Remembering Amaka Igwe: A Giant Without Complex

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By Femi Akintunde-Johnson

On April 28, about three months after her 51st birthday, that famed director and producer, Amaka Igwe, MFR left us. We remember a great spirit, a wonderful wife, a marvellous mother and a fiery friend. What a sensational mix of talents, goodness, humour and straightforwardness. Today, I am led to remember her illustriously gaping space…and marvel at her almost irreplaceable legacies.

Dateline: Lagos, Tuesday, April 29, 2014 – 9.36am – I got a ‘ping’ from a young friend, Akinwale Oluwaleimu: “Morn’ sir, is it true that Amaka Igwe is dead?” My wife instantly “re-pinged”: “Nooo, where did you hear that?” He pointed to a blog. But I spoke with one of her staff yesterday, and he didn’t mention anything like that – my head spoke. We called the fellow, but it merely rang on – no answer. Then, we called a friend, Lekan Onimole who runs TopRadio FM (co-owned by Amaka). After her husband, Charles Igwe, the next best person to confirm such is Lekan. The man just took the steering wheel out of my hand by his single plaintive sentence: “We lost her yesterday”. My wife screamed off Lekan’s voice as she flung the telephone across the dashboard. Thank God she wasn’t the driver.

Truly, all you’ll read from me about this “spirit” called Amaka are true only to the extent that it is impossible to write all I know about this remarkable woman of untrammelled talents and toughness, great or small details.

Clearly, a towering Igwe (would have been 57 on January 2, this year) and the creative force behind Moving Movies Ltd., with tentacles in music production, live band management, radio ownership, and TV in the offing, Amaka packed into two decades (1994 – 2014) what ordinary folks spend a life-lime salivating over. Her works are delicately scripted, professionally produced and enthusiastically received. Which of her works has not been critically applauded? Rattle Snake, Violated, To Live Again and Forever. And who can forget Fuji House of Commotion? Or Checkmate?

With two degrees from two of Nigeria’s best universities (in Ibadan and Ife) Amaka Igwe knocked on the door of movie-making and broadcast communication with a knuckle clothed in professional fulfilment and even greater accomplishments. And she was still a ‘kid’!”

Amaka Igwe – I often called her “MFR” (to remind her that she was one of the few that truly deserve the national honour). She would always switch on that small smile and wry bemused looks: “Yes FAJ, what is it?” She never wasted word or space in “moving things forward”. I have known and grown fond of Amaka since her Checkmate days. In all these 20 years of professional relationship, the last 14 months (before her demise) had been specially glorious. These last months exploded my admiration and intrigued my imagination about the person, passion and power of Amaka Igwe.

In January of 2013 (her birth month) I intimated her about our dreams for a truly national and professionally grounded gospel music award concept in Nigeria. We had not seen each other for few years before then. She not only warmly cottoned onto the idea, she repeatedly challenged me on ways to improve and expand the solidifying scaffolds that would sustain and project the award beyond the capacity of the promoters in areas of financing, logistics, production finessing and other technical issues. Ever the humanist, she would always remind me to stop thanking her for one act of goodwill or strategic support or the other: “FAJ, why? I have told you this project is OUR own, stop thanking me…”. Oh, Amaka Igwe!

Amaka, who had been directing affairs from her home – she could not physically attend any of our several meetings on account of several competing interests – would demand and receive, and make comments on minutes and reports of many of the meetings. On few other occasions, we would have mop-up meets in her house. Ten days to the awards, she caused several technically gifted people to buy into the production of the awards… linking up with her colleagues who had studio or television equipment/facility; she gave contacts of others that were not too chummy with her… ”FAJ, go and meet them…they will give you what they can… at least, the equipment are just lying there, if they are not in use… Look, no one will refuse to support what you are doing, and they can afford it…”. I always marvel at the uncanny mix of an uncomplicated heart, and the fecundity of her mind.

On the day of the awards, Friday, November 8, 2013, I stood at the podium that evening to say something about three women who impacted significantly on the success of the awards (my wife, Iretunde; Gloria Rhodes and Amaka Igwe)… while Amaka sat across the hall, behind the “console”, like the fairy godmother of the night, dishing out instructions on how to get the best shots of the night’s spectacle – perhaps her last major production on earth.

I said then, and I am unabashed repeating it: “And over there is the woman whose heart is much larger than her frame – an angelic substance of uncommon matter. She gave her all – her communication medium; her audio and visual studios; her musical band, back-lines, sound system and session men; her extensive production equipment; her considerable and significant directorial pedigree… all to MEGA…not free o… but absolutely for nothing…and very handsome “handshake” to bring us close to tears. She is not an apparition…Help me thank God for the life of Amaka Igwe, MFR… and her husband, Charles; and her next-in-command, Lekan Onimole.” She merely shook her head indulgently at me, as if to say “This FAJ sef!”

Artistically, Amaka is an intellectual giant. (Now, I elaborate in present tense which seems completely appropriate). True giants don’t harbour a perplexing complex that makes others overwhelm their subordinates, or attempt to intimidate their peers. She would open herself to professional scrutiny – she has a measure of creative ennui that makes her subject her works to severe interrogation by people she holds highly in intellect and artistic capacity. In the 90’s as Isaac-Ene (and even as a young Mrs. Igwe), Amaka would ferret out “hard-nosed” critics who could preview her works and stare her down, if it would improve the quality of her works. Very few of us (apart from me, I know of Okoh Aihe) would receive her scripts or a copy of her work after the first edit, and (sworn to confidentiality and unflinching bluntness in fair scrutiny), you would be asked to “critique” the writings/creations of one of Nigeria’s most fecund literary/directing rising stars.

In surreal eagerness, she would await your comments, arguments or denunciation. And your knowledge and conclusions would, of course, be challenged and contested in pleasant camaraderie… Amaka would never assume she was better; or you were God’s gift to the Muse. Hardworking as nail, she licked her lips in anticipation of healthy wholesome contestations of ideas and passions. An incredible conversationalist!

Of course, Amaka would not suffer fools gladly: incompetent government officials, corrupt civil servants, unserious yet vociferous colleagues; people who cut corners in the art of creation; business people bent on bending the rules to beat the system… and the list goes on. All met a razor of censure in her dialogues.

Of course, Amaka is passionately obsessed about developing Nollywood vertically and horizontally; she cried for long about the spreading decay that unprincipled charlatanism and disregard for genuine capacity building would inflict on her beloved movie industry. Few weeks to the end of 2013, even as she had to repeatedly postpone a major remedial surgical operation in the USA, she held us hostage in her cute home in Ikeja, lamenting and railing against government duplicity, across the board; the spiralling disregard for integrity in the creative and marketing processes. Amaka holds surprisingly strong Christian views, especially as they concern the true meaning of pastorial care and our shambolic lack of understanding of the Love concept as espoused by the Lord.

A truly illuminating mind in our galloping dark landscape. A commanding voice of correction and rectitude in a flush of corruption. A massive loss to the African pantheon of artistic talents and charismatic leadership. Indeed, we have lost an uncomplicated gem.