On September 9, 2016, TNS published an exclusive audio interview in which Canada-based writer and Nollywood filmmaker, Jude Idada accused fellow filmmaker, Omoni Oboli of stealing his script and story for two of her films – Being Mrs Ellot and Okafor’s Law.
Omoni Oboli is yet to respond to these allegations, but while we wait for a response, here is a full transcript of Jude’s interview with TNS.
HOW IT ALL STARTED.
So a while back several years ago I came to Nigeria , I was going to make a movie. I shared the script with Omoni and I told her at that time there is this script that I am working on and I wanted her to audition for one of the roles but when she had read it, she had instead wanted to audition for the role of the female lead but the female lead happens to be a girl between the ages of eighteen and twenty or twenty-one years. Thereabout. And I told her at the time that she was old, the picture wasn’t going to fly so I didn’t cast her for the role.
I WROTE THE FIRST 50 SCENES OF “BEING MRS ELLIOT”
She had read my story and she really liked my writing as she had said so. She and her husband said they wanted me to write a film for them and I had gone to their house in VGC (Victoria Garden City) and they had told me about this film they wanted to do called Being Mrs Elliot which story they had but haven’t yet fully fleshened out, they were not sure about the theme and I wasn’t even feeling the story, it was very light but I told them, you know what, I can get you another story. Our mutual friend can attest to that. I am a writer, I’m a story teller so I can just get stories off the head, so I told them this story right there in their living room called Switch. They were very excited and they liked it. They said can I write it for them so I said no problem. And there was no offer for payment or nothing so I told them I am busy writing other things because I write script for people, I’m a novelist, a poet and playwright. I have a lot of stuffs going on at every point in time so I said I will write it but at my convenience. They said OK so I left.
I had a couple things that I was doing so they called me to ask how far with the scripts. I said I told you guys that I will do it at my convenience but I was already working on the screen treatment. I had gotten to scene fifty then she kept calling me and they were all on my neck, so I said OK you know what, I will send you what I have and when I am done with what I am doing I will continue. So I sent it to them. Of course when I was through with what I was doing, when my load was light I called up them to say I am done let me finish up that stuff and they were like, water had passed under the bridge, they have moved on and that they were working on another project so they brushed it aside.
I met her husband Nnamdi when he came to Toronto. She (Omoni) called me that ‘he (Nnamdi) is in Toronto he wants to see you.’ I went to his hotel room and we were there for over six hours and there I got to ask him, what about that story? Don’t you guys want to finish it? But he said no ‘We are working on another projecting.’ He just totally brushed it off.
HOW I INCIDENTALLY STUMBLED ON THE SCREENING OF “BEING MRS ELLIOT” IN PARIS
Ok fast forward to a couple of years, I think is two years after that I can’t remember exactly, I got a trip to Paris in France to see the Actor OC Ukeje. I was working on some project and I wanted him to be part of it, so I went to pitch it to him when I heard that they had flown in some Nollywood people into Paris and Omoni’s film Being Miss Elliot is opening the festival, I don’t know anything about it.
A friend of mine was owing me some money and I ask her to give it to Omoni because I knew she was coming to Paris, I have heard about this her film but she didn’t say it to me even when I was telling the lady to drop the money with her.
And since I was there in Paris, so I decided to go see the film at the premiere, bought a ticket and sat between Mildred Okwo and Seun. So the film starts playing, we were watching this thing like I know this story, so I told Seun that I know this story so I was telling him what will happen next. He was asking me like how do you know, have you seen this film before? But because I didn’t like all these murmurings, I just kept quiet. After the movie finished screening, I went outside. Omoni came to me, ‘Oh Jude what do you think about this movie? I really want to know your opinion.’ I was like is it that this Girl doesn’t know? But I told her that the film went very well and then it got to a point it just fell apart, even OC Ukeje when I asked him the same he said like I said I gave her the first fifty scenes so when I went back to the hotel I checked my email, went back to my thread – my sent thread to be sure of what I was talking about and I then I saw the email I sent to her. I opened up the attachment. She didn’t even change the names of the characters and I am like WHAT THE HELL!? So I called a couple of friends and said this is the situation and they were like I should go to press, sue her and all of that but I told them that I didn’t even like the way the movie ended and I didn’t like the way it was shot, so I was like should I really attach my name to this film but when I really thought about it, I was like I should let it go. No problem this is my own kind of seed in her life so I should let it go. Meanwhile, in the film, she wrote story by, screenplay by, everything by Omoni Oboli.
