MY BITTER EXPERIENCE WHEN SHINA PETERS IMPREGNATED ME â€“ CLARION CHUKWURA
For over 30 years, Clarion Chukwura has been doing what gives her joy and gladness. She's been exhibiting her acting prowess on the stage and screen, and this has brought her fame and fortune. But for the Nollywood diva, life is not all bed of roses. Clarion has been rejected, betrayed and cast out as a slot. She has also swum in the river of failed marriages. At the end of the day, however, the delectable actress triumphed and came out stronger. Clarion says her driving force is her unshakable faith in God, and more importantly, her never-say-die spirit.
Hear her: 'My driving force is first and foremost my faith in God. My faith in God is a very important aspect of me. I believe that whatever I set out to do if I commit it into the hands of God, it may take time to manifest, delay is not denial, I'm sure I will get there. I just need to be patient and persevere. Another thing is my never-say-die spirit. I am not a quitter because the alternative is not for me. I cannot live a life of nobody.'
In this exclusive interview with Saturday Sun , Clarion bares it all, as she has never done before.
Could you tell us about your childhood?
I was born in Lagos and remained there till when I was 11 years old. From the age of 11 to 14, I stayed in Aba and Onitsha. I came to Ibadan when I was 14 and lived there till the age of 19. However, I lost my father at the age of 11. This incident completely shattered me. My father was the centre of my life and when he died, everything just fell apart. That was the beginning of a different chapter of my life. How did I cope? I coped by the special mercy of Almighty God. I coped by taking decisions. I coped by being driven by determination to succeed and I had my focus very early that I wanted to be an actress. I was five years old and my father was still alive when I decided that I wanted to be an actress. My father had a driver that used to take us to the cinemas. So, I was seeing all those 20th Century Fox movies and other legendary Hollywood movies that inspired me. I was also inspired by Michael Jackson and all those stuffs I used to watch on TV, when I was a kid.
Some people say you are fond of Michael Jackson. Is this true?
I was highly inspired by Michael Jackson. No, it isn't necessary I go into music because Michael Jackson inspired me. When someone inspired you, it doesn't mean that you must do what the person is doing. Michael was a kid but his showmanship was great. That's what struck me. As an actress, it's music that inspires me. I remember the movie, 'Egg of Life;' it was music that gave me the inspiration for the character I played. The death of Michael Jackson was a personal loss to me. I took time to mourn him; that's why I didn't attend all the events that were held in his honour. I felt like I had lost a part of me.
So, it wasn't something I felt like going out to celebrate. Michael deserved everything that was done to mourn him because he was a great artiste. What I am saying is that it was a personal loss for me. His death was something emotional. In fact, it was a private matter for me. Michael was my idol. I was in love with Michael Jackson. People who knew me when I was a teenager knew I was in love with Michael. If I had met Michael Jackson, I would tell him…oh it's not something I can comment about. Sure, he was my idol and he still is. Would I have married Michael Jackson if I had the opportunity? Well, I don't know because you don't always get married to the person you love.
How did you venture into acting?
I started with both the stage and television in Ibadan. I started with all the three tiers that are relevant today, including the Yoruba and English theatre, and then the television. My first time on stage was fun. Actually, I did not experience any stage fright. What I experienced was excitement. I did not exactly see the audience. I was outside my own body. I was this 14-year-old girl on the stage of Department of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan. My first time on stage was in 1979 when I played house girl in Bode Sowande's play. I can't remember the title of the play now. For me, that first time on stage was a surreal experience.
As I said earlier, I started on three platforms at the same time: the English dramatic stage, Yoruba dramatic stage and television. Between September and October 1979, I was shuttling between the stage and television. I would leave Bode Sowande's play to join Victor Ashaolu's theatre and then to Jumoke Payne's rehearsals at NTV Ibadan. With all these I was getting my training and experience on the three platforms, at the same time.
Did you get your parent's approval?
All this while I was in school, and don't forget that I lost my dad; so it was my mom and I. The experience was crazy. Each time I finished on stage with Victor Ashaolu, he would drop me personally at home after dropping others their bus-stops. He would knock on our door and start begging my mother to open the door for me. My mom was educated; so she wasn't the type to start screaming in the street for other people to hear. She never even caned me. After the producer or director had brought me home and explained where I had been and what I had been doing, my mom would let me in. But few days later, if I make any little mistake she would get angry and vent her anger on me.
Within two years of my acting, I made such rapid progress. I moved from University of Ibadan to University of Ife. By the time I got to University of Ife I had justified myself before my mother. I remember when I was in the University of Ibadan Performing Company. Professor Bayo Odunneye would come to my mother and tell her that what I was doing was not wrong, and that I had a bright future; that I would turn out a good artiste.
You started in 'Money power'. How did it come about?
