Jennifer Eliogu is one actress who has made a mark for herself. She relocated abroad a few years back to be with her husband, a union which produced a boy and girl.
Back as a movie producer and singer, the actress, in this interview talks about her NGO, reasons for going into music, her decision to return home, among other issues.
Let's talk about your new movie. It is called Within and it was shot in 2011. It was premiered in Lagos Oriental Hotel, Sheraton Abuja and Grand Hotel Asaba. We also took it to the US where we entered for a competition called Movie Awards; we were nominated but we didn’t win. We then entered for another one in the UK JEFTA Awards, and got the Best Child Actor award 2011.
Last year, it was released in the US and we kept doing promotions. We went to South Africa and eventually back to Nigeria where it was released on DVD on the 21st of this month. Also at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library Abeokuta, we have agreement to show the movie for two weekend; ;that is last weekend and this one, so we obliged them. So far it is going well and I am glad that the movie has been released.
So far, how has the response been?
The response since the release has been amazing and I am happy about it. I hope it continues like that. I wrote and produced the story myself when I had nothing doing. Then I was nursing a baby. It has turned out to be a blessing.
What was the motive behind the script?
I feel we should create a balance in the stories we write, not only movies that adult could watch, but one that families can sit down to watch and enjoy together and children would learn from; to create a balance between the very good and bad. We will be going on set very soon for another one.
Now that you are so busy with production, how do you manage family and work?
There is so much to be done, taking care of the children, taking care of my family as a whole and then my movie and music. I just released a single into the market and so far it has been amazing. It is coverage of an old song of Celestial Okonkwo redone by me with a bit of R&B and highlife.
It is not just me, but the passion for what I want to do and taking care of my family. I create time to write my scripts. Being that I do not go to location all the time, I have time to write other stories and songs. I create time to go to the studio too. But everything I put my mind to do, I do it to the best, to the glory of God.
Tell us about your music
It is a 12-track album and will be released before the end of the year. We are coming out with a single in a week or two while trying to shoot the videos. I have come to do music professionally now. We want to promote two or three singles and shoot videos first.
When did you discover you have a passion for music?
I have always said that music was my first love but acting found me first so I gave it my best. Now I am back to my baby which is music.
How do you intend to meet up with the competition on the music scene?
To me music is not competition but ambition. I am living my dream and doing what I want to do. And my kind of song, I don’t exactly do hip-hop. I write and sing songs that go with my personality. I do inspirational, love songs, high life and jazz. I might add a little bit of hip-hop maybe at one time, but that is if it works. I am more of a soul singer.
So you get to love my songs for what they are. I do not want to sing what is commercial. I know we need to make money but guess there are still people out there doing so well. I intend to make a whole lot of money from it. My music is not for now, it is a generational thing. I want people to listen to my music ten years from now and remember me for good music. Listen to Sonia Spence and Onyeka Owenu, how many years over? We still play their songs.
I write strong lyrics, and in my songs I like to do a bit of entertainment with exposure to societal illness. The same thing I am doing with my songs is what I am doing with my movies. Reggae is almost extinct in Nigeria, but guess what, I can tell you that with that singular song, reggae will come alive again. I am not exactly a reggae artiste, but I love reggae and it is for all ages.
Did you take permission before redoing the deceased’s song?
Yes. The people who run his estate, Premier Records, and then COSON cover the record label; so I wrote to both parties. I am a law-abiding citizen. I spoke to the president of Premier Records too and I gave them a letter too. Unlike people who just pick up people’s works and feel that because it is an old song or probably because the person is dead, ‘I can do the song.’ It is someone else’s intellectual property.
We have actors who have tried their hands on music but didn’t succeed. Do you think yours will be different?
As I said earlier, I have come to do music professionally. I am not leaving music for acting, I am doing entertainment in totality which I believe I have a gift for. The bible says your gift will make way for you, so I am going to stick with my kind of songs, be myself and do what I know how to do best. I am not going to try to be someone else and then lose focus.
I know a lot of actors in Nollywood have tried music but everybody has the right to experiment. If you think you have passion for music; give it a try, because it is worse when you are scared of what people will say. I know I have what it takes; I have the voice. I know I might not have that voice of Whitney Houston, but I am comfortable with my kind of songs.
What were you doing at the time you took a break?
At that time, I made two beautiful children; a daughter and a son.
Currently, are you fully into production only?
I am doing both acting and producing. I produce every movie I act in it too. If I do not fit in, I won’t force it. I will let other people handle it. Presently I have a job I am co-writing with someone. I have done a couple of songs in the past one year.
