INTERVIEW: My perception about Nigerians changed after l was duped, says Bolanle Ninalowoby James Ojo
When Bolanle Ninalowo left the United States for Nigeria after completing his studies, he had a clear albeit tough vision; to break into the Nigerian entertainment music and quickly establish himself as a household name. Though he had a bachelor’s degree in accounting and master’s degree in marketing, Ninalowo craved a career in the showbiz industry. It was an entirely different terrain for him yet one he must navigate to find fulfillment and purpose. For him, it was about ‘unbecoming’ who he was to becoming who he wants to be.
He wasn’t oblivious of the challenges he would likely face to reach his goal. And they did come, perhaps not in the magnitude he expected. From being swindled by his fellow countrymen to battling bureaucratic bottlenecks and a system with little regard for meritocracy; Ninalowo’s foray into the Nigerian entertainment industry was an experience laced with difficulties.
Just like with anyone else, the actor cum film producer felt like giving up on countless occasions. But he knew that was not the best option. He was ready to brace for the odds.
“I’ll say the secrets of my success are buried in my failures. So, it was through those hard times that l learnt all l needed to know. l became strong. They say what doesn’t break a man makes a man. l learnt all the things l needed to become successful today, so those were very important moments and part of my life,” he said.
His determination and sacrifices, of course, paid off. Today, Ninalowo is one of the prominent names in Nollywood. He has continued to pull the strings with several beautiful projects while also securing numerous awards as well as honourary mentions.
In this interview with TheCable Lifestyle, Ninalowo talks about his childhood, journey to fame, career strides as an actor, and how failures made him ditch Islam for Christianity.
You have divulged much about yourself over the years in the course of acting. Are there still untold stories that were pivotal to your career strides in Nollywood?
Yeah. There are so many untold stories. However, l have a book titled ‘Fame to Shame’. Most of those questions that people have, the things they want to know about me in terms of my journey, experiences and how I have been able to overcome, they are all in the book.
What is that one thing about your growing up that you think you have not discussed?
About growing up, the insecurities, you know, of a young boy or child into a man in terms of what we go through traditionally and culturally as Nigerians. The stigma in terms of education, not doing so well in school and having to deal with criticisms and other things like that from family and the stuff like that. All these are also captured in my new book.
Amid the many problems facing Nigeria, ditching the country for abroad in search of greener pastures has been something many Nigerians will embrace, but yours was the opposite. You left the United States for Nigeria to carve out a niche for yourself, what will you attribute that to?
Well, I left Nigeria in the beginning because my Dad wanted us to go abroad and finish our schooling over there, in terms of getting international certificates and accreditations. So, I went to America to finish up my secondary school and university education. But ever since l was in America, l have always been in the pursuit of discovering myself beyond what people told me I was. I figured that there was more to me in life and there was more that I wanted to do and see of myself. That thirst for self-discovery made me come back to Nigeria to see what l can do.
With a bachelor’s degree in accounting and master’s degree in marketing, how did acting come into the picture?
Yeah, like you rightly said. I have a bachelor’s degree in accounting and master’s degree in marketing, but acting came into the picture in line with my quest for self-discovery.
Like l said, l wanted to discover myself and explore the talents as well as gifts that were embedded in me. I always wanted to know more about myself and do things differently from what every other person has done or how we have been told that it should be done. I wanted to discover new things in myself and in line with that, l did so many things: I owned a record label before, which we did music. l failed at doing that which led me back into acting. I just tried to discover myself and be successful, to become somebody and try to change the narrative.
I didn’t just want to be part of population statistics. You know what they said that when you’re growing up and want to discover yourself, you’re going to say yes to many things just to discover your goals. But when you discover the goals, you have to start saying no to many things so that you can be focused on that goal. So, in line with self-discovery, l just had to keep doing and trying out so many things that l can use to achieve those dreams that I have — of wanting to become somebody influential and impactive in the society. l just don’t want to be the ordinary man, l wanted to do more, so that’s why.
You once talked about your ‘unbecoming journey’ and your stints in music amid others which did not go as planned. What was that phase of your life like? What factors would you say shaped that chapter of your life?
Men, that time was hell. It was hell because l invested in a business that l didn’t really know too much about, and it took all my money, so it led to a lot of depression. But all those things, the failures, led me to where l am today. They propelled me on the journey that I’m today and that’s what made me what I’m now. I turned my wounds into wisdom and motivation. I’ll say the secrets of my success are buried in my failures. So, it was through those hard times that that l learnt all l needed to know. l became strong. They say what doesn’t break a man makes a man. l learnt all the things l needed to become successful today, so those were very important moments and part of my life.
