BOB - MANUEL UDOKWU
My name is Bob-Manuel Udokwu. I am from Ogidi in the Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State. I was born on April 18th, the third child in a family of six and the second son. I attended St. Peters Primary School, Enugu, now Hill Side Primary School, then Oraukwu Grammar School and then University of Port Harcourt and the University of Lagos. I am a married man. My wife's name is Casandra. I have two children for now. My father, Geoffrey Udokwu is retired after working for forty years in the Ministry of works, Enugu and my mother, Mrs. Joy Udokwu is a business woman. That's all for background.
Talking about your carrier as an actor, was this what you actually studied in school or was it another case of calling into a strange terrain?
Oh… I have two qualifications in Theatre Arts, as a matter of fact. The first one is a certificate in Theatre Arts which I had with a distinction and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre Arts with a two-one result. I was also the national president, Nigerian University Theatre Arts Students Association for the year 1989 – 1990. I was also the coordinator of NYSC theatre troop during my service year in Oyo State.
Several. One of them from Ogidi citizens in America and Canada in 2004. In the US, Nigerian Christian Film Maker's Role Model Award for the year 2004. In 1998, I won two awards for “Best Actor” in film, for the Reel Award and Thema award. You know, I was also nominated several times for Actor of the Year awards, in Thema and Reel Award. I am also a member of the board of Lagos West church of Nigeria Anglican Communion. So, it's not only in movies, I'm also active in church, by the Grace of God.
Having establish that acting for you is a familiar terrain, could you tell us when and how you began active film carrier?
I started right from the start. I stared from the day I was born, because there had been a prophesy that came before I was born, about the type of person I was going to be and I've been in it all along. Now, if you talk about professional practice, before I went into the University of Port Harcourt in 1986 to study Theatre Arts, I had already done a lot on stage, on radio; FRCN, Enugu and Television in Enugu where I grew up. So, by the time I got admission to study Theatre Arts, I was already familiar with what the studio is like, what television is like.
When did you join the industry?
I'll say: no! the industry joined me you know. But it was Checkmate which gave me national prominence, perhaps international prominence, because I know that at one time it was being broadcast on ITV in London. I was doing Checkmate when I was invited to be part of Living in Bondage, which was the film that really started this revolution in the video industry that we all witnessing now and gave birth to Nollywood.
It appeared as if you faded out from the industry at a time, what was responsible for this?
I've always been there! The thing with me is that I just concentrate on my work. I'm a very silent worker. I don't make noise. A lot of people who make noise are empty vessels and we all know that empty vessels make the loudest noise. A lot of people who make this noise don't have depth; So, you see, if I don't shout to the roof tops, my works will do that. Rather than make a noise, let your work speak for you and let this work be an enduring legacy that you leave as you move ahead in time, leaving distinct footprints on the sand of time. So, I've always been there in spite of all the crises, in spite of all the glamour, in spite of all the noise.
What are these crises you are talking about?
Crises in the sense that the economy is so bad it affects everybody, crises because we have a huge industry in our hands, but a lot of people who are practitioners are still impoverished by what the system cannot provide them; we are not protected in anyway because we have a huge industry that is at crossroads because vision, pact, direction, become the problems like a national problem. If we can admit that Nigeria has been having leadership problem right from the start, it is this same problem, this same crisis that has affected the industry; otherwise, if you don't call that a crisis what is it about a country which cannot manage it's resources, a country that cannot manage enormous potentials that the Almighty deposited here.
What about the glamour?
Of course, the industry is about glamour; it's deceptive, it's ephemeral, it's not enduring because, just like what you call it, film, an illusion, what you think is there but is not there, so when I talk about the glamour, these things are there and it has got to the point that some of us still live without knowing that .. .if you look behind the television set literally what you see would be dust and cob webs. That is the life of the people you see on the television set. a lot of us make people happy, but go home sad.
That illusion of being king only on the television doesn't seems to have caught up with you; what is the secret of your own success?
What I'm doing is a calling. It is a calling that I didn't call myself to and so, when God calls you to do something, He will equip you. Now the secret is that God who called me, planted me in the proper place at the proper time. For example, I draw, I was going to study Fine and Applied Arts before I got admission for Theatre. So, people now know me as an actor, but I draw, I still do draw. I compose songs, I write music, I don't even labour to do that. When it comes to me, it comes with everything, from lyrics to rhythm and the message therein and so by the time it manifests result in the physical where everybody will say this is Bob singing on the radio or television, it won't be just any song. It will be the message of the one who sent me. I am not talking about what is widely known as Christian music. I'm talking about message and a message doesn't have to be Christian music, it could be a message of hope, it could be a message of change. Because there are a lot of souls out there that are lost, I am not talking about lost souls in terms of they don't know Christ, but the despondent, they have no hope, no voice, no one to speak for them. Then, if you don't have something positive to give to your generation, which is what I am doing now by not acting because today we have become role models, whether for good or for bad, to the younger generation. If you don't have conviction about what you can do to your generation, to mankind positively from your maker, then you would have failed and God will ask you this and that's what I'm doing: to fulfil that calling till the end of time.
You sounded two things to me and I like to know where you belong; a social crusader or a born-again Christian.
Both of them can be rolled into one. First question of social crusader, demanding for change. Is it change for change sake? No! it's change for something sake. I came from a very humble family. My father is among those forcefully retired in 1984, by an administration that took over from Shagari and then I hadn't got admission into the University. That means my father had to contend with the three people before me who are still struggling and myself and my two younger ones and he gave about forty years of his life, serving diligently in the Ministry of Works. I see poverty, square deprivation and disease, existing side by side with stupendous opulent life styles. There are basic things that people demand in life, but they are not getting them. Second, I hardly discuss religion, because we are a religious people but we don't know God. If you talk about born again, it is a fad in this country. I doesn't mean there are no genuine born again Christians but majority are hypocrites.
