In this question and answer session, Alex Eyengho takes us on a journey through his career path, family life and his passion for portraying the African culture through filmmaking. A proud alumnus and a member of the MSc FT4 class, he also tells us how the SMC has impacted his career and family life.
My name is Alex Oritsegbeyiwa Eyengho. I was born in Lagos on May 8, 1969 into the family of Mr. Friday & Mrs. Sumele Eyengho. They had 9 of us (5 boys and 4 girls) and I am number 5. My late father, Mr. Friday Omowu Sholuwa Eyengho hailed from Delta State as indigenes of communities like Ijaghala, Ode-Ugborodo, Omadino, Orugbo, Abiugborodo, Kantu etc, all cutting across the three Warri Local Government Areas of Delta State, and Ilaje in Ondo State. My mother, Mrs. Suleme Grace Eyengho (nee Okotie-Ogunje Olomu) hails from Koko, Ebrohimi, Bobi; Egbokodo and Agbarho etc, all in the three Warri Local Government Areas (LGAs) and Ethiope East LGA of Delta State, and Ondo State. I attended St. Thomas Aquinas Primary School, Lagos and Atunrase Boys High School, Lagos, where I obtained my West African School Certificate in 1987. I proceeded to the Anambra State Polytechnic, where I obtained my OND in Mass Communication in 1992 and went further to obtain my HND in Mass Communication from the Federal Polytechnic Oko. I then went for my MBA at the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom where I graduated in 2012 and proceeded to the School of Media and Communication of the then Pan-African University (now Pan-Atlantic University) where I obtained my MSc. in Media and Communication in 2013/2014. I hold several other certificates in journalism and filmmaking from Nigeria, Europe and America. I am currently a media practitioner, filmmaker and a professional in partisan politics. I am well travelled both nationally and internationally where I have been to virtually all continents of the world mostly for industry-related events. I am married to Matel Oritseweyinmi Alex-Eyengho (nee Ejejigbe) with children.
2. Tell us about your career path and how you became a Filmmaker.
Like I said earlier, I am today a media practitioner, filmmaker and a professional in politics. I have always known from the outset that I am a creative artiste. However, when I was a child, I loved the uniform profession like the army and police so much. This explains why in 1987 the year I rounded off my Secondary school, I applied to get into the army through the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) but was never shortlisted. Not giving up, in 1988, I applied to the Police Academy, Pashinkara in Kano State to become a Police Cadet Inspector. From the thousands of applications from the then Bendel State, I was first shortlisted among the first 20 applicants who went for the one-week training at the Academy and latter to the last 5 applicants. The Provost of the Academy then was Assistant Commissioner Akagbosu who is also from Bendel State. He called the 5 of us (4 boys and 1 girl) Bendelites into his office and addressed us. He was very cordial and indeed spoke to us like our father. He told us we all did well but because of quota system and the fact that Bendelites are believed to be very many in the Nigeria Police Force, only 2 of us will be selected from Bendel State, while most of the other States, particularly the Northern States will have minimum of 10 per State. When the final result was published in the Daily Times, truly, only 2 out of the 5 finalists from Bendel State were selected; the only girl and another boy. I cried because I was so close. It was so painful. If I made it to the NDA in 1987 or the Police Academy in 1988, my rank today would have been nothing less than Brig. General and AIG respectively. I tried the NDA again in 1989 but was not also shortlisted. That was when I gave up my desire to be a member of the Nigerian armed forces. At this time (1989), most of my secondary school class mates who gained admission into the Universities were already in their 200 levels going to 300 levels the next year being 1990. The sale of JAMB forms had closed during this period and I was not about to waste 1990 being completely out of school. At this time, one of my childhood friends (Ben Dunno) was already studying Mass Communication at the Anambra State Polytechnic. He encouraged me to enrol since I had the required WASC subjects. I did immediately but as that was being proccessed, the Federal Government introduced JAMB system into Polytechnics. That was how I became one of the pioneers of Poly JAMB. I passed and got admitted to study for my OND in Mass Communication. After my HND in 1995 and NYSC in Minna, Niger State in 1996, I came back to Lagos and joined Nollywood same year as an actor from where I also started learning the ropes as a producer and director through the opportunity given to me by Joe Dudun, a veteran Nollywood filmmaker. As they say, the rest is history.
