By Ilemona Oseni
The entire Nigerian motion picture industry was thrown into deep shock and mourning with the death on Monday of the prolific writer, frontline motion picture director and festival organiser Amaka Igwe nee Isaac Ene. The iconic motion picture practitioner who is one of the very few outstanding motion picture practitioners in the professional class and who is best known for penning and producing the highly successful Checkmate, a soap that was something of a must watch for most television viewers as long as it ran reportedly passed on in her home town Obinagu in Udi Local Government Area of Enugu state where she had gone in company of her husband Charles Igwe for pre-production preparation for a new television soap in Igbo language. A family source say the Nollywood Icon who holds the national honour of Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) suffered asthma attack and was immediately rushed to the hospital after initial intervention failed. Amaka reportedly died before they got to the medical facility.
Amaka’s husband Charles Igwe who arrived Lagos on Wednesday could hardly talk to anyone. ‘’She is gone’ he muttered repeatedly amidst sobs as sympathisers, mostly motion picture practitioners, trooped to their Lagos home to condole the family on the death of the Nollywood Icon. Igwe and Amaka have been married for 21 years and their marriage is blessed with three children.
Tributes have continued to pour in for the visionary and pioneer motion picture practitioner who hit the limelight as the writer and producer of the award winning Checkmate and its offshoot Fuji House of Commotion. One of Amaka’s trusted and long-standing staff Chris Ehidero said he wished someone will just call and say the news of ‘amaka’s death was a joke’. ‘It was a huge shock for all of us. We spoke the night before the night she died and there was no sign that it was going to be our last. We spoke generally about the progress of work of the various productions we have commissioned for our channel on DSTV that we will be launching soon. Oh, no, I have a lost a great boss. This is one woman who gave a lot to people around her. Our first meeting was in Abuja during the annual BOBTV event seven years ago and since then, I have been working with her. She inspired my incursion to filmmaking’’ he said.
Foremost motion picture director and content entrepreneur Dr. Don Pedro Obaseki described Amaka as ‘a female colossus and the singularly most important woman in the creation & evolution of Nollywood’. Obaseki who is the Enogie-Isi of Benin Kingdom, said though it was difficult for him to speak about Amaka in the past, he would not but acknowledge the fact that ‘Amaka redefined the landscape of Situation Comedy on national TV’’. Obaseki also said ‘’Amaka was Nollywood’s female colossus. And together, Amaka and Charles Igwe strove to evolve a seismic paradigm shrift in Entertainment Content provision in Nigeria, the latest being TOP FM Radio, Lagos. Toe-to-Toe with men she stood! In recognition, she was awarded national honours as Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR). Last night, Amaka was on set of her current movie and last Night, Amaka Died, still working on a Movie. Goodnight, great woman’’.
Star actress Genevieve Nnaji described the Monday that Amaka Igwe died as the ‘darkest day’ of her entire career. According to her ‘this is the darkest day of my entire career. That I believe sums up how I feel right now. Your legacy will live on Aunty Amaka. I promise you’’
Founder and Chief Executive officer of the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) Peace Anyiam Osigwe said she received the news of the death of the iconic filmmaker with rude shock. . According to Osigwe ‘the motion picture industry in Nigeria and Africa will sorely miss this revolutionary who raised the bar of professionalism and artistic excellence early in Nollywood when it was not fashionable’’. Osigwe also said: ‘’Amaka Igwe gave herself and applied herself to producing films and soaps that are pacesetters. She was a creative entrepreneur of outstanding qualities who came, saw and conquered in her 51 years of existence on earth.Amaka Igwe worked with us as a Jury member of the Africa Movie Academy Awards at the early stage of the awards and her contributions were far-reaching and rewarding’’.
The Amazon Amaka
Born and bred in Enugu to Isaac Ene, a retired civil engineer from Obinagu-Udi in Enugu State whom Amaka described as ‘very principled’, Amaka was called GOC (General Officer Commanding) by her father because of the leadership trait she exhibited as a child. An old girl of All Saint School, now Trans Ekulu Primary School, Girls High School Awkunanaw, Enugu and Idia College Benin City where she had her ‘A’ levels, Amaka once revealed that though arts, writing and drama ran in her family, it was at Idia College that her inclination with the arts fully germinated. She recalled that while at Idia College, she helped in organising variety shows as well as acted and directed a number of plays that attracted a fee-paying audience. She recalled also how she taught her mates the popular Atilogwu dance and how the dance became the schools official dance.
