Emeka Rollas is the President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) and one of Nollywood’s finest actors. He began acting in 1997 and has featured in over 100 movies like “Last Warning 1 &2’’ and “Buried Emotions”.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, he speaks about Nollywood, AGN, and other matters arising
PREMIUM TIMES: You recently signed a memorandum for health insurance for AGN members. Tell us more about it.
Emeka Rollas: I have signed two memoranda of understanding within the last two weeks. The plan is to raise N50million to address the issues of our veteran actors and members who are presently down with serious ailments that need urgent medical attention. I had to engage the services of a fundraising manager with a very credible company.
I want to make it as transparent as possible so that the health management company will feel very convinced to come on board. I did not want to do it as just handled by AGN, we have tried all these stuff in the past and it never led us anywhere. It was in this process that we lost Muna Obiekwe, we lost Prince James Uche, and we lost Enebeli Elebuwa and all of that. I don’t want to fail where others failed.
The campaign is starting in earnest because there are people who are terribly in dire need of this fund and I can’t wait. The ailing actress, Ify Onwuemene, is not an AGN member but because she is an actress, we will have to do something and there are so many of them like that. I am encouraging all these actors, instead of doing giveaways on Instagram, making people believe you are larger than life, to come and take care of their health. You will finish giveaway today and two years later you will not have a giveaway and you fall sick and you will be asking for money.
Stardom is transient. In the last 20 years, we have produced so many stars in Nigeria who are no longer in the scheme of things today. They may be doing well in their other businesses but that level of stardom they enjoy in 13, 14 years ago is no longer there. One of the perks of the HMO plan is automatic access to kidney transplant abroad, we can give you up to N2m or 3m naira depending on the cover which you are. We will be launching this HMO officially in August, so I am calling on actors to quickly sign up so that by that 17th, they collect their cards and begin to make use of their cards to access quality. This is what best we can do for our members at this time.
PT: AGN has been silent about Ernest Asuzu. Any update on his health or welfare?
Rollas: He is undertaking treatment at an Abuja hospital but he is also one of the beneficiaries of the AGN HMO. We will not be dealing with some of the sicknesses that tend to have some spiritual complications or undertones. So far so good, our Guild is not generating funds from anywhere, all the people you see on your screen do not pay dues to our Guild. It is only when they have a problem they will remember the Guild. Sometimes, they will call the president of the Guild and say somebody died in Kaduna, somebody I don’t know. If not for the way I want to take my leadership style, the likes of Ify Onwuemene, I won’t even be mentioning them in what I am doing. But I just want to use this opportunity to see if I can attract Nigerian actors to come together.
How can somebody gather in a village, gather people, shoot a film, pay the actors peanuts and then tour the world with the film and make so much money from it without paying the actors royalties? I think I’m very passionate about governing this Guild and changing the narratives.
PT: AGN recently came under fire for visiting Regina Daniels after she welcomed her baby.
Rollas: Maybe for the first time I will be telling you that Regina Daniels as it were, is an ID card-member of our Association, I mean the current Identity Card of our Association. When she welcomed her baby, she sent me a message. That is the respect she has for me as the president and for the Guild.
Number two, her mom, Rita Daniels, is the Vice President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria South-south. When her daughter put to bed, she sent me a message. Now, before the dissolution of the AGN Board of Patrons, Regina’s husband, Ned Nwoko was the chairman of the Board of Patrons. When his wife welcomed their baby, he also sent me a message.
Fortunately, I was in Abuja. What would a right-thinking person do? Is it not to visit the family? We bought things and gave a welcome baby card. And it took a few people with me to visit the baby. Naming the baby ‘Nollywood Baby Of The Year’ is a spontaneous presidential statement which anybody can make anywhere. I have that veto power, do you understand the point? With this thing I explained to you, for crying out loud, I’m the President, I can call that baby anything I like.
It wasn’t as if naming the child Nollywood baby of the year that it attracts prices. For you understand the point, it was just a statement I made in a celebration mood. Now the appearance of the material online was spearheaded by the family who appreciated our visit to them, not even from us. We do not need to do any PR on that. The family felt honored that we came and took to their social media to tell the world that these Actors Guild people, so nice of them to come.
Then somebody somewhere who has seen the Actors Guild working and isn’t a member of the guild began to cast aspersions on my person.
PT: How do you intend to get your members on board the health insurance scheme?
Rollas: We will catch people on location even the young ones who think they are not going to be sick. If you don’t begin now to take care of your health, when you get to that veteran age, sickness will come. So we will execute it, we will release our task forces to film locations and ensure that if you don’t have a health management card, you have no business filming because one right you don’t have in this world is the right to kill yourself. And so once you’re going to location without health insurance, you don’t know you’ve prepared to kill yourself. So we are going to be very serious about it.
