“This Country Has Disappointed Me” - The Ralph Nwadike Interview

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By Sola Osofisan

Ralph Nwadike started out writing scripts for Nigerian Television Authority in the early 80s. Things were rough in those days, but he stayed in there, paying his dues. Today, he runs a multi-million Naira post-production studio in Nigeria called Finnu Productions. Oh, and he still writes those scripts, but now he also directs and produces them.

In the not too distant past, he was one of the two-man team (with Tunji Bamishigbin) that brought AIT soap operas Fortunes and Palace into the homes of Nigerians. He’s also the man who brought actors like Regina Askia, Ramsey Nouah, Ayo Adesanya and J.T. Tom West into the limelight.

Nwadike’s movies include Contractors, Most Wanted, Eku Ida, Barracuda and Dishonoured. He spoke with www.Naijarules.com editor, Sola Osofisan.

Sola Osofisan: Let’s examine how you have changed from the Ralph Nwadike who wrote scripts for NTA – to the Ralph Nwadike we’re seeing here today.

Ralph Nwadike: Ralph Nwadike of the NTA days was a single bachelor, a struggling young man, though I’m still struggling now. The Ralph of today that is sitting before you sir is a married man with three lovely kids.

Sola Osofisan: That’s on the personal side. How about the professional side? You used to write scripts for NTA national programs. Now you control so much yourself. What has the transition from that to this been like?

Ralph Nwadike: Well, I run an office now, if that’s what you mean by controlling. I’ve got one or two people that we’re still owing a month’s salary – that we’ve not paid. You can see this is my statement of account that I refuse to open because it reminds me of the bad news that I don’t have any money in the account. Yes, so far so good. Unfortunately, we’re working in an industry where the charlatans have almost taken over. Those who are professionals who are trained for the job are now those who are struggling to actually make ends meet. Hopefully one day someday that will be over. We’re still struggling, fighting, trying to make it work.

So, I think – like I said – Ralph of those days in NTA, the difference is that I run an office, I’m an M.D. (LAUGHING) –

Sola Osofisan: (JOKING) C.E.O.

Ralph Nwadike: C.E.O. Well, that’s just it. The dream is still the same, to be the best in whatever I do.

Sola Osofisan: You were making reference to the possibility of the industry changing. In what way do you want the industry to change?

Ralph Nwadike: You see, in a country where we’re supposed to be a 120 million Nigerians, and the state that I am in right now (that is Lagos state), we’re about 15 – 25 million, and I have to release a film and I cannot even sell a 100,000 copies? Even to sell 10,000 copies you have to struggle, it’s terrible. And I’m sure in this state alone, we have at least 5 million viewers, 5 million video machine owners. So what are we talking about? If I cannot 10,000 copies with a smile, talk less of 300,000 copies or even a million copies, I think something is terribly wrong.

Sola Osofisan: What do you think is responsible for this inability to sell so many copies?

Ralph Nwadike: You see, in the past I used to say video clubs. Yes, video clubs are there, even though they’re trying to sanitise themselves so that they don’t just rent your films. They give back some returns to you. But even that has not been done properly. They’re still there sucking and biting from a source they never spent a Kobo. The producer is still there, the pirates are there. You hear stories about how your films are doing all over the world and you cannot even account for a profit of say 10,000 copies. It’s terrible. Honestly, I don’t know where to put the blame, really. I won’t deceive myself, but something is terribly wrong.

Sola Osofisan: In the recent past, you’ve complained extensively about pirates –

Ralph Nwadike: And I’m still complaining. And I’m still going to continue to complain because it has not changed. It’s getting worse by the day. The government is just there and someday someone is going to come and tell me to come and pay taxes for this or for that… I will not pay anything. I will not pay a dime of tax and I’m ready to be taken to court or to go to jail for it. Why should I pay tax for anything in this country. The roads are terribly bad. My two cars are almost off the road. NEPA hardly functions. Water is epileptic. Virtually everything doesn’t work.

