive one.
How has the creative industry fared these five years under the current dispensation?
I can tell you that Anambra State was not the place entertainment thrived because our people are more business- oriented, but again, out there; outside the state, you find out that a lot of Anambra young people are in the entertainment industry. We are very many; we are even number one in Nollywood, music and in other aspects of the creative industry. Before now, nothing much was happening. There was really no serious encouragement of the industry in the state. Today, you have Ministry of Youth Empowerment and Creative Economy, then the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Indigenous Artworks, Culture and Tourism is another innovative way of doing things which the Obiano administration has brought.
In 2017, we had one of the biggest concerts, East of the Niger, tagged, ‘Pop Stars Of The 70’s:The Resurrection Concert,’ where we brought in 10 great pop music bands of the 70s to perform on one stage! Groups and legends like The Wings, Semicolon, Free World, Sweet Breeze, Apostles, Soky Ohale, Dan Ian of Rinkas Experience, among others played on the same stage. That same night, the governor honoured the old Rangers International football Club who won the 1976 African Cup of Nations. The governor also honoured an ace producer, Chief Pal Akaluonu. Veteran comedian, Chief Chika Okpala (Chief Zebrudaya) was equally honoured that night.
It has never happened before. Then last year we brought in contemporary musical greats like Phyno, Flavour, Tekno and others to play at different musical shows. Talk about beauty pageants, a lot of beauty contests have been going on in the state. A lot of creative contests have been happening here. In 2015, I organised a talent show called ‘Naija New Dawn Show’ where a lot of talents were discovered. Also, the Ministry of Youths Empowerment and Creative Economy is doing a lot of work in that regard. They also did a talent hunt in the state last year.
In Obiano’s administration, the creative industry has really been given a very good pride of place to thrive.
I was also around when the budget for 2019 was presented to the state assembly and I realised that the administration budgeted quite a substantial amount of money for the ministry. The present administration of Obiano wants creative people of Anambra origin to really have a platform where their creativity would be harnessed and bought to the fore. He wants them to and they can make money and good living from their creative input to the society. Yes, it has been very positive.
How has the acceptance been so far? Have you been getting enough response from ndi Anambra?
It is what people have been looking for: a rallying point where creative minds, creative people are channeled towards. In my time, when I was growing up, there was no reference point. There was nowhere to go. I am what I am today because of personal search, personal doggedness trying to find my rhythm in the scheme of things of life but we do not want that to happen to our young people nowadays because it is like walking in the darkness hoping to see light at the end of the tunnel. Today, the state government is creating opportunities for talented people through the Creative Media Office, the Ministry of Youth Empowerment and Creative Economy, the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Indigenous Artworks, Culture and Tourism. We all work together to actualise the vision of Governor Obiano for the creative industry in the state. So, it is really one big family that gives platform for self actualization, self realisation to anybody who has any level of creativity in him to be able to discover himself and have a platform to climb.
How have you been able to balance the gap in the selection of the established artistes and the indigenous up and coming ones?
We do not give preference to the so called stars because they are already established. What the government is doing is to harness new potentials of creative people in the state. The governor is seriously concerned about young people and keeping them busy and getting them engaged and there are a lot of creative talents in Anambra State. For those who are already established that are ndi Anambra, we bring them home to perform from time to time.
A couple of times, we have brought the likes of Phyno and Flavour here to play. During certain events, we invite the likes of Pete Edochie, Chief Chika Okpala (Chief Zebrudaya), Myself – I am on ground here and some other ‘A’- list artistes that we invite to be part of what is happening. That is to give hope to the younger ones but the emphasis is on discovering new talents and helping them to grow. That is what is happening.
What are we expecting next from the government for the industry?
The creative industry is where there are lots of copy cats. By the time I say what we have openly and people get to read them in your newspaper, they will steal the ideas. You find out that there are states that do not know what to do with their talented people. When they glean the information, then they run ahead and implement it before us. We want to always be ahead. Suffice it to say that there is a lot that the government, through my office and the aforementioned ministries are doing that are targeted at enhancing the creativity of young people and giving them a platform to survive in the society. Things are being unraveled and with time, they will become public knowledge.
What is your message for ndi Anambra?
First of all, I thank ndi Anambra and those who live in the state for the support given to Governor Obiano in these past five years and voting for him in November, 2017 to continue, and then, voting for him to have majority in the Anambra State House of Assembly to enable him work without let or hindrance and without unnecessary distractions. What I will say again is, let that support continue throughout the remaining three years of this administration. The governor has already said that after the election, it is not for us to relax. It is for us to work harder. The governor wants to finish the race very strong so that anybody who succeeds him in governing Anambra State will meet less work.
There are some states today that are going into transition and they are already experiencing crisis. Even in some neighbouring states in the South East but I believe that by the time Chief Willie Obiano is done with his Anambra State project, anybody coming after him will probably have less work or when that person focuses on new areas of development, it will take the state further into new heights in the the 21st century.
To this end, I ask ndi Anambra and those who live here to continue to support the governor to continue the good works he is doing. And then for public projects, let people who live here in the state take charge of these projects. If roads are built, people should not go burning tyres on the roads or creating bumps across the road haphazardly.
In addition, the street lights are powered by generators and sometimes reckless drivers do hit down some of the poles. If it is in your community, you should be able to hold those people who do such things responsible so that they can fix the things they destroyed.
If we don’t take charge of the projects in our areas as if they are our own and say: “it’s government business alone,” then it is a wrong impression because whatever government is building for our communities is our own. we own it. We need to own the projects in our communities and be able to guard them jealously. So, a time will come in our state when communities will be competing among themselves for which ones that have better amenities or which ones are maintaining their own facilities better than others. Gov Obiano has indeed moved Anambra State forward from where he met it. Let’s all help the administration to keep maintaining the status of the state as the ‘Light of The Nation’.