>BACK TO AFRICA! -LLOYD WEAVER CAME HOME AND NEVER LOOKED BAC

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I’ll be disappointed if my children return to America
By NONYE BEN-NWANKWO  
Saturday, 13 Jun 2009  
   
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Lloyd Weaver

But for your American accent, anyone would take you for a full blooded Nigerian…I am very proud of Nigeria. I am proud of living in Nigeria. I tell people that Nigeria is my land of opportunities. When I was in the US, I was in the television business, and by some people’s standard, I was doing very well. I worked at a top network, which was CBS Television. I reached the rank of a producer. I was okay. However, that wasn’t what I wanted to do.

What did you want to do?

I got into television in the first place for the artistic challenge, because I loved the medium and because television speaks so strongly to people. It influences people’s habits, their behaviours and the way they think. That means that people that produce in television are very powerful. As an African American, I have a high regard for Africa. I always hated the way the American media reported and still does report news about Africa. I wondered how Africa was doing. I could see that American television was really shaping the way Americans think. I came to Nigeria on a visit once and I saw that there were televisions in Nigeria too. That was in 1969. NTA was just starting then. I think it was known as WNTV then. But by the time I came back in 1979, television stations were almost in every state of this country, which means that televisions could be used by Nigerians, the way Americans use televisions over there to sustain our line of thoughts.

Was that when you decided to live in Nigeria?

No. In 1982, I was invited to come to Nigeria to train the personnel in NTA. We went all over the country training about half the TV stations in Nigeria. I got the chance to really see and experience the place that African Americans call the Motherland. I fell in love with Nigeria and I loved the people I worked with. We were fairly successful in NTA at that time. Our contract was extended for another year. CBS had already given me a one year leave of absence, so I went back to America and said goodbye to CBS. I headed back to Nigeria and spent the second year, until somebody decided that President Shehu Shagari had had enough time. General Babangida came along and decided that all contracts should be cancelled. Here I was in Nigeria. I didn’t want to go back to America. By that time, I had got to know people in the private sector as well, since I was a friendly guy. Some of the advertising agencies were asking me and some other guys I worked with in the training project if we would do television commercials for them. That was why I said Nigeria was my land of opportunities. In 1982, there were very few black people doing commercials in the US and it wasn’t even going to change.

So you stayed back in Nigeria because of that?

I tell you, America is more tribalistic than Nigeria is. The Irish Americans own one economic sector, the Jewish America own another and the Chinese Americans own another. The TV commercial business was kind of locked up too. I just happened to slip in between the cranks at the point when black people were making a lot of noise in the US. People were hiring us in tokens; that was how I got into it. I have always wanted to do a TV commercial. We had never done it before, but we didn’t admit it. We had to figure it out. Nigerians were able to tell their clients that an American company was doing their commercial, and we compromised. That was how we started. But remember one of the reasons I was in Nigeria in the first place was to influence African people to use television for development. Even though I was doing commercials, I tried to do that as well. I noticed that if the heroine of an advert was a female, she would always wear a Western dress and she would always be as light as possible. I always protested against that. But the agencies knew that that was what their clients wanted. And since I was talking to the agency and not the client, the agency would always want to fight me back. I kept telling them that they were insulting their mothers and sisters by saying that only a light skinned woman was beautiful. One of the biggest breakthroughs I had was doing a commercial for a deodorant company. The creative director was interested in great legs. The only great legs that came our way were those of Kate Henshaw, who you know is quite dark. They looked at me and said they knew she was my choice and I said yes. They said if anything should go wrong it would be my fault. But the commercial ran for about four or five years. It has been a great experience thereafter. Like I said, I came over here to train people. A lot of the film makers I trained are beginning to make waves now. They are certainly making a lot more money than me. Blood is thicker than water. I am a Nigerian but I still talk funny. I don’t have many blood relatives here except my wife and children, so these people tend to get more work than me. But then, we have been so successful. I spent 13 years in American television and I have spent 23 years in Nigerian television. I think I can say that I am a Nigerian television producer.

So you would rather call yourself a Nigerian…

I spent my career here, working in this environment, dealing with Nigerian values, having to reflect them and being successful, which means I tried real hard and I have done pretty well. So, I would say yes, I am a Nigerian. Most of the experiences that helped me to grow in my own craft happened in Nigeria. In fact, I can say I have spent 27 years in Nigeria since I came in 1982.

If Nigeria had not provided these opportunities to you, would you have gone back to America?

Like people say, money talks. Somebody said ‘Lloyd, you left a job that was paying you upwards of $60,000 a year to take $6,000 a year.‘ Even with overtime and all that, I was making close to $100,000 a year in 1982 when I left CBS. But I didn’t go back to the US. That says something. But you know something, I never decided to stay in Nigeria either.