When you are not working, what do you do?
Because I am restless, I get bored easily when I am not working or when I am on location. Asides helping the children with their assignments, having family time and all that, in my spare time, I write scripts. When I am not, I try to pick up a bit of things that I put up for sale. I just like to be positively productive.
Why did you relocate at the time you did?
I got married and my husband happens to live abroad and like I said, have kids too.
Why did you decide to return home?
There is no place like home. I can say life is easier there because they have a system that works. Their amenities work but the truth is, you work and put the money back. Back home in Nigeria, it is easy to fit in because I already had a career before I left.
It was easy coming back to what I know how to do; having to spend a longer time going back to school and trying to get a job. I had to take the former over the latter. I have my papers and I can travel whenever I want to. It is not easy breaking into the movie industry abroad. But because home is home, somehow you will get that break.
Why was it hard for you to make the break over there?
Nigeria is Nigeria, abroad is abroad. If it was that easy a whole lot of Nigerians will be working abroad. For rehearsals, the money they pay you is much more than the money you earn here for a lead role. It is not easy anywhere to break into the movie industry. So rather than just sit there and keep trying and trying, you just get frustrated. Even if I do any other job, it will not be one I have passion for. I might be making money but there is a part of me that is not happy. But I will stick to my job, which is entertainment.
How did your husband take it when you informed him about relocating again?
That is a discussion that we had had over time. We looked at the option and what was going on. It was not as if I could not get a job, sometimes you cut some slack if it will make the other person happy. Even when I was there, I kept writing. I just had a baby and I was not working. The three scripts I have were written at that time. I am glad that happened because after a while, we just felt that we could do it and since we have access to going and coming back. It is working out.
Are you here now with your husband and kids?
The kids are here with me, but he is over there. He has a job there, so during holidays we can travel.
How are the kids coping with the change?
Before we relocated, we had been home like twice and I have a huge family as well. Once in a while everybody comes around to visit and I f I want to travel abroad for business, my mum comes to stay with my children. If they are on holiday, I take them to my parents while I do what I have to do.
How was coming back to the movie world after the break?
As at the time I came back finally, because I remember that in between the time I shot like three movies, it was a different ball game. We had a whole lot of young actresses, which made it interesting because at some point, you have to give room to the younger ones to showcase their talents.
What beat me was that we had a whole lot of half-baked stories being tendered. Everyone was going into movie production and every young girl wanted to be a star at whatever cost. At one point we were losing direction, movies were being recycled.
What is different now?
Because there is fund and somebody is willing to bankroll, we shoot movies that promote negativity much more than positivity. For me I felt I would do a couple of good works. I did a work for Emem Isong, it was a beautiful story and I shot another one in Benin on Igbinedion’s biography.
So I said to myself, since it is like this, why don’t I do something on my own since I already wrote a couple of scripts? Why don’t I give it a try and see how it goes? Really, it was a good decision that I took. Not only was I able to show a story that will promote family, child education and finding love, I was able to be an employer of labour myself.
I employed not less than 10 hands who have not tried their hands on acting or crew work before and we all worked like a family. They are all willing to go on location again. Somehow it is as a way of giving back to the society. Apart from the fact that I have an NGO called IFDEAS.
When did you start the initiative?
It started in 2008, but was officially launched in 2010. We lend helping hands by giving money and food to the physically challenged on the street. We give to 500 people on the streets at the beginning and end of the year. We also go to the women’s prison, pray with them and give them toiletries.
We also go to the motherless baby homes and then we organise seminars and development programmes for youths. We have done that twice and we are planning another one this year. Slowly but surely you are giving back to the society whichever way you can.
How do you get your funds to keep the NGO moving?
I do not have any sponsors, so when I am working, I put aside some money if I have that project in mind. For instance, if I get a N500, 000 job, I know N50, 000 goes to that. We have another youth development programme, I don’t call it empowerment, because they expect you to share money. But if you give money to a person with the wrong mind set, he will spend that money on frivolities.
We need to educate ourselves on the need to be useful to ourselves, because we keep expecting the government to do everything. And if you are useful to yourself no body can influence you because you know what you want.
How have you been able to maintain your figure after child bearing?
I have to be very honest with you; I have been battling with my weight. There is nothing I do to it. It is just that when I see that it is getting out of hand, I cut down on my carbohydrate, and I begin to walk, and do a bit of exercise. I stop eating after seven pm.