I didn't go looking for a role in 'Money Power.' While I was a student at University of Ife, Cam wood on the Leaves, a play directed by Professor Wole Soyinka, was brought to the National Arts Theatre in Lagos. Ola Balogun and his wife, Francois, were among the guests at the Command Performance. Indeed, the role of Yemi that I later played in Money Power had already been cast for a lady called Maureen. But when Ola Balogun and his wife watched me in Cam wood on the Leaves, they were thrilled. At the backstage, after the play, I was told that some people wanted to see me and they turned out to be Ola Balogun and his wife. Even then Fred Agbeyegbe and his wife, including Professor Soyinka's mother came to greet me at the backstage. It was right there at the backstage that Ola Balogun told me about his new film, Money Power. He said even though the role of Yemi had been cast, when he watched me perform the role of Moji in Cam wood on the Leaves he changed his mind and decided to give me the role. That's how I got a role in Money Power. Also, at the backstage, Agbeyegbe told me he was working on a play and that he would be getting in touch with me.
All I would say is that Cam wood on the Leaves got me a role in Money Power and also a role in Agbeyegbe's The King Must Dance Naked.
You worked with Soyinka. How would you assess him?
Cam wood on the Leaves brought out the best in me. A character, like Moji, gives me the greatest challenge and greater joy because it brings out the best in me. I missed the early years when I had scripts that brought out the best in me. I can't believe when people say that Professor Soyinka is a difficult man to work with. What I saw in him is a man who's disciplined to the core. If rehearsals were 9a.m, Professor Soyinka would walk into the hall on the dot of nine. So, if as an actor you walk in at five minutes past nine and he sends you out in disgrace people would say that Soyinka is a difficult man. If you miss your cue and destroy the momentum of the play, Soyinka will burst out on you. Before I came to University of Ife, I held Soyinka in high esteem. In fact, I came to University of Ife just because I wanted to be taught by him. I saw in Soyinka a theatre of my dream, a theatre of solid discipline. I saw in him a theatre of casting the best for a role and not mixing personal relationship with his work. I am who I am today because I worked with a number of people, like Professors Wole Soyinka and Bayo Odunneye. I give kudos to these people for my foundational years as an actress. From both of them, I took away discipline and training. I took from Odunneye the awareness of my inner body being extremely synonymous with what I project as an actor. That is to say I have to be fit, both inside and outside. From Soyinka, I took discipline and ability to research. As an actor, you must do research for your characterization. You must go out there and find out about the person you want to play. Beside this, you must determine the method you want to use and how you want to project the character.
How would you describe your experience with Shina Peters?
I have no regret for coming across Shina Peters in life. In fact, if I have to play the role of Yemi in Money Power I'll play it again. And if again I have to meet Shina Peters in the film, I'll want to meet him again. In life, there is no gain without pain. The maturity process that I had to go through with my son, Clarence, after Money Power was a process of great pain. It was a process that brought out people in their real colours. It showed me how fickle people can be; how pretentious and mean people can be. It was a process of condemnation. Just because I had Clarence I was labeled a slot. I was written off. The only thing they couldn't do was write me off in my career because I was damn good. I was a good actress, so you couldn't just help but work with me. People said all sorts of things about me; they did not give me a chance. It was a journey that taught me that life itself is a journey. But, as I said, there is no gain without pain. And it had to be like that because Clarence is a child of destiny. If it wasn't like that then the purpose of God for his life wouldn't have been actualized. Clarence's life would have been cut short somewhere along the line during the days of struggle. So, asking me if I would do it all over again, my answer is that I would follow the will of God for my life.
Could you tell us about your experience with your mom when you were pregnant with Clarence?
My mother threw me out when I was pregnant with Clarence. The only way I coped was through the help of people, like Professor Wole Soyinka, who suggested I should go for pregnancy test. When it was confirmed and I told him I wanted to keep it he said fine. Soyinka was my Head of Department and he took me away from hard and physical tasks in my class. Even Chief Olu Aboderin, publisher of Punch Newspapers, went to my mother and tried to make her see reason; yet, my mother remained adamant. He then found me a place to stay in Ibadan. However, at the point of having Clarence, my mom's anger subsided. As a mother, she rallied round me because she didn't want to lose me. That time the whole world seemed against me and I was always crying. Not even Shina Peters, father of the child, was there for me. He abandoned me, but that's not important for now. That's the past. I was sad and angry because I felt lonely. People thought that once you're pregnant your life has ended. But there was this fighting spirit inside of me. And when I had my son, I said 'eh, we've started a journey'.
How did it feel to be a young mother?
