I was ghetto-bred, but now a filmmaker and peace ambassador —Okoduwa

Best Okoduwa’s story is one an affirmation of divine intervention. Having experienced a life of crime as a youth he is now a filmmaker and ‘Peace Champion’ who daily seeks ways to educate the community on the need for peaceful co-existence. He speaks to ROTIMI IGE in this interview about his purpose in life, film, among other interests. Excerpts

Tell us a bit about yourself and memories of growing up

As a teenager in high school, I ranked highest amongst my peers in all science-related courses and fantasised about being a scientist. At some point, I thought I would be the creator of a solution to a global pandemic such as the current Covid-19, but those were merely echoes of the dreams of a teenage boy confined within the ruthless barricades of poverty and lack. With one of the best ordinary level results from my school in 2004, I could not afford to further my education, so I spent most of my time on the streets in the ghetto where I encountered the life of crime and violence. Violence as a tool to earn a living and settling disputes was enjoyable until I lost my best friend in a violent escapade, and this became the defining moment for me.

My environment became crystal clear. The extent of personal, social, and economic destruction caused by crime and violence was in full glare, and I was desperate to make my other friends on the streets see it too but not until I had copiously understood it myself. I became desperate to better unravel my innate artistic potential. I became a writer for films, and there I saw a vast opportunity to use my stories as a campaign tool against crime and violence. My growth into a filmmaker advanced my work in peace building as I focused on films, television series and documentaries that spotlight the significance of a society void of crime and violence.

I worked very hard to earn knowledge and experience in peace building, peace processes and civic leadership from fully-funded fellowships. I founded Early Start Empowerment and Development Initiative (PROJECT EARLY START), a registered non-governmental organisation (NGO) committed to building sustainable peace in Nigeria and Africa in 2017. In 2020, I founded Lagos Peace Club, a hub where young people congregate to build self-development and champion outreaches to educate the community on peaceful co-existence. This has prepared me for advanced knowledge, expertise, and experience in conflict resolution and co-existence.

I am also the founder and chief creative officer at Savvy Minaz Nigeria, a youth-led social enterprise focused on using film and media to proffer effective and sustainable solutions to social problems in Nigeria and Africa.

 

What has been your experience in the industry as a producer and director of films?

It has been a very rough but worthwhile journey. While I was a young writer desperately seeking opportunities, I met Stephanie Linus, who, till date, is one of the kindest souls I know.  It was very easy approaching stars then. She was one of the biggest at the time and I still wonder how I got her attention. I would travel from Igando, where I lived at the time, to meet up appointments with her at Eko Le-Meridien in Victoria Island. She gave me the first charge of hope that I could make it. Being that close to her alone did the magic. I didn’t maximise that privilege as I got carried away by what seemed like a shorter route after I got scholarship in the first year DelYork started.  She wasn’t pleased that I didn’t take the scholarship. I am mad at myself every time I look back. And then I met Aquila Njamah, a veteran who made me his friend and mentee. Later, I met Desmond Elliot who was an angel. He gave me money every time I went out to see him, and that would have been the perfect mentorship I desired at the time but  I still think his then personal assistant got uncomfortable and frustrated me whenever I called. I never got the chance to speak with him for so long. Also, I met Don Pedro Aganbi, who gave me most of the scriptwriting gigs I got while growing. He paid me well and treated me like a professional; also, Charles Inojie, who till date, is a father figure to me in Nollywood.

 

What other projects are you involved in? 

When I am not making films to support the SDGs and impact the society, I am working on Project Early Start. Our initiatives consist of peace building and poverty alleviation through crime and violence prevention and teen capacity development.

Last year, we intervened in the Agege Local Government community in partnership with Education District 1 and Agege Local Government where we sensitised 610 teenagers (the graduating students of the public secondary schools in the community) to crime and violence and identified and selected ten teenagers with very disturbing family backgrounds and with the potential to be negatively influenced the soonest. They are currently benefiting from our fully funded skill acquisition training, capacity development and mentorship programme.

 

Tell us about some of the movie projects you have done… 

I will focus on the most recent which would be 2020 projects. I made a short film titled ‘Brotherly’ in January. ‘Brotherly’ is a beautiful picture with very brilliant acting and cinematographic work that deals with the problem of HIV stigmatisation and how it affects inclusion in our society. In the same month, I made a feature length film titled ‘Deep cover’. ‘Deep cover’ is a story that spotlights the bane of cyber crime in Nigeria. The story was told in an unconventional way. We were set to begin principal photography for my next feature-length film; ‘Withered’, a campaign picture against rape and incest when the pandemic struck.

 

How has Covid-19 affected your craft and how are you coping with it?

Before Covid-19, I and my team were in pre-production for three films we intend to shoot back to back, ‘Withered’, the campaign picture against rape and incest; ‘Super Sheroes’, a twisted story on domestic violence and Pious Love; a story on female genital mutilation (circumcision). I am currently swinging like I am fixed on a pendulum because we were at the brink of commencing shoot before the lockdown. Actors have been paid, locations sorted and paid for, and most other expenses catered to. The wait right now is painfully long but that is mostly what can be done right now, while we wait prayerfully.

 

How do you advise entertainers to make best use of their time at this period?

Some entertainers are still busy, The ones whose contents thrive on digital platforms and this is a good time to be innovative. Entertainers need to find a way to take advantage of the current surge on the internet and make something really good and possibly sustainable from it.

 

What challenges does Nollywood face and what do you expect the various associations to use this time to address?

I think a market structure will top the list here. Reliable local platforms to monetize contents; accessible funding avenues for both budget films and blockbusters.

If I say Nollywood filmmakers have very limited monetisation options for films, I may sound like a broken record but it is what it is. This disadvantage is as huge as it gets.

 

 

What would you have been into if not entertainment…?

If everything had gone as I dreamt as a teenager, I would have been scientist right now but life happens. Am I happy here? Definitely!

 

What great lessons have you learnt as a public person? 

People would hardly judge you for your sins. You will be judged for being a sinful public person, hence it is very important to sin wisely. Having said that, I’ll Like to add that we all should always be always conscious of the fact that before all we possess in wealth, resources and titles, we are first humans and should treat every other human with loving kindness.

 

Your typical day…

I wake up, pray, meditate, play with Michelle (my daughter) for most part of the early morning  before setting out for work if there is a need to be out. If not, I will be indoors all day, planning, strategising, having meetings on zoom or telephone, reading a book, surfing the internet and social media.

 

 

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