What We Do is
Don Pedro Obaseki
Don Pedro Obaseki is a Playwright, Poet,
Screenwriter, Film Director,
and international Television content provider. A major
force in Nollywood, I caught up with him in London
in December 2008 and knocked this interview out over
a meal and a couple of drinks. I have focused this
interview on the Nollywood film-making side of his
You are one of the key players in Nollywood trained
as a theatre artist. How does this training affect
your film-making processes?
The truth of the matter is that I always believe that as a
trained artist, there is the know-how; the technical
know-how and the know-what. The know-how is that
which cannot be taught. What I think is that my
experience and tutelage as a theatre artist has done
is that it has given structure to the way I think as
an artist. Being used to ensemble play where if one
person goes out of tandem the whole structure of the
production crumbles. As a director, I am a
disciplinarian. I have no room for posers. If you
want to pose, you go somewhere else. I am not
interested in the star, I am interested in the
artist. I am interested in the person who will do
the job. I don’t think people should want to buy my
film just because of the multiplex of names I put in
the film, but because I append my name to it. Also,
I have come to a point where I don’t see film-making
as an assembly line. I don’t do subsistence
film-making which a lot of them in Nollywood do. If
I am privileged, I shoot a film a year, maybe a film
in two years. For instance I wrote “Igodo” in 1996,
but did not get to shoot it until 1998, and it was
clearly not run of the mill, or to use the lingo
‘kpa kpa kpa’ films you see out there.
What do you consider to be the purpose of film?
As someone now very much in the business of film from the
age of 10, it is a different ball game. I see film
as business. There is a difference between Don Pedro
the impresario and Don Pedro Obaseki the person. Don
Pedro Obaseki the person sees film as an opinion
moulder, a huge opinionator, an integral part of the
society that gives birth to it. I see film not art
as a mirror of the society. Art as a mirror of the
society is useless. I’d rather watch CNN or Sky.
Of course as a 10-year-old kid you presented
“Children’s Time” for NTA
Benin in 1977. What else, together with that experience led you to study
You know, sometime in 1979-1980, there was this essay
competition for kids in Secondary School. I wrote a
story; “Days of Rage” which won the National Essay
Competition. It was later picked up by Evans,
Macmillan and Longman, and they took me to
Togo where I met Kalu Okpi. And by the time I was
14, I became the youngest published Pacesetter
writer with “Days of Rage” which was later turned
into a TV series. By the time “Tales by Moonlight”
started, I became a little story-teller will Mrs
Elizabeth Okaro. Later on, when “Things Fall Apart”
was being shot, I became the smallest and youngest
member of the crew. I actually fell from the
helicopter when they were shooting Amalinze the Cat
climbing a palm tree. So, I knew where I was going.
had lunch with friend in London, and mentioned to him that I was hoping to meet you later that day to
interview you. He spoke about you as ‘that guy once
obsessed with demolishing people’s homes to build
his big cinema houses’ That’s not true is it?
People are crazy! Crazy! (Long pause) Without the cinemas,
the truth of the matter; the entire thing is a joke.
So what I thought was try and revive cinema culture,
not the way Silverbird and New Metro are doing,
because what they are doing, I think, is what led to
the death of the old Nigerian film industry of the
Hubert Ogundes and the Ola Baloguns. What they do is
Hollywood blockbusters without a look-in on the
local scene. Yet everybody in Ajegunle, Idi Araba,
Idi Oroko, Ariaria in Aba, they are hooked on the
Nigerian Home Video. I thought, why don’t I get
these videos to their neighbourhoods, create the
same uppity feeling you get when you walk into a
multiplex like the Odeon – create a community centre
of attraction in the neighbourhood, and people use
the cinema as a way peace. Let me give you an
example. There were areas in Ikeja in those days if
you walked at 10pm somebody will pull a gun on you.
But when Lagbaja started his Open Air Motherland
people packed the streets and nobody till date has
ever reported that armed robbers came to motherland,
and it has been six to seven years now.
So I said where there is entertainment, there is
no room for that kind of violence. I did not
demolish people’s homes what I did was get people to
buy some of the old cinema structures which had been
converted into churches or eateries, or some that
were run-down. When we couldn’t get certain places
in Surulere, it was in Surulere that we tried to buy
other types of structures.