What are we talking about? I am ashamed… For the first time I’m going to say this with all authority. I’m ashamed to be a Nigerian. I’m ashamed that I was born here. As a producer, I go outside this country and people respect me for the jobs I’ve done. And of course with the kind of jobs you’ve you’re expected to be a multi-millionaire. I’m ashamed as Nigerian producer and director in this country, I cannot even boast (of having) even a 100,000 Naira in my account. It’s embarrassing. And I feel – it’s a pity my kids were born here – but I’ll do everything possible to make sure my kids leave this country because this country is f****d up. I don’t have any apologies for this. I’m saying this with all authority.

Yet people say don’t think of what the country can do for you: think of what you can do for your country. I’ve done so much for this country. Everywhere I go, I put Nigeria on my lips. Everywhere I go, I talk about Nigeria – and this country has disappointed me. It’s a pity I’m a Nigerian. You can quote me anywhere in the world.

Sola Osofisan: Has something happened to you recently that is making you feel particularly angry and upset with a lot of things or is it just an accumulation of all that has happened –

Ralph Nwadike: Look, it is an accumulation of everything that is bad that has happened to not just me (but) to every Nigerian filmmaker. You source for funds, alright. In other countries, even for a script, you have an idea, a synopsis, people pay for an idea before you even start writing a script. This country, you’re your own producer, you’re your own financier, you source for everything and after producing – because some simple legislation is not in place – some people somewhere are waiting for you to bring out your job and they will go there and pirate your job without the government doing anything. Instead, the government will come to you and say come and pay some tax. I am waiting for that government or that police to come and say you have not paid XYZ tax and I will tell them what the hell has the country done for me as a Nigerian.

I have worked so hard to make sure this country goes forward. Everywhere I go, Holland, Paris, Belgium, wherever I’ve been to in my life, in UK, everywhere… I am proud to be a Nigerian. I was proud to be a Nigerian, not I am proud. I tell people about Nigeria. I tell people about coming back home to invest in this country, but those of us who are in this country and investing, this country has not paid us back. It’s a shame.

Sola Osofisan: Ralph, it can’t be all that bad. Why? Because you and other producers still stay in there. What exactly is it that gives you joy? Why do you stay? Where is the staying power coming from? Because you keep working and working and working and you have all these problems. Why do you stay?

Ralph Nwadike: Listen, Nigerians are known to be warriors, to be survivors. Nigerians are very dogged and whatever they believe in, they go all out to make sure that they achieve it. Nigerians are hardworking, very hardworking guys. I must give credit to Nigerians. But we have been saddled with irresponsible governments year in year out. When the civilian government came in we thought yes, our people are here. They’re going to listen to us, whatever. But even as I speak to you, nothing has been done. Even as I speak to you, Nigerians are still leaving in droves. You have to go to the American or British Embassies to see what I’m talking about. Nigerians are leaving this country in their millions. And yet, we have a civilian government that people have died for, people like MKO Abiola and rest of them who have died for the struggle for Nigeria to be what it should be. Look, we cannot keep on fooling ourselves. I am not ready to die for this country. I wouldn’t mind dying for a country that is ready to stand for me, to be there for me. This country has failed not just me. They’ve failed millions of Nigerians. I’m saying this so that everybody can hear. Let Obasanjo hear that he has not done anything for Nigerians. He has failed Nigerians woefully. It’s a pity. Let them quote me.

To be a writer outside this country, you know what you are? You’re a star. A big man. They look up to you as… that guy is there. It is not a joke to be creative for goodness sake. This country has failed me and I am not going to watch and keep my arms folded as a good Nigerian and watch this country also fail my children. I will do everything possible to make sure my children leave this country. This country has failed every Nigerian producer. Every time… (POINTING AT SOME MOVIE JACKETS) This job you’re seeing, Survivor, has cost me over 6 million Naira to produce. And I’ve not even made back 6,000 Naira. So what are we talking about?