PT: Are film producers adhering to COVID-19 guidelines for movies?
Rollas: In some places, they are adhering to guidelines but we will only set our guidelines, we have our own guidelines we have set out when the ease of lockdown began. But presently, the federal government has earmarked some money to the industry for what they call stimulus and we as actors, I have ordered all AGN state chapters in Nigeria to begin to collate details of members who are on location.
PT: How do you intend to rally your members together to benefit from the stimulus package?
Rollas: I’m working seriously to see that I have the facts and figures so when I’m engaging the government at any level, I will have the required documentation. So we are already creating a programme from the Actors Guild perspective, to engage the government seriously because if we keep quiet, this money will come out and some ministry will tie the money down. I’m ahead of everybody on this matter and that’s why I’ve been in Abuja here. I have a legitimate right to be focused, I’ve just told you what I’m doing in preparation to engage the Government. By the time I begin to engage the government and I have a larger number in engaging the Government, every other voice will go and hide.
When Kate Henshaw and Hilda came up with their backlash on Elisha Abbo, I stood my ground, I told them that we would not govern the Guild by social media misinformation. If you want us to make changes in the Guild, no matter how dirty any house is, you will have to come into the house in order to sweep it.
PT: How did you resolve it?
Rollas: One month after, I put together a meeting of senior and younger colleagues. I called on Joke Silva to moderate the meeting. In that meeting, Hilda Dokubo, Kate, Ego Boyo, Segun Arinze, Okey Bakassi, Desmond Elliot, Bimbo Manuel, Ireti Doyle, and RMD were all in attendance. In all our discussions, we made it clear that it was wrong for anybody to talk down on the leadership of the Guild on social media.
It was at the meeting, I decided to set up a restructuring committee to look into all of the matters arising and then decided to drop everybody on the board of patrons. And I have already announced that very soon, we will reconstitute the board of patrons.
So you now see that we will always handle things from a saner perspective so whoever is trying to throw a tantrum with the aim of pulling the Guild down would be only hitting rock because I am selfless about this service and I’m getting somewhere.
I do not care about unity, we have a larger number of people who believe in this administration. You will see that I have major support from my senior colleagues.
PT: Earlier, you touched a bit on the fact that some filmmakers are taking advantage of young and inexperienced actors. Do you think that they do not know their right or is it just the craze to be famous?
Rollas: It’s not about the craze to be famous, it is what is prevalent in the society where we found ourselves. If you go to different climes, people are collecting money from wannabe actors in order to feature them in their film. And they give them the lie that they’re doing them a favour.
Now in Asaba, as I speak to you today, an Actor will collect N800,000 from a producer to film and they will give the producer four days to be in that film. In those four days that the producer will shoot that film, they will not even come to set until the 12noon in the afternoon. These are all part of the lackadaisical attitude created by the wrong foundation. The Nigerian film industry started with the wrong foundation.
Now some people don’t want to go down and pull the foundation down to start afresh, they are more interested in adding two more blocks on the 21st storey. Let’s take this building to 30 storeys, this thing will get there, that’s the normal Nigerian phenomenon. If I engage you on what is happening in the industry, you yourself will run away. That is why you will see some directors who have directed over 200 movies working on the street of Lagos because they’ve sold their ‘power’.
As a producer, you can’t market a DVD release and then somebody buying the film, pay N100,000, sell the same film in Cinema and take the same film and screen it in over 70 countries in Africa, Asia, YouTube and all of that. And when you ask him, he will tell you that he has bought all the rights of the film. That is ignorance because it’s a business. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) says that the actor and the producer don’t belong to the same association. The actor has his rights. So, if I make a film for you, you must declare in the contract form that this film is for theatre release so any day you take the film out of the theater and put it on a TV station, I need to come to ask for my money. That is how residual and royalties come about.
When I was National secretary under Segun Arinze and we went to visit the Screen Actors Union of America in the US, we went into one of their rooms where they pay royalties, I noticed that people that were paid royalties were people that acted as key actors and were no longer on movie locations.
Today, some of our actors will shun going back to Asaba to work, whereas, they all grew out of Asaba. Can’t you come back and say I have made a name, if I didn’t work in the Asaba local industry, I wouldn’t have been known by anybody. So every year, I am going to do two films that I am going to give to normal Asaba marketers. That is how you give back to society.
Nobody woke up and became a star in Nollywood overnight. I want to change the narrative.
PT: How about Nollywood classics that are being remade by new school producers?