3. What are some projects you have worked on in the Nigerian film industry and any upcoming ones?
I have worked on so many projects (movies, soap operas and stage plays) for others as an actor, production assistant, production manager, casting director and assistant director. However, my own projects thus far as producer/director include but not limited to Beyond Obligation (1&2), Nanna of the Niger Delta, Judgement Day, The Return, Scruples, Oma tsen-tsen, Suara la, Ogodobiri, A Trip to Ugbege, Bishop Iloputaife, Itsekiri in Capsule, Nanna Olomu, Olu Akengbuwa, Oleri, The 20th Warri Monarch among others. My current jobs still at pre production stages are The Riota and The Naming Ceremony.
4. Tell us about your family life?
As stated before, I am married with four children (all boys) including a set of twins. In order of seniority, my four children are Abemiyor, Oyorworli, Oyortemi and Itseworli. I met my wife, then known as Miss Matel Ejejigbe in 1998 at the audition for the film, Nanna of the Niger Delta, which took place at Ebute Meta, Lagos. Aboyowa Ikomi was the executive producer. Joe Dudun was the director while I was a supporting lead actor and one of the two assistant directors. She (Matel) came for the audition to get one of the acting roles. Incidentally, Joe Dudun as NYSC teacher thought her in Secondary school. The moment I saw her, I told Joe Dudun that “I must marry this girl.” Joe Dudun made the introductions and I took things from there. She got a role in the film and we were all in the location together with other members of cast and crew for weeks, somewhere in Ajido, Badagry. She did many yanga for me all through our stay in the location. She was already a movie star before then because she had played lead and supporting lead roles alongside the likes of Eucharia Anunobi, Gloria Alozie Young, Emeka Ike among others, in some major Nollywood films then. So, her shakara was much when I told her that I already see her as my wife. I would buy her bottle water (that’s the only water she drinks till date) and buy pure water for myself because I don’t have money (laughs). I did not give up and on July 1st and 2nd 2002, we married the traditional and christian ways respectively in Warri, Delta State. She is also a trained marketer by profession. We do all our businesses together. She has been a great pillar of support to me all this years. We also publish the monthly WARRI MIRROR magazine, a pioneer and ubiquitous grassroots print medium in the Niger Delta region. I try to always be the best husband to my wife and children because they are all I have.
5. How do you keep up with your work and family life?
In life, one must always strive to strike a balance in one’s activities. I travel a lot because of the nature of my job. But whenever I am around, I make sure I give them the maximum time and attention.
6. How has your schooling in SMC impacted your career and family life?
Very positively. One of the very best decisions I have ever taken in my life was to proceed to SMC for my MSc. in Media and Communication. My experience in that University was awesome. It made me a better person both in my career and family life. This was why I went back to SMC for my PhD in Media and Communication which I had to suspend one year into the minimum three-year program. This was due to time factor and my endless travels in and out of the country within the period. You know that SMC don’t joke with class attendance. I couldn’t meet up with the compulsory class attendance in the first year which has two semesters. So, I had to opt out during the second semester. I hope I will find time to go back and continue but this time, I may just switch to PhD in Film studies.
7. Is the African culture being protrayed as it should by African filmmakers? If not, what needs to be done?
I don’t think we as African filmmakers are doing enough in this regard. Culture comes with a lot of things (food, dressing, language, religious beliefs, etc). I see us portraying more of foreign cultures in our films as if we are not proud of the rich African culture. The way forward is for us to go back to making films in the various indigenous languages of Africa and subtitle such films. You cannot separate language from culture. The western languages, particularly English and French have somehow recolonized us in Africa and and by implication, our culture. This is reflecting in our films. We must reverse this trend. The more local, the more global. We must think of globalization only from the keyhole of glocalization.
8. What three books would we find on your bookshelf at home?
I am a Pan-Africanist. I am also a student of African history. Anyday, anytime, you will find in my bookshelf at home the following three books: Merchant Prince of the Niger; by Prof. Obaro Ikimi, The History of Itsekiri, by William Moore and the last but not the least, Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe.