Tribute: People Like Chico Ejiro Come Once in a Civilization – Muritala Sule

CHICO!

I just learned that Chico has passed.

No one in Nigeria is likely to ask: “Which Chico?” once that name is mentioned. Certainly not film buffs and anybody who is familiar with Nigeria’s robust entertainment scene. The reason is, Chico’s name looms large in the growth and development of our film industry. His movies, in the 90s, especially, were part of the fare many young people who are now parents grew up on. He put more than 25 years into filmmaking. Yet, Chico is so young he didn’t make 60! He was only 57. His parents hail from Ogbarho, Delta State of Nigeria but he was born in Fernando Po, the former Spanish colony now named Equatorial Guinea. He read Agriculture in the university, but, he built up an enviable reputation as a filmmaker.

I first noticed him when I saw a whodunit he directed titled “Ayemale” about 1994 for the Yoruba sector of the industry. That, in my opinion, was a bold and brilliant effort. It was deservedly applauded by his audience.

Perhaps, destiny was what was at work when Chico was churning out movies in a hurry like pure water in those days so much he was nicknamed “Mr. Prolific” and “Kpakpakpa director”. Movie making seemed such second nature to him. I’d wager his output outnumbers that of his elder brother Zeb, the patriarch of the Ejiro dynasty in moviedom. It was under Zeb that Chico learned the trade, just as Peter Red, their other brother. Together, they’ve all gone on to build a legendary filmmaking family almost in the class of the great Korda family patriarched by the great Alexander.

When I was honored to interview Chico on my TV show Lagbo Video in the 90s, the hot question was: “Is it true you turn out a movie in one week?” His answer: “Bros, I can’t even spend so much as a week on a film. Wetin I go dey there dey do?”

Late Chico Ejiro on a movie set

Chico’s reputation in his heyday was mixed. There were those professionals who considered him a sort of vermin desecrating the holy temple of filmmaking with his often haphazard style. There was little regard for fanciful art in Chico’s movies. His concern was to supply the industry with movies on the go to feed the humongous appetite of Nigerian – and, with time, African – film audiences in those early days when the so-called Nollywood became the authentic African story to replace western and mostly polluting imports. Soon, Hollywood, Bollywood and “Chinawood” were to learn of the new kid on the block that Nigeria’s – and, soon enough, Africa’s – film industry was.

Quickly, Nigeria got acknowledged as the world’s third highest producing film country. It remains so till today. Nigeria went on to inspire other African countries to produce on the video technology, which, before then, was regarded as anathema to the film art. That is no more! Nigerian filmmakers have made it on to the juries of the Academy Awards in the US and other major film producing countries around the world. Nigerian films, too, now get nominations for the US Academy Awards. What turned the spotlight on Nigeria early on was the sheer energy and innovation of its practitioners. The sheer number of its output! That’s where Chico, along with a few others, including Alade Aromire of blessed memory, are important to Africa’s history of filmmaking.

People of Chico’s quality come once in a civilization. And they are needed in all civilizations, in all spheres of life. Hollywood had its own in the legendary Roger Corman (Valentine’s Day Massacre) who, like Chico, milled out movies like fast food. Corman, like Chico, had the reputation of conceiving of, shooting, post producing and releasing a movie in a few days, where it took others months or years to do. Corman was nicknamed “King of B-Movies” by some, in recognition of how quickly he rose to the challenge of feeding popular tastes with colourful entertainment through movies.

Well, like Chico like Corman, they never won academy awards – that is, the awards given by art eggheads – but no academy award winner can contest with them in the hearts of the popular audience! To the bargain, they helped midwife such numbers of careers in the film industry as are stunning and respectable and heartwarming, including those of some academy-award-winning mentees. In the case of Corman, such mentees include: Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, Casino, Mean Streets) and Francis Ford Coppola ( Godfather).

Chico made movies till “The End”. Just a few days ago, he posted a picture of his on Instagram suggesting he was on a movie set directing. I commented: “Master!”

“To God be the glory “

That sign off signature, too, to movies was popularized by Chico and Zeb.

THANKS TO Yinka Akanbi FOR SUPPLYING ADDITIONAL FACTS.

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