I'm yet to see a good actor in Nollywood - Hilda Dokubo-Mrakpor
For lovers of Nollywood, Hilda Dokubo-Mrakpor is someone they would readily remember especially for her unique way of interpreting roles. Despite taking a break from the industry three years ago and taking up the role of image-maker for the government of her Rivers State, the show of affection has not ceased. Senior Correspondent, Temitope David-Adegboye, met with this delectable lady who last year was appointed a UN ambassador for Hunger and Poverty recently in Lagos, and took her up on diverse issues.
You've been absent from the entertainment scene for a while. There was even a time you were part of Rivers State government. What else has been happening?
Entertainment is my first. Every other thing follows thereafter. Right now, I run a drama school that has been endorsed and approved by the Federal Ministry of Education and the NBCE. I train young people who want to have entertainment as their career and for some other people who want to have a change from one career to the other. I do capacity building and job placement right now. I also run a small children theatre group.
Is it safe to say you are through with being in front of the camera as an actress?
The way I see it, acting is like ministration for me. So right now, I am in the business of life moulding. I am moulding the life of the young people and I am doing it through talks.
If I have to do acting, it has to be really exceptional good script. I get a lot of scripts from different producers but the interest is not being in any kind of movie but being in a good one, especially one that fits my present status as a character moulder. I can't be found in just any movie. It has to be issue-based and it has to be something worth my time because every time that I spend right now is very important to one young person.
How old is the school?
The school itself is about a year old but the work of character moulding has been on for about three years. It's been rewarding and fulfilling. It has also been a lot of fun. Though it's been hectic too it is worth all the energy I put in.
We heard you were appointed a UN ambassador for hunger and poverty. When did this happen and what is it about?
It was last year at the U.N. General Assembly. Before then, we had run a research on the rate of poverty and hunger in the country and we had looked at where Nigeria was in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. It was so obvious that we had not even reached up to 30 per cent success with the MDGs and there was this need for a voice to stand up and speak up against hunger and poverty and my voice was found worthy. So I had to do a presentation at the U.N. General Assembly on poverty and hunger in Nigeria, in the Niger Delta and in Africa.
Do you honestly think hunger and poverty can be eradicated from Africa?
That is what we are working on. It is very possible to rid Africa of hunger and poverty because the truth is there is enough food in the world to feed everybody twice over but people cannot access it. People are not given ownership of the land and so they cannot farm. People are also not encouraged to farm and even when they farm, there is no way for you to preserve the proceeds for the end user. The roads are not good. Everything is working against the farmer who wants to get the food to the end user, who actually needs it. So you have more food wasted. About poverty, it's a poor governance issue because people are investing in things they shouldn't invest in and they are leaving human capital development, building young people. It has got to a stage where it is so embarrassing and out of place because you find a country that does not believe in its young people and abandons them to go into the streets.
What are the young people expected to do when the schools are not in session, the learning they get from the schools is not good enough to help them get jobs and then one minister is bold enough to say that they are not employable. It just tells you where we are.
It is possible to get rid of that if people would begin to do the thing that we are supposed to do; when youths are being given effective education, that is, education that is industry-based so the young people can graduate and get themselves employed or become employers of labour.
How would your U.N. ambassadorial position help the Niger Delta region where you hail from?
That is where this whole journey started. It started from the need to re-orientate, empower and reintegrate young people in the Niger Delta. I am still working at it and I have always believed that the reason for you to hear all the noise about militancy is that government is trying to trivialise the issue of the Niger Delta people. Every common pickpocket, every thief is referred to as a militant. People are not who they say they are. The issues in the Niger Delta are those of injustice and underdevelopment, not the issues of insecurity that the government wants all of us to see. If people are not made to feel like owners of what belongs to them, then they feel they are not part of it, and so they have no reason to protect what is not theirs, they have no reason to protect the thing that is used in further marginalising them. The Niger Delta issue is one that can be sorted out in a twinkle of an eye. All that federal government needs to do is to get the legislators sit down and repeal all obnoxious acts; remove the land use act, petroleum act and waterways act. So that people feel like they own what is theirs. If they have to implement the waterway act, people won't be able to fish in the waters of the Niger Delta and so, any body can say they can't fish, yet, it is their mainstay and people are removed from their way of life. Yet the government is spending billions on security when they should throw that into development in the Niger Delta.
For me, as an advocate, I say to the government, you can solve the problem if you want to but the truth is the problem hasn't been given commitment. Government just pays lip service over time. But the Niger Delta youth, adult, mother or child will not stop asking for their right.
Going back to Nollywood, which is your original constituency. First of all, do you agree with the name given to the industry bearing in mind that it wasn't known like that during your hay days? And what progress do you think has been made since you temporarily stepped aside?
