Despite recording huge successes and currently being
ranked as the third largest movie making empire
globally behind Hollywood and Bollywood, passionate and leading filmmaker Zik Zulu-Okafor, in a no holds barred
interview with AZUH AMATUS, insists Nollywood came
into being by an accident.
Meticulous and cerebral Okafor, the producer of wave-making soap, Heaven’s Gate, currently running on MBI, DSTV and
other stations, also spoke on how he intends to use
the soap to win more souls for God.
Aside lambasting and calling some moviemakers’
impostors and interlopers, he further accused them of
hijacking the industry for their selfish aims.
The theatre arts graduate, also threw some jabs at the
government and corporate bodies for constantly
neglecting the industry.
The ex-journalist also spoke glowingly on the way
forward for the industry, among other germane issues and much more.
Enjoy the interaction!
Let’s begin this interview with your wave making soap, Heaven’s Gate and how you intend repositioning it for the next level?
We started from Sliverbird TV,
but the programme was yanked off air, quite a number
of times without informing us, the producers of the
programme, which is City of David’s Redeemed Christian
Church of God. I was also not informed either. I wrote
them a couple of times, to protest such treatment, but
the problem kept repeating itself for a very long time
and the owners of the programme decided to try
elsewhere. Originally, we planned to take it to other
stations, in Abuja, Port Harcourt and other places.
Right now, it’s on MBI. We decided to move, having
suffered blackout for a good number of times, in spite
of the fact that we paid for such airtime, the owners
of the programme decided to look elsewhere and I had
no choice, that was how we moved to MBI.
Well, we have been on MBI for two quarters now, I’m
not advertising them, but we all know they have
clarity and a wide reach. They are in Abuja, Lagos,
Eastern and South-South states.
If this crisis is resolved, do you intend going back to STV?
Well, I don’t know, but the decisions as to where
Heaven’s Gate would run depends entirely on the City of
David. I only carry out their instructions. Aside MBI,
it is also running on DSTV. I think it is reaching out
and at the appropriate time, they would definitely
take it to other stations.
Heaven’s Gate is not just a drama or soap, it’s a
ministration. It is an instrument for disseminating
the gospel. It’s something that has to do with God, and
City of David has pastors who are deeply rooted and
entrenched in the service of God than I am. They pray
for the government, the artistes and anything and I
know that God directs them appropriately on where to
go and how to go at anytime.
How did you conceive and create Heaven’s Gate for RCCG?
Well City of David and the Apapa family of The
Redeemed Christian Church of God, used to have big
events and bring international artistes and I was
usually invited to always come and cover it. After
covering it for a couple of times, the late pastor
Eskor Mfon, who was in charge of City of David, felt I
was very professional in my approach and invited me.
He sent my own pastor, Femi Obawaya to invite me. At
the invitational chat, he told me he had a vision to
use drama to disseminate the gospel and asked if I
could. I told him I studied drama and understood my
subject and could do it properly. He later gave me an
idea of what he wanted and told me to go and think
about it. I eventually left and came back with the
story of Heaven’s Gate. After reading the synopsis, he
prayed for me and said he was very sure; I was the
person he was looking for. This happened in 2004, it
also came on air that same year.
What would you say are the major challenges so far?
The challenges are no doubt enormous, but the truth is
that City of David and late Pastor Eskor were and are,
still a delight to work with. Pastor Eskor, perhaps,
remains the most significant factor in my entire
working life. City of David’s parish has also taught
me how to excel and do things with the spirit of
excellence. Normally, when you work with organizations
as complex as the church, there are a lot of
bureaucracies, but in City of David, the pastor, after
reading my first episode, told me I was in tune with
his vision and that I was an instrument he was going
to use to translate that vision into a concrete
reality and then we started. Since then, I have never
requested for anything they did not grant. They have
made sure that the resources needed to produce that
soap excellently are provided. I have worked with them
for four years now and it has been a smooth journey.
As an accomplished film and soap producer, what is the next level for you?
Well, I would draw inspiration from Heaven’s Gate to
do my next soap. For now, let’s leave the title till
I’m set, but it is still an inspirational soap. I
can’t embark on any project that people will not learn
We are doing this new movie so that Nigerians will say
that this guy is coming from a background of
excellence, which Heaven’s Gate has provided. Despite
doing my own soap, I also believe that Heaven’s Gate
will run forever, because it’s a ministration, unless
we are saying that the church will end. We will
continue to send the message of the gospel to the
world through Heaven’s Gate. Reach out to those in the
dark, because the world is constantly in turmoil. City
of David provides the light for those in the dark, to
see that this is the way to go. So, Heaven’s Gate has
to run continuously, but for me, pastor Eskor, remains
As a passionate and leading voice in Nollywood, we would like you to share your vision and mission with us?
With the support of City of David, I believe that
Heaven’s Gate would go beyond the frontiers of Nigeria
to spread the word over. Every day, we are dreaming of
improving the quality of our production and we have
consistently done this every quarter. I want to
believe that someday Heaven’s Gate will play in some
of the stations in the U.S and Europe. I have no
doubt, its already running through DSTV to some
Does that mean you have abandoned movie-making for soap productions?
