The world was awoken to the exhilarating news of the development of ScenicPlots, an international social media app developed by multi-talented and highly gifted Chinazor Onianwah. The Nigerian American-based Filmmaker, Publisher, App Developer, Writer and Author stunned the global social media users when he put the Nigerian name among the league of social media developers in the magnitude of Facebook, WhatsApp and twitter. Born to Chike, a Nigerian father and Agnes, a Cameroonian mother, 57 year-old Chinazor Onianwah an Anioma descent from Ibusa, hilly community, South-South Nigerian Geo-Political Zone is also rated among the biggest names of the moment in Washington DC where he is based. He worked briefly as a Journalist in Nigeria under the late Dele Giwa before proceeding to United States of America to take up studies in filmmaking and other disciplines. Upon graduation from Boston University Film School, he helped several writers to publish books in different fields. In the past few years, Onianwah is known to have built and managed websites for major African embassies and non-profit organizations alike.
The Developer neared his height when he had his screenplay used for “Do you Remember the Time”, the music video of famous singer, Michael Jackson in 1992. Chinazor Onianwah, in this interview speaks on a number of issues especially on that arising from his recently developed ScenicPlots App. Now, downloadable on GooglePlay and App store, Onianwah is confident that this App will surpass Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and others to earn his country, Nigeria more revenue than crude oil in the nearest future. He calls on his Anioma kinsmen to join forces with him to bring the people of the globe together.
Can our teeming readers, those who have heard of this name meet you? Who is really Chinazor Onianwah?
Well, I was born in Cameroon in 1963 to a Nigerian father named Chike Onianwah from Umuezebo, Ogbeowele in Igbuzo and a Cameroonian mother, Agnes Onianwah. Barely six months after I was born my mother proceeded to England to further her studies in Nursing Management. My father came to Cameroon and picked me up with my older brother Christopher and we lived with my grandmother in Ibusa, Oshimili North Local Government Area of Delta State. I have vivid and fond memories of my childhood in Ibusa. I recall attending kindergarten at a church school. I don’t remember its name, but I remember carrying my slate and running to school in the mornings and running back after school. I remember the songs we sang. It was an awesome childhood full of innocence, adventures at my grandfather’s farm and simple life wonderments. And then came, the Biafra War.
Unfortunately, civil war spoilt this fond memory we were together recollecting but since you grew up in Nigeria, the Igbuzo community precisely, can you please let us into your family background? What was growing up like in the period you were born besides the Biafran experience you just relieved? Mr. Onianwah, can you throw more light on this.
My father attended Saint Gregory’s College and then he worked at Customs and Excise before joining Texaco Oil Company as their Public Relations Manager. After the Biafra War, he went into business for himself as a Travel Consultant, Shipping and Forwarding Agent in Lagos. He also published a monthly magazine called The Africa Travel Trade Journal dedicated to promoting tourism to Africa and highlighting prominent artists and authors. It was in this capacity that he was selected to join eminent Nigerians such Professor Chike Onwuachi of Igbuzo who was the First Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Bisi Ogunbanjo, Prof Wole Soyinka, Professor Ekpo Eyo, and others under the Chairmanship of Colonel O.P. Fingesi (Rtd), to plan and execute the Second Black and Africa Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC ’77) in January of 1977. That would have been the culmination of my father’s work as a researcher and curator of Africa’s diverse cultural and artistic wealth. Unfortunately, he fell sick and died on October 1, 1976. Four months before the FESTAC ’77. Earlier, before he got sick, he visited Igbuzo to organize tryouts for cultural groups and musicians at the former Pentagon Hotel in Igbuzo. Because he did not live to see FESTAC ’77, the troupes that would have represented Igbuzo and the old Midwest State did not make it to Lagos.
I read with interest your Nigerian Civil War experience in your bestseller book, and I quote “It Takes A Village to Name A Child” also written and published by you. Can you replay this experience for our people to follow up?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, my mother left for England barely after I was six months and my father drove all the way from Nigeria to Cameroon to fetch me and my older brother, Christopher. He took us to Igbuzo to live with my grandmother. I recall living a wonderful childhood until that fateful day when the war reached Ibusa. I was four years old. We were playing outside while my grandmother cooked in the kitchen in the back of the house, and then suddenly there was a loud noise coming from the direction of where the water tower was, as it came crashing down.