We don’t have government support. Everything was via
people buying equity in Filmex. It is called Filmex.
We were able to get Odeon, when Kene Mkparu was
still there, as Technical Partners, before we moved
to Israel. So the technical partnership is coming
from a firm in
We are still not launched yet. We are hoping to
launch in middle of 2009. Filmex is a model we hope
to work, so if we can’t make money on the film, we
will from the popcorn.
That question was a blow!
You are a campaigner for better earnings for workers
in Nollywood, apparently you see a correlation
between that and better outputs. What are the
factors in your opinion limiting incomes in the
Nigerian film industry?
I am not one of those who believe piracy is the first
problem. Piracy is one of the things that happen
when you don’t have structures in place. It is a
global problem. But there are certain very very very
Nigerian problems affecting Nollywood. First a few
of my colleagues under-rated our brothers from the
South East. That was the end of the old Nollywood
that seemed to have high earnings. We used to
release films that sold 300,000 copies or more.
“Igodo” sold close to a million. By that time, those
of us involved in “Igodo”, we go buy car for
morning, by afternoon we dey ask, ‘this car fine so,
or make I change am’? The money was available. You
can’t afford to do that anymore. We were releasing
five to ten films per month and because they were
successful, people turned the thing from art into an
assembly line. Simple economics. When a product is
supply-driven, the only place it can go is down. But
if it is demand-driven, you can up the price. So in
Nigeria where everything has gone up in price except
pure water, the only commodity the price has gone
down a downward spiral is the Home Video product.
The wholesale price of a film used to be 350 Naira.
But now, it is about 80 Naira, that is 75 cents.
The only way to control this is to create an
enabling environment for people to invest, and I
cannot invest in a situation where na everybody dey.
Although we have guilds that are very functional,
they are not looking at the market end.
Let me ask you a question. Can you imagine what
will happen if we released just 5 films a month and
those people at Dusting Road Market have to queue
for two weeks to get one copy. What do you think
they will do? What do you think will happen if we
asked for prepayment? You see, we must reduce the
number of people who have access to their films
and the British Film Industry, movies premiere and
run in cinemas before appearing on DVD. Although
this does not prevent piracy, it does however mean
that if the film is not a turkey, it can generate
huge box office returns and loads of cash from film
merchandise. Do you envisage Nollywood going in that
It is the only direction. It is the ability to aggregate
these global value chains, as we cannot do anything
in isolation, that’s when we will see the tomorrow.
However it has to be tweaked to suit our peculiar
economic circumstances. I do not believe that the
movie necessarily has to move from the can to the
cinema to pay-tv to DVD. Those structures do not
Nigeria. We are a product of direct to home video
which we turned into a global phenomenon. We are a
product of the digital age. We Nigerians taught the
world that digital film-making can actually be
The figure for a ‘successful’ Nollywood film of
50,000 copies or thereabouts is not particularly
near enough what it should be.
Fifty Thousand? I cannot say that. What I can tell you is
that most people suggest these figures, I don’t. I
own a shop in Alaba so I know. A normal film now in
the last one and half years, if it hits 20,000, I
tell you the guy who made the film will go and meet
arusi. I am serious. So you really have to plan for
it to hit fifty.
How does your Video Kiosk improve the distribution
of Nigerian films?
I got sixty million Naira from Diamond Bank and launched
Video Kiosk which is a door-to-door video rental
service whereby you can place orders for videos and
we deliver to your doorstep. I got tricycles
equipped with DVD Players, Television sets and huge
loudspeakers mounted on them, so they are also
mobile advertising tools. I spread it all over
Lagos and took 2 or 3 to Abuja. So there is no need
for that big madam who hides in the sanctuary of her
home to watch our films to go to a video club. I am
your video club, don’t come to me, I come to you. It
has been hugely successful.
Before I release a film on my network, I send
text messages and tell people, if you dial the video
kiosk number you can pre-book. You can pay me with
your credit or debit card. So we have created a new
vista for this funny-looking, simple, for poor
people business, because if I can see the end of an
equation, it is easier for me to aggregate the
processes to get to that equation.