Now let's talk about your new corporate baby, the Saphire-Bond. I understand it is a modeling agency, is this meant to complement your acting carrier?
A lot of my friends in the corporate world would tell me, why don't you set up an agency. Sometimes, they want to launch a new product, because when you talk about modeling, some people see it in form of beauty contest. No if I hold this up, (displaying a GSM handset) on the pages of the newspaper and I talk about it, I'm modeling it. I have a couple of friends outside the country and I know a lot of things we discuss, like, why don't you set up one so that if we are coming in we'll be able to have contact with people like you to help us get people to work with us. It's not just because acting is not paying well. Indeed, acting is paying well. It's just that it is not what it ought to be. So, you see it in terms of spreading that which you can do to help as many people as possible. There are those who have this ability, God's given talent but who don't have a way of letting the world know what they can do. Like the upcoming actors and actresses, some are at crossroads. There was a time I was like that. I call that four years in the wilderness, searching for my future.
How is the outfit doing?
It's doing well. People are responding positively. You see our flyers and our posters. Some people have come here to verify to be sure that some one else is not using my name. That's why, at the reception, you see my picture standing between the governor's and the president's. So that if I am not there, people can do business with whoever, because it's a corporate office.
Looking at the movie industry, do you think we are growing?
We are growing, but, you see, growth comes with its own peculiar traits. You know that when a child is growing, the parents will have to contend with more and more expenses, buying clothes, paying school fees and so on. These are the problems we are facing. The industry is growing quite all right, but like a country which never prepares anything in advance, we are being overwhelmed by the phenomenal growth. Nigeria's movie industry has been rated the third fastest growing In the world, but how much are the practitioners getting? What about the problem of distribution channels and getting rights for this and that? For God's sake, we are supposed to have a film village. We should have a film town, but we seem to have descended from a country that has standard to a country that perhaps has accepted mediocrity and incompetence as our standard. so, nothing works. Even people who ought not to make such statements would tell you that Nigeria's a country where nothing works. then we should collectively bow our heads in shame.
Don't you feel that some of the problems in the industry can be linked to not having a formidable association, I mean, like the NBA, the NSE, which seek vigorously to have representation at the national assembly, sometimes via elective positions?
Agreed, it could be, but if anybody says our members have not been making representation then it will be untrue. Besides, do we have to do that, if we have a government that has a listening ear, or that has open eyes? Know for sure, if you make some statement about rulership you will be called to answer to it, which means that there are certain things government chooses to hear and some it chooses to ignore. But which country will have the fastest growing industry in the world and the government will not say, these people should come, let's do it together. It is private-sector driven. It is the only aspect of Nigerian life that government does not put Kobo into. And we are the flag bearers and image makers in this country whether you like it or not. I have a Master's degree in International Relations. I see myself as an actor diplomat. I have cause to mingle with people in government in other parts of the world, but are we going to uphold that biblical saying that a prophet has honour except in his home? I know that Professor Wole Soyinka was given a national honour only after the world had recongnised him with a Nobel Prize. So what are we lobbying for?
What are those memories you cherish so much as an actor?
Nothing can compare to the feeling you have when you act on stage for a live show and he curtains open and you see a sea of heads and you ask yourself, have these people paid to watch me. And having put up a good performance at such a wonderful moment, such feeling is only what the individual knows, but it's exhilarating, like high, like a good wine to the head, like you are in another world, but then it humbles you, too. I don't know about others, that in spite of all these things about stardom, it's not by your making, but God.
What about those sweet memories about your days in Checkmate?
Checkmate was….ah (laughs)… was a wonderful play, you know, we were working together like a family. In fact, up till today, people still ask me about my brother and sister. And as a dedication to our days in Checkmate, you see the picture of the three of us displayed at my reception. It is fun, too, when people ask me, are you still seeing your sister and I laugh. It's about two or three years now I've not set my eyes on her. She is supposed to be my big sister, but she doesn't ask after me. Too bad my brother Francis, too, somebody told me is in Bayelsa State. He too is supposed to be my big brother, but he doesn't ask after me and being the last child in the Hastrup family, I feel bad about the two of them. Perhaps they will read this interview and find a way of getting in touch with me, because as a big sister and brother they should look after their younger one. Even if for once, let the three of us get together and have lunch somewhere. Checkmate was a nice experience, although hectic, tedious but we gave it quite a lot, a lot of zeal, a lot of dedication and it took quite four years to wind down. I believe if, for any reason, they want to resuscitate Checkmate a lot of us will want to come back to make it bigger to make it better.
The AGN executives are worried that some top actors are placing themselves above the association by not attending meetings, what's your view?
Yeah…. I think the Association is right and to lend credence to that, it is not proper for any card-carrying member of the AGN to be cold towards the affairs of the Guild. Now, some top actors like myself may not attend meetings regularly because they are busy working. What I tell them is this, when you come to Lagos, since most of us belong to the Lagos Chapter, why don't you stroll down, fraternize with your fellow artistes, see the leadership and find out how things are going?
How do you relax?
I relax with my family. I have an interest family. When I'm with them we do some crazy things together, myself, my wife and my two lovely kids. If only there is a hidden camera somewhere, it will make a best seller. I am not the club-going type of person. I hang out with a couple of friends once in a while, but not at night and I take time out talking to God seriously, because without him; we are nothing.