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Nollywood to the world!

VISIONARY: Jason Njoku

FOUR YEARS ago, Jason Njoku realised that Nollywood films should be available in places other than the local African-owned greengrocers where customers could be found “buying yam and plantain.”

Recognising the demand for Nigerian film content and an apparent difficulty for film-lovers to decipher what movies they’d enjoy, Njoku set up iROKOtv.

Launched in 2011, the company is, as Njoku explains, “a means of bringing Nollywood to people around the world, across all devices, primarily their mobile phones.”

Described as the ‘Netflix of Africa’, the online platform has grown significantly since its inception, becoming one of the biggest acquirers of Nigerian cinema content and selling to users in over 100 countries. A pretty huge feat for 34-year-old Njoku, who was “broke” before he built his film distribution empire.

“I was broke and desperate – and desperate people do some crazy things,” laughs Njoku, who grew up in south London with his Nigerian mother. “I knew there was money out there to be made and I was determined to find a way to make it.”

Upon discovering that his mum struggled to find films that she would like, the budding businessman came up with a plan.

“My mum would go to the local ‘mom and pop’ stores and along with buying yam and plantain, she’d buy Nollywood movies. But there was no awareness of what content was good and what wasn’t. That’s what inspired me to set up iROKOtv, which is the bridge that allows people to see what content they’re getting.”

Despite the company’s success, Njoku admits that almost everyone around him tried to dissuade him from starting such a “high risk” business venture. Reflecting on the expectations of many Nigerians, who want their young people to aspire to be “doctors, lawyers or accountants,” Njoku feels this expectation has caused a lack of entrepreneurial spirit amongst British Nigerians.

“There is a sense of entrepreneurism amongst Nigerians in Nigeria and in the US, but not in the UK – not that I’ve seen,” says the married father-of-two. “I’m talking about when it comes to building companies.

“I think that’s a lot to do with the pressure from Nigerian parents for their children to go into organised employment by becoming doctors, lawyers or accountants.

“I remember when one of my very good friends told her mum that I planned to start this company, her mum told her it sounded ‘very high risk’.”

Still, Njouku took the risk and it paid off abundantly, with iROKOtv having raised around $24 million dollars since its launch. So what advice would he give to fellow British Nigerians, who would like to follow in his footsteps?

“I think they need to get uncomfortable. This country allows people to be comfortable. Even when I was broke, it never occurred to me to sign on and get some type of benefits. You can’t operate in a high-risk world without getting uncomfortable.

“A lot of people have told me they’d love to do what I do but they can’t leave their job because they’ve got a mortgage. I’m like, ‘Sell the house and do something!’ That’s not for everyone, but I’ve always been wiling to put everything on black and take the risk.”

Considering what Nigerians should be celebrating as they gear up for the 55th year of independence, Njoku says: “We should be celebrating ourselves. There is a generation of young, ambitious Nigerians, who are basically building our future.

“A lot of people ask me whether I think Nollyood will go beyond Nollywood, but actually, I don’t care whether it does or doesn’t. If a white person never watched a Nollywood movie, I wouldn’t care. As long as 900 million people in Africa are interested, that’s what matters to me.”

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