So what made you stay back?

I still haven’t decided. It is just that one good thing led to another. I found usefulness, I found purpose and I fell in love. I have got a wife and three children and I don’t want my children to have the experience of being African Americans when they have the opportunity to be Africans. The idea is for your life to have some meaning. I eat three square meals a day no matter where I am. I am professionally successful. Other than families and attachments and things like that, there is very little that can draw me away from the meaningful life that I have here. It is just divine, even though it is by accident.

So, you would rather call Nigeria home than US?

If you live in a place for as long as 23 years, I think you might as well call that place home or you are fooling yourself. US is home of some type, but people migrate. I migrated back home, you can put it that way. Nigeria is ancestral to me and to every African American. I did a course in history that showed that well over 50 per cent of those slaves that were taken came from the coastal area that we now identify as Nigeria. It is not impossible for any African American not to have blood that comes back to this soil.

It is not even a matter of roots search. I just feel very much at home. I look forward to becoming a citizen of Nigeria one day, though I resent the idea that I have to go through a process. My ancestors didn’t have a visa or passport when they left here. A different rule should be made for those of us who are returning from the Diaspora because, after all, we are coming back home.

But doesn’t the negative perception about Nigeria out there worry you?

Yes, there is a bad perception. When I mention Nigeria to people over there, they say, ‘Oh, that is the place they are kidnapping people.‘ That is because that‘s the word that gets out. My job is to get a better word out. If somebody mentions America, I can say ‘Oh, it is the place where the powers that be put drugs into the black community so that they can all die or become stupid?‘ You describe a place according to what your perception is. Your perception is about the word that gets out to you, the word that reaches you and what people want. When I think of America, I think of a lot of good, but I also think of a lot of negative. I listen to music where people use profane language. People who are stars are perverts and they talk about women in a negative way.

The business that I am in is a very serious business. It tells people how to act and think. I want to see black Americans imitating Africans as opposed to the other way round. If you see a Chinese American, he is talking like a Chinese; he is not talking like a 50 Cent. I like what Nigerians are now doing with hip hop. They are ‘Africanising’ it and they are putting their own values, and that is nice. People in entertainment should understand they have a responsibility to make sure that people are building platforms for taking control of this country in the nearest future.

You are working on a television drama about how Nigeria got her independence. Why?

Absolutely. I am raising Nigerian children and I found that my kids didn’t study history in school. I was raised in America and from the first grade to my second year of university, history was compulsory, which meant that Americans are Americans because they were deliberately taught to be Americans. They are not allowed to think any other way. We hear negative things about our country Nigeria because nobody is pounding positive images or ideas into the heads of Nigerian young people. So, there is no heritage. What we know is what has happened to Nigeria since independence, which has been a calamity. But the day of independence is every nation‘s reference point. The founding fathers are your heroes. We have heard more negative stories about our founding fathers than positive ones because nobody is preoccupied with telling the positive story about how this country was found. When I found out that my children didn’t have history, where will they get it if they don’t get it from me? I had to undertake an intensive study of Nigerian history on my own. What I found was amazing. The history of how Nigeria came about is the same as how America came about. We did fight for this country and I think we all should know the story. I am not giving you the details.

So the details is what you want to put in the drama series?

The details include a lot of things. It includes the battles along the way. How the British came in and how they fooled everybody. For example, the day Kano fell; we see the brave warriors on horseback who fought for days to prevent this. We want to show and name the heroes of those battles. Those people are our role models. We are going to show all the kingdoms that existed in Nigeria. We are going to show these heroes growing up. We will show (Obafemi) Awolowo and Hannah falling in love, and all that.

Is it really feasible to put all this in a motion picture?

We have to. The countries we say we want

to be like, their citizens know those kinds

of things about their countries. You

know all kinds of stories about your

parents, and that is why they are your parents. We have to know this about our country. We have to understand these personalities. Nigerians will be fascinated to see their actors and actresses actually playing these people, to see the day they became inspired to do the great things they did and to see them arguing with each other.

Won’t this cost a lot of money?

It will cost a lot of money, but hey, so what? Look at how important this is. Since I am looking for sponsors, I am looking for the credit that can go to the sponsor. It costs a lot of money, but television also is a revenue earner. TV commercials cost a lot of money and this will be run for a long time. So, somebody is going to make a lot of money as well. This is one of the situations where you have to put up the money to make the money. I am hoping somebody will have the motive to partner with us in this. I intend to use Nigerian actors and actresses. It is a Nigerian story, so it should be better told by Nigerians. Nollywood has developed talents. We want to give those talents an outlet. They have the chance to say this is the best that they did with their craft and their art in their lives. We are using about four directors and it is going to be exciting and challenging because we are going to create history. We have to create an accurate history of the things we never saw. It is an exciting challenge and that is what I want to do.