Sola Osofisan: Interesting. Can we go to something that’s probably more of a pet project of yours, your studio, Finnu Productions. What is it about?

Ralph Nwadike: Well, Finnu is the brainchild of Ralph Nwadike. It’s also a brainchild of a gentleman who believes in the ideas of Ralph Nwadike. Unless I’m an armed robber or something, what I have here in this place is over $300,000. Nigeria cannot give me $300,000. All my work in life, Nigeria has not given me $300,000, yet I’m worth more than $30 million. I just want to be conservative. I’m even worth more than that. So I want to say – and there is no gainsaying the fact that I’m one of the best producers that this country has produced. I’m a creative person for goodness sake. What is the worth of Steven Spielberg? Then tell me my worth. That’s what I’m worth. I’m worth as much as Steven Spielberg as one of the best producers in this country. Yet, because I’m saddled in this enclave called Nigeria, alright, if I were probably a footballer, I would be better (off) than I am now. But I’m not a footballer. I’m a writer. I’m a director. I’m a producer and I believe in what I’m doing.

Finnu is the brainchild of Ralph Nwadike. I met a gentleman, I don’t want to mention his name because I’ve not asked him if I should mention his name. I said look, come and invest in Ralph. That’s why all these are in place. This is worth over $300,000. The gentleman invested some money. I added the little I’ve saved and that’s why this place is on. But even now as we’re talking, people are not even producing anymore. You don’t want to produce and lose all your money. The one you borrowed from friends and relations, you don’t want to lose all the money so people are skeptical about producing. People are afraid of spending money and producing more productions that at the end of the day, you won’t even get a Kobo from. But I tell you, even the worst films in America or even in the UK make money. It’s only in Nigeria that you spend 6 million Naira and in about three weeks of release, you’ve not even made 6,000 Naira. It is terrible.

Sola Osofisan: Three weeks…Is that because that’s the time span within which a Nigerian movie sells the most or what?

Ralph Nwadike: Listen, the way the people have made it, Nigerian movies – when you release your film, it takes just about a week for your movie to sell. Well you cannot blame them. In every fortnight, over 66 films are released.

Sola Osofisan: In the English sector alone?

Ralph Nwadike: Yes, English sector alone. That is outside the Yoruba films or those that do in films in Hausa or Igbo Languages. So in the English speaking genre alone, 66 films or thereabouts are released every fortnight. Where is the buying power? But like I said, you cannot blame them because nobody regulates anything. The government is there through the Censors Board making 20,000 Naira for every film that is released. They don’t even give a damn how this whole sector is going to be regulated.

The Film Corporation (NFC) is there trying to create a so-called film festival on a movie industry, because what they’re actually doing is rubbish. The NFC – how any years has that board been set up? They’re just there, they’re just paying salaries to those who are not doing nothing. Now they want to do a film festival to celebrate Nigerian movies. What are we talking about? This country, my brother, if I have the chance to leave, I will get out.

Sola Osofisan: Okay, just before you get out, can you tell us – I know you have done a lot of major TV productions and many movies. How do you decide for instance whether an idea should be a TV production or a movie?

Ralph Nwadike: Well, it’s simple. When an idea comes to you, if it’s a story that’s a bit long, extended families here and there, its not something that you can contain within one hour or one and half hour that a movie takes, obviously, its an expansion thing, something you have to do as a soap or as a mini-series. But of course in this part of the world, the mini-series thing is not the in-thing. So people just go on to either do a movie; you put a story together, you have a script, you’re ready. But in a story – for instance, I have some ideas that are actually supposed to be for a soap, but they’re just there and I don’t want to bother to release them because if I release them in this country, it has to end up like the other ones. Unfinished productions, sponsorship problems, whatever, alright. But basically, its simple.

