Interviews | 30 January 2007 12:11 CET


Nollywood: Bob-Manuel Udokwu Decries Negative Plans Of Money-Bags

Bob-Manuel Udokwu perhaps would have been a good lecturer if he had not taken to acting movie. The man who spends a large percentage of his income on buying books to develop himself says that has been responsible for why a lot people see him as a different actor who has created a niche for himself since his debut as a major character in the rested soap entitled 'Checkmate'.
Bob-Manuel, a personal friend to Wesley Snipes in this interview with Taiwo Obatusin of spoke on issues like his background, the Nigerian movie industry, unethical attitude of movie financiers towards Nollywood and other interesting issues.


Can you tell us about yourself?

I am Bob-Manuel Obidinma Udokwu. I am from Ogidi (apparently the same town with Chinua Achebe) in Idemili North Local Government of Anambra State. I am the fourth child in a family of six children and I am the second son. I was born in Enugu. I schooled at St. Peters Primary School Ogbeifa, Enugu. I later proceeded to Orankwu Grammar School and I later gained admission into the University of Port Harcourt where I got a certificate in Theatre Arts and later a degree in the same field. I have a Masters Degree in Political Science with bias for International Relations. I was one time National President of Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Students Association (NUTASA). I was also the coordinator of NYSC theatre group during my service year in 1991/92 in Ibadan, Oyo State. While in Oyo State I had my primary assignment at Cultural Centre Mokola, Ibadan.
I was a member of the cast of the rested soap entitled 'Checkmate', which ran on television network for five years between 1991 and 1995 where I played the role of Richard Haastrup. I was the major cast in the movie that started what is known as Nollywood today, entitled 'Living in Bondage'. I have had several awards to my credit, the last one is the Afro-Hollywood awards in London for outstanding performance in films. I am married to Casandra and we are blessed with two kids, Elyon (a girl) and Garvey (a boy) whom I named after the great social reformer Marcus Garvey. My father is Godfrey Udokwu, a retired civil servant with the Ministry of Works, Enugu. My mother's name is Joy Udokwu a petty trader.

Can you say you have achieved since you started as a professional artiste in 1992?

I did not start my career in 1992 but I was already ahead before I was invited to be part of the movie entitled 'Living in Bondage.' In terms of dreams some of them have been realized. Before the advent of Nollywood movies most of the television stations were showing foreign movies. I had dreamt of a future where Nigerian films will be shown more instead of the foreign films on Nigerian television stations. Whenever I look back I realize God planted me by the rivers of water. In other words, I went to train in theatre arts when hope looked down on the profession.
As a matter of fact someone went to my father to ask him why he allowed me study theatre arts. This man asked my father what I would do after graduation. I asked my father what he told the man, he said since the man was not the one paying my school fees he did not say anything. Years later when I started featuring on 'Checkmate' the same man came back to my father to say “If I did not know this is your son I would not have believed.” I asked my father what he told the man when he came back the second time, my father told me the same mouth that said negative things would say positive things. Before the advent of Nollywood if you commended any movie artiste such person would declare to you that he or she is just acting for the fun of it and that he or she has something more serious things to do for a living.
I remember when we were in school, a large number of students in Theatre Arts department will not willingly tell you they are students of the department. Students from other department referred to us as students of drumming and dancing. But today, artistes are seen as unofficial ambassadors of this country.
In year 2004 I was invited to be part of auditioning of the movie entitled 'Phat Girls'. They did not cast me because it was a comedy movie but my managers had told the production crew I act like Denzel Washington. Later I was recommended to History Channel for a documentary on the 10th anniversary of Rwandan genocide. They needed African-American voices. I was given the most difficult role. For me the sky is just the beginning. If you aim the moon you jump the well.

After 'Checkmate' you have not featured in any television series. What is responsible for this?

'Checkmate' was a watershed in the history of Nigerian television drama. Being part of 'Checkmate' was an honour. Having come a long way I'm very careful of the quality of television series I involve myself in. Though several people approach me with scripts but I ensure that the qualities of such movies are not below what we had in 'Checkmate'.
Aside this, time is another important factor; Most times I am outside Lagos on movie locations. If anybody wants to involve me in the production of soap operas we have to be in constant touch and work according to my schedule. It is not as if I shunned the production of soap opera completely but the dynamism of getting my timing right and the role I am to play is very important. Basically I must be in constant touch with whoever wants to feature me in any television series. I have to be careful with what I do. If I did not in 'Checkmate' when I was in just fresh from school now that I consider myself as a grand master I shouldn't be seen to do less.

What is the future of Nigerian movie industry?

