By Olu Victor
She belonged to a group called the Big Four; including the likes of Kenneth Nnebue, Igwe Gabosky and Zeb Ejiro, in the wake of the Nollywood era. A woman among men; she defended the phenomenon enduringly, offering protection the way a mother hen would guard her chicks. Woe betide the man or woman, who dared to vilify Nollywood where Amaka Igwe was. With passion, she took on the opposition, as an unapologetic commercial Nollywood filmmaker that she was.
“…We didn’t wait for cameras that are more expensive or even the labs before we started making films, coping with no NEPA. When people come to train, they say the audio of Nigerian film industry is poor and I tell them, try to shoot a film with ‘I better pass my neighbour’ and tell me whether your own training can match that of ours.”
“Nollywood seeks to be inventive and innovative in its entire practice, even if we don’t know how to use the edit suites, we have been able to make fire come out of the mouth of people like Patrick Doyle and we have put some people inside the bottle like RMD, so we have tried very well. Nollywood seeks to entertain a mass audience in search of more socio- cultural relevant stories; that is what we do. We are not telling stories about explosions of bridges or the destruction of the White House. Try and shoot a film that you destroyed Aso Rock and see where you will be. We tell socially relevant stories like what the witchcraft favour has done and if you think that is not true, why should the baby die and the witch cried in the night and they are not linking the two together?”
“Of course, we have to have a link, that’s who we are. Even when a woman dies at 88, somebody says the enemies have done their worst. At 88! Does she want to live forever? I mean those are the things that bother Nigerians and that is what we are telling. The industry defies technology impacts of its operation. It appears to thrive best in rough economic time, that is what we have been able to do; that is the Nollywood I belong to. It is a global movement; it is not just in Nigeria and definitely not in Surulere. So, I don’t care if you have Kannywood, Savawood, whatever wood you are, Gollywood, Riverwood, so far you are there, you are Nollywood and indefinitely, I do not apologize for it.”
The above is an extract from one of her most critical papers, tagged ‘Reflections From An Unapologetic Commercial Nollywood Filmmaker’ which she presented at the Digital Dialogue Conference organized by a digital media expert, Mr. Jenkins Alumona, in Lagos on December 5-6, 2012, and during the maiden edition of Nigerian Entertainment Conference (NEC), put together by Mr. Adekunle Ayeni-led NET newspaper on April 26, 2013.
How sad, Amaka Igwe died on Monday night in Enugu, following an asthma attack. She was not on some vacation, feeding fat on government largesse, she was in Enugu in company of her husband and business partner, Charles Igwe, preparing grounds for a new Igbo soap. Your guess is as good as mine: the iconic script writer, director, producer, teacher and resource person died, filling the vacuum created by dearth of indigenous language movies, especially of the Igbo extraction. One can only imagine how many television and film projects she had initiated in order to meet the huge content that will be demanded on June 17, 2015 when the digital revolution finally swells the television spectrum.
As the founder of Best of Best Television (BoBTV) Expo, a film and TV content market since 2004, the late Amaka Igwe had pursued the growth of the Nigerian motion picture industry with unequal energy, frankness and courage, not minding whose ox was gored.
“The day MOPPICON starts to operate, I will sue the government,” she once said to me, at a time when almost everyone was agitating for Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria (MOPPICON). “The document is fallacy. If you see the content of that document, you will feel sorry for this industry. People who have done just one film in their entire lives are ganging up to determine the direction for the movie industry. They want to determine who should and should not make a film. Filmmaking is at the realm of free speech. The only country in the world where they want to regulate film is Nigeria. I want to query the motive of the people behind the MOPPICON. But why should a few people, just because they made a celluloid film 30 years ago, want to stop creativity by saying people who do not go to the university must not make films? Today, people make films with mobile phones and they upload it on the Internet. Right now, there is great demand for content, which you would be surprised to know that the filmmakers put together cannot satisfy that demand. I have contents and it’s amazing the extent of demand. As for Film Corporation and Censors Board, if they like, let them fold their arms and allow the industry to die. I only hope that the new people coming on board will better the industry.”
It is on record that very few people among her contemporaries are still active in their careers, fighting an untiring professional battle since her days as producer of popular soap operas like Fuji House of Commotion, Checkmate, and films including Violated, Rattle Snake amongst others. Most veteran Nollywood stars emerged through Amaka Igwe’s works, including the earlier mentioned Rattle Snake, which although came after the iconic Living in Bondage, but was adjudged to have better artistic value, that it became more definitive of the Nollywood era. Her great works and landmark efforts will immortalize Amaka Igwe, including her founding of the studios of the Enugu State Broadcasting Service from where such classics like the rested Basi and Company and the New Masquerade dramas were produced.
A visionary artiste, her recent acquisition of license for Top Radio 90.9FM, and the upcoming Q Entertainment Networks, a DSTV channel, amongst other business ventures are a testimony of her diverse proficiency in the mass media industry.
As a young Lecturer Assistant at the then Anambra State University, Amaka Igwe continued to impact knowledge, in such a way that one couldn’t miss her opinion at any intellectual gathering. This, coupled with her unpretentious advocacy for free creative rights, and resourcefulness to Nollywood, earned her the deserving national honours as Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR).
As chairman of a new focus group called the Nigerian Entertainment Business Group (NEBG), and member of the capacity building committee, under the project ‘Act Nollywood’, Amaka Igwe’s impacts will be greatly missed at this period, seen by many as a turning point for the Nigerian movie industry.
Born Amaka Isaac-Ene in 1963, she studied Education/Religion at the University of Ife (Now Obafemi Awolowo University). She had a Master’s Degree from the University of Ibadan. She had her early education at All Saints School (now Trans Ekulu Primary School), Girls High School Awkunanaw, Enugu and Idia College, Benin.
Rest in peace, Amaka… Rest in peace, Duchess of Nollywood.
Post Script. On learning of the passing to eternal glory of the iconic film maker, Amaka Igwe, I asked my friend, veteran entertainment journalist Victor to put together a tribute to her for Pride Magazine Online titled: AMAKA IGWE: Exit of a Nollywood Titan.
I am a big admirer of Amaka Igwe because she was so talented and prolific. Many years ago, I met her for the first time at a script conference where both of us were presenting papers. I did not realize I was staring at her, being our first time of meeting; she approached me and asked me why I was staring at her. I apologized that I did not know that I was staring, but that I was just looking at her in admiration of her enormous talent as a writer, director and producer. This was the honest truth. I was a big admirer of her huge talent.
Nollywood has lost a titan of the industry, but we are consoled by the fact that she left enormous foot prints on the sands of time and many of us will do well to trace those footsteps in our quest for film production excellence.
Rest In Perfect Peace Amaka. May the good Lord grant you eternal rest in His heavenly kingdom. Rest in Peace TITAN OF NOLLYWOOD.
Charles O. Anyiam-Osigwe
Editor-in-Chief/Publisher Pride Magazine Nigeria Online.