But beyond the Video Kiosk, I have tried to move
film distribution along in my own way. I tried for
some time. I got the Igbo boys together. But I could
not settle the Idumota, Upper Iweka, Pound Road, so
I broke away and built a film market in Surulere
that caused them pulling out guns and all that. But
the Igbo guy will trust me because he does not trust
the Yorubas. Zeb Ejiro will want me to be leader
because he knows I can deal with the Igbos. You know
my mum is Igbo. My wife is Igbo. I speak Warri, and
Urhobo. So I became a confluence of sorts and
decided to use that as platform for either cementing
the industry or scattering it and then rebuild it.
You know I am a student of Soyinka, so the Ogunian
essence always pervades. Things happen for things to
be built properly. Many people are going to be
whisked away as you know right now, many filmmakers
Nigeria are going critically broke. But the few who
have been able to work out the arithmetic of the
distribution process, they are not going broke.
Rather they are living large. Forget the artist.
Artist will come and artist will go depending on how
the man in the open market feels.
Is it just your own films that Video Kiosk
No no no. You know, what God has done now, because of the
advent of Movistar, I am now, maybe the largest
single owner of entertainment content in
So what we have done is, four companies I have
interest in, we formed a consortium; The African
Entertainment Content Company, we sell everything
from Video CDs from anybody, to music CDs because I
own a music label. I won a lot of Igbo gospel. A
lot. People like Nkem Chijioke. You know that gospel
is a lot more enduring in terms of market value. An
Igbo man travelling from Onitsha to Lagos is not
going to be playing ‘P Square’ in his car stereo. I
don’t see myself as mainstream. Video Kiosk cannot
be mainstream. We serve as an alternative marketing
outlet. We achieve high retail volumes because with
50 Video Kiosks selling a hundred films a week, we
sell five thousand.
The next step we have taken. The government has a
drive against piracy. They are arresting those boys
selling videos on the street. The boy you are
arresting, he is going to be a thief again. So I put
out an advert “You dey sell video for street, call
this number” and they call me. I register them with
Censors Board for five thousand naira. The guy does
not have five thousand Naira. So I thought, if I
register one hundred boys, it will cost me Five
Hundred Thousand Naira. But to take a shop at
Adeniran Ogunsanya, it is going to cost me Nine
Hundred Thousand – for one shop. With that kind of
money, I can have 180 boys wearing Video Kiosk
T-shirts selling my products. By God’s grace, by the
first week or second week of January 2009, I will
unleash them on
Lagos. I have a motto: Every door on every floor, a
face in every place.
What is the relationship between Don Pedro Media and
Don Pedro Media in the real sense does not have any
relationship with Movistar. Don Pedro Media is
contracted by DP and T Media Company Nigeria Ltd, of
which me Don Pedro, na me be the DP wey dey inside.
Five years ago we took the idea to Chief Dokpesi and
everybody thought I was a mad man. But when Daar
Communications decided to go PLC, he put aside some
money for some of my pet projects, of which Movistar
was one. Movistar is an independent channel owned
over seventy percent by Chief Dokpesi as a person
not as Daar Communications. AIT owns the satellite
segment on Sky, DP and T and Don Pedro Media own
what you see on air and the Movistar broadcast
license. So what you actually have is, AIT Movistar
does not exist. AIT Movistar only exists as a name
Sky created on their decoder. Movistar Ltd is equity
owned by Daar Communications, DP&T, and Chief
Raymond Dokpesi with me as Chief Executive Officer.
Offer an assessment of the Nigerian film industry
today and how it can contribute to substantial
financial compensation for both artists and the
nation whilst yielding cultural profit for the
I think right now, the culture quotient is a lot higher.
The Nigerian home video scene has turned into a mild
culture colonialist tool for the Nigerian nation.
