Nseobong Okon-Ekong captures the exciting moments of a reward platform that showcases homegrown creativity. Incidentally, its recent eight edition took place in Aba, a commercial city which shares a symbolic dynamism with Nollywood

The journey to Umuahia, capital of Abia State began early, particularly for many of us who travelled from Lagos. Expectedly, majority of guests heading to witness the 2016 edition of the Best of Nollywood Awards travelled out of Lagos, the assumed headquarters of the Nigerian movie industry, which is commonly known as Nollywood. The flight to Sam Mbakwe Airport in Owerri was smooth. We arrived to waiting cars. As if on instruction, journalists flocked with their kind and the actors kept their own company. Even those who normally maintained acquaintance across board barely exchanged healthy courtesy and returned to their kindred. The floating wall of separation was beginning to sit pretty as the journalists and actors were not all quartered in the same hotel.

In the event that some of them had the privilege of sharing the same lodge and dining space, the unwritten rule of separation was observed. We had spent the first night in Umuahia which was initially advertised as the venue for the Best of Nollywood Awards 2016. That night, the Lagos party invaded Umuahia and they would not go to bed. Some of them wanted to go to a club. It was Friday night. Others wanted an open type of entertainment with a live band. Somewhere in-between the carousing word filtered out that the ceremony had been moved to Aba, the infamous Nigerian city of commerce which continues to grow on its steam.

It was a last minute decision by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to showcase this proud heritage. A source said this was due to the non-readiness of the international events centre being constructed by the Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu-led government. Of course, this came with a huge logistical challenge. But it did not take the shine off the awards proper or debar movie stars and filmmakers for whom the award was being held from enjoying their day in the sun.

The change in city ensured that the ceremony started hours after schedule but this did not douse the palpable air of expectation and excitement hung thickly in the air.
It was debatable if many in the Lagos group would have preferred to remain in Umuahia, afterall, a few had settled in for one night and made acquaintances that they hoped to nurture for another night or two. The drive to Aba was not particularly heartwarming. The hours before the awards were insignificant, many were holed up in their hotel rooms. Similar time was wasted in Umuahia. It was a period that the Abia State Government could have seized the privilege of showcasing the tourism and economic potentials in its two major cities to journalists from some of the leading media and popular Nollywood personalities, but this chance was lost.

The award proper at the Eldorado Events Centre, Aba opened on a hopeful note with Niran Adedokun, head of the jury, describing it as an evening to honour the resilient creative spirit of the Nigerian filmmaker. He harped on the difference between BON and other awards.
“This awards specifically aims at promoting the Nigerian cultural essence in movie making. This is why emphasis is placed on movies that are produced in the indigenous languages. We hope that more producers will come forward and venture into film in some languages other than Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. Our hope is that tonight’s honour will inspire greater passion and excellence in us.

The creative industry is a fertile ground for governments and investors to sow in Nigeria, more especially in the period that our nation gravely needs to diversify. This jury hopes that our state governments especially will look at ways to raise the revenue profile of their states by investing in this industry.”

According to Adedokun over 120 movies and 1000 practitioners were assessed, out of which 40 movies from 100 practitioners were nominated. After his speech, he handed over an envelope containing the jury’s decisions to the prime-mover of the awards, Mr. Seun Oloketuyi.

Dressed in a floral shirt made in his beloved Aba, Governor Ikpeazu was one of the earliest arrivals at the event. And he took time on the red carpet backslapping and hugging the guests that milled round him. Without further ado, Segun Arinze, the artistic director for BON Awards, signaled the commencement of the event and introduced Okey Bakassi as host.
Curiously, Mercy Aigbe, who was announced as co-host failed to show up. In spite of that, Okey Bakassi held fort perfectly and professionally and kept the show in perspective while ensuring there was no dull moment all through.

Homegrown rapper, Ruffcoin, gave the audience a foretaste of what was to come with his performance that got the governor singing and clapping along while comedian, Funnybone, took the event to a different level. Rapper cum singer, Skales closed the event with a pulsating performance that had everybody on their feet. For filmmaker, Fidelis Duker, who incidentally, started his career in Nollywood from Pound Road, Aba, his Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Governor Ikpeazu was instructive.

He said, “I remember with nostalgia that my first film titled ‘Skeleton’ (in Igbo Language) produced 23 years ago and how I went to the popular Pound Road, Aba, searching for a distribution deal. However, fast forward 23years later, I return to Aba to be honoured with a special recognition award for my contribution to the development and growth of Nollywood.” Duker dedicated the award to his late mum who raised the initial N3,000 he needed then to commence his foray into the make-believe world.

But the biggest winner of the night was Something Wicked which won in six out of the 13 categories it got nominations; Movie with the Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (English), Best Supporting Actress (English), Movie of the Year, Director of the Year and Best Kiss in a Movie. According to the producer, Okey Uzoeshi, also a fast rising actor, “It’s hard to believe that my first project could do all this. Thank God and everyone who has supported this journey.

It can only get better.” The best actor gong went to Alex Ekubo while Judith Audu won in the Best Actress category for her self-produced movie, Just not Married, which got multiple nominations. Toyin Aimaku and Yomi Fabiyi won the Best Actor (Male and Female) Yoruba for their roles in Fabiyi’s ‘Metomi’.

In his short speech, the governor lauded the organisers for the initiative reiterating once again the global appeal and importance of Nollywood for being the largest employer of youths and the third contributor to Nigeria’s GDP while admonishing practitioners to ensure that their messages should be more positive. He likened Nollywood to Aba for striking out on its own and retaining its own originality. “Nollywood shares this can-do, never-say-die spirit with Aba.

Be it in shoe-making or any aspect of commerce, our strength lies in our people. The shirt I am wearing was made in Aba and I wear it proudly. We can no longer hide. Whether they like it or not, we are proudly Aba forever!” He announced a N10 million endowment for any movie that would find an appropriate location in Abia State, while challenging local government chairmen at the event to identify locations in Abia that can be showcased to the world.
In the excitement of different activities, Ikpeazu offered to make three made-in-Aba dresses for each journalist and Nollywood personality from Lagos.