Divorce has taken nothing away from my Christianity—Kenneth Okonkwo
Kenneth Okonkwo has seen it all. He graduated at 21 with a degree in business, became a household name at 24 and he's today a practising lawyer. Most times he's at ease and kicking , but there's however one thing he doesn't like to recall. It is one thing this accomplished actor doesn't talk about much despite the fact that it is the most talked about part of his life.
In this interview, Okonkwo opens-up for the first time about his marriage to the daughter of Rev Ezekiel, General Overseer of Christian Pentecostal Mission (CPM) and why it didn't work. This interview definitely has no part two.
Sir, what has been happening to you lately? It seems of recent, you've been quiet movie wise?
(Chuckles) Well, I can never be a bit quiet in the movies, but you know me that I am an academic person. I'm a scholar as long as I am in the movies. I am also a scholar who takes out time to read and update himself, learning. I started acting as a hobby. By the grace of God, I acted in the first movie that started Nollywood . Then there were no bodies of actors that were referred to as professionals. Most of them started acting as a hobby. So whenever I have time, I always act some beautiful movies.
I know acting brought you fame, but what's your profession?
Yes, sure you are right. Before I went into acting, I was already a graduate of Business Management . I'm a trained administrator from the University of Nigeria. I worked as a marketing executive once. So that was my profession and from business administration, I now entered into law and now I am a lawyer. I am talking to you from my chambers, Supreme God Chambers.
What kind of law do you specialize in?
Well in Nigeria, specialty is by choice. Because once you finish law school, you are a general practitioner. So you can practice in any field; but you should expect that I am interested in intellectual property. Being my area, I have had experience in the movie industry and the arts. Then I'm also interested in arbitration, because I believe that a lot of cases can be sorted out peacefully through negotiation, through mediation, and other means other than litigation. It is only when all that fail that you now consider litigation, then of course, I am interested in property generally.
When did you start practicing?
I was called to the bar in 2009 and I have been practicing since then.
Why didn't you undergo some tutelage instead of starting your chamber straight away?
Well as you know, I'm a man of many parts, I have my chambers but I am also associating with other chambers. You mustn't work under a chamber before you can associate. There is what we call, “associateship” in the legal profession and we have been involved in a lot of things. It will not be very good for me to be completely under a chamber but it is good for me to be an associate, to form an associateship with a chamber. So that is what we do. Our chamber is associated with some other chambers.
Is this not taking you away from Nollywood, which is your first love?
No. As I said, I have always been a professional before now, I have always been combining my work with acting being a hobby. So at present , I'm a consultant in the entertainment world. I have already grown to know how to manage it very well.
Do you still act?
Yes as a consultant and also as a hobby.
So, if I call you to act now to take a lead role, will you take it?
But are people not even scared to call you to take a role now?
(Chuckles) If you were not scared from the beginning since I started why should you be scared now? I have developed a lot of friendship with a lot of people, so they know me personally. Why should anybody be scared of me?
Why did you relocate to Abuja?
You know when you acquire a new feather to your wings then you determine which direction of the wind will accommodate your new wing to make you soar . Now that I have become a lawyer, I know that Abuja will be better for me to practise being a new place so that people will start seeing you newly in your new profession and then accommodate that newness.
So anybody seeing me in Abuja is seeing me as a lawyer, and don't forget that Abuja is the seat of power and law and politics go hand in hand in the sense that law is a tool for social engineering. You discover that when you are close to it then you can influence it. Sincerely, I want to be a part of the people that will influence things positively, for my generation.
Have you been getting clients?
Oh, sure why not? You know like you rightly said, because I have the personality they know they can trust me with a lot of things. That makes things easier.
Does that affect your fees too?
No. You know law is a conservative profession so let's leave the fees aside.
But do you miss Nollywood?
No, because I still consult and I still go there to entertain myself as a hobby. I'm still part of it. And as I said since I am into intellectual property, I give them services on copyright, so I'm still part and parcel of Nollywood . One of the reasons why I read law is to make sure that I have to fight for people whose copyrights have been infringed . So I'm still a part and parcel of Nollywood … as a lawyer and as an actor.
Does it bother you that AGN has been factionalised?
