Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, the queen of Nollywood, has been married for 17 years to her heartthrob, Captain Matthew Ekeinde. In this interview, Capt Ekeinde spoke about his plans for his pet project, an entertainment and tourist centre, and the secret of his about two decades old marriage.
What is your project Aquatic Jungle all about?
Aquatic jungle is an idea that was born six years ago when I took my family on holiday abroad. We went to Disney world, Sea world and the likes of them. I actually noticed that they were quite a few number of African families that were there. Also over the years of my experience on air, I also noticed that whenever we get to some national airports, I see some kids that come on excursions but painfully they are not allowed to come inside the airport to see what a plane look like. These kids must have paid a lot of money, ranging from one thousand to two thousand or even more. I used to feel pity for the little kids who must have got so excited about being in an airport yet they can’t even come into a functional plane, they just stand and look. So I said to myself, why can’t we have a Disney world or a sea world or stuffs like that in Nigeria?
South Africa is then only Africa country that comes close. They have their own Disney world but in a small scale. They don’t have an aquarium where you will be exposed to lots of sea mammals. If we can have that in Nigeria, that would be a very great achievement because how many families can afford vacation abroad or even South Africa? We can also be a centre for tourist attraction. Even as at the time I went with my kids, I know the stress it took us in getting a visa. We had to wake up as early as 4.00am to drive to the American Embassy, beat the long queue and other due protocols just to trip my kids. I don’t need it because I have toured round the world. But what about millions of other Nigerians that can’t even afford a flight ticket to Abuja, not to mention flying abroad? So I thought of having a one-stop entertainment centre that encompasses everything you want in entertainment.
We went ahead and bought one hundred acres of land. We have been able to develop one and half acres for now. We also decided to start with a mini airport because that’s my background. Everybody is excited about airplanes especially the kids. Luckily for me, it was at that time that the government decided to do away with crap airplanes. So it was a lot easier for me to get my hands on working aircrafts. Now, we plan on having a mini-airport, an out-door aquarium, a zoo, water parks and a 5-star hostel, it would be a complete entertainment centre with the whole idea of bringing people from different parts of the world especially those who do not have the opportunity to travel abroad. Not all African countries need visa to come to Nigeria, if the federal government knows that we are running such a huge project, they will create easy access to visas.
How far have you gone with the project?
We just did the dedication ceremony as you can see to allow pastors pray and dedicate it into God’s hands. We’ll do the normal launching soon but for now because of the schools that have been disturbing us, we just had to formally declare the place open. The airplanes are fully air-conditioned. We have satellite dish, DVD players and lots of other gadgets for schools, companies that would love to use here as their meeting place, presentations. Inside the airplane can also serve as a mini cinema hall.
Where families can come and see any movie of their choice. Maybe during the holidays or weekends, you can take your families on a trip. We can give you all that only for a small price. We treat you special and also serve you food on board.
How have you been able to raise funds?
We have been able to get funds from one bank, Stanbic IBTC but majority of the funds came from my personal savings. We have promises from some finance houses. They insist that they will come when they see how far we have gone with the project. I have gone to banks but because of the economic meltdown that happened some years ago, they are very skeptical about financing huge projects.
The project comes in different phases. We are in the first phase out of four phases. After the mini-airport, comes the indoor and outdoor aquatic, then the zoo which would be well equipped with exotic animals that are not common to us in Nigeria. The fourth phase would be the rollercoaster, which is also so capital intensive, the real rollercoaster that would contain like 20 to 50 people.
Your love for entertainment must have triggered this huge project?
Yes of course! I am married to one. My wife is Africa’s number one actress. I also want to use that avenue to give the Nigerian child fun and excitement. Most of the things that they see on TV would be brought to them live.
What’s the secret of your 17-year-old marriage to Omotola?
I won’t say we have been good because I am a fine boy (laughter). But it is just the grace of God. I am so lucky and also blessed by God to have married my God-given partner. That is a very important thing about marriage, you have to find and marry your God-given partner. That is why a lot of marriages break up. Some men marry women because of their hips, their boobs, legs and some other side attractions. But after sex with her so many times, what happens next? Does she have a good attitude, character or good human relationship with others? I am not saying we are perfect couple, we have our own differences but we are compatible. We have been married for over 17 years with four beautiful kids.
One thing that has been working for us as a couple is that I always encourage her to be what she wants to be. I gave her all the full support. Lots of married women that are caught cheating on their husbands could be traced to the fact that some of their husbands don’t allow them explore their talents. I encourage my wife and kids to be what they want to be. Most of the influential men and women we have in this world didn’t even go to school. So it is all about making use of your talents. Some women love acting but their husband won’t let them, believing that other men would touch or exploit them sexually. It is all about discipline. Those who want to cheat will cheat; it is all about self control.
Are any of your kids taking after their mother?
No! My two boys want to be pilots, and then one of the girls wants to be a fashion designer and the other a journalist. I don’t think they want to act. We are encouraging them to be what they want to be.
For the 17 years that you have been married, what are those special moments you can’t forget in a hurry?
Hmmm! truly and honestly, I can’t forget the very first day I made love to my wife. In one word Omotola is my everything.
Why the choice of Badagry for all these beautiful plans?
Badagry has its unique position in Lagos and also has lots of history tied to it. It is supposed to be a tourist attraction on its own. But because of the type of government we have had, they don’t believe that we can actually make money with tourism. But there are lots of other countries, especially the Caribbean, they depend solely on tourism to raise revenues. I might not make the money in a day; it is a gradual process. It will also create job opportunities for people and lots of fun and excitement for families.
Some Nigerians go to Benin Republic every weekend to cool off from the heat of Lagos while indigenes from other nearby African countries come to Lagos to have fun because their countries are too boring and quiet for their liking. People have actually asked me why I didn’t take it to Lekki but the environment and the business zone by the ocean. But I think Badagry is so quiet and close to the ocean. The serenity is quiet perfect for what we are working on. We pray that they will still keep it this way.
How much has the Aquatic Jungle gulped?
As at the last check, we have spent over 162 million naira of personal funds. The 100 acres of land is yet to be fully paid for. We are paying it gradually. The terminal building for the mini-airport has taken 30 million naira. The airplanes, the equipment and some other things cost lots of money.
Since this is a very huge project, don’t you have plans to partner with international bodies?
Exactly! I have been on that for some years now. I have been to Spain, London, USA to talk to them about partnership. Few of them have been down here to see this place and to be honest, they really loved the environment. But the problem has always been the Nigerian government; instability.
If I had known, the money I used in traveling round the world seeking for funds and support, I would have used it to start up something. If I did, we would have gone past this stage now.
I am still so sure and convinced that they will key into it in the near future, because it is the first of its kind. You won’t believe that by the airport statistics, it is only 5% of Nigerians that travel. So this will broaden the Nigerian entertainment.
We have been encountering plane crashes in the aviation sector, what do you think should be done to curtail it?
I think it is funding. The airlines are not well funded and the owners are cutting corners. The second major problem is corruption. The regulators are cutting corners and risking the planes and lives of Nigerians. Until that is properly taken care of, the aviation industry will still be in a mess.