Amaka studied Education and Religion at the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University. She considered studying Education and Religion a distraction from her earlier career interest but she admitted that the course prepared her for what she is doing now. ‘I don’t regret studying education and religion really. It prepared me for most of what I am doing today because it exposed me to a lot of psychology, sociology, theology, philosophy and the entire arts and humanities. It exposed me to a lot of teaching and communication and to have a broad spectrum of knowledge about people and cultures’.
From University of Ife, Amaka who signed the MNET short celluloid film ‘Barbers Wisdom’ as director proceeded to the University of Ibadan where she grabbed a master degree in Library and Information Services. In between, Amaka took part in a number of theatrical productions particularly as a member of the NYSC drama troupe. With the NYSC troupe, Amaka took plays around. It was when she returned to Enugu after her NYSC programme that she started learning about television. She found the massive studios of the Enugu State Broadcasting Service from where such classics like the long rested Basi and Company and the New Masquerade were produced, a good ground to learn how programmes are produced. She also found the works of the inimitable female television director Lola Fani Kayode inspiring. ‘I saw Lola Fani Kayode work ‘Mirror in the Sun’ and I was so fascinated. So I started learning. No one even knew I had a master’s degree then. I went down to learn the ropes. I watched them work, read a lot, asked many questions and so on. Then I started writing. And I was actually a student of the University of Ibadan when I wrote Checkmate. When I left Ibadan, I got employment with the Anambra State University of Technology, (ASUTECH) now ESUT. I was working in the library as the head of research. I also had several things to do with the radio and television. I wrote scripts, produced and presented segments on TV. I was part of Space age with Prince Orji. I equally wrote for New Masquerade. I also did tele-movies for ABS TV with Uzor Amadi. We did Decrees of Faith and presented at NIFETEP. I got a national award for that. So I continued like that until Checkmate was born’.
Indeed with Checkmate and other productions like Fuji House of Commotion and the award-winning movie Violated, Amaka drew international recognition for the burgeoning Nigerian motion picture industry. Those productions and others she has done including Rattle Snake have largely remained a watershed in the history of soaps and movie production in Nigeria.
Lola Fani Kayode, ‘Checkmate’ and Amaka Igwe
Amaka spoke glowingly about Lola Fani Kayode who she credited for inspiring her incursion into television production. She said of Lola who is currently based in the United States: ‘Lola is a very peculiar person. She was one person who rejoiced in the success of the art. To her, one person winning was nothing. She saw her success as everybody’s own. When I was doing Checkmate, she asked to see me one day and I was overwhelmed. And when we met, we talked for three hours about the way to do things. I learnt several things from her especially about artistes, their antics and acting generally. So Lola Fani Kayode and I had a meeting point in that area. There are so many things she said to me about the industry. We met while I was doing Checkmate. I respect her a lot’.
Amaka and Charles Igwe
With a creative pouch filled with works that have been rated as best seller, Amaka who has penned scripts for some notable producers and production outfits is married to Charles Igwe who holds an MBA in Business and Finance. Amaka would do anything to avoid any question that border on her marriage to Charles, but it is public knowledge that it is the busy Igwe who runs the business aspect of the offerings that come out of Amaka Igwe Studios. Igwe is not only in charge of the business angle of what is liberally called Showbiz but he has brought his experience to bear as a banker in the management of the resources of the families well regarded production company. Indeed with Igwe, the business of marketing and sales of the offerings of Amaka Igwe studios have been taken to the next level.