THE OKAFOR’S LAW SAGA
So fast forward to a couple of months. I wrote a script that me and Chioma Onyenwe was going to work on,I had told her about this experience with myself and Omoni and her husband and we were talking about stuff just coincidentally my phone rang, I looked at it and it was Nnamdi Oboli (Omoni’s husband ) so I picked it up and I put it on speak out and we got talking and he said ‘we want you to come and write a script for us,’ I now looked at Chioma like ‘look at this’ …..and when he was done, Chioma was like go and know what they have to say and I asked him what the film was about and he said they don’t have a story yet but they just have a premise ,that they just want a film about Okafor’s Law, he said, ‘Do you know Okafor’s Law?’ I said no, he said ‘Google it’ , he said if I Google it I will find it online.
I googled it and they just sent me a text on my Nigerian number to say look at what Okafor’s Law means so Chioma said I should go to their house and listen to what they have to say, so I went to their house at Oniru. Couple of days later, I think some people from England was doing some documentary on her, they had a crew in her house so I sat down with Nnamdi her husband in the other parlor with some other girl who is her PA and we were just talking about what story I have and everything and I let my guts fell. Chioma had told me not to speak but you know how it is when you get to a place, your guts fall and all that and you get talking and all that and the lady said they told me that you can tell stories and right there just like before, I started telling them the story, meanwhile Omoni was at another parlor with the BBC crew and we were on the dining table but we could see them from where we were. Right then Omoni just said ‘that is my story right there that is my story.’ I didn’t know that she was listening so she came after the crew had left and they said they love the story but can we change the end and make the end like a born-again lady who because of the Nigerian audience. You know, they are very Christian and many Nigerians are very religious and all that. We can tap into that religiosity and all that so Nnamdi was like can we put a village scene into it just to show village things, just make it normal let people give you feedback and I was like well you guys can put whatever you want to put I am not writing it but I told you the story. This is my own gift to you and I was already pissed off by myself that I have broken the plan myself and Chioma had – not to say anything.
So the other lady left, Nnamdi went upstairs, and Omoni took me to a smaller sitting room and she was like ‘Oh Jude’, because we had all talked about who to cast and all that, just like old friends talk she told me like ‘Please I want you to write the story since its your story that nobody can write it as best as you can’ and on and on and I was like I can’t write it, I’m too busy but she pleaded and pleaded so I said okay but if I am going to write it this time, I need a contract and to be paid so she started talking about the payment so I said I won’t write for anything less than a million Naira but she offered to pay seven fifty thousand (which was five thousand Dollars) so I told her I have to speak with my manager if she will agree to collect that and at that time dollar was like one hundred and eighty or one ninety. This was in 2014. Like August, September or October.
So when I left I spoke to Chioma about it so she said since I already told them the story you might as well write it instead of giving it to them for free but she said I should tell her that my manager said it’s one million or nothing, so I sent her a text telling her the situation and she said ‘Jude you know what I could have written it but I am on set I think she was shooting FIFTY, the movie FIFTY with Biyi Bandele.
I WAS ROBBED IN UGANDA SO I HAD TO RE-WRITE THE SCRIPT
So I went ahead and wrote this thing and she didn’t drop even one kobo and when I was writing,traveled to Kampala, Uganda and I was robbed in Kampala. They stole my laptop and everything, I had lost all I had written, so I contacted them to say this is the situation and told them that I will re-write it and they said OK, no problem. Meanwhile, I asked them about the contract and they told me one story or the other they didn’t send me no money, they didn’t send me no contract.