I see a future but the danger is that those who are old enough will tell us that the Nigeria today was not the Nigeria they dreamt of in the pre-independence era. For the movie industry the potentials are available. The goodwill we have is that the international community is taking serious cognizance of the Nigerian movie industry. Nigerian movies are watched in all parts of the world. I remember a Nigerian living in Australia traced me down to Enugu where I was recording to commend me for my good works. The problem with the Nigeria movie industry is those who are the financiers of the movie industry are just entrepreneurs who are there to make money. In my own opinion they don't care about any legacy they leave behind so far they make money today when the industry seems to be booming and probably diversify to something else when they think they are getting what is expected from the industry. It is left for those of us who are core practitioners to make sure the industry is not destroyed by those who don't mean well.

What advice do you have for up-coming artistes.

Personally, I don't think there is a short cut to success. Nigeria is in her sorry state today because we shunned the virtue of hard work. If somebody who is not gainfully employed becomes rich overnight we say God has blessed him. Apparently he may have done something which is not likely to be legal. But in other developed societies diligence and hard work are rewarded.

What do you have to say about artistes who always want to be paid before they get to movie locations?

It is not proper. This is what led to the so-called ban. If you cross-check the list of those banned only one or two people studied Theatre Arts. Someone studied agricultural Science and because square pegs are put in round holes and vice versa in this country the person may find himself or herself acting in movies. The question you will ask such a person is does he or she knows what the ethics of the profession is. Where is the training? These are people who give professional artistes bad names, who fill the pages of soft sell magazine with various stories.

As do you think this can be curbed?

Professionally checks and balances should be introduced which will guide our trade. Don't forget the Actor Guild of Nigeria (AGN) is a body that admit people as members without them asking for their certificate. I had once advocated that those who studied theatre arts should certain waivers in terms of registration fee but my suggestion was not considered. For instance I cannot say I want to be a member of Nigeria Society of Engineers or a member of Nigeria Bar Association, I will be put behind bars! AGN start to perform its duty as an umbrella body which frowns at indiscipline and involves itself in welfare of it members then the apathy of members towards the body will change.

What project are you working on now?

I am reading a script of 'The Concubine'- a book by Elechi Amadi which was first published in 1966. The novel is being produced as a movie. I already have the script of the movie and I am supposed to play the lead character called Ekwueme. The movie will be directed by Andy Amanechi.

Nollywood has been accused of giving a wrong impression about our cultural values.
What is your view about this?

There is no way you can tell a good story without telling a bad story. In telling your story to the whole world both sides of the coin must show. Just like when people say they know the end of a story before the first ten minutes of viewing. I tell them if a Nigerian starts to watch a Nigerian movie and does not know how it is going to end then the person is dumb. I have traveled extensively and discovered that those who don't know our culture don't understand what the story is all about. Non-Nigerians will stay glued to the television set till the end of the movie.
For instance if a movie film starts with a man clearing a farmland and another man appears, sees him and runs away. As a Nigerian you know that he is going to prepare for trouble concerning the land. The white man does not know about land issues the way we know about them here. Or when we do a film that shows electric power outage. Must we lie that since independence we have not been able to generate electric power? We must not be a nation of lying filmmakers.

What advice do you have for up-coming artistes?

Personally, I don't think there is a short cut to success. Nigeria is in her sorry state today because we shunned the virtue of hard work. If somebody who is not gainfully employed becomes rich overnight we say God has blessed him. Apparently he may have done something which is not likely to be legal. But in other developed societies diligence and hard work are rewarded.

Do you have any suggestion on Nigerian education syst m or curriculum?

I want the government to include the teaching on the Nigerian civil war which occurred between July 1967 and January 15 1970 in the curriculum of secondary schools. I don't want to be misquoted. What I am saying is we need knowledge about our past so that we can appreciate the present and the future. Those born after the war are 36 years old this year. Those who were old enough during the war will tell you there should never be a war again. A lot of decision makers and politician in our society have not witnessed war.
The Minister of Justice, Chief Bayo Ojo explained sometime ago that Nigeria ceeded Bakassi to Cameroon to avoid war. My post graduate thesis was on African refugee crisis which made me know we had to avoid crisis at all cost as a nation. I am not saying they should teach about what caused the war, who was right or who was wrong but let the children Nigerians fought a war among themselves and the consequences of the war. Let the children see the pictures of children with kwashiorkor, soldiers with amputated legs. Unfortunately there is a movie on the Nigerian Civil War but lot scenes have been edited by the Video and Films Censorship board. We should stop paying lip service to Armed Forces Remembrance Day while the average Nigerian child does not know the significance of the day. Let the new generation know that going to war for any reason should not be an option.

Who is your role model?

My role model is Sean Connery the man who popularized James Bond movies.

What is your Philosophy about life?

Whatever you have to do in life do it now because tomorrow may not come

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