The water from the crashing tower gushed down Umejei Road in a powerful current sweeping everything along its path and occasionally little kids who played on the street. By the time it reached our house at 123 Umejei Road, Igbuzo, the force of the gushing water had subsided, so I just stumped in the puddle with glee. Suddenly I observed the older kids stopping in the middle of the fun, and then I could make out the cries of aya, aya, aya, aya, war, war, war, war, and that’s when the stampede ensued. Waves of people were going up the street and the women had their infants on their backs and tied up bundles on their heads. The men had their kids on their heads and farming tools, and they were all heading towards the bushes. But there was another wave of people heading in the opposed direction and it was helter- skelter when they bumped into each other. My brother and I ran into the house to tell my grandmother what was going on outside. She went out to see for herself. My grandmother was a fast-thinking woman. She closed her provision store in front of the house and ushered us into her bedroom and under her bed. Meanwhile, the steamy pounded yam and “egusi” she had just removed from the stove was sitting on the floor of the kitchen unattended to. Its sweet delicious aroma wafted through the cracks of the bedroom windows to my nose under the bed. My stomach rumbled and my heart ached. “What will happen to my food,” I wondered silently.
The sound of the front door in the living room slamming against the wall snapped me back to reality. A soldier had just kicked our door in. We heard them trooping around the house and one of them entered my grandmother’s bedroom. He knelt down and peeked under the bed and saw us. I wet my pants with pee out of fright. “Come out!” he barked in unmistaken Hausa accent.” We all crawled out from under the bed shivering with fear. “Where is your husband?” The one who appeared to be their commander asked my grandmother as he ate ravenously from a plate he fixed from our food. The rest of the soldiers were also eating our food. I wept bitterly in silence. My grandmother pleaded with them that her husband was at his farm. In response to her, they ushered us into a waiting pickup. We climbed into the back and met with a few men whose facial expression spelled doom. The soldiers headed towards Asaba.
‘A soldier had just kicked our door in. We heard them trooping around the house and one of them entered my grandmother’s bedroom. He knelt down and peeked under the bed and saw us. I wet my pants with pee out of fright. “Come out!” he barked in unmistaken Hausa accent.” We all crawled out from under the bed shivering with fear. “Where is your husband?”
My grandmother swung into action with her chaplet and started reciting the Hail Mary. My brother and I joined her. By the 4th decade of the Rosary we were yelling the name of Maria, Mother of God… at the top of our lungs. The pickup slowed down and pulled over to the curb. The driver alighted and went to the back of the pickup. He told my grandmother he could no longer take her yelling the name of Maria as the mother of God. He told her to get off the pickup. My grandmother scrambled out of the pickup and demanded for us to come with her. The soldier grabbed my brother and me, and threw us out of the pickup. We landed on the dirty road next to our grandmother and the pickup drove off with the men in the back. We arrived at my grandfather’s farm by dusk. I later learned that the gloomy looking men we met at the back of the pickup were taken to Asaba to be massacred. My grandmother’s devotion to Mary Mother of God had just saved us from being victims of the Asaba Massacre during the Biafra War.
Oh! This paints a gory picture and also presents us with an idea of how some of these massacres were carried out in the defunct Asaba Division. Now, let us aptly ask you this one: You are based in America but often demonstrate uncommon interest in the Ibusa people or should I say your Anioma people? What is this thing about your Anioma people that you particularly want to sell to the world as you have spoken of in the past?
There is a unique trait amongst the people of Anioma if you take a close look at their history. One can make the argument that they all came from the same bloodline. I can recall a time not too long after the Civil War; I returned to Ibusa to visit my grandmother, I was 16 then. Life in Igbuzo was so pleasant. There was Isabela Theatre located close to the Isikisi narrow road in Isieke where you can watch Kung Fu movies and it converts to a nightclub after the movies. I went on dates and I partied like regular teenagers across the world. On any giving night you’ll meet teenagers from other Anioma cities like Asaba, Ogwash-Ukwu, Agbor, and Issele-Uku and so on. We were like from the same family. There was no crime committed in Igbuzo as far as I can remember. There was no police station in any Anioma town. The markets were always busy with traders and products exchanging hands. And there was Bendel Lines Transportations Service which was like busy fertilizing the cultures. Compared to now, Anioma was a paradise.
Mr. Onianwah, with your power of fond recollection, anyone can easily tell that growing up in Anioma was never lost on you. But now, you mean many things to many people within and outside, a filmmaker, publisher, writer, app developer and many more. Now, let us talk about ScenicPlots in particular because it making an interesting story being the rave of the moment at this time, in the world of internet technology. This App was recently developed by you. How does it work for users? Our people will like to know.