My mother took over by the time Clarence was two months old. At this time, I was back fully on stage at the University of Ibadan Performing Company. And by the time he was four I was in Badagry for the rehearsals of The King Must Dance Naked. I didn't see Clarence again from when he was two to when he was nine months old. Clarence is not angry with his father. You see, Clarence is a highly mature person. His understanding is above the mundane. My life with Clarence does not revolve around telling him that your father did this or that. We grew up together. My life actually started with him. By the time I was 22 and he was three and a half years old, Clarence was already seeing and relating with what our lives were like. You don't need to start telling Clarence anything because it was a life he lived. He was a part of the experiences. Most of the artistes of my generation that Clarence calls uncles and aunties he didn't just start calling them that and running to them; he has known them way back. What he is doing now in entertainment is not about me playing a role in it, that's him.
As I said earlier, Clarence is a child of destiny. He is a child of a musician and actor. Everything in me, as an artiste, went into him and the best of his father also went into him. Clarence has taken talents from the best of two worlds. He is not made to be doing what he's doing; he's born to do it. By the time Clarence was five years old he started playing with musicians that used to perform at my restaurant on Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja, Lagos. By the time he was seven, he was in movies. He was in Dudu's movie, Amin Orun, Sola Shobowale's film, Jokotade and also in Family Circles.
Clarence is not far away from his dad. Anybody who thinks so is a fool. There is no three days that both Clarence and his father don't talk on phone. Time heals all wounds. If you are a progressive person you will not dwell on the past. I am a progressive person and I don't dwell on the past. The past is important as long as it's relevant. The moment the past stops being relevant it loses its importance to me. From the moment Clarence graduated in South Africa, the past became inconsequential.
How do you think about Shina Peters' legacy?
I am not bothered by Shina Peters' legacy or the issue of his will because I am not his wife. It will also not bother Clarence in any way. The greatest legacy Shina Peters can give to Clarence is the right to his musical works. Shina Peters told me, about three years ago, that he would will all his property to charity and I told him that decision is fantastic. The rights to his works would enable his children to reproduce his music as tomorrow's sound. The return on his works is perpetual, unlike his house that may not conform to modern architecture tomorrow. If Shina Peters wills his house to charity he would be remembered by that. But he will be remembered longer by the rights to his musical works willed to his children, who will put them to good use.
You have experienced many failed marriages. What's the problem?
It's only in Nigeria that when you get married and it doesn't work it is held against you that something is wrong. The fault is always with the woman. People don't ask if the man is doing something wrong even when they know that the man has got a problem. People still want to castigate the woman, most especially if she is famous. If the woman is famous, the man would find a way to have something against her. He would have something to pull her down. He would have something to make the famous woman look useless.
The crash of my marriages cannot be blamed on stardom. The crash of my marriage to Tunde Abiola is due to other reasons. I don't like talking about my failed marriages because my son is in school. Whatever happens between his father and I is our business. We cannot use that to embarrass him in any way. Concerning Femi Oduneye, I am not interested in talking about that also because it's my private life.
How do you see Nigerian men?
Egocentricity is the greatest problem of the Nigerian men. On another side, we have some tribes who do not have a strong sense of responsibility to their family. They believe that extra-marital affairs is a norm. Some other tribes believe that the traditional role of a woman is in the kitchen or bedroom and also have her as a showpiece. I am speaking from personal experience and the experiences of my friends. All this boils down to egocentricity in men. Are Nigerian men romantic? No. My generation is not romantic. I think Clarence's generation is more romantic. My generation, since when they were young, was not romantic. The problem is that men are just full of themselves. They have large doses of carryover from the generation of their parents and grand parents. I would say that the greater percentage of Nigerian men are players. And the women have decided that their best way to fight back is to do what the man does. Now, both married men and women engage in extra-marital affairs. To them, it's no big deal, it is fun.
What is your relationship with men, being single?
When people ask me about marriage I find it irritating. Look, my last marriage broke up four years ago. Yet I get toasters everyday. But life does not revolve around marriage alone. I am not ruling out marriage but right now I am contented as a single parent.
What do you think of Nollywood?
The problem with Nollywood is that a lot of charlatans have taken over. There are lots of opportunists and charlatans have invaded Nollywood. There are no standards any more. Now, every Tom, Dick and Harry can produce movies.
You are famous. How do you cope?
When you have goodwill you get goodwill in return. Fame enables you to enter where ordinarily you could not enter. Fame enables people to open up their arms for you even in pretence. They just want to be associated with you. The worst thing about fame is that you don't know who is real. You have lots of fake people running around you. People want to use you; your enemies pretend to be friends. People are so jealous and envious of you; they can't wait to celebrate your downfall.
The fact that you are unhappy makes their day. With fame you can't go anywhere you want, any time you want. People try to take advantage of you, try to misbehave to you and you are not expected to react with anger. You are expected to take it gently and walk away silently. I have had several occasions where I have been embarrassed. That's why I don't go to the market any longer. I only go to supermarkets and groceries markets. You can't find me in public markets, like Tejuosho. I started having fans' reaction as far back as 1984, during my days in Mirror in the Sun, that made me a household name. Since then, I have been watching where I go. Having being a star for so long my life is regulated. Yes, sometimes life can be cumbersome with fame.