Dad watched crime investigation programmes 5am daily — Oghenerukewe, Chico Ejiro’s daughter

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Oghenerukewe is the daughter of the late Nollywood producer and director, Chico Ejiro, who passed on in December 2020. She tells ALEXANDER OKERE about the family life of the veteran movie maker, also known as ‘Mr Prolific,’ and how he will be remembered

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Oghenerukewe Chico-Ejiro. I am the only daughter of Chico Ejiro. I am the second child. I have three brothers. I am currently a Mass Communication student of Caleb University, Ota, Ogun State, and I’m in my final year. But I also have a food business.

How would you describe your late father?

My dad was very supportive. He supported us in whatever we wanted to do. Growing up, I wanted to do a lot of things. Any time I presented what I wanted to do to him, he would support me. He was not the type of person that said no. But he would advise us about what to do and encourage us to do better. That was the type of person he was. He was fun to be with; he was very caring.

Nigerians knew him as a popular film producer. What are the other fascinating things about your late dad many do not know?

People don’t know my dad was a chef. He liked fresh food and didn’t like microwaved food. He didn’t like any food that was prepared a day before. Sometimes, he would go to the kitchen and cook for himself. I think some people would know that my dad was a comedian. He would always act things out and was dramatic. My dad was also a farmer. He had a poultry farm and kept rabbits at a time. He had a farm at the back of the house where he grew bananas, plantains, onions and other things. We have bitter leaf, ewedu and other vegetables because of my dad. He loved agriculture.

Did he like pets?

My dad loved farm animals. We currently have a dog but he didn’t like the fact that my dog is very playful; he didn’t like the way the dog used to jump on him. He preferred chickens, rabbits and catfish. A lot of people didn’t know that my dad studied Agricultural Science. He actually learnt movie making from his brother, Uncle Zeb.

What was it like growing up with your father?

Growing up was fun because my dad was a gentleman and also funny, but mum is strict. I had a normal childhood; I didn’t feel like a celebrity’s daughter. It is other people that make me feel like a celebrity’s daughter. My dad was always there for me despite his busy schedule. I was very close to him; I was daddy’s girl.  We used to do a lot of things together.

Being a renowned movie producer, did he advise any of his kids to go into Nollywood?

I think my dad didn’t really have an influence on our career choices. I felt I just had passion for entertainment, maybe because I was close to my dad. I have always liked public speaking and participating in social events. In secondary school, I was a social prefect. So, I think it was the passion I had that made me choose Mass Communication. Yes, I am known as Chico Ejiro’s daughter but I wanted to create a name for myself too. So, I wasn’t trying to do what my dad was doing. I wanted to do my own thing.

My dad never advised us to toe the line regarding our careers. Growing up, my elder brother and I were in some of his movies. My dad was a very sweet person. He encouraged us to be unique. He wasn’t forceful. My eldest brother is currently studying Architecture. My immediate younger brother is still in secondary school.

Which is your favourite among the movies that your late dad produced?

Growing up, I didn’t really watch a lot of Nollywood movies. I know I saw Night Bus to Lagos, which he produced a few years ago. I know about Living in Bondage but I think I was watching cartoons as of the time he produced that movie.

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Did he sometimes take you and your siblings along to movie locations?

Yes. We used to be on set when we were younger. We also used to feature in some of his works. But when we grew up, he didn’t really do that because we were busy with school and didn’t have the time.

Did you at any point wonder how he got the inspiration for the movies he created?

I don’t think I know where the inspiration came from but I know my dad was a creative person. I know he and my mum were close and used to rub minds together to produce movies.

What comes to your mind each time you see his movie?

I used to get excited to see his new productions. I’m not the type of person that always saw Nollywood movies but I was always proud of him. I used to inform him each time I saw his movie and he would be impressed that I had seen his movie.

How did he spend time with you and your siblings with his busy schedule?

He was always there as a father. The only time I didn’t see my dad was when I was in school. He used to drive to the university to see me in my first and second years in school. So, he always had time for us. Surprisingly, despite his busy schedule, he still came home at night after shooting. At a point, we thought he was too much in our space because when I spent too much time in my room, he used to check up on me to see that I was okay.

We didn’t travel out of the country but my dad used to take us in his car and drive around. He used such trips to educate us. Sometimes, he rewarded us with cash when he asked us questions about certain places and we answered him correctly. Sometimes, he would just ask us to go out with him. We used to visit a roundabout on Victoria Island every Christmas and we took pictures.

What were the things he taught you and your siblings about life?

My dad taught me a lot about life. He taught me humility. He was never a proud man. If you walked up to him, he would talk to you as if you had been friends forever. He was a friendly person. He taught us how to be hard-working and creative. He taught us to trust God and to believe in ourselves. With these, I feel I can relate with anyone. My dad didn’t pamper us to the point that we didn’t know how to fend for ourselves. He made us work for the things we wanted. For example, if I wanted a new phone, I had to make good grades. He would not buy me a phone while I was getting poor grades in school.

What did he tell you about relationships?

I don’t think my dad was interested in any relationship I was in. When my mum told me I would soon get married, he said no and advised my mum not to tell me that.

Why?

He saw me as his little baby. So, he didn’t want to hear anything like that (marriage). He just felt I was not ready for that.

Can you remember your most memorable moment with him?