(He laughs while raising his hands) I consider myself a craftsman. My tool of choice is the written word. And I write mostly in English because of its global reach. I would prefer to write in Igbo but my audience would be insignificant and I want to reach the largest audience as far as I can reach. The development of the social media app is the culmination of my desire not only to reach the widest audience but to reach them directly unfettered. ScenicPlots app was inspired by what I observed as the latent reservoir of teeming creative writers in Nigeria whose combined creativity if packaged and marketed as a commodity, would generate more revenue for Nigeria than crude oil.
That is what inspired me to develop the app. It is an aggregator of stories according to genres, authors, locations and size. It would eventually become a tool in the hands of filmmakers who want to quickly decide on what their next project would be. With Nollywood as a backdrop, the next phase of filmmaking would go beyond buffoonery to thought-provoking, inspirational and aspirational dramas. That is why I developed ScenicPlots. And it is available at GooglePlay and the App Store. I have written several screenplays which I hope to shoot in Nollywood.
But there is another side to it since unveiling it globally, a lot of observers might easily conclude that you walk a tight rope in view of the pace already set by Facebook, Whatsaap and other notable mediums. In reality, how do you hope to surmount and overtake them?
(He cuts in with laughter) …yes, eventually I will surpass Facebook in size and scope. Before Facebook there was MySpace. No one thought Facebook could render MySpace irrelevant. In Economics, there is what we call the point of Diminishing Returns. Facebook is fast approaching that point, and it would either disintegrate or become irrelevant. I hope to fill in the gap for Africans who would still need to socialize with their kinsfolk across the continent.
So our Nigerian people, maybe Africans too, may want to ask you: Besides, the financial benefit and bringing together ancestrally happy people, what are you really hoping to achieve with this Application?
With this app, I want to be the source of all the greatest stories that is ever made into a movie. If you control the source, you control the movies. Compare it to the Suez Canal in Egypt or the Panama Canal. Whoever controls the canals control global trade.
Is it functional at the moment?
The app is functional, and you can download it at GooglePlay and the App Store for iphone.
Now, Mr. Onianwah let us talk about your movie production prowess. What does it really take to put together movies here in Nigeria considering your American location? Do you know?
I have been nursing the idea of coming to Nigeria and making movies in Nollywood since 2013 after I went back to school to study Film production. But my children were still young at the time. Now, they are old enough to take care of themselves, I can be gone for 6 months to a year and still maintain communications with them. With that obstacle out of the way, I don’t see any hindrance to delivering some of the best movies ever to come out of Nollywood.
Let me rephrase the above question. If you have Nigeria movie producers here in Nigeria, willing to partner with you, what does it really take to take it off with them? We have a lot of them on ground like Omoni Oboli, your Ibusa relative by marriage, Beverly Hills, Funke Akindele, Nicki Moore, from your Ibusa and the rest of them, Nkem Owoh who might be interested in your project. We also have the Organization for the Advancement of Anioma Culture (OFAAC) currently assembling your Anioma people for movie.
There is a process of working with other producers. You meet with them and introduce your project. If they are interested, you determine what each of you can produce towards the project. Based on the value of each resource you bring into the project: Cast, accommodation, crew, equipment, screenplay, editing, and distribution etc. You then sign a Memorandum of Understanding towards the completion of the film. When it is released, you will see the names of the production companies involved in the movie during the opening. If I have the stature of any of these figures you mentioned, we can do something. OFAAC is our own. I understand they have been in the forefront for the promotion of my people’s culture. Now, that they are into film production, we can possibly partner to get it done. There seems much we can do together in the area of our culture and histories of origin of our people.
In the first place, how would you situate the Nollywood industry?
Nollywood has no place to go but up. It has a pool of stories with capable storytellers. There is now centripetal pull of Nigerian Diasporan Hollywood juggernauts coming towards Nollywood to put out movies. Namely, John Boyega, Nnamdi Asomugha (husband of Kerry Washington), David Oyelowo of Selma movie, they are all eager to identify with Nollywood. And the fact that it is delivered in English would make Nollywood globally significant to blacks in the diaspora. That is a tremendous opportunity that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Mr. Chinazor Onianwah, did you receive any formal training?