You once recounted how you were being swindled by Nigerians back in 2010 when you came into the country due to your little knowledge of the environment and industry. What impression did you have after such an encounter with your fellow countrymen?
After that experience, l was depressed. I was frustrated and discouraged but wasn’t going to just quit. I told myself to make it in life, you have to go through so many things. What people didn’t realise was that l was failing forward then. I failed my way to success. To hit the right numbers, you have to try so many times. Thank God for grace and everything, I’m here now.
Did that affect how you see Nigerians today?
Oh, absolutely. That experience made me understand that most of us Nigerians are selfish. we’re not truly our brother’s keeper like people say. It’s all about you, what you want from that person, the value that you derive from that individual, that’s why you’re with them and that’s a typical character of a Nigerian. So, now, that’s how I see it.
What was your experience struggling to land a movie role in your early acting days?
It was really hard because l didn’t know anybody. I also didn’t know how the industry works then because l just came in from America. It’s like putting a baby inside a jungle and then you just have to survive. That was what happened but thankful for God and Rukky Sanda, a family member of mine who was prominent in the movie industry at the time. l called her and sought assistance from her and she gave me my first movie role and from there, l summoned the courage to just keep going and fighting for might. So many things happened along that line which l couldn’t remember. it’s been a long journey. But we are now, shame to fame.
Do you think meritocracy really defines the Nollywood?
I don’t think so, it’s all about who you know. For people like me, it’s all about God’s grace. He is a God of favour because we got no one. You might come across one or two persons in the industry who are where they are today by merit, but generally or commonly, it’s all about who you know.
In 2010, you produced your debut movie dubbed ‘Rebirth’ which many argued did not succeed commercially. How did that affect your passion for acting?
It affected me greatly. I was demoralised and demotivated. It hit me hard. I had to fight through the times. I had to overcome and get myself back up and with the grace of God, prayers hard work, consistency and determination, l kept pushing and gradually, my story changed and here we are today.
At what point did your Nollywood dream come true?
My Nollywood dream came through when I met Mary Remmy Njoku, wife of Jason Njoku, the chief executive officer of IrokoTV. That was the moment. When I met Mary, things changed, then l started working. l was able to act films on iroko with the platform also showing my movies every time. I think at that moment, the dream was ignited.
Many believe you rode to prominence after featuring in ‘Picture Perfect’, a movie released in 2016. Do you agree? If not, which project announced you to the world?
I totally agree. It was ‘Picture Perfect’ along with other few movies. But predominantly and significantly, ‘Picture perfect’.
With little or no background in acting, you’ve become fans’ favourite. What has been the magic behind this?
Well, the magic behind this is the grace of God. The grace of God is really shining on my head. I pray a lot and I work hard a lot and God favours me. But that part is totally the grace of God. I also try to do the things l can to keep my fans happy and engaged. However, beyond that, it’s just the grace of God.
From your experience in music and film making, what’s your assessment of the Nigerian entertainment industry?
The Nigerian entertainment industry is vastly growing. It’s open. There is a lot of hope for the industry. People are doing great and it has produced so many great artistes including myself. l won’t be here today if not for the Nigerian entertainment industry. So the industry keeps growing and getting better. We have immense hope for the industry.
Do you have any role models or people that inspire you generally?
I’m just generally inspired by success stories. Everybody or anything that l see has gone from nothing to something, people that believe in themselves and fight for the course no matter what happens, inspire me, and automatically become my role model. There’s no one particular person that I’m looking up to. I’m highly inspired by success stories, no matter who the person is.
Your explanation of how you got converted from Islam to Christianity is something that remains a phenomenon to many people, including myself. Could you tell me what actually happened and the incidents that made you take that decision?
It was just failures. when l failed so many times in life, l just figured that l needed God and that he’s the only person I could resort to. So, l began to read the Bible because it was written in English. l understood that God existed in the Bible and needed to use that understanding to build my relationship with God, so l picked up the Bible. I’m not a religious person, I’m just spiritual.
From your experiences and journey to fame, definitely you should have a lot for young ones trying to find their feet out there. What will that be?
They should be determined, have a purpose. If you don’t have a purpose, then you’ll never have a game plan.
What project (s) should Nigerians be expecting from you in the coming days?
l have so many films coming out soon like ‘Picture perfect’ series and a lot others. There’s a lot in the pipeline to look out for.
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