August 15, 2015 – Charles Okafor Warns Nigerian Actresses Sleeping With Politicians & Snatching Husbands “The Judgement Of God Is Coming On U”
To Nollywood Prostitutes & Husband Snatcher, Your Time Of Judgement Is Near – Veteran Actor
See excerpts from Nollywood actor Charles Okafor’s recent interview with Saturday Sun.
How long have you been in the profession?
I have been in it for over two and half decades. I actually started from television before Nollywood was birthed. I did the lead role in the only soap opera that NTA had at a time, Memorial Hospital. I played the role of Dr. Seun Peters. I was on NTA Network for about a year and six months before I integrated myself into Nollywood.
What has acting done for you?
Beyond the general understanding of creating entertainment and bringing laughter to families (the therapeutic role of drama), it has also brought pedagogy, that is, the teaching of morality. And I want to say that acting has given me a platform for advocacy. The first thing it did was to give me visibility. Each way I go, people recognise me because of the power of television. My voice is no longer one of those voices. If I speak, it commands large listenership and followership. That’s why, in my own opinion, an actor is like a priest in the society. My congregation is far larger than that of (Bishop) Oyedepo who has a 50,000 capacity church. Why? It’s only 50,000 people that can come at once and listen to him. The power of my visibility through home video or television commands larger audience. I must be careful in the way I live my life secretly and openly, because more eyes see me than those that see pastors.
But some people will say that artistes can live their lives the way…?
(Cuts in) I am sorry to disappoint those who call themselves celebrities. Once you are called unto this, you sacrifice your personal life on the altar of public good. You no longer live for yourselves. The day you become visible, you have become a common denominator in public discourse and criticism. If everybody speaks, they will want to say what did Charles Okafor and Richard Mofe-Damijo say? If you got into a public place and tried to manipulate the system, maybe by giving bribe, and there were other people that also did it, you will stick out like a soiled thumb. People would say the celebrity and others gave bribe. Then, tell me the private life you want to live.
If you are asked to make comparison between what we have now in Nollywood and what we had when it started, what will be your view?
I will handle that with caution because what technology has done in this present time obviously cannot be compared with those years when it started. We were ‘manual’ at that time. Today, we have high definition cameras and accessories that give us the feel, colour and mood that were not there. Currently, Nollywood has become a global brand because we now have cross-border film synergy. Some of us are invited to star with our colleagues in other climes. Remuneration has also improved phenomenally. From the point of view of modernism and technology, many things are working in favour of the present. But within the context of content, the past was far ahead of the present in terms of comparative analysis. We don’t have stories anymore, not because stories don’t exist. We have scriptwriters that are intellectually lazy. What they do is to regurgitate already written word. But those years that Nollywood came into being, you would find good stories emanating from scriptwriters. In my opinion, content was more profound, insightful and enduring than that of the present. The loss of technology in the past is the loss of content in the present.
How about the sacrifices made by pioneers like you?
I am going to tell you this with a little emotion. I voluntarily resigned my job from the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC). I was posted to SEC during NYSC and was retained. After working there for a while, I left to join my colleagues in this industry. Then, the industry was young with handful of serious-minded professionals who saw a future. And, there were certain uneducated entrepreneurs that took the risks of investing their tiny capital into filmmaking. When I told my late father that I was going to resign from my job, he upbraided me. He thought I was stupid and taking a decision that was going to be detrimental to my wellbeing. But I insisted and resigned. I must confess to you, when I resigned, it was with so much foreboding and uncertainties. Like my father said, ‘what if that thing you said is going to work does not work?’.
As a youth corps member, I got government job on a platter of gold. And I was not alone; a couple of my colleagues left their job unabashedly to follow this path. Again, there are people when we started who would tell you that the sentiments of birthing an industry consumed us over and above pecuniary consideration, Today, I read all manner of falsehoods that some people who claimed to be stars were being paid N1 million. Sometimes I asked myself ‘when did marketers pay you this amount of money?’ ‘Where did the marketers make the money from?’ ‘Is it from this piracy – driven Nigerian market?’ Thank God that today, we now have other windows like the Iroko TV and all social media platforms. But the truth of the matter is that we were not led by pecuniary consideration. That was a huge sacrifice and some of our colleagues like Enebeli Elebuwa and Sam Loco Efe died not being the richest in the world, but they were rich to the extent that they brought laughter and recreation to millions of homes. That’s why I’m pained by the very insensitive and irresponsible treatment meted by successive governments to them. Someone like Larry Williams is alive but he is good as dead. He is almost going blind and doesn’t have a house. Nobody has remembered him. He came back from America as one of the biggest names. In other climes, he would have gotten a house from the government.
What do you think can be done?