Ok. I attended kindergarten at Ibusa College before the Biafran War and then after the war, we returned to Lagos and resumed school at Saint Thomas Aquinas Primary School Surulere, Lagos. Due to the illness of my father, I attended different High schools prior to graduation. First, I attended Awori Ajeronmi Grammar School in Ojo near Badagry. Then after my father died, I went to live with our Diokpa, Nduka Onianwah in Enugu. He enrolled me at Saint Theresa’s College, Nsukka in 1977.
Finally, my mother returned to Nigeria from England and I met her since I was six months old. She had become the Matron of the hospital in a town called Effon Alaaye in the then Ondo State, so she obtained a Transfer Certificate from my school in Nsukka and once again, I relocated across three States from Anambra, Delta and Ondo States for Christ Apostolic Church Grammar School and I graduated with a Division One result in the West African School Certificate Examination in 1980. It was while I was home during the long vacation with my grandmother, that I saw my late father’s personal stuff, that my desire for writing and publishing was nourished. I later enrolled at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism in 1984 in Lagos. I was fortunate enough to start working at Newswatch Magazine under the mentorship of late Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed. Those four men changed the trajectory of journalism from that of labour vocation to a professional class. Unfortunately, Dele Giwa was assassinated.
After graduation from Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) in 1986, I left for the United States in 1987 for Howard University in Washington DC to study Journalism. In my sophomore year at Howard, I attended a workshop introducing the internet as a commercial application. I became fascinated and dropped out of Howard University for a self-study programme in Microsoft Certified Systems in 1991 and started my own company, Total Webcasting Inc. I built and managed websites for African embassies and non-profit organizations. My biggest account was the first IT Manager to broadcast a radio programming live on the internet. But before I could sign a contract with the Radio Station, I was disappointed but undaunted.
‘I was fortunate enough to start working at Newswatch Magazine under the mentorship of Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed. Those four men changed the trajectory of journalism from that of labour vocation to a professional class. Unfortunately, Dele Giwa was assassinated’.
Along the way, I wrote a short screenplay for a music video for Michael Jackson titled Remember the Time in 1992. I sent it to Bob Jones, Michael Jackson’s manager at the time. They used Bob Jones told me there was no copyright in Hollywood but he advised me to go to Film School because I have the talent. Film schools were quite expensive at the time if you had no scholarship. Years later in 2013, I graduated from Boston University Film School.
‘I wrote a short screenplay for a music video for Michael Jackson titled Remember the Time in 1992’
Mr. Chinazor Onianwah, where did this passion for publishing come from?
When I was about 10 years old, I used to wake up at night hearing the staccato imitation of my father’s fingers pounding on his typewriter. Every month he would go to his printer to print the monthly Africa Travel Trade Journal Magazine. That was how I was initiated into craft of publishing. But the biggest handicap in Nigeria is the dearth of bookstores. There used to be bookshops everywhere in Nigeria when I was growing up, but now whenever I see a book being sold in Nigeria, it is usually an infringed copy of the original, and the writer and publisher does not get their deserved income from the sale of that book. Until there is strongly enforced copyright law in Nigeria, book distribution in Nigeria may never be resuscitated.
Now, you have helped to publish some notable writers. Share with us some of these books. How have they been performing in the market?
I have published a few authors like Emeka Esogbue’s “Essentials of Anioma History”, Philip Ng’s Lagos. I am determined to see those books in the syllabus of high school education in Nigeria because of the quality of the writing. Another book I am proud to associate myself with is Prof. Ekpo Eyo’s Masterpieces of Nigeria Art, Epub Edition.
Are you hoping to return to Nigeria very soon?
I cannot wait to be in Nigeria as soon as Coronavirus subsides.
Mr. Chinazor Onianwah what do you think is that thing people scarcely know about you?
Considering how I come across on social media, Facebook in particular, as a naughty humorist, it would be shocking for some people to find out that my life commitment is to the continuum of my father’s vision – he saw people of Ndi Igbuzo and Anioma by extension, as divinely gifted to solve Nigeria’s problems. They are non-tribal in their inner core but desirous of a progressive Nigeria. This explains the involvement of the Anioma army officers in the first Nigerian coup. But their effort was misconstrued. I am dedicated to pursuing my father’s vision of a belief in our people and I’m still on it; tireless investment in the youths of Nigeria and everlasting collaboration with other visionaries in Nigeria to make Nigeria the best place for Nigerians to achieve their life dreams.
This interview was first conducted by EMEKA ESOGBUE