I’m Kene Mkparu, middle-aged, married to Uzo, father to Jade (13) and Zara (8+), from Okpuno, Otolo Nnewi in Anambra State, South East Nigeria.
Oh! and I’m MD/CEO of Filmhouse Cinemas and FilmOne Distribution Nigeria.
QUESTION AND ANSWER:
Q. Please take us through your background and how you got to (the country you lived in before coming back home)
A. I did my school education and studies through to my first degree in Biochemistry & Zoology in 1988 at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. At the time my family had commenced relocating to the UK following the death of our father some years earlier. After my National Youth Service (NYSC, 1989), I then followed my siblings to the UK and to King’s College, University of London to take on Post Graduate Studies in Biopharmaceutical Sciences/Toxicology in 1990. I have also since added another degree to the academics mix, MSc Business Systems Analysis & Design (City University London, 2001).
Q. So, the big question, why did you move Back to Nigeria for good?
A. It is home after all. Yes, the UK was home too and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment in the UK but there was always something about Nigeria that gave me inner peace each time I visited prior to relocating back for good. In addition, cinema industry had begun a renaissance in Nigeria and I felt I had a lot to offer in helping drive this industry development. I was totally excited about the chance to help set up an industry I so love in Nigeria.
I had been working for the biggest cinema chain in Europe, Odeon Cinemas UK, for about 17 years – left as a General Manager.
Q. Are there similarities between the country you moved back from and Nigeria?
A. Yes. The UK, particularly the big cities of London, Manchester, etc are very cosmopolitan (multicultural and multiethnic). Nigeria is similar with an assemblage of several diverse ethnic groups with different cultures and languages. I find that a similar sense of societal tolerance existing in the UK is required to live well in Nigeria.
Q. What are the challenges you’ve faced so far since moving back?
A. It was quite some challenge understanding each other, with a lot of folks. I quickly learnt that a lot of folks do not go by the letter of the words of what you both agree, or instructions you give. Instead they go by what the assume (think) you mean. I find that I have to repeat points of agreement or instructions a few times to check common understanding.
Though my family joined me over a year after my move, settling them was also a major early milestone that needed to be resolved. If the family is not settled God help you! So it is important to help them settle into a fairly comfortable life pattern.
Q. What were your expectations and fears when you decided to move back?
A. I knew it would not be easy re-settling back in after nearly 20 years out. I knew I had to make some huge sacrifices. But I believed it would turn out well. I could see the cinema industry opportunities. I dealt with my fears before I stepped out of the UK.
Ok, I must admit there was some concern in me about giving up my set life style and familiar processes to start afresh in what had become to me an unfamiliar working/living environment. It wasn’t just about getting myself settled into a new lifestyle but also settling my wife and kids as well. The thought of it was daunting at times.
Q. When did you move back and what have you been up to since you moved back?
A. I moved back late 2008. I came with some colleagues from Odeon Cinemas UK and we set up a cinema company called Genesis Deluxe Cinemas in partnership with a Nigeria based businessman and friend. We opened 2 GDC sites in Lekki Lagos (Dec 2008) and Port Harcourt (Dec 2009).
I then left GDC March 2010 with my colleagues and set up Filmhouse Cinemas and FilmOne Distribution. Filmhouse opened its cinemas in Surulere Lagos (Dec 2012), Calabar Marina (Dec 2012), Dugbe Ibadan (May 2013) and Samonda Ibadan (May 2014). Then more recently in Apapa Lagos (Jan 2015), Port Harcourt (Jan 2015), Kano (Feb 2015), Ikoyi Lagos (Feb 2015) and Asaba (Feb 2015). FilmOne has since theatrically released some major Nollywood blockbusters including Half of A Yellow Sun, October 1st and When Love Happens as well as Gone Too Far in Nigeria cinemas.
I guess I’ve been a little busy.
Q. Coming back to Nigeria, did you ever feel like you needed to readjust to life back in the country?
A. Yes of course! I had to re-learn, and indeed experience, how to operate, and communicate, and socialize, and do business in Nigeria. I call it the HSBC way (adjusting to local mannerisms). It helped that I started coming back to Nigeria 4, 5 times a year for about 6 years before I finally made the one-way move.
Q. How do you deal with issues such as traffic, lack of basic infrastructure and the power situation?
A. Hahahaha, traffic!!! Just pray! Well, initially I would exclaim in mortified shock seeing the way folks drive. Then I soon learnt to blare my car horn at its loudest. Then I quickly learnt how to shout back at fellow drivers who would abuse me even when they were clearly wrong. I guess part of the problem is that a lot of folks don’t even know the law so don’t realize they are wrong. I just learnt to ‘enforce’ the right ways via ‘jungle’ methods (hahahaha).
I remember a time my wife got a new car. I told her to take a key and scratch the side a bit. I explained that there was no need to have her mind fixated on this brand new precious metal because it will surely be scratched by the driver or another vehicle, which would make her mad and mess up her mind. But if she scratched it herself (or I could help do it) she’ll quickly learn that a car is only a car and not an object to be idolized as folks do. Just a little scratch and life goes on. lol
When I came back to Nigeria I did not expect to meet infrastructure like in the UK. In my mind I literally told myself that I was going to the third world, to the jungle. I conditioned my mind not to expect the fancy stuff of the UK. So when there’s power outage I’m frustrated but life goes on. Then when power returns we all celebrate with the shout “UP NEPA!!” – the kids love that bit.
Q. If you had to do this all over again what would you do different?
A. Hmmmm, I guess I’d take a bit more intense advice on doing business in Nigeria and partnerships. I would seek out and interact with folks that have made the move before me and learn more of their experiences, both the success cases and those that did not quite work out.
But I’m happy and thank God my family and I turned around our challenges and learned our lessons. Today Uzo is a Vice President of a major bank, FCMB and the kids are doing exceptionally well in their school – Jade is even experiencing the ‘joys’ of boarding school like her parents did many year ago.
Q. Finally, what advice would you give people moving back to Nigeria from the Diaspora?
A. Stop expecting Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, The Tube, British Rail and/or Pinewood Studios. Those are in the UK. This is Nigeria. Understand that first then you’d begin to see the opportunities and the sweetness of Eagle Square Abuja, jogging around Okpara Square in Enugu, the comfort of being driven in a car (yes, ‘chauffeurs’ are affordable here), BRT buses in Lagos and the amazing exploits of Nollywood. With these in mind you are then in the right state of mind to use the training and experience you gained in a more organized society to create opportunities here and begin to realize the rewards too.
Also, lean heavily on God and believe in the talent you have in your hands.