There are a lot of them but I’ll tell you about one. Cooking is my biggest hobby, so I started my food business in June 2020. I remember when I told my dad that I wanted to start a food business.  He supported me. I told him about things I wanted to do and he supported me. When I wanted to sew, he bought a sewing machine for me. When I wanted to make beads, he bought the material for me. So, when I told him about the food business, I was scared as to whether I could do it and I thought he would complain or say I was troubling him. But that was not the reaction I got. He told me that the idea was nice and he was happy. The next day, he took me in his car to Mushin market and bought everything I needed for my food business. He called a printer to print stickers for my food business and brand my packages well. He really supported me, even though I was scared to tell him about the business. He didn’t even ask me to pay him. He really surprised me and showed that he was a good father.  I feel every day with my dad was memorable. We used to go to the market together and he taught me how to go to the market. He was more of a best friend than a father sometimes.

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You said your dad had a sense of humour. Did he also tell jokes?

Yes. When I was growing up, I thought he was a magician because he did tricks. But I understood all his tricks when I grew up.

As a household name in Nollywood, he must have had a lot of friends. How would you describe his relationship with the actors and other professionals he worked with?

My dad had a good relationship with actors and other members of the production crew. I used to see them around and called them my uncles (and aunts) because they carried me when I was a little girl. They were more like family to us. My dad was a social person but as he got older, he just took a step back. My dad could stay at home and watch crime investigation TV programmes on Investigation Discovery channel, instead of attending an event. There was always an event for him and my mum to attend. But later in life, he just cherished being at home. He was usually up at 5am to watch his TV programme. Funnily, he was the only person in the house that watched DSTV, every other person watches Netflix. So, since he died, we haven’t switched on the TV.

How did your late dad react when you and your siblings misbehaved?

He used to talk to us a lot any time we did something bad. But he was not a strict person. He never beat us. He would just tell us that what we did was not nice and tell us not to do it next time. The thing about my dad was that he might be angry about something and forget about it at some point. He could just tell us he was going shopping and would like to know whether we wanted him to get us anything. Sometimes, he could seize our phones for two hours and release it to us with a warning not to misbehave. I don’t think my dad could have been strict even if he wanted to. He was a calm person who didn’t like putting himself under stress. He expected us to understand him after talking to us.

What kind of movies did he like to see?

He used to watch other movies produced by his friends and people who gave them to him for reviews. But he liked foreign movies with action.

What was his kind of music?

He loved listening to old-school blues. He influenced my taste in music.

You mentioned that your dad was a chef. Did he have a favourite food?

My dad liked eba and egusi soup a lot. He actually taught me how to cook most of the foods I know now.

Were there times he cooked for the family?

Yes. There were many times he cooked for us. He used to cook for me when I was sick. But mum enjoyed most of the meals he cooked. Sometimes, he made breakfast for her in bed. He was really caring.

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What was his taste in fashion?

I think he was just a casual person. He would wear clothes that would suit him. He did not like to under-dress or over-dress. He could just wear a T-shirt, a pair of jeans and sneakers.

As his daughter, did his name distinguish you in school and other places?

The thing is, when I was growing up, I didn’t even like to tell people my surname. When anyone asked me, I just stopped at Ruke or Rukky because when I told people my surname, there was this kind of treatment I did not like. When I became a social prefect, people felt it was because my dad was Chico Ejiro. People failed to see me as my own person. That was one of the reasons I felt I wanted to create footprints of my own and have my own name. A lot of people in school don’t know my name. They address me using my father’s name. Sometimes, it is annoying but I just embraced it because I can’t hide who I am. I tell people that Chico Ejiro was my dad. I was at a bank over a week ago when someone expressed their condolences. But when I was in secondary school, I hated the attention I got.

Would you then say you have received favour through his name?

I would say my dad had a lot of connections. I remember when I wanted to do my internship. He got me a job. I didn’t need to stress myself for it; I just woke up in the morning and went to work. Honestly, I feel my life is a bit easier because of who my dad was. He knew a lot of people and they respected him and would do him favours. He used his influence to make things easy for us but taught us how to fend for ourselves.

A lot of changes have been recorded in the Nigerian movie industry. What was his opinion about the transformation Nollywood has undergone?

My dad evolved with Nollywood. His concern was how to evolve with it. My dad had a YouTube channel and he was trying to get his movies on Netflix. So, I would say he was just trying to grow with Nollywood because it was his passion. All my life, I have known my dad as a filmmaker.

Were there things about the industry he did not like?

Before the situation improved, he used to complain about piracy. But now, when a movie is shown in a cinema, a lot of people see it. People would pay you to put the movie on their platforms.

What do you miss the most about him?

I miss everything about my dad. He used to check up on me and ask me if I wanted him to buy anything for me. He used to tell me about new series and encourage me to see new movies. He used to tell me stories. I just miss his presence. I miss him being around. There are things I do that make me hear my dad’s voice. My dad hated it when you opened the fridge and left it open; he wanted you to close it immediately. I like leaving the fridge open until I am done using it but my dad used to joke that I was the one who didn’t allow the water in the fridge to get cold. Sometimes, he would say I was always on my phone and that it could make me have a headache. I miss him talking about those things.

Are there plans to float a foundation in his honour?

I’m sure my mum would want to do something like that. For now, we have been focused on his burial. But it would be nice to have something in his name.

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