Because they have colonised the African mindset. You
see the Igbo sub-culture within the national culture
has been sacrificed by the Igbo filmmaker such that
in the last seven years, only three Igbo language
films have been shot, against 950 Yoruba films,
because the Igbo filmmaker and the Igbo actor has
now become the generic face of Nollywood. I think
that film as a culture exporter, a culture carrier
has succeeded in serving as a major attention getter
for the Nigerian nation. I cannot forget the
Washington Post headline; “Step aside
Bollywood Here comes Nollywood” but in terms of
economics, all the economic benefits that have been
coming to the Nigerian filmmaker and the Nigerian
filmscape has been limited to a very tiny few.
In your opinion, who are the people making positive
contributions to the development of Nollywood?
She might not know it, but I think Peace Anyiam-Osigwe, the
Chief Executive of AMAA – the African Movie Academy
Awards, is doing a great deal. Without the weight of
politics, and she is involved in it directly or
indirectly, Amaka Igwe. In terms of structure, not
the art of film, Chief Raymond Dokpesi who is
building a huge film village right now. Also Toyin
Subai, Emeka Mba who has been demonised and called
names. I think he is doing a fantastic job. He may
not be the Apostle Paul, but I think he can be John
the Baptist. Also there is this woman in Akure,
Biodun Ibitola of Remdel Productions. She maybe owns
the largest network for Yoruba films. Then this guy
of O.J Productions; Ojiofor Ezeanyaeche. That man,
if you are working on his film and he says he will
pay you two Naira, if he dies, your two Naira will
be there for you. Then of course Kingsley Ogoro and
What is your favourite Don Pedro Obaseki film?
Eziza. Without a doubt. Eziza.
Is there one film you have made that you wish you
Yes. Definitely “Love”. Have you seen it? I no know wetin
enter my head. The film made a lot of noise for the
wrong reasons. That’s not what film-making is about.
Is there one movie in the world today that you did
not, but wish that you had made?
Pink Panther. Inspector Clouseau. My father got it in the
old Betamax format. I watched it so much the tape
cut, I carry cellotape join am.
Finally, Don, kindly summarise your take on
Nollywood: what is wrong, what is good, what
needs to change, and how that change can happen.
What is wrong is very clear. First the structures are
either decadent or non-existent. Structures in terms
of the art of film and structures in terms of the
business of film. I believe that if we can get the
business of film right with enough returns on
investment, the average Nigerian film will be a
better product and everybody involved will get
adequate remuneration. But as long as it continues
to be a garbage in garbage out kpa kpa kpa
phenomenon, it won’t work.
Another thing I think is crucial is that there
are little or no training facilities put in place
that enables them, filmmakers, to progress in terms
of know-how, and skills acquisition. Because it is
terrible when you think you know, and then you don’t
want to learn more. Many filmmakers in
Nigeria are intellectually lazy. I mean, for
instance you are making a film about the Nigerian
Army and you don’t realise that in the Nigerian
Army, except for medical reasons, you don’t wear a
beard. Even the police. You see Pete Edochie and he
has not shaved and he is playing a Policeman. I
cannot see the policeman in him.
Also we want to go international and we have not
got the paradigms right. There has to be a seismic
paradigm shift in the way we do the film for it to
be international. For instance our themes must leave
the mundane. Our themes continue to be regional, but
they need to be as universal as possible. But if you
look at up to 90 percent of the basic Nigerian film,
they are strictly Nigerian and perhaps to a lesser
extent, African. But you see, the basic sensibility
of the modern day African is closer to the basic
sensibility of the Caucasian than it is to the rural
African, to the extent that we now demonise things
that were normal and everyday to our fathers.
Finally, unless we create structures, right
processes, it won’t work. Until that happens, we
won’t get the respect of financial institutions. We
need that for the business to become business. As it
is we are making out of pocket expenses. We are
trading. That is mere commerce, but business. We are
selling, not marketing. The average Nigerian
filmmaker is so popular, yet he has no branding. He
has no brand equity and no brand value. It is only
when we translate our popularity into brand equities
that what we are doing will go from a multimillion
Naira business to a Multimillion Dollar business. We
need to think in that currency to aggregate our real
Thank you for your time, Don.
Thank you Nnorom. I have to confess. I am having fun.
©2008 Nnorom Azuonye. All rights reserved.
Photos: ©Nnorom Azuonye
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