Rollas: They must have had a discussion with the owners of the copyright. When a producer has a good management team, they can do their business. I am more concerned about the rights of an actor. You cannot maltreat an actor on any location, I will show you and get something out of it. You cannot harass my actor. I have had a case where a director slapped my actor, I stormed the set and said any other person working on that set should leave the set and let’s see who is giving them the money. He tried to use power but I told him I will go to court. You have no right as a director to slap an actor on set. It is not possible. The director eventually apologised and I told all of them to go back to set.
They are almost turning back to the times of Banana Republic where a producer will use N2m to shoot a film and from that same amount, they will only pay one-star actor and one-star actress and the rest are either not paid or given peanuts. I want to stop that.
You cannot go to a location and say because you have one star on set, go to a choice food place and get food for the star, like every other person on set is an animal. Even the star actor getting that kind of treatment, is he not a human being? Can’t he tell the producer not to do that kind of thing? If any of those people die in the process of making that film, the film will never be complete. Can a star actor complete the film alone? Is it a monologue?
PT: What else do you have on your plate?
Rollas: I am launching our National Secretariat in Abuja in August. The new office is emerging very soon, like an operational office. I didn’t even care about COVID. I left Lagos on June 21 to Abuja and I have been working on it.
Just recently, I bagged the Glo SIM deal. I want all AGM members to belong to one group. If you have this SIM card, you can just recharge N1000, and speak to anybody under that group for one month free of charge. You can have that line for your family and location people, every month you just put N1000 and talk free of charge.
I am finding ways to bring our members together so that they can understand that we belong to one union.
PT: Is AGN in charge of fixing an actor’s fees?
Rollas: Setting of fees is like demand and supply. Ordinarily, the constitution of the Guild says that if an actor receives a pay, he has to pay 3% checkup to the Guild. That is the global practice. At the end of the day, we might have to get involved. You cannot continue to pay people peanuts. These are people that have families to feed.
PT: When you’re not overseeing the activities of the AGN, do you still act?
Rollas: Of course. I just left a movie set in Asaba. You know, most of my acting these days are borne out of passion. Most times, you see me working in a place where I spend more than what I have been paid for the job. If you give me a script and I like the script, I say let me come and do the job.
PT: Can we expect some form of synergy between Nollywood and Yoruba film industry?
Rollas: I don’t understand what the Yoruba film industry means. The Actors Guild of Nigeria is the only body in Nigeria that welcomes actors. There is no indigenous or ethnic group.
Specifically for actors’ guild, we do not know whether there is a Yoruba industry or Hausa industry, as long as you are in the business of acting, you have to be a member of the Actors Guild of Nigeria to enjoy the benefits. The Federation of International Actors where we belong, there are Germans, there are Spanish, there are Latinos. They don’t speak English when we attend the same meeting, maybe in Belgium, the proceedings are translated into English. If you go to the website, you will see that there are lots of members of the FIA who are not English speaking actors. We don’t deal with ethnicity.
If you are a Yoruba Actor or Hausa Actor, and you don’t speak English, it does not stop you from becoming the members of the Actors Guild of Nigeria and you get covered. All of these pseudo-ethnic groups who masquerade as associations under Nollywood are the same people who are trying to massage a certain level of ego, claiming what they are not. There are so many things they cannot give to their members aside telling their members to contribute money which they use in flying around.
Some people form a national association, using a national nomenclature but they are only present in one state and they only house a particular ethnic group and that thing does not have a Nigerian outlook. The Actors Guild is the Actors Guild of Nigeria.
Get this very well, if anybody tells you that he is in Kannywood or Yorubahood, tell the person that he is in a village meeting and you will be treated like that. If you are an actor, you have to be an AGN member.
PT: Have you thought about the synergy between Nollywood, Kannywood, and Yoruba movie industry?
Rollas: It is not left for us to find a way to synergise. Have you ever seen the African Union invite another country to join them? It is you, the country that will be looking to join the African Union. You must meet all the prerequisites needed to join the African Union.
I am not the one looking for synergy, they should be the one telling me we have actors among us that we want to give you, and do you have a waiver for us and all of that? And we will consider it done.
Recently, I set up a “Mergers and Acquisition Committee” headed by former president Zack Orji. They are discussing who will approach actors on issues of mergers and acquisitions. When they discuss on that level, they pass it on to me, I look at it and will approve it. Part of the merger is that, having been involved in the associations dealing in the last 10 years, we may not require you to pay full payment on this and that.
The only organization I recognize in the angle of acting will be The National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP). They are also affiliates of the Federation of International Actors. We are not rivals because we deal with screen actors, they deal with stage actors. That is how it is globally.