Nollywood didn't have that name until a Briton did a write up on the Nigerian movie industry and gave it the name Nollywood in 2000. And we have all carried on, since then, with the name. I don't know how he coined that out but I don't quite agree because Hollywood can be understood because it is a place; Bollywood is from the capital of India, Bombay, but where did we get Nollywood from? It is the same thing that happened in the past when the mistress of Lord Lugard decided that this entity should be called Nigeria. So today, we are called Nigeria because she said so.
As for progress, this is a young industry. It only started in 1991 and going by where we are today, I say we have made some forward growth and few backward growths. That is not very nice. But in all, this is one industry that has been able to provide jobs for young people. It's also been able to export our culture, it has been able to create wealth for people and in terms of that we have done very well. Our techniques are still a bit faulty because we are still recording sound and line movement in one channel. So, our sounds are not exactly very good right now but they are better than what they were when we first started.
Our stories are not getting better. Our stories were best when we first started because then we had better storytellers and stronger storylines. Right now, people are just repeating themselves, which means that people need training and retraining in writing.
If you look around, one will find that a lot of the professionally trained actors have left the industry to doing something else. And right now, the producers just pick anyone they see. I watch them sometimes and I ask what kind of interpretation, facial expression, and so on is this?
But we are growing and I see us getting better. When we face the reality of international market, then we will get better.
Who is at fault when we see a bad movie?
Sometimes, it's actually not the fault of the actor that a movie comes out bad. You have to be extremely good to turn a bad script around. A bad script doesn't help an actor, especially the crop of actors, who haven't been trained professionally. If you are not professionally trained and all you know about acting is recitation, then you get a bad script and just go ahead and recite.
Some directors also do not know anything about directing and they are also in a hurry to catch up with producers' deadline.
If you were asked to pick one of the new actors or actresses to watch out for, who would be your choice?
I am still looking for that actor that I can say is good amongst the new set. But among those slightly earlier, I will choose someone like Chioma Chukwuka, Dakore Egbuson, and Mike Ezuruonye from the pack.
What are your plans for the industry?
I have a school and there I will be glad to retrain anybody who wants that. I run workshops for people in the Niger Delta who are on stage but would like to cross over from stage to camera.
You see, training is an individual decision and it is up to the actors. Even when I went to take up the position as a public speaker, I went and trained for it.
It is amazing you still get so much show of love and affection from your fans, though it's been a while you last acted in any movie. How does it make you feel?
It humbles me a little more. It just reminds me that I owe a lot to people and that whatever I do will directly or indirectly affect somebody somewhere. So when I get all that love, I feel indebted, which is why whenever I get invited by the young people to be part of what they are doing, I feel it is kind of paying my debt.
Have you ever suffered any form of embarrassment?
I haven't been embarrassed at anytime. What I have received all my life is show of appreciation and love. I get so many hugs and I hear things like, 'you changed my life.' It's amazing because I haven't been in the industry for like three years and people still appreciate me and I feel I must have done something well.
Your son is also an actor. Is he still active?
Right now he is in his final year at the university. Maybe when he graduates, he would decide if he wants to continue acting or not. I encourage my children to do the things that make them happy and give them satisfaction.
You were known as someone who could cry easily on set. How do you achieve this so easily?
I really don't know how I was able to cry that way. All I did then was get my script, read it, chew it and react. I think the tears come naturally.
What was your greatest moment as an actress
I had several but when I felt the need to become somebody, not just an actor, was in 2000 when I got TIMA awards, I got REEL awards, I got Afro Hollywood award, I had Black movies award and I had one more award from East Africa.
Those were five awards in one year from one movie. I then said to myself, if I can't beat this, then I mustn't stay here. You are just as good as your last movie and your last award. I told myself I couldn't afford to get a step lower because at that time, if REEL gave you an award, TIMA won't give you but that happened to me and I felt I should go for something better. For me, becoming a mirror for other young people was better than just being an actress. And so, I got into mentoring other young people.
You perhaps paved the way for actors and actresses becoming government image-maker. Now, we have RMD in Delta State. How does this make you feel?
I feel elated. And I think it's because I did a good job. If I didn't do a good job, RMD probably would not have been appointed right now. Now people feel it is good to get actors involved in being image-makers. RMD is at it today, Bob- Manuel Udokwu is at it in Anambra State and I feel proud.
You also did a reality show sometime ago - Street to Star reality show...
When I did Street to Star, which set out looking out for young people, helping create jobs for them, there was no AMBO, there was nothing or any other like it. When I started it, nobody knew where I was going. But today, four years after, we have successfully job-placed over 180 young people. We run on the lowest budget and my interest is in advertising the young people and people are not difficult to sell.
What's your advice for up comers in the industry?
Stay focused. No matter the challenges, stay focused.
What would be your greatest wish?
My greatest wish is that I would wake up one morning and have peace everywhere. I wish that I can have people wake up with smiles on their faces and they have enough love in themselves to go round. I believe so much in love and I say to everybody that I am a moving love machine.
And what would you say to your fans?
Thank you so much for giving me all the love you have given me. I am not gone from the industry yet. I am not done with Nollywood. If I am not seen on home videos, you will see me on the TV.