I WROTE A CONTRACT SINCE OBOLI WOULDN’T WRITE ONE.
I spoke to one of my friends Fabian Lojede, he is on Jacob’s Cross. I actually went to his weeding in December. He knows about the Being Mrs Elliot story so he said to me, ‘you know what Jude, you write a contract and send it to them.’ I had finished the script now so I wrote the contract and sent it to them. I called Nnamdi and I told him ‘I was done with the script and I sent you a contract so when you sign the contract I will send you the script.’ He said ‘I will read it and get back to you.’ No acknowledgement of the contract no nothing. These people just went blank, one month gone, a month and half and is going on like that. Chioma was like have you heard from them? I said I haven’t. Meanwhile all this while, I was already getting pissed off like why are you treating me like this. You told me to write a script, I wrote it even when you guys have not given me money. I sent it to you, no acknowledgment of the contract. You just shut up or are they trying to do what they did before?
CHIOMA WANTED TO MAKE THE OKAFOR’S LAW SCRIPT INTO A FILM.
So Chioma was like ‘Let me read the script’ because she hasn’t read it at this time. So she read it and was so excited about it. She loved it so she said you know what since they are not responding to you, I will love to make it myself. I even sent it to Onyejekwu Udoka and even got a producing partner but because I had already discussed it with Chioma, I said okay Chioma you go ahead with the script. In the contract that I sent to them because they told me Okafor’s Law, I said to them take the name Okafor’s Law which belong to you but the story is mine, the characters are mine, the love line, the climax everything is mine. If at the end of this business agreement you do not want to go ahead with the script I will take all of this things and give you back your name Okafor’s Law because that is what you contributed to it. Chioma can attest to that so I told her not to use Okafor’s Law, I will give it a different name. So I gave the name THE BET (like when you make a bet ) but Chioma on her own angle felt they can’t claim the name. She said Okafor’s Law is a social law. Nobody owns it. They are not the ones who formed the name. I said well that is not my concern you are the producer whatever you want to do, do it. My take is that she has the right to tell another story. I gave it to Chioma. She took it to Don Omope so Don loved the story and he wanted to co-produce it with Chioma. I don’t know how the discussion went because I wasn’t there.
OMONI AND NNAMDI OBOLI CLAIMED I STOLE THEIR STORY AND THREATENED TO SUE CHIOMA.
But by and large, Omoni and Nnamdi somehow found out about the arrangement Chioma and Don had and they started casting aspersion about my name that I stole their story. They threatened to sue Chioma saying that we stole her story and all that so Don called me and told me about it and he said that I should call Kene Mkparu and he said I should call them and explain to them. I said I will think about it and when I thought about it I said why should I call them to explain? If Omoni and Nnamdi want to tell their story, they should go ahead and tell their story. I have no issue with that I don’t own Okafor’s Law as a name. They can be one billion and one stories lines coming from it but they should not tell my own story the way I created mine. They said they will do their own version. I said let them do their own version I have no issues with that. So they started shooting Okafor’s Law in 2016. Then somebody brought a copy of the script. When I read it, even when Chioma read it, she was like ‘This is your story they are shooting.’ They shot this film in a record time, maybe in a couple of days. When I read the story, I saw that this was my story all she did was to change the name and you know I told you about the village thing that they said they wanted and on the end they said they wanted it to be the Christian. So they made those changes but it’s essentially the story. The script is essentially the same.
Meanwhile my script when I wrote it in 2014, Fabian advised me to copyright it so I copyrighted it January 2015 in Canada with the Writer’s Guild of Canada. So I have the copyright. So when I saw what it was, I saw exactly what they changed. I said yet again she is taking my story. It’s like story mining. They call a script writer. They mine a story off his head and go ahead and write the version of yours and call it whatever and call yourself story by, written by, produced by and all of that.
