Personable and intelligent, Ad Nduka Agwu is an interviewer’s delight. Though born of a Nigerian father and German mother, her love for Nigeria knows no bounds. It is one habit she picked from her father. “My father is a very fine Nigerian who lived in Germany for 40 years, but was a Nigerian to the core because he loves to do things the Nigerian way.”
In fact, as the head of business development for iROKO Partners, Africa, she has resolved to use her position to burnish the nation’s image, using the instrumentality of Nollywood and music.
Launched in December 2011, iROKOtv is an offshoot of iROKO Partners, the world’s largest distributor of Nigerian entertainment. Since December 2010, the company has built a global audience of over six million users from 178 different countries across its movie and music platforms.
Between iROKOtv, an on-demand film streaming service for Nollywood movies, and iROKING, music streaming service, iROKO Partners has the largest legally assembled library on planet earth. The company works with Nigerian movie and music producers and artists to bring this content into the digital arena, showcasing the very best of the country’s incredible creative content to Africans in the Diaspora on beautifully designed, easy-to-use websites and mobile apps.
In April 2012, Tiger Global, a New York-based private equity and hedge fund run by an early investor in Facebook and Zynga, led two $4 million rounds of investment into iROKO Partners, in one of the largest ever fundraisings into a West African tech firm.
How come about the name, Ad Nduka Agwu? You look like you’re a half-caste, right?
Yes, I am a German-Nigerian. My father is Nigerian from Anambra State, while my mother is German. I’ve worked many years in Germany and I wanted to come back to Nigeria to work for a Nigerian company, to be part of the Nigerian success story. So, that’s why last year, I decided to move back to Nigeria. I had met Mr. Jessy Njoku, the CEO of Iroko Partners, who when I was in the United States was always talking about this company. I immediately knew I was going to work for his company because I love the idea of having great Nigerian content that is popular around the globe. I feel that would really make the difference in also changing the image that we have of Nigerians.
You grew up here?
I didn’t but I always travelled to Nigeria, especially during summer when we would spend four weeks or so in Nigeria. I didn’t know Lagos well; we would always go back to the village in Anambra in a place called Atani in Onitsha. It is only now that I’m beginning to know Lagos and it is definitely very interesting and different from my own village setting. There are very exciting challenges to handle and many opportunities to make you go far in life in Lagos.
You have this love for Nigeria
I do. My father is a very fine Nigerian who lived in Germany for 40 years but was a Nigerian to the core because he loved to do things the Nigerian way. I have a bonafide Nigerian passport, and so, as far as I’m aware that there are some issues that we have to improve on, it has always been a matter of pride being a Nigerian.
So, you’re here to make your own personal sacrifice to ensure we build a great Nigeria?
From what you’ve just said, you would have got a better paid employment in the western world?
There were many opportunities in Boston, US but I feel I can make better contributions to Nigeria here. It is much more exciting to work here.
Do you ever have any regrets?
Not at all. Even when in the beginning I didn’t know how the system worked in Nigeria and people were taking advantage of me, I have never regretted it. No regrets at all as I’m learning and adjusting.
Where are your siblings and other members of your family?
One is living in South Africa; my brother is living in Canada. I have worked in Ghana and South Africa. I have always been traveling, but the moment you step into Lagos you could feel that there is something here that I haven’t found in other places.
What is Iroko stories all about?
Iroko Partners was founded by Jessy Njoku. At the time, he was based in London, He discovered that his mother, a Nigerian, was interested in Nollywood movies and he couldn’t find them in London. So, the question became, why are they not available to people who want to watch them? And that’s how he founded Iroko Partners. Basically, the idea was to get our hands on these great contents, put them online so that everybody who wants to see them could see them. And you know most of the Nollywood works are on DVD, and DVDs are not easily carried to the UK and so on. So, that’s how the idea came to put these works online so that people could watch them all over the globe. People everywhere – China, Europe, US, etc watch Nigerian contents online through us.
Can’t someone go online and watch your contents?
At this stage, it is not possible. Everybody has to register. Our connectivity is done always with a password but it may appear cumbersome for people to come to our site to watch.
Do you translate?
Most of our movies are in English but the ones that are in Yoruba have subtitles. I think in the long run all movies are in English or particularly the ones going to Francophone countries would have appropriate subtitles.
So, you are trying to do for Nigeria what Hollywood and Bollywood have done for the US and India?
Exactly. We want to make sure that there is recognition and that we leave the industry as strong as it can be. We want to make sure that Nollywood is really a force to be reckoned with around the globe, and currently Nollywood is already the second largest movie industry in the world. We want to make sure that wherever you are in the world you would be able to lay hands on Nollywood movies whenever you want them.
What does Nollywood mean to you?
To me, it is all about great story telling, great stories that translate into different concept about love, crime, about all the things that affect all human beings. Whether you’re a Nigerian, an American, you’d relate to these stories. Nigerians have been very excellent in identifying good stories, and over time, we’ve had great actors and actresses coming out to bring these stories to life.
So, it is more about good stories brought to life by great actors and actresses for consumption of the audience across the globe. When I was in South Africa, I came across a lady who likes Nigerian movie. She said all Nigerian women were so beautiful and so rich. It is a great message to come across.
As a result of that, was there any hunger in her to visit Nigeria?
She was definitely interested in everything Nigeria, but she said she would only come if she found a Nigerian friend with whom she was conversant.
You are her Nigerian friend, so why didn’t she come with you?
At that point, I’m not sure she had the money to come.
So, one can download Iroko TV anywhere in the world?
Exactly. If you’re in the US, the UK, South Africa, wherever you are, you can get us.
How much do you think Iroko has invested into this idea?
Since last year, we’ve invested a total of 8million pounds.
Can you say that at this point you’re breaking even?
We’re comfortably monetising our inputs. You have your branches in South Africa, London and USA with headquarters in Nigeria.
What is your workforce like?
Ok, we have around the globe about 103. But we emphasise on developing human capacity in all our offices in Johannesburg, London, the USA, and of course, Lagos.
Do you have Nigerian staff in your London, Johannesburg and US offices?
Yes, in all our offices, we have Nigeria staff.
Now let’s assume I want to watch Iroko TV on my Ipad, laptop or computer, what do I do?
All you do is to connect. Then open your browser and type in www.irokotv.com. Then the whole world of Nigerian Iroko TV will unfold. Select your movie, and watch.
You’re making money from this?
We’re making money.
And you are happy about it?
We’re really happy.
Now the question is, are those involved in packaging and presenting the movies also making money?
For every movie we show, we pay the movie owners. In fact, we pay them upfront. We sign contracts with the producer so we know we will pay say three months upfront and so on. So, the producers are also making money and they are happy with what we are doing.