A man of wisdom and diverse experience, Olu Michaels tells what poverty means to him and how he escaped the shackles of hunger.
A man of the people who never forgot his roots and days of hunger, Olu Michaels is beyond just the title of being philanthropic. He is a lover of the people.
Following his social works to the public, which increased during the lockdown, I got into a conversation with the Lagos-born businessman and movie producer on Lockdown Convos with Gold Nne and his story is one the world deserves to know.
You strike me as one who never wants to forget his roots. Where did you grow up?
I first grew up in Orile, Iganmu, and then later Ajegunle here in Lagos.
Interesting! How was it growing up?
Terrible! I’ll give you an example. My primary and secondary school was in Orile, then we moved to Mile 2. The distance between Orile to Mile 2 is quite far for those who know it. I had to walk for six years from Mile 2 to my school in Orile every week day while in primary school. Walked another six years from Mile 2 to Iganmu, still in Orile as well. Out of the 12 years spent walking to and from school, I could count the number of times I had breakfast and before I could have lunch after school, I had to hawk first. It wasn’t easy.
Why did you start giving back to the less privileged?
It’s because I know how it feels. Every day I spend between 200,000 and 300,000 naira since the beginning of the lockdown and it's not like I have the money; but I remember where I am coming from. Sometimes, after sharing foodstuff during this outreach, I still see a lot of old women asking for food and sometimes I exceed my budget for the day.
How were you able to rise above your background and make something for yourself?
Before I delve into that, it is important that people understand that what has worked for me might not work for others. The truth is, when you are left with no other choice in life, you just have to rise above your background. For me, it was sheer determination, the will to not be in the same place forever, to rise above poverty. I have done so many things. I was a bus conductor, a bar man, a cobbler, I worked at a warehouse where I was paid 5,000 naira for a whole month and if you come a minute late, your salary is deducted. I even became a labourer.
I remember one very embarrassing experience when I was a cobbler. Precisely during the Christmas period, I took a customer’s shoe, I mistakenly spoilt it and the man pushed me into the gutter, and by some sheer stroke of not so good luck, my crush happened to come visiting then and it was bad. I couldn’t stand up again.
What are some of the challenges you have had as a filmmaker in Nigeria?
The truth is that in everything, there are cabals. No matter how much you have, how good your movies are or how connected you are, you still just have to go through them.
You mentioned earlier that you used the money you wanted to use to get a house in Amen Estate to fund your movies. After spending millions on film production, someone was only willing to pay 600,000 naira for the film. What about the other movies you have since shot?
They are still here, in my house. Some in drawers and others in the room. It is sad because anyone I turn to, they will always say movies are not moving now. It is really sad because I shot these movies with money, spending about 3.5 million naira on a film and someone comes and chooses to offer 600,000 naira to buy off the movie from me and afterwards I do not have any right to the movie anymore, no credit at all.
How are others in the Industry able to navigate through these muddy waters?
If you’re a lady you can. As a man, I’ll succeed eventually. With tenacity, perseverance and strong will, I’m going nowhere. I’ve used all the money I have to buy a house into the production of the films. Therefore, I have nowhere to go. Eventually, I will break even. I do not regret it. If I have to go back, I will still invest in movies maybe in a better way. I believe if you’re self-determined you will definitely get it.