Challenging movie/television production
Asked to state her most challenging movie or television run yet, Amaka disclosed that she has found all her effort challenging. She adds that she gives equal attention and energy to all works that she will sign. ‘I work hard at the things I do’ she said adding: ‘I have a contract with the public to entertain them. It is an unwritten contract but it is very close to my heart. If my job is to communicate with them, then I must do it right. From the research of the script and what the people want, it takes me a very long time. Ultimately, I have to do it right so that the audience would buy into it as soon as I put it to their sight. So I have found all my productions challenging. But Rattle Snake was different. I had shot a few episodes of Checkmate and ventured into a movie. We edited into eleven hours. So, we had to cut it down to six hours. It was very long and voluminous. The film dealt with three generations of family and cast. So we were all on the search for those who would fit into already existing characters. By Violated, I had learnt quite a lot. I had taken training. It became easier but still challenging because I was dealing with a different group of artistes’’.
Nollywood, her Nollywood
Is the movie Amazon not concerned about the issue of quality as it concern Nollywood offerings? She says she is but thinks that that there is some concerted effort to close the yawning gap. What then is her take on the industry, thirteen years after? Amaka views have not changed really. She still thinks that we are a bit far off the finishing line. She had said: ‘Well if you ask me, I will say that the Industry is just a teenager. Yes I agree that we have a big issue with quality, but I am one of those who think that we are almost there. I don’t want to be bordered about whether it is celluloid or not. The thing is that one is more difficult in terms of studious process while the other is easier. But it is the same film production. We have achieved a lot. A lot of people who studied film making abroad live and die without making one single film whether video or film. We have blown up that myth. This industry has employed several people and we have also entertained millions. But I agree that we should not gloss over the basics and by the basics I am talking of the pillars that hold the industry. And they include distribution and training because; I tell you most people who are in the industry today are not backgrounded in it at all. Most of us only came into it with our raw talents. We need to now know the rules, understand and imbibe them so that when you decide to break them, you know it’s your choice. So we need to look at training and then distribution’’.
What is the Amazon’s guiding philosophy? Amaka who is the driving force behind BOBTV an acronym for the Best of the Best African Film and Television Programmes market and CEO of Amaka Igwe Studios an outfit that is best known for dropping off quality television and video offerings replied: ‘It is to be the best I can be in all that I do’ she says adding: ‘I have been guided by that philosophy through out my career. I am one of those people who don’t subscribe to short cut to anywhere that is worth going or anything that is worth doing’.
HURIWA wants NFC named after Amaka Igwe
By Ilemona Oseni
A front line pro-media Non-Governmental organization- Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has described the reported transition/demise of Nigeria’s foremost producer Mrs. Amaka Igwe as a national tragedy and asked the Federal government to immortalize her memory in a very profound form.
In a statement made available to journalists and authorized jointly by the National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and the National media Affairs Director, Miss Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA has specifically appealed to President Good luck Jonathan to rename the Nigerian films corporation, Jos, after Mrs. Amaka Igwe as one way of according national respect to her memory.
The Rights body which poured encomiums on the achievements of the late films producer has also asked the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism to activate immediate, effective and comprehensive practical mechanism for the endowment of a Professorial chair in the field of creative/performance Arts at one of the Federal Universities as a way of engraving the profound body of knowledge in that field contained in the various creative works produced by the late prodigious producer-Mrs. Amaka Igwe.
On the reported cause of her death, the group has asked the Federal Minister of Health Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu to use his good offices to work out mechanisms for the provision of effective, efficient and affordable treatments and drugs against asthma across the country especially as the available treatment drugs for the health challenge are too expensive for both the rural and urban poor citizens living with it. HURIWA noted with dismay that Asthma has in the past few years led to the demise of many promising young men and women that would have made valuable contributions to move our economy significantly forward.
HURIWA wrote thus; “We have just read in the popular social media of the eternal passage of one of Nigeria’s most talented creative writers and an excellent producer Mrs. Amaka Igwe”.
“While we extend our heartfelt condolences to her immediate family and the entire creative arts industry, we urge the Nigerian State to commence the process of immortalizing her great memory including the possible naming of Nigerian Films Corporation after Mrs. Amaka Igwe”.
Further canvassing other ways of immortalizing the late ace producer, HURIWA, a body whose membership includes creative writers stated thus; “We call on the Federal ministry of culture and Tourism to work closely with the federal ministry of Education and the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) to endow a professorial chair in one of the nation’s federal universities in the field of creative/performance Arts in memory of late Mrs. Amaka Igwe”.