It bothers me so passionately, and I have always told them that they can use my negotiating skills and mediating skills to mediate in their councils. They can always come and I will do it at little or nothing and I have experts. I'm a trained negotiator and a mediator. AGN arose from our sweat. I'm one of the people that encouraged artists to start AGN. The very first set of officials originated from my parlour.
I educated some of them on how to present their manifestos, and how to win. So you see it's a personal thing for me. I remember when we did Living Bondage, we had reason to sleep on the floor. When it's late you know in Lagos then, when we finish shooting, we will sleep in the office of the executive producer. You know when I remember all these , and it has been accepted worldwide then I begin to ask why the crisis. Why can't some people subsume their interests for a while for the sake of a larger group? That is the beauty of democracy, power changes, power rotates.
So who are you referring to?
I'm a friend to all of them without exception.
So you don't belong to any faction of AGN?
I don't, every factional leader in the AGN is self-made. Non can tell me that he came out through the genuine will of all the Actors Guild of Nigeria . Nobody.
Not even Segun Arinze?
No quote me, I am telling you because when we talk about the root, okay remind me, what is the root of his own authority?
Government of National Unity.
Conducted by who?
By the Board of Trustees.
Good, that is not an election by AGN members, and so anything that is concocted in that is for God's sake interim. That means he can only negotiate with all the parties for acceptance. That is it, so that in the interim if he is accepted, he can now organize an election. That is if he is accepted by all the parties. That is when negotiation comes in. Because there was anarchy, they set up an organization led by KOK and yet they did not allow him to finish and conduct an election,
But KOK went ahead to conduct his own election that produced Emeka Ike….
Good! So that is why I am saying no party can lay claims to legitimacy. Was KOK not chosen by the Board of Trustees? Now why did the Board of Trustees choose another person without allowing him to complete his tenure? How do you explain that? That is anarchy upon anarchy. These things can only be resolved by negotiation and mediation. Now nobody can legitimately assert his authority throughout the whole AGN because nobody has the right to authority from everybody in AGN.
So did you ever contest election in the AGN?
No. It's not my intention. I want to be there as a neutral person who can be called upon as a mediator that will always help them stabilise and once they normalise things , then I am through with what I am doing. So I want to be there so that they can always fall back on me as a consultant to help put things right because I know I have the listening ears for almost all of them. They are all my friends. Segun Arinze is my friend, Emeka ike is my friend, I have great respect for them and they have great respect for me. So I know that basically if I call on them I know that they will listen to me.
Let's talk about your latest movie Save Our Souls, by Oby Edozieh?
At least you now agree with me that I am still doing movies ( laughter). Why I'm still in the industry is because there are certain things that will help the society which may still call on you and for the benefit of the society, you wouldn't shy away no matter your profession.
The film was made to create awareness on cancer, and basically on humanitarian grounds, you know, it was a basic consideration and I'm happy that it's accepted worldwide and people are being educated because this is the first time in one movie, that four different cancer cases were treated. So it was quite motivational for me because it is humanitarian in nature. It's part of giving back to the society with your talents.
Are you fulfilled as an actor?
As an actor? Oh yes, even if I should say I am through with acting, I am most fulfilled. Do you know what it means when you start something and everybody is saying it is good and everybody wants to join and it is creating jobs for millions of people and it is rebranding Nigeria and helping Nigeria's image worldwide? Do you know what it means to be called the man who started it all. For Christ's sake even if it is Living in Bondage I did, I am fulfilled. Then you can imagine that after that I have done a lot of lovely movies and even the latest one that you are asking me about. So, I am fulfilled as an actor that is why even if I move on to other callings, I wouldn't feel that I haven't done my best.
But they said Living In Bondage is not the first movie?
People. That Hubert Ogunde and all of them had been doing films before. That even Alade Aromire did a movie, Aje n'iya sponsored by Kenneth Nnebwe before Living In Bondage came.
Good. It is nice to always put history in perspective.
Because it did not start-up an industry in Nigeria, so there will always be, historically, a starting point. So historically, the start-up for Nollywood is Living In Bondage. I stand to be corrected though. When you hear that something is the starting point of something it does not mean that there have not been things rotating around that but what we are saying is what is it that made the Nigerian movie industry start as an industry?