What aspect of your childhood influenced your journey to Africa…

I grew up in Harlem. When I was nine years old, I was sent to an all white school. I remember when everybody in school was asked to do something that reflected their ethnic group. I asked myself what my tribe was. I had to figure it out. It was a dilemma. So, I went and got some drums and I listened to some records from one guy. Then Mariam Makeba was just coming up, and I listened to some of her songs and I did my own performance in school. My mother still talks about when she came to the PTA meeting after that performance. Parents were telling her that their kids loved her son because he taught them all about Africa. My mother wondered what I knew about Africa at that age.

Then again, when I was in the sixth grade, remember I was in New York and it was in the days of apartheid. Apartheid was fought very bitterly in the United Nations and in South Africa. This thing will come up in the United Nation‘s Security Council and I would notice that the US would vote down any anti-apartheid motion. I was in New York and our field trip was to the United Nation. We would stand up there and look down at these guys voting against Africa. Harlem was a hotbed of radical black politics. We had speakers that would stand on ladders and talk about how blacks should stick together. I became more and more knowledgeable about movements in Africa and how they related to us as African Americans. I always had this belief that someone forced us to be Americans and we never made the decision, and I wanted to make the decision for myself if I was going to remain in America. And the only way to make that decision was to go to Africa and see if I would decide to go back to America. I have never made the decision. I am very proud to be an African American. That is my tribe. I am an African person but I belong to the tribe of people that found themselves over there, connected themselves together and sort of formed a monarch and culture.

Did your parents support the idea of you coming to live in Africa?

They were never comfortable with it. They were always amused by my interest in Africa. I was a different kid. There is always an odd person in every family; I was the odd one. I remember when I turned 60 years old, my mother sent me a gift; it was an American history book. They never understood. Nobody wants his child to go halfway round the world and live there for the rest of his life. But the different kid is usually the most loved kid. Because you are different, everybody talks about you and always wants to do something for you.

What if your kids decide that they want to be Americans?

I hope they don’t. They will be disappointing their father. Why do I say that? I say that because when I had children here in Nigeria with a Nigerian wife, everybody was on my neck to get them American passports. But my kids were born here. Why shouldn’t they be proud of being Nigerians? If I am here to work as an African person, why should they look over my shoulders as Americans? If my wife wasn’t talking about American passport, I probably wouldn’t have got the passport. But I have been fortunate. My kids do listen to me. I think I am a role model. I do show them that they can have an extraordinary sense of purpose in Nigeria. My first daughter is schooling in America, but she has her head in the right place. She is going to the only home that she knows. She does not think of herself as a person that has two nations. She cannot. Where is your loyalty? Where is your passion? Yes, she was heavily influenced by me, but maybe some of the things I have to say make a little sense to her and she is a sensible person. I hope the other two would be like her. They may not be because you can’t really predict what your kids would become. But my oldest daughter was born when I was 50. Why would someone that old have children if they werent part of a life‘s plan.

How come you married that late?

I fell in love that late. I waited till the real thing came along. Let me tell you the truth: I had been married in the US to a wonderful lady who didn’t want to live in Africa. She lived here for two years and I couldn’t cut it loose. After 10 years of living in Africa, I realised I wasn’t going to go back to America, to CBS News that would have me do what I didn’t want to do with my God-given talent. We got married in the first place, we had agreed that we would live part of our lives in Africa. But for any woman that grew up in America, this society is a lot harder because of the position it relegates women to. Women are even more tribalistic than men. It was more difficult for her to find true friends and colleagues that were going to sustain the relationship for as long as it looked like we were going to be here. Also, she had a very important career back in the US. There was a lot more for her to drop than me.

By now you must have got used to our Nigerian meals…

Right now, my bones are made of Nigerian food. But let me tell you, I love our soul food the best. I still love my cornbread, hotdogs best. I can’t get my folks here to cook it as much as I like it, though they are pretty good with the preparation. That is one of the things I miss the most–African American cooking. If I get any visitor from America, they are usually surprised because they would want to do everything African. They would want to eat amala and pounded yam and I tell them to enter the kitchen and make some mashed potatoes for me and fries and chickens cooked our way. I miss food a lot. I miss music and I miss the sounds and smells of the neighbourhood that I came from in New York. However, I still love Nigeria.

 
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