No, I didn’t abandon movie making for soaps. I am
still interested, but don’t forget that Nollywood is
an accident. Nollywood is the child of a man who
exploited the lull on the TV stations, to try out
something that became Living in Bondage. He did not
produce as a professional theatre filmmaker; he
produced as a businessman. So for Nollywood, the
spirit and inspiration is commerce.
In fact, the spirit is money. What it means also is
that structures were not in place when it started.
Professionals on TV then, took a plunge when they saw
the success recorded with Living in Bondage. It was a
rendezvous of both professionals and thinkers,
everybody started hustling for a living, without the
structures in place. And all efforts made to put
structures in place, have been constantly thwarted,
what we have was the dialogue of the dead. People did
not understand one another. And after producing over
seven good movies, I had to sit back to review my
journey thus far, for me, it was a tragedy. The three
years I had spent in the industry then was more of a
tragedy than anything else. I produced what I
considered very good films, but because the structures
were not in place, there was no transparency, no way
to monitor sells, you feed on what they tell you. My
films cost me pains, losses instead of happiness. At
some point, I had to sit back to ask myself if I had
gained, it was that bad. I was disillusioned; life
became a wilderness of pain. It was like I have
reached the cul de sac, there was nowhere else to go.
I told myself it was time to re access my old age and
make a decision that was how I decided I had to leave.
So, when are you planning your second coming to Nollywood?
The worst thing now is that the fate of films in
Nollywood is so uncertain. Every other thing in
Nigeria is going up and film is going down, from N300
to N80 per copy now. You will now find out that my
profession, film making, which I cherish so much is
living in bondage. Going back to film making at this
moment, will amount to what I would consider the
economic castration of myself. We have to wait and
pray, we are also discussing with people and corporate
bodies, and we hope they will join us in making
Nollywood what it used to be. We are having meetings
with corporate bodies, for them to inject some good
capitals into Nollywood, so we could restructure it,
make films and be able to earn a good living.
In your views, as a vocal voice in the industry, what is the way forward?
I think we have had a number of meetings in the past
they have not taken us far, but I believe there is
still hope. There is need for all of us to come
together and dialogue. There is need for us to come
together and sincerely discuss the business life of
Nollywood. Others are also saying the guilds should
get stronger, so that all of us can meet and discuss
the way forward. For me, the way forward is that we
have to begin from the foundation, which is scripting.
There is a need for us to start looking for a
rendezvous where we will talk solely about workshops
on scripts alongside conferences. Without good scripts
we would continue the recycling of same stories.
People write scripts in two days. That’s a
crucifixion… With a successful script, the next thing
becomes how do you earn a living from the practice and
that is why we have to get the issue of marketing in
place. We have done the best we can for Nollywood,
this is now the time to come together and seek
professional advice on how to restructure our
industry. In doing this, we have to bring all the
relevant bodies and stakeholders, for us to come
together at a rendezvous of harmony to understand
ourselves. In Nigeria, we have over 500,000 video
rental shops, who still rent our films. Censors’ board
must be able to give us the accurate figure of how
many video rental shops we have in the country. None
sets up without getting the approval for the structure
by the Censors Board. In every organized system, after
making a film, you go to the cinema, from there to the
video. Censors Board with the Nigerian Film
Corporation most come together with the producers and
marketers to agree on this. If we don’t restructure
our marketing department, Nollywood will only remain a
Do you think government is doing enough for Nollywood, in terms of support?
The success of Nollywood depends first and foremost on
Nollywood itself. But there are a lot that the
government can do for us, but unfortunately, they have
not done enough for Nollywood. For example, a Ghanaian
film cannot enter Britain without being censored… But
our censors’ board has not been able to reach such
bilateral agreement with countries like South Africa,
U.K and the US, and so our films are taken to these
nations and sold without any control. The government
still needs a lot to do. Also, the video clubs are not
giving us a fair shake of the dice. Let the Censors
Board come out and tell us how many video rentals we
have in Nigeria, so that we can meet and reach an
agreement with them on how to do genuine business.
Nollywood has taken Nigeria to places; therefore
government still has a lot to do for the industry.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing Nollywood?
For me, capital is our biggest challenge. Funding,
without good funding, a movie will be incomplete. Most
times, we shoot films in less than a week or five
days. It is that bad because we are looking for Sesame
Street to success, a shortcut, a magical road, so that
we can save funds. This is the problem of Nollywood.
