It was Ali Nuhu's night of glory on March 14, 2007 when the AMAA Awards took place in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State. Ali won the Best Upcoming Actor slot for his role in 'Sitanda,' directed by Izu Ojukwu (see review on page 27). For a northern superstar, this is has crowned the actor's ambition in the Nigerian film industry, best known as Nollywood. Ali has won the Best Actor prizes on several occasions in the Hausa film industry across the years.
Back in Kano after the Bayelsa outing, an ecstatic Ali (pictured here holding his prize) spoke to Frontline's SANI MAIKATANGA on his recent success and his future ambition. Excerpts:
FRONTLINE: How do you feel now that you have clinched this award?
ALI: I thank God. This award is not only a thing of joy to me but also to every Hausa person and our (Hausa) movie industry in the north and Nigeria in general. I am ecstatic.How did you feature in the awards?It was the producers of 'Sitanda' who got it in, and the judges considered me the winner.
How many of you vied for this particular prize?
Four of us reached the final stage, but more than ninety-nine movies participated from various African countries... They included Hamzat Abdulhakim in 'Abenie,' Umbok Udungide in 'Amazing Grace,' and a Burkinabe in 'Mokili.' When did you know that you were nominated?About twelve days to the day of the awards.
Did you ever hope to win?
Oh sure. In truth, I had watched 'Amazing Grace' and 'Sitanda', though I didn't see the others. And I realised that I was the main star in the movie, and that encouraged me to hope for the prize.What did the judges consider as your winning point in 'Sitanda'?(At the award ceremony) they showed where the princess commanded that I be brought to her palace, and she was questioning me over my disobedience to her as was done when anyone was brought to her. That's the scene I saw shown there.
Who else went to the awards ceremony from the north?
I was escorted by Saifullahi, and the Sokoto State government sent a delegation of three people. We met there, and I was glad to see them, especially the way we all dressed up as typical northerners.How did the ceremony go?It was as if I was in a foreign land because the glitz looked like the Oscars. Right from the airport at Owerri there was a jeep waiting to convey you to Yenagoa, with a security detail. You would be taken to your accommodation, and after you were ready to go to the venue they would convey you in the jeep.
Where were you accommodated?
At the newly built Katsina State suite.How did you feel when your name was announced as the winner?I told you there was a delegation from Sokoto. They didn't even know that I was in the audience until when I got up to collect the prize, and they also got up, cheering. Surprisingly, when 'Sitanda' was released it had become a hit in the south, so when my name was mentioned everybody cheered and hooted. All of us that worked on 'Sitanda' were seated in the same section in the awards hall, and they all escorted me to the stage.
How did players within Nollywood take it?
I was amazed. See, the big players within the industry such as RMD, Kanayo Kanayo, Bob Manuel, Ejike, Francis Duru, Andy Amenichi, Amaka Igwe, all congratulated me. As I walked back to my seat Kanayo caught my hand and said, "Hey, this is a good outing!" He had thought that this was my first appearance in an English film; I had to tell him that I had acted in 'Mounting Blues,' which has not yet been released, and I was the lead actor. And he replied, "Ah! That is good. If you keep it up like that in the next two years you and I would be really competing," and we both laughed.Were you aware that the events were being aired live on television?Yes, we had been told beforehand. I told my friends and family to tune in.
Any text messages following your success?
I had to switch off my phone when I was announced as the winner, knowing I would be inundated with messages. When I switched on later I received fourteen text messages. Ishaq was the first to congratulate me on text, followed by my father, who had been watching on TV. And my wife and younger ones and many other actors also sent messages.
What happens after 'Sitanda'?
When I came out of the hall, watching 2-Face's performance outside, a producer met me and said he had been trying to reach me after he had watched 'Sitanda.' I gave him my number. He explaned the role he would like me to play for him in a movie. I'll be going to Lagos soon, where we will talk some more on the project. At least two other producers contacted me over their upcoming projects. I was really excited. Now that's where accomplishment is valued; if it were here (in the Hausa industry) people would be back-biting, saying why should so and so be given the award again? In Bayelsa, many filmmakers said since that's the kind of films wanted these days they would also gird their loins.
What are going to Lagos for?
(Smiles) I am going to collect my reward for the award.
You're talking about money.
(Laughs) That's right.
How did it fare for the director of 'Sitanda'?
He has simply made it. He has got two things because of this film. He has got another movie project worth N4.2 million from a foreign company. The producers of 'Sitanda' have given him another movie project. It's all due to his hard work. I really congratulate him. He's such a nice and easy-going fellow, and so hard working. Directors are usually hot-headed; like me, I'm a hard man when it comes to directing. But Izu is hardly mad at anyone on location. Now see what his sense of compassion has brought to him.
Does that mean you will emulate him?
Definitely I will. In fact, from now on I have stopped directing movies. I will concentrate on my acting career, because I am targeting Hollywood.
Do you wish to advice the filmmakers in the north?
I want to draw their attention to the fact that I have received accolades from friends and family over this award. It is a thing of pride that it's someone from the north who won the award for the best upcoming actor in the whole of Africa. It's a great thing. I want us to take our profession seriously, because from amongst us (Hausa actors) there are people who can win prizes better than those that have participated in AMAA. We should be taking our films to this award, please. The southerners are saying they don't see our films even though they are very popular up here.
More grease to your elbows.