Sola Osofisan: How did you come up with the theme of vampires in your latest movie, Survivors?

Ralph Nwadike: Well, how does a man come up with a story about armed robbers?

Sola Osofisan: Because we have armed robbers all over the country. Do we have vampires?

Ralph Nwadike: We have vampires somewhere around the world, yes. Perhaps even here in Nigeria. If we have witches and wizards, why can’t we have vampires?

Sola Osofisan: Is the movie in the market now?

Ralph Nwadike: Its in the market.

Sola Osofisan: How is it doing?

Ralph Nwadike: Well, like I said, Survivor is doing very well as a movie that’s been accepted. But when you’re battling returns, when you’re battling having to deal with 60-70 films that come up every fortnight, it actually takes the grace of God for that movie to do well like you expect it to do. So we’re hopefully expecting that God will intervene and make sure that the movie works and moves because we’ve actually spent a lot of money. The money that was spent on this movie can do approximately seven movies, seven ordinary movies, because I spent over 6 million Naira and I’m still spending because (we need) to do an advert. We’ve taken this film virtually around the world apart from being in America, for premiere and everything. Its been well accepted. Its been well received, but I need to make money, that is to make back money for the money invested, and that’s what we’re still doing. We pray it does well. This is just the part one movie. We had to actually break it. It was not intended to be a part two movie, but the whole thing went into about three and half hours, so obviously we don’t release three-hour movies in Nigeria. That’s why we had to make it a two-part thing.

Sola Osofisan: I read someplace that it is more of indiscipline on the part of the writer if a script is going on for too long. There is no story that cannot be condensed into a tight too hours or a tight one hour forty minutes. How come we have so many movies in Nigeria that go into two parts? Is this a marketing ploy?

Ralph Nwadike: Well, quite a number of people use it as a marketing ploy really. That’s a fact. But whatever we do, Survivor was not intended to be cut into a two-part movie. Even after I’ve chopped out about twenty-something scenes, I still came to about three hours, ten minutes or thereabouts. So its not really my making.

Sola Osofisan: In conclusion, which of your movies and TV soap operas would you consider most challenging and why?

Ralph Nwadike: In all the movies I’ve done, I think Most Wanted was quite unique in the sense that it was the first time we were exposing gun slinging women criminals. When the idea came, a lot of people said oh this can never work. Where would you get women who do this? Funny enough, the movie has sold over 300,000 copies. Unfortunately, it was the marketer’s film. I produced for a marketer, so the money has actually gone into the marketer’s pocket.

Survivor came with such challenges. Like always, people were saying vampire story, how can… I know a guy, one of my colleagues, he’s a writer, Barry (Agu), who said where do you intend to sell this movie? Okay, from his own perspective, you cannot see this movie doing well in the Nigerian market. But of course you see Nigerians are unique people because they like things that are quite different. Survivor, as I said, was different and the challenges were quite great. Yes, those two movies gave me some good challenges.

Then of course my soap operas: Fortunes was good. It came with its own unique challenges because it was a first time and I would say about 98% of the artistes on that set were (brought in) by me. Some of them didn’t want to be part of it at all. I know Regina Askia who for over a month or thereabouts was actually avoiding me until finally I caught up with her and she said look, I want to but I don’t want to make mistakes. We went through a lot of hell to make sure she becomes what she is today.

Palace was just something that we needed to do. We knew what to do. We knew we had to turn left or turn right. It wasn’t like Fortunes where we actually were in the dark. Fortunes was perhaps something that gave us a lot of challenges and I thank God that we decided to do Fortunes.
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That is a one bitterly dissapointed and disillusioned producer!:(
And i can see where he's coming from.
I don't think he should run though,not after all he has put into the entertainment industry in naija.
He should hang in there and reap his reward which naija owes him.It would be defeatist to leave now.Things will get better and producers like him will reap their just rewards.
Hang in there,Mr.Nwadike,God is not sleeping!:)
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