CHIOMA HAD STARTED AUDITIONING ACTORS FOR THE FILM.
And before then Chioma had started doing auditions. People like Emmanuel Ikubuese, Zainab Balogun, Beverly Naya they had all come for the audition. Some of them had read the entire script and people were calling me, what is going on? You know short and long, I now look at this whole situation, the film was now shortlisted for TIFF Festival.
I DIDN’T SUE OMONI OBOLI BECAUSE OF TIFF.
I had all the grounds to sue her but then I looked at it the other way , I said to myself ,if I did sue her, how would it look for Nigeria given the first time they are given us that audience? I was just looking at all those extra ramifications. Then I am looking at it, ‘Do I need to spend all that money on a lawyer and all that?’ At the end of the day I just decided to let it be. Just let the sleeping dog lie but then I heard that she is maligning my name, going around and telling people how I stole her story and I am like that is pretty sad. I am here being reasonable, taking the higher ground and you’re trying to drag me to the mucky waters for something that I have proof, both written and verbal. They also have a history of doing this thing to me. I have documented documents to show that you have done this thing to me before.
I JUST HAD TO DO THIS.
So when I spoke to Baba Agba, he said to me ‘Jude, I feel you have to make your case because at the end of the day you know when lies are told over and over the lies become the truth, and you don’t want a situation where people will look at you from that baggage point where the perception of you is that your work is stolen from people. The producer calls you to write something and then you stole the story, you know that kind of stuff.’ You know the petty mongering that can happen, so that is basically what it is for me right now.
Couple of people have told me and couple of people have told people that I know that Omoni is saying that I stole her story, that I want to sell it to FilmHouse but basically she hasn’t come to say it to my face, or written to me about it, this is what she had said to some people who actually acted in the film, through the grape vine, they got to me.
But nobody is going to go on, these are people who are part of the film, I get calls like ‘Jude what are you going to do?’ and like I said, a lot of people have read the story, so they know what the story was. Even when they saw the list and saw the trailer, they were like Omoni is telling people that I stole the story.
OMONI WENT TO FILMHOUSE AND THREATENED SHE WOULD SUE THEM.
She categorically went to FilmHouse and told them she was going to sue them to court and told them that I stole the story even at FilmHouse. Don had told me this. First and foremost just like I have said, I happened to have been blessed in terms of talent and the monetisation of my talent so this is not about money for me and as I said again, I have to think twice about me coming out with this because I don’t want a situation where it will go on record that somehow I tarnish Nigeria’s name or cause some drama when we finally had this platform to celebrate Nigeria’s Nollywood movies on the international scene so which was why I was going to sheath my sword and say let bygone be bygone but then they are other things that I saw.
I AM DOING THIS FOR MYSELF AND FOR OTHERS.
I am lucky but there are other writers who might not be as lucky as I am, other writers who are still climbing up the ladder and if this can happen to me, you can imagine how many other people it will happening to. So I asked myself do you want to carry the cross to shine light and show how things should be done, how intellectual property should be respected and all that so that is one. Number two, all the story that are getting back at me, that I am being maligned, some of my friends that I don’t have access to will think that I stole a story which I know I did not steal and I know that the lie told over and over becomes the truth, is a judgement on my work and a judgement on my personality and my entirety and I try overtime always to be a man of probity, to protect my name so my question is: Do I roll over and allow my name and my integrity to get muddy? Do I speak and say this is my version of this story because I can’t get to every other person she has spoken to? I don’t know how many people she had spoken to. I don’t know where the story has been bought. I need to give another version of the event, say OK this my story. This is what has happened why I didn’t steal the story, that I didn’t steal the story. This is Jude as a writer. You can Google my name, I have won AMAA award for the film Eternal. I have other prize for drama poetry, I won the Nigeria Prize for Literature. I have given lectures so I have won all of that so I don’t need anybody tryng to malign me and saying I stole their story meanwhile they are the ones that took my story.
WHY DID I GO BACK AFTER THE BEING MRS ELLIOT SAGA?
