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Monday, 12 March 2018

FROM MOVIES TO THE CORRIDOR OF POWER: THE STORY OF MY LIFE - BOB MANUEL UDOKWU




Few years ago, the Nigerian movie industry witnessed a new wave, which led many of its practitioners into politics. According to Star Actor Bob Manuel Udokwu, "in the last general elections, a lot of people in the entertainment industry vied for political positions. Some made it and some others didn't."
But for the amiable actor, he says: "it was destiny that made Governor Peter Obi to invite me to government. I didn't lobby for it. There was no town union, no traditional ruler or church obligation or business mogul that connected me to him." And today, Governor Willie Obiano who will be sworn in on the 17th of this month for a second term, has retained me as his Senior Special Assistant on movies and entertainment."

In this interview with Paul Ukpabio, Bob Manuel as he is fondly called, share with us the role destiny and hard-work has played in his life and the other trappings he enjoys as a famous actor moving around the world.
You are one of the few that was retained by Governor Obiano's government, what do you think has been his reason for retaining you?
I believe that His Excellency Governor Obiano realises that I possess the necessary skills that will add value to his government. And so he appointed me as one of his political aids. I am his Senior Special Assistant on Creative Media: ( Movie/the Entertainment Industry). The Creative Media field is very wide. It even includes museums and monuments, web designing and so on. Mine is for movie and entertainment industry.

What can you say about the style of the two governors that you have worked for so for?
The two governors have been from one party which is APGA. And that party has a manifesto, part of it being to improve the lives and wellbeing of Anambra people and those who live and work in Anambra State. There has also been the aspect of continuity. Part of the problem we have had in this country since independence, is  that we have been lacking in the area of continuity at the national and state levels. No sooner does a new government come in, than they begin to dismantle all the things the previous government had done or were doing. So ignoring all other progress the other government may have made, just to prove that they have something to offer. In the end, mediocrity takes over and the country becomes the worse for it. By the time you know it, four years or in some cases eight years of the state's lifespan has been wasted. So APGA understands that continuity will benefit the state much more than discontinuity. The previous administration before His Excellency Governor Obiano came to office, laid a good foundation on the platform of APGA which did not leave any sector of the economy untouched. When Governor Obiano was campaigning for election, he campaigned on the principles of four Cs; Continuity, Completion, Commission and Commencement. Meaning to continue inherited projects from where the previous administration stopped, complete the projects, commission and then commence newly initiated projects, thereby moving the state continually forward. That is the success story of Anambra State today. Governor Willie Obiano is still maintaining that principle till date.


Some say you have abandoned acting. How have you been able to manage being a professional actor with your job in government?
(Laughs) As soon as I was appointed, a lot of my fans expressed that concern. Let me tell you that, just like some other sectors are experiencing some setbacks and flop at this point in time, because of the downturn in the economy, same goes with the movie industry. Don't forget that the movie industry in Nigeria is sustained by private entrepreneurs and not the government. These entrepreneurs are largely businessmen who after return on investment, plough part of their profit into the movie industry. Now, the purchasing power of the average Nigerian is low so the entrepreneurs struggle to recover investment. Today, movie productions come far in between and the budgets are lower. Having said that, my portfolio is Senior Special Assistant to the governor on Movies and the Entertainment Industry. I head into the movie industry every now and then to know what is happening there in order to assist the government of Anambra state in determining its policies on the entertainment industry especially where it concerns the movie industry.I am still very much part in the industry.

Some fans say they do not see you in Lagos, does that mean that you have relocated completely from Lagos?
The day I was coming to Lagos as a young man after school, I didn't make any public announcement. That is also the same reply I give to people who ask me if  I or any of my colleagues any have stopped professional acting. Sometimes people just conclude for other people what they are doing and what they are not doing. However, having lived in  Lagos for years and got a certain level of national and international recognition, Anambra state found it necessary to tap from my expertise to contribute to governance and I answered the call. It wasn't as if I decided to abandon Lagos or my Lagos fans. It was a call to duty. Just like if I am called to Abuja on national  assignment of course I will  go too. It is also call to duty. It is part of one's evolution in life. The experience we've gathered in the movie industry and life generally, is what we contribute to nation building. In the last general elections, a lot of people in the entertainment industry vied for political posts. Some made it and some others didn't.