Leadership at various levels in Nollywood has been a monumental failure over the years, and some of our colleagues died in abject penury. Because if we have an industry properly constituted, we would have structures and equally pressure groups to advance vehemently agitations for those who have put their lives in the beauty of bringing joy and laughter to the country, Nigeria. On the part of government, I see it as a function of misplaced priority, they celebrate us when they want to frolic with us, but in truth, they don’t consider us relevant to socio-economic growth and development. One thing I will say about the outgone government, despite my reservations and criticisms, it beamed its searchlight in the direction of the creative industry, especially, Nollywood. I don’t know if it was a clearly articulated policy or accidental. They brought Nollywood to a point of global visibility. I believe that President Buhari might even do much more knowing him to be a thorough and very calculated person. He may take it a notch higher by ensuring that Nollywood is properly and professionally structured such that charlatans and mediocrities, and businessmen who are all out for their selfish aggrandizement do not rule over the Nigeria’s creative industry. There are a lot of people who brandish themselves as leaders but only use it as a vehicle to line their pockets with money. The argument is that government has no business with entertainment, which is very correct. But it can provide an enabling environment, such as putting a grant in place like what we have in America, which is called United States Endowment for the Arts. Nollywood has become a madhouse of charlatans who brandish themselves as leaders but with little or no antecedents.
Your father didn’t like the idea of you becoming an actor. Did that affect your relationship with him?
It was out of concern for a son that he loved. By the way, it brings me back to my antecedent. I was born into a very poor family in Ajegunle, Lagos. But by sheer providence, I found myself serving in Security and Exchange Commission and was retained after youth service. There was this secure job that guarantees monthly pay. Suddenly, you came and said you wanted to leave that for the unknown. No father would easily accede to that.
How did you handle distractions and all of that?
I had my fair share of indiscretion, women and social life. I wasn’t particularly a club person, but did I have my indulgences? I did. You find yourself at a particular age bracket; certain adventures come to you naturally.
And there were no complaints from your wife then?
By the time I got married, my life had taken a different turn. I had met Jesus and my attitude had changed. Up till today, I have heard people say Charles Okafor is a pastor; he is no longer in Nollywood. I am not a pastor but I get invited to speak at church programmes, youth fora, and other value-driven platforms. I am still in the industry.
How do you combine the role of a father with the demands of your job?
Sometimes, my trip comes as little burden upon her especially when my wife has to manage her job and her home. Naturally, the challenges are there. I always extend gratitude to her because she is sacrificing a lot to build a responsible Christian driven home. We have decided deliberately that we must prove to the world that, the fact that you are an actor shouldn’t make you irresponsible and immoral. Your marriage must work secretly and openly. The common impression everywhere in the world is that actors marry and divorce, and then marry again.
Was there a particular trying moment in your life you want to share?
When I lost my father on August 18, 2000, it was one of the most devastating experiences of my life. My father just came to this world, suffered and died without enjoying the fruits of his children. Today, one of his sons is in the commanding height in the military. He had close to 15 grandchildren, but he only saw one grandchild. Also, when my mother died last year. Between those two, I have had tears-inviting experiences, but not as profound as the demise of my parents. I also remember when I drove to Ajegunle and saw the decrepit building where we lived. And at a time, my siblings and I took our wives and children to see my mother in Ajegunle; that was before we took her out of the place. Our wives come from rich families, but we took them to the ghetto where we grew up.
What was their reaction?
They respected us the more, that if you were born here and you have become what you are now, then you have worked hard. And such is the kind of places you should take your children to, not just America. If you are from a humble background, take your children to such places no matter how beautiful your mansion in Banana Island or Lekki is. They will have one or two lessons to learn from it.
What is your advice for up and coming actors?
There are so many people in Nollywood today who have no business being actors. They should rather be in the crew whether as cameramen or directors of photography, or even directing or doing certain designs or make ups. But everybody wants to be in front of the camera, and make a mess of it. Why not settle down and ask yourself: ‘what is it that God has put in the inside of me?’ ‘Which area of this industry do I fit in?’ When you have identified it, go to school. And I am not necessarily talking about university. There are television institutes and film houses like Royal Academy for the Arts, PEFTI, and Independent Television Institute. You can do short programmes for three months on cinematography, acting, TV production, and the likes. The absence of training is what has led many people into making wrong choices in Nolywood.
Warning To Wayward Nollywood Stars
And for those of them who indulge in doing pornography films, one day, they will stand before God and give an account of their stewardship. I want to tell those who are turning Nollywood into ‘Pornwood’ to desist from it. It is not a platform for advanced prostitution where you sleep with political leaders who have stolen money to throw around. Nollywood is not a platform for them to be wrecking marriages and living loosely. The only way for us to cleanse our industry and make it a shinning pearl such that we can compete with our counterparts anywhere in the world is by building capacity and identifying who ought to be in the industry, and throwing out those who should not.
[Interview By Deji Aroloye, Saturday Sun]