What brings Wesley Snipes, the famous African-American actor, to these shores? Something to do with the local Nigerian film industry, we gathered. The face of Nollywood, as it is called, may never be the same again. The world-class black actor, famous for his energetic roles in films, is billed to arrive Nigeria on Thursday, September 8 to officially commission The Dome, an ultramodern entertainment and recreation centre in Abuja.
While briefing journalists recently on preparations to receive Snipes, The Dome's chief executive and managing director, Dr Obiora Okonkwo, said that his organisation is collaborating with JAHJING Entertain-ment USA, towards a successful hosting of the film star.
Snipes will, while in the country, explore the possibilities of building a film village with full complements of a studio. This will be done in collaboration with his Nigerian business partner in JAHJING, Honourable Kenneth Nwabueze, who is an engineer and information technology (IT) expert. This, optimists hope, will launch Nigerian-made video films to the next level.
The obviously elated chief executive of The Dome entertainment centre told journalists that his organisation was particularly thrilled at the opportunity of hosting the American artist. This is because the visit coincides with government's action plan to promote Nigerian culture and tourism.
Snipes, said Okonkwo, is primarily expected in Nigeria under a private sector initiative crafted for The Dome. But his renown makes it imperative to tap from the values associated with his coming. This is through the effort to position Nigeria also as a global tourist destination of class. Said he: "The entertainment industry in Nigeria is obviously never going to remain the same again. The Dome is in business to promote tourism and to market the Nigerian label. The benefit of Snipe's visit is really diverse. His acceptance to visit Nigeria is an endorsement of our culture, our art and our tourism. So we are about to witness a major turn around.
"As you know, Americans listen to the opinions of their stars. All it takes is his fans to ask where Wesley went and once they say he went to Nigeria, that is it. Everybody else will start looking for their way to Nigeria. And that is all".
The Dome's chief executive said that it has always been his dream that Nigeria sheds its bad image as a risky or unsafe destination. He added that from his wide travel experience, he has since realised that Nigeria is a much safer and more naturally endowed destination than other countries hugely toured by foreigners.
"Nigeria is a place where people of all nationalities can come and feel at home," he said. "There is no security threat anywhere. Nigeria is safe. It is my dream that some day, just like Rita Marley and Will Smith have a home in Ghana, these calibre of stars will freely come to Nigeria to buy a home too".
Asked why he chose Snipes to commission The Dome and how he came about sealing the symbolic deal, Okonkwo said: "The Dome is positioned to meet international standards. And as you know, celebrities are used from time to time to mark big occasions. We chose Mr. Snipes because he is a world class celebrity in the entertainment industry. The contact with Mr. Wesley Snipes was facilitated for us by Hon. Kenneth Nwabueze of JAHJING incorporation in California, one of our associates and top executive".
In an electronic message to THISDAY, Nwabueze said: "I have been tied up with Wesley Snipes, visit to Nigeria. Wesley and I formed a company to build movie studios in Nigeria. Part of our agenda is to take the Nigeria movie industry to the next level.
"We will be in Nigeria visiting some of the potential sites. We also invested in a new TV channel in the US called 'The Africa Channel'. The purpose of the new channel is to carry original content from Africa to US audiences. In addition, we will be attending Igwe Mbaukwu (P. A. Anugwu) Ofala on September 10 where Snipes will be given a chieftaincy title."
According to the programme released by The Dome, the movie star is expected to arrive the country via British Airways in the morning of September 8. Director of the Beautification Section of the Federal Capital Territory (FTC), Isa Shuabi said that the authorities of the federal capital are fully in alignment with the management of The Dome to ensure a hitch-free tour of the FCT.
Arrangements, he added, have been concluded to engage the visiting American actor in coconut tree planting exercise at the Jabi Lake Resort, as part of efforts to commemorate his visit to Nigeria. Shuabi further pledged the resolve of the FCT to ensure full mobilisation of relevant personnel to ensure timely evacuation of refuse wherever required.
The climax of the event perhaps is on Saturday, September 10. This is the day when all roads will lead to Anambra State, the home state of The Dome's chief executive of where Snipes will receive the chieftaincy title. Dr. Okonkwo explained that the purpose of this chieftaincy title is to systematically market Nigerian culture and art. "By wearing Nigerian chieftaincy regalia, the one from Anambra State for instance, Nigerian culture would have been showcased and endorsed for the rest of the world to appreciate".
Optimists believe that the September 8 visit will mark a watershed in the tourism industry in Nigeria. Members of the Nigerian Guild of Actors (NGA), led by its President Ejike Asiegbu have in addition been fully mobilised to make the visit as historic as possible. Okonkwo explained that the organisers of the event are well at home with the central role Nigerian actors have to play in making the "home coming" a resounding success.
He said that at least four separate meetings have been held with the actors' guild. This was with the aim of determining what their role would be in the epoch-making event. Part of the personal contributions of Snipes to the Nigerian movie art industry, The Dome chief executive said, include the provision of material and human resources for the setting up of a movie studio for the recording of Nigerian movie and films.
This, he added, will end the era of travelling abroad in search of befitting locations for the shooting of films or home videos. This studio, when completed will be comparable to the famous Universal Studios in the US. The likely level of co-operation between Hollywood and Nollywood as a result of contacts that would be established through Snipes remains invaluable to the local industry.
The centre, according to the proprietor of The Dome Investments, is merely fulfilling a vision by bringing Snipes to improve the lot of people, who never have had an opportunity to show case their talent on the international scene.
Nwabueze told THISDAY that Snipes is eagerly looking forward to the Nigerian visit, which will enable him not only to learn, study and appreciate the problems of movie makers in the country but also to market the nation's rich cultural values.