Funding is the greatest problem, but beyond that, is
the fact that Nollywood is a rendezvous, a meeting
point of both professionals and thinkers. One person
tells the story, writes the script, with little or no
knowledge, produces and directs it. So what you see is
mediocrity, there is need to professionalize. With all
my credentials and experience, I have never directed a
movie for Nollywood. I write my scripts, nobody has
ever written my scripts for me. And it is not because
I don’t want somebody to write but because I’m still
searching for quality writers. I also produce my films
because I crave for professionalism. Mind you, when I
say fund, it should be more from the corporate bodies,
which is what is obtainable in Hollywood and
Bollywood. Unfortunately, the Nigerian corporate world
are arm chair critics, they stand on the sidewalk and
point out what is wrong with Nollywood. They
criticized and never appreciated Nollywood, it took
foreigners, before they could wake up to the fact that
Nollywood has become a phenomenon. At the peak of
Nollywood, they never bothered coming out then to help
We learnt you are planning something big for Nollywood, what is it all about?
A few of us have come together to plan something big
and memorable for Nollywood. The idea of some of us
coming together only when a colleagues dies, is not
the best for the industry. We want to create an arena
in, where we can gather once in a while with the eyes
of the world on Nollywood. Place where Nollywood will
exercise and re-enact its histrionics, a happy night.
Nollywood will dance, speak, sing and act, because we
have all these. We want to tell our members their
stories, give them hope and let them know that at the
end of the Golgotha is the green light of a new dawn.
A lot of them have been in this industry for more than
20 years, yet they can’t earn N20, 000.00 from a
production. It will be a nite of hope, happiness and
peace of mind. It is coming up soon. It will hold
twice in a year, starting from Lagos, but would be
rotated as we consolidate.
Are you not scared or concerned that Eskor’s demise may hinder the smooth running of Heaven’s Gate?
I have never for one-minute nurture the fear that
pastor Eskor’s demise might affect the running of
Heaven’s Gate. At City of David, we work like a
family. Even though Eskor inspired it, there is a
collective support for it. They call me, watch me,
advise me and also appreciate me and point out certain
things. Eskor’s death was perhaps, the greatest shock
I have ever received. It shook me by far more than my
own father’s death. At the age of 74, I was prepared
for my father’s death. Pastor Eskor’s had become my
inspiration and mentor, through what he taught me, by
the things he said and how he said it. Therefore,
there was no thought he was going to die soon even
though death is inevitable. Even when he was ill, I
was so confident, he was going to get better. I don’t
think or believe that City of David would discontinue
the soap now that Eskor is gone. It is a ministration
and they are supporting it.
What would you say are the major lessons learnt from Eskor?
I miss most, his spirit of excellence, from which I
draw inspiration. Secondly, his passion to assist the
human race, his love for the down trodden. He set up a
school for house helps and maids to get educated and
be able to read the holy bible and also be able to
excel in life. His ability to work with different
people was amazing. He never looked for your weakness,
but strength. Through utilizing your strength he gives
you confidence and the strength to sustain that
confidence, for you to be able to excel. I have always
strived to work hard in my entire life, as a
journalist, I won the NMMA, after my first year in
journalism. So, I have always wanted to excel, but
when I met pastor Eskor, I saw a different way to
excel. He gave me a sense of organization, a sense of
time and timing. He taught me how to work with people
in unity. He also showed me there is a difference
between being together and having a unity, oneness and
harmony. And through that, I have been able to work with
a large cast of Heaven’s Gate without having a
problem. I have been for almost four years, with the
same cast and they are still eager to work with
passion. I miss pastor Eskor a lot because he was a
fountain through which I drew and still draws
inspiration. A source of inspiration in terms of quest
for excellence, in terms of looking up to God as that
being through which we can accomplish everything.
What separates Heaven’s Gate from other soaps on air?
It is inspirational and takes you to the right place
of God. The soap is basically dwelling on the reality
of life without Christ. It is a strictly Christian
soap that tells you there are hope with God or Christ.
In the soap, viewers are being told that the greatest
quest is the search for God. When I started pastor
Eskor told me to give my all to Heaven’s Gate and I
would be blessed and I dare to say that I am blessed.
Because of the soap, I have been called and given
briefs that shocked me. Because of this same soap, I
have been invited out of this country to package
things I did not imagine I would have done in time to
come. And these makes me feel really awesome. I feel
great and give God all the glory. I also thank City of
David, for giving me the awesome opportunity and
privilege to show that I can excel in an area I
consider not just my profession, but my vocation,
which is the production of drama in an excellent way.
Tell us more about yourself, starting with your background
You see, I have always called the story of my life,
the wind of silent mystery. I’m 43, I was born on
August 27, 1964. I’m from Ibuzo, in Oshimili North LGA
of Delta State. I have a degree, in Theatre Arts from
the University of Ibadan and a Masters in
International Law and Diplomacy from the University of
Lagos. I practiced journalism briefly for two years
and won the News magazine reporter of the year at the
1992 Nigeria Media Merit Awards, was also a nominee
same year for the crime reporter category. I was the
pioneer president, Guild of Movie Producers and later
president the Association of Movie Producers. I’m
married to Adaora, my pretty wife, we have two boys
and a girl. My wife has in me a great husband and
thoroughly enjoys and supports my work. I also tell
her always how beautiful she is and that she has been
a fountain of hope for me.
Lastly, we will never disappoint our viewers
because we will continue to get better and give to
them that which will enrich and nourish their lives.
First published, October 2007