You know what an industry means? It is not just one thing. There was no Nollywood or anything before Living in Bondage . It was when Living In Bondage came that every other thing about the movie industry in Nigeria started. That was when we started having marketers... that was when we started having a body, that was when we started having a censors board. All those films you mentioned did not start-up any industry. All those films that are restricted to the cinemas couldn't have created an industry. So when we talk about the movie industry with due respect, the starting point is Living In Bondage and nobody can ever change that .
Don't allow anybody to deceive you in the press or anybody telling you this and that. And like I said, if you talk about what is going on in the cinemas, it is just like saying that you have pictured people who are acting on stage and you have pictured what they are doing on stage. It will still be in movie state, but it was meant to be on stage. So when we made our movie as in the form of a home video, a movie that people went to the market to buy and watched at home, when you talk about that kind of movie, with due respect, Living in Bondage is the starting point. It is history and nobody should try to change it. You in the press should not be encouraged to change it for any reason whatsoever. You should present history the way it is.
Why did you say in one of your interviews that if a lady is jealous, she should not marry an actor?
If you know that when you see your wife with another man smooching her, or another woman kissing your husband and you develop hypertension, then don't marry an actor because it is part and parcel of his normal business to kiss and to be smooched and smooched on set . Anybody who does not like hearing “…praise the Lord…”, “….thus saith the Lord…”, should not marry a Pastor , because that is part and parcel of what he does . So, even if he is an hypocrite, he will still be doing it, because that is where he gets his livelihood.
Some people say that marrying an actor amounts to being in bondage . Is marrying an actor such a terrible thing or is it that it is in Nigeria that we have made a big deal out of it?
Now my answer to you is that if you believe that marrying an actress is a terrible thing, please don't marry, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So you determine what you want in life.
I am telling you that a lot of men are dying to marry actresses because they enjoy it; a lot of women are dying to marry actors because they enjoy it, but to some women, it is anomalous to marry an actor. I will tell the person to avoid it because, if she is your person, you are created with your own idiosyncrasies, so determine what you want and go for it. I won't tell you it is terrible or not terrible. So it depends on who is defining it. What I will tell you is that if by your definition it is terrible, don't marry an actor or actress.
I once interviewed an actress who truthfully speaking said her body sometimes 'moves' when acting an erotic part. Can you comment on that?
What I am going to tell you is that if an actor's body or an actress's body is “moving”, it is not because of what he or she is doing on set. It is because of what he or she would have done outside the set. In other words, he or she is moving to the person that he or she cherishes and would have still moved without being an actor or actress. I don't know if I am making a point.
I am trying to get you….
The person has likeness for the person he/she is dealing with. So it is not because of the touching, it is because there is something already before that touching. Now let me give you an example. Some of us have been in the industry for a while, so you will find out that some of the actors and actresses coming in now have been our fans before they got into the industry.
So he or she may have been admiring you before getting the opportunity to star with you in a movie. In the person's heart, the person already has something for the other person, so if you have something for somebody, if there is touching, it will be like something is igniting it. So it is not the action but there has been an existing emotion which that touching is helping to express. Acting has nothing to do with it.
Have you ever acted with someone that you liked that you had to do intimate sessions with and your body “moved”?
(Laughs) I will give you an opportunity to come into my body, so maybe when you are in it, you'll find out yourself.
But I can't….
If you can't, then I can't too. The reason being that when I am acting I get so much engrossed with my script and with what I am told to do. I understand what the girl in question is saying because the flesh is flesh, so it's a different thing all together. I really don't think they are getting emotionally attached just for that relationship and if there is a prior attachment, it could manifest.
Have you been to a theological school before?
Would it be right for me to call you a pastor?
No, you're wrong because the idea of a pastor is that you have a church or a congregation where you're the Shepherd. So, I am not a pastor. I have never been a pastor, but I am a preacher and every Christian is expected to preach. You've confessed that you are born-again and you're a popular person and you also know that a lot of people would want to hear you out.
