The Delta State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mr. Richard Mofe-Damijo was until his adventure into government, one of Africa’s leading movie stars. The celebrated actor who first burst into national consciousness in the soap opera, Ripples, won the award for Best Actor in a leading role in the maiden edition of the Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2005.
In 2009, he was appointed into the Delta State cabinet. The former thespian in this interview gives the credit for the dominating role of Asaba as a movie location for film producers to the state administration’s agenda of peace and security.
What is it attracting Nollywood to Asaba?
It has to do with what this administration has created out of Asaba. Asaba is easily one of the fastest growing state capitals in the country.
The transformation of Asaba was gradual. First was the lighting up of the place at night and now what we are doing is to green the entire city. So, that has also helped in making it very cinema friendly. Any where movies would be shot has to be ecstatically appealing to the eyes.
If there is nothing in the place to catch the eye, nobody would come here to shoot no matter who is here. It is not something that we deliberately planned for Nollywood to come. Nollywood wanted a place that is peaceful, conducive and of course has enough hotel beds. What we have done outside of the provision of infrastructure in the town is to make sure that the town is beautiful enough when it is on camera.
We encourage film makers to come through us and we provide partner hotels. There are hotels that we speak to, so that when these people come, they get up to 50% discount and in some cases, they even get much more than 50% discount.
The effect now is that as opposed to when we first came, when most weekends Asaba used to be a ghost town, now most weekends, you may not even find accommodation in Asaba because of the influx of people. Now, it is not unusual to see that in every single flight into Asaba, there are movie stars. Talking about the point that the town is much more functional is the airport as well.
With the coming of the airport, it has become easier to fly these stars in. The stars can be in Lagos one minute and when they are called to come to location, they can come and they are always guaranteed that if they have to leave here and go back to Lagos, Abuja or their base, there is a flight.
It is a coincidence that my coming on board first as Special Adviser on entertainment and touring development and then, Commissioner, that Asaba became the home of Nollywood. But I always like to quickly set the fact straight that it has nothing to do with me. It is purely what the administration has been able to make out of Asaba. Asaba is now like the conferencing capital of Nigeria.
We have practically hosted every segment of society in Asaba because of the facilities we have. We have one of the biggest event centres in Nigeria that has played host to virtually every sector of the economy.
That is why Asaba has become the home of Nollywood. What we have done thereafter, like me being there, is to make sure that when there are crises, for instance, there are times when you will hear of film crews being arrested maybe because they have fake guns, I have had to intervene. For some of them who don’t come through our office, it is only when there is a problem that RMD is called. Anybody that has a problem with film crews would call me and say ‘I have problem with your people’, ‘your people are troubling me,’ and all that.
Are you saying that the governor did not use you as bait to draw Nollywood?
I don’t think that was the primary reason in appointing me. But I thank God that we have elevated entertainment to a higher level, so much so that we have blazed the trail for other governors to try and pull in other practitioners to come into their cabinet.
I wont deny that my coming in has also opened the door for certain people to feel confident enough to come.
Off course, I play host to my colleagues when they come. There is no way that my colleagues would come that I won’t play host. I extend the courtesies to them. I am even saying that even if I wasn’t here, Asaba would still have become the Nollywood capital because of how the town is. The town is safe, it is secure.
Many golfers also come here over the weekend, they fly in, play golf and on Sunday, they fly back. So, for me to stand up and beat my chest that I was the one that made Nollywood come here? No! It was the government’s agenda of peace and security and providing infrastructure.
What is the state of the Delta Leisure Resort?
As of now, the project is in two prongs. There is Olere which is under construction. We are doing a lot of land reclamation and all the quarters that are going to house all the people including the expatriates that are going to work in the site and then, there is the Ogwashi-Uku prong which is a wild life resort.
As we speak, we have acquired over 500 animals for the wild life park but all of them are being quarantined in South Africa for a period of six months before we would move them.
We are going to commission the first phase of the leisure park and the game reserve before leaving office.
What would you think are the unique features of the man, Uduaghan?
I think one of his greatest qualities is his calmness. He is a very calm person. If you know the politics of Delta State and you are not a calm person, your blood vessels would burst. It is a very challenging state to run because of the interests, these are ethnic groups that are very loud and vocal, very politically aware.
Everyone wants their own share of the state. So the balancing act is a very delicate one. So you find that anyone that must be at the helm of the state must be very calm and grow a very thick skin.
Today, I think that even our worst enemies are singing our praise. We have a term that we are very proud of in the state and it is called Finishing Strong. I think he is going to finish as one of the strongest governors in Nigeria today.
Credit: Vanguard NGR