Just the question you put to me before, it happened to me the first time why did you go back. I said that I went there again because I felt I was prepared to seek for a contract and demand to be paid and I intentionally want to write the story but I mistakenly told them the story there. So now, the question is if I just roll over and something like this happens to me again even if is not with them it is going to be like shame on me. They fooled you once shame on me they fooled you again so it’s like I think the time has come to at least speak for how it should be done and what has happened to me and hope that somehow in the future, for hope for other writers who are coming on, other creators with talent that they shall be some parameter within which your work is protected so basically those are some of the reasons why I am speaking now. And again I am speaking because a lot of people have told me why I should speak for character wise and personality wise because I have stories, ,have many unproduced scripts. I have scripts people are telling me to write, so in terms of proper content, I am not in want for content. I am not going to kill myself over one content because I know it would not stop but that being said, should an injustice persist? Where a character is maligned, to keep quiet if I have a voice to speak, when the jury is still out as regard why I kept quiet the first time and went again to work again with this same people so sometimes, turning the other cheek might not necessarily be the wisest thing. So right now, I am speaking because I just want other people to hear my version of the story and the version she is telling people and also to protect the upcoming and protect myself in the future. Let nobody think that I am a content thief or plagiarizer. I am a man of letters. I tell stories
I was in Nigeria like some months ago, when I heard they were about to shoot, so this is a record speed for a film to be shot, edited and submitted for the festival. I had no idea it was going to the festival. I started going through my email thread and all of that immediately I heard it was being shot, I had already started exploring how to get to fine out the story that is being told. As at that point in time the movie was being shot, there was no evidence that it was going to the festival. You know what I mean? But like I said, to find out which version is being shot until when I got the story, when I read the story, when I submitted the similarity to the parties that I was discussing with. As at this time it hadn’t been selected for TIFF but even as at that time, I was already looking at how soon we will find out whether my copyright is being infringed on. So the fact that it ended up being submitted for TIFF is actually what even made me step back. So like I said earlier, I said those people had gotten to this platform is not just the film this is there. Dry is there too so I said I myself do I bring this uproar that will affect the whole celebration? That was my question to myself. Do I need to do that? Yes I have gotten warrant and all that, but I told everybody we have to sheath our sword but then argument now came from the second party that I can’t keep quiet.
I COULD HAVE HAD OKAFOR’S LAW PULLED OUT OF TIFF.
You have to say something because at the end of the day, one of the version that goes into the future is what you will be judged by. So yes people will say what they say. I can’t explain to every single person and that is why I am speaking now to be heard, people will pick sides, people will judge, people will support for me. But for me who is the harbinger of truth I am at peace because I could have done the same for Being Miss Eliot. I could have made noise, I could have said ‘hey this is my film!’ I could have done all of that stuff but I choose not to do it or go another way and pull the film out of the festival if I want to do that. All I need to do because I have the document to prove. I could have just sent it to TIFF, and once TIFF know there is any contention, because when you submit your work for the festival, you have to sign the form saying that you gave them the material and it belongs to you, you have the right to it. So when TIFF hears that there is any contention whatsoever, especially when coming with legal backing, they will pull your film out. So if anybody feels that I am doing this because of that, I could have done that but I had chosen not to. It’s a civilised society, TIFF can only pull it out if there is an injunction or court order saying that this material is subject to court processing or something then they can pull it but they cannot pull it just because someone said they stole his film and if I know that will happen to her I would not do it. So right now, as I’m speaking to you, I’m still being considerate on what the spill effect will be. I am doing this because I know it is not going to endanger her physical or functionally on the film being watched in Nigeria. They can celebrate it at home on the whole experience.
On the other hand, all I am doing is because she is going to go there, she is going to talk to people. She will network. I don’t know what she is going to tell them but just in case it is going to be a repetition of what she had told other people about me stealing her film, let there be that when those people go and ask or Google it, it will be that there is another version to that story.