They would want you to prove to them that you are born-again or not. That was how preaching started for me and you know as a popular person you cannot afford not to defend what you believe in. When I gave my life to Christ, I realized a lot of people wanted to hear my testimony, so I decided to go to a Bible School to know more about God and the divine things He's made. So, I preach the gospel and sometimes, some people even call me evangelist. I don't see anything wrong in that because an evangelist simply means a preacher who preaches the gospel from place to place but I am not a pastor and for now I don't have any intention of becoming one.
Why are you not using your God-given talent (acting) to preach the gospel?
Haven't you seen Christian movies that I made? I have a production outfit and Christian movies can always come from it. So, I'm an actor, I don't restrict myself to Christian movies but I do movies that have strong messages. Eventually, once you are communicating good morals, you'll discover that directly or indirectly, you are performing Christian functions. I remember one film I did, there was no Christian thing in it but the message it passed across was so strong that people looked at it as a Christian thing.
Don't you think some people will feel that it's not right for you to preach when your first marriage didn't work?
It doesn't remove anything whatsoever from my Christianity. I haven't contested for any position and everybody who's born-again is expected to preach. Preaching is a free gift from God and you and I know that it doesn't mean that you have achieved success or not. You have to consistently work out your own success. So, when you make any mistake you have to rise again.
It's only in Christianity that when a soldier falls, he has to come back to his feet all by himself. Christianity is like a battle, so, when a soldier is wounded, what's expected of him? He gets himself together, learns from his mistake and goes back to the field of battle. So, it takes nothing from my Christianity and that doesn't mean that I support divorce but I have come to realize that in any institution that is made up of men or that constitutes more than one person, the destiny of such organization is not only decided by just one person. So, one person cannot guarantee the success of such organization.
But the bible says a man who refuses to provide for his family….(cuts in)
I'm sure you didn't attend a Bible School, so I pardon you for misquoting the Bible but what the Bible is talking about there is making provision for your family. It's not talking about divorce . Several things can lead to divorce . So, that passage of the Bible is talking about the man being able to provide for his family.
Don't you think people would say you got married to her for selfish reasons?
Apart from God, every other person is irrelevant. I am saying this with all modesty. At 21, I graduated from the University of Nigeria and I made one of the best grades. At 24, I have become the pioneer actor of Nollywood and consistently, I have always earned what I wanted to earn. I have about five degrees that includes law. So, if a man is this endowed and still has to rely on someone else; then if that person will be judged in heaven tell me what the judgment will be.
Why can't you see it this way, that there is something in this guy that makes every lady want to marry him? All the courses I have read are great courses and I can make fortunes from any of them. I had my masters in International Law and Diplomacy and I am a professional diplomat. Before I married, I had already started shooting my videos and paying fellow actors in hundreds of thousands. I already had a shop at Idumota where I marketed movies for myself and for other people. I already have a car, a bus, and a company.
So, what I'm saying is, with all due respect, I am a child that God so much love and provides everything for and to be honest with you and with all humility, I would say I was born with a silver spoon. So, why would I be begging a lady to marry me? Because her parents are rich or what ? After the marriage, I keep getting better and growing mightier. So these facts will tell you that I wasn't in a relationship with her because of her parents' wealth nor was her parents wealth sustaining me.
I am sure this is not the first time you are hearing this?
Sure, it's even you people (journalists) that devised junk journalism because most of you are not well paid. You write negative stories because you think negative things will sell your papers. When I gave my life to Christ, I was running away from prosperity, because I had already become a powerful superstar but I realized that fame and wealth without God is nothing.
I was enjoying all those things and I discovered it was gradually leading me to where I don't want to go . I gave my life to Christ not even in her church. So, whoever says that is foolish and whoever believes that is foolish! How will you give your daughter's husband everything you've made in your life? Isn't that foolish? Why didn't I go to a lady that is very wealthy? Doesn't the man have relatives? Don't you know the Igbo tradition?
Are you temperamental?
I don't really understand what you're saying but I know I am a cool guy, very calculated but I don't take nonsense. So, if you give me rubbish, what I do is to spit it out.
Have you ever hit a woman before?
A story on the internet has it that your temper made your first marriage crash. Is that true?
Self defence is a different thing. If a woman comes into a club with a bottle to break my head, I will not position my head for her to do that. I will most surely defend myself. If you're living at the mercy of your enemy, you're simply making your enemy merciless.
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