What has life been like for you in Anambra state?
It is a coming home for me. It is an opportunity to contribute to building the state into a place where things are done properly, a place people feel at home whether you are an indigene or not so far as you are doing legitimate business. Today Anambra state is an exemplary state in terms of security, agriculture, good health, infrastructural development, and so on. It is gratifying for me to be part of the positive revolution that is happening in Anambra state. It makes me feel good contributing my quota to the development my state,my country especially in being among entertainers giving Nigeria a positive image all over the world.

Ex Governor Obi and then Governor Obiano have embraced the entertainment industry, but has the industry itself taken an advantage of this in-road into government house?


Before the coming of this present administration, a lot of film makers ran away from Anambra state due to fear and insecurity. Now they are back. Our governor encourages the movie people and entertainment people,as has never been seen before. For instance, Easter last year, one of the biggest and history making concerts in Nigeria, was held in Anambra state. And that concert was called, "Pop Stars of The70s; The Resurrection Concert". Major pop groups of the 70s were assembled in Anambra state to play in what was more or less, the resurrection concert. It was so tagged because it was Easter Sunday;Jesus resurrection day for Christians and for some of the bands of the 70s, that had packed up,it was a resurrection of their musical careers at the famous Alex Ekwueme Square in Awka. There are still bigger plans for the industry in the state. I am not going to say more than that because it is easy to plagiarise ideas. For instance, to fast forward the development of the state, the governor started the process of giving each community in Anambra state N20m to put in place any particular project of their choice in their communities. At completion of the first tranche of N20m, they are entitled to another N20m, making it N40m. Right now, another state in the South East has copied it though they are giving N5m for a start and upon completion of that, adding another N5m. Governor Obiano has even indicated that he will likely make it to be N50m during his second tenure in office.

Between destiny and handwork, how has your background helped you to bewho you are today?
The two intertwined to make me who I am today. The teaching I got from my parents was that, hard work does not kill anybody. Working hard makes you achieve what you want in life. Achievement opens doors. Unfortunately, youths of today shy away from studying hard or even concentrating on hard work. Hardworking definitely is want will make one achieve one's destiny.

Does that mean you were destined to be an actor and then work in government?
Well, it is not as straight forward as that. But one led to the other. Perhaps I was destined to be an actor because I had options of studying other courses. When I got admission to study Theatre Arts, it turned out to be under the legendary Ola Rotimi who wrote 'The Gods Are Not To Blame.' Today, I see myself as having been fortunate to study under him. I learnt so much from him. It pains my heart that the man is no more. A lot of us who studied under him, are still outstanding in the entertainment industry, based on what we learnt from him. It adds up when you look at that, and then the trajectory of my life in that, before leaving the University of Port Harcourt where I studied theatre arts for my first degree, I had already become part of the nationally acclaimed television soap opera "Checkmate"which has not been surpassed till date. It was  written by Amaka Igwe. I was in my final in the university when I started acting in " Checkmate". 

This was in 1991. While rounding up the National Youth Service year,destiny again intervened and I was invited to be part of the movie that began the industry in Nigeria: "Living In Bondage". From that point, it was steady and consistent rise in both life and the industry. Somewhere along the line providence made  former Governor Peter Obi invite me into his administration. I didn't lobby for it. There was no town union, no traditional ruler or church intervention or business mogul that connected me to him. It was purely divine intervention. I guess he saw that this young man has been sincere to his occupation and has the discipline to be part of his government and he appointed me.  Governor Obiano perhaps seeing that this young man still has something to offer to the people of Anambra state, retained me in his administration. I'm glad to be part of the history that is being made in Anambra State today. The developmental stride is gargantuan!Governor Obiano is a visionary and pragmatic leader.



Which among your movies do you consider to be your favourite?
(Laughs) When you ask an artiste to mention his favourite work, it is like asking a father to point to his favourite child! But as a father, all ones children are loveable to him and all of them have their unique attributes. I don't think I have a movie that I can say is my favourite. I leave my fans to decide that for me. However, Gulder Ultimate Search always stands out in my mind. Though it is not a movie but a reality show presentation. It stands out in my mind because I was not the first or second anchor. I was the third anchor but throughout the ten years it ran on air, I anchored it for five years; the longest any anchorman of the show had done! As a reality show, it exposed the depth and diversity of my talent and artistry in an entirely different way. If I didn't do that, perhaps people won't have been able to see another side of me.

As a child did you really know that you would be an actor?
I wouldn't know but according to my parents, they said there were some attributes that I displayed which pointed in that direction. I started exhibiting traits of an actor early in life. I was in primary 2 when I first appeared on stage. In primary 4, I had done a full length of a play where I had the lead role of a king. By primary 6, the school itself was already drafting me to children programmes on radio and television. By the time I left secondary school and was waiting for admission into the university, I was a presenter at FRCN Enugu. I was also already involved in stage productions and doing programmes at NTA Enugu and some of the television stations around at the time. So by the time I got into University of Port Harcourt to study Theatre Arts, I was already in tune with studio life and the life of a performer. What I needed at that point was to study and know the theories, the life, the reasons and the authorities that made this and that in the subject matter. To enable me be properly schooled in the arts. That is why I make bold to tell you that my acting, performance and comportment is different. Even my contemporaries say so. Some confess to me that they observe meto sharpen their skill.

How do you handle female fans who want more physical attention?
I see them as satisfied customers. When you are good at what you do, you will have people who want to be near you. Success attracts people,both the good and the not so good. I don't see them as a problem because as satisfied customers, they want more. And it is not only the female fans, there are male fans too who go out of their way to do unusually nice things. For instance a man I met at an evening outing  requested that we exchange telephone numbers, that he would be travelling out it the country the following week. When he returned,he called me to go to a certain place that he dropped a parcel with someone there for me. When I got there, it was a beautiful wristwatch. However, I accept that it is women and children that are our main fan base. Men hardly fine time to watch movies. They are either chasing money or money is chasing them!

Celebrity marriages are fragile, what is the secret of your marital stability?
(Laughs) There is no secret to it. I have not lived my marital life in public. If my marriage is not stable, you wouldn't know. And if it is stable, you wouldn't know. That is because I live my marital life in private. And permit me to use this opportunity to advice not only celebrities, but also young people who are getting married. I do not think that we should live out our entire lives on social media. It is wrong because it destroys who you are. As entertainers, we wear costumes. Wearing the costumes of a doctor does not make you a doctor. Wearing the costume of an armed robber does not make you an armed robber. The famous film of "Jesus of Nazareth" was acted by someone but that did not make the actor Jesus Christ. There were no cameras when Jesus Christ walked the earth. Its only symbolism for the story to be illustrated. If the movie is about crime and criminality, somebody has to play the good guy and another play the bad guy.



So after playing the good or the bad guy in a movie, you are supposed to remove yourself and your mind from that role and live your normal life. But today what we have is that even before they become celebrities, social media is a-washed with their pictures and family stuff. All sorts of indecency are thrown there to please their wrong sense of understanding because they believe that you must show some crazy behaviour before people believe that you are an entertainer. That means you have nothing to offer except craziness and lewdness. So I don't live my personal life on social media or in public glare. If I am a bad husband, let it be inside my house, and if I am a good husband, let it be inside my house. We should interact on social media but not to the extent of displaying our cooking pots dirty under wears for all to see!

You are a trendy dresser, tell us about your style, who do you take after in this regard?
My parents were modest people. I come from a humble background, unfortunately both of them are late now. Fortunately, they lived to a good old age. Style for me is intrinsic. It comes from inside. It is something endowed by the creator Himself.

If you didn't study Theatre Arts, what else would you have done?
I probably would have done Fine and Applied Arts. I was actually going for admission for Fine and Applied Arts at  Institute of Management and Technology,(IMT) Enugu, when I got admission to study Theatre Arts. So I am an arts personality. And when you are an arts personality, things that people don't see, you see them. For instance, I do not have to think of what to wear a day ahead, when I get to my wardrobe in the morning, I easily match things depending on the occasion at hand. When I wear them, they fit! When people ask me why I am always looking young, I always reply them by asking, 'what gain would you derive seeing me using walking stick!'  As an artiste, one is a role model. So you have to find a way to push back the age. Like it is said, 'goat dey sweat, but the hair no let person see am.'  We are growing older but there are things you can do to push back the age and still look young, dapper and trendy. As role models we do that. But again it also has to do with the gene passed down to you by your parents. If they passed down to you a good gene that doesn't make you grow old quickly, help the gene too by doing things that will enhance it.

What men accessories would you not do without?
There is hardly any that I can't do without. We were not born with these things, so I can do without any. Though during the day when it is sunny, I wear sun glasses. It is not really out of fashion, but because the sun hurts my eyes. The intensity of the sun we have is high. But I wonder why our entertainment people keep wearing sun shades inside a room that is dark! I know our entertainment people will attack me for saying this, but I have said the truth. What eyes are they shading in the dark? Most of them wear sunshades even inside a night club! Some wear sunshades that are thicker than bottles (Laughs). For entertainers, there is nothing like making eye contact with your fans. When fans look at you and the eyes meet, you probably have made their day! Sunglasses give entertainers impersonal look when they are with people. It is like screening your fans away even at night.

If you have to describe yourself what will you say?
I'm a nice, easy going shy person. When I tell people I am shy, they wonder how an actor can be shy. But the truth is, I am a private, quiet person. I can stay at home a whole day without bothering anybody once I have novels to read. Today cell phones are a disturbance.

In those days, I used to stay indoors reading tons of novels, even books beyond my age. I do not like mediocrity or lazying around. I like professionalism. I like to read biographies and serious works of fiction. I watch documentaries and entertaining programmes. I'm trying to make the world a better place than we met it. Though in our country it is like some people leave the place worse than they met it. And as it is, the country seems to be moving dangerously towards self destruction at the moment. We have to change and stop the bloodletting!

How best do you enjoy your leisure?
I enjoy the company of my family when I am around them. Occasionally I hang out with friends because it is good to sit with people and hear their own stories too. It is good for me to allow people have access to me so I can know how they feel about certain things. That way, I can articulate their pains or challenges to government or to necessary quarters and even in movies.

Your memorable moments?
When my daughter was born, the matron told me to come into the delivery ward, I stood by the door with trepidation not knowing what to expect. As soon as I got to the door, the baby sprang out, and the matrons did what they had to do, and handed over the child to me. I collected the baby and my life changed. After a while, the matron said 'give me the baby so she doesn't fall from your hand because we can see that you don't know anything about this yet.' That memory is something that I can never forget.

On the artistic side, I recall being in New York, one Christmas period. I arrived on Christmas eve. After getting my luggage, and out of immigration at JFK International airport, I saw a whole lot of people looking in my direction.I looked behind to see who they were staring at. It turned out to be me. They were excited as they received me and I was too. They were mostly black people but a few white people saw them and came closer too. We were soon taking photographs. After a while, one among them an elderly black man whispered into my ear, "listen son, we know you are a movie star from Africa, we want these white folks to know that we have celebrities in Africa too. If it was one of their stars that came out of the aircraft now, you would have seen the commotion that would have taken place here. So we had to let them know we have our celebrities too'. They then paid for a limousine ride for me from JFK airport to where I was going.

Another time I was at the same airport, I was given priority attention. The airline supervisor came, asked me if I am the movie star from Africa, and my bag was fast tracked. She asked to take a photograph with me, and I told her she can have as many as she wanted. Some Nigerians that were on the queue saw what had happened and that was when they brought out their cell phones and cameras to take pictures with me. Thinking that was all, I was quietly in my corner after the plane took off into the sky, when one of the flight attendants came to ask if I was the movie star from Africa. I was up-graded to the Business Class, served champagne and whatever I wanted. At some point during the flight, the captain came to exchange pleasantries with me. He said he heard that a movie star from Africa was on the flight with them to Nigeria, that it is a pleasure for him to introduce himself to me. If I tell you that I didn't feel like a king, I will be lying! But in Nigeria where we actually do the job, we hardly get such honour. We hardly promote our own. In fairness though, I have been fortunate that a number of times when the business class is not filled up in some airlines here, a cabin crew member comes to invite me to the business class courtesy of the air line flight captain.

Do you recall any memory about your first car?
My first car was a small Toyota Corolla DX. I bought it in 1996. In fact those who knew me in the industry then, will remember the small Toyota car. That's because I had an inscription at the back of the rear bumper, "Give Thanks Always". People used to identify my small Toyota car with that sticker which I took from the Bible, 2nd Thessalonians 5:18, " In everything, give thank, for this is the will of God concerning you in Christ Jesus". What I liked about it was the need to show gratitude. In Nigeria today, people are less grateful. Even those you do favour for, do not acknowledge it. You pay someone's child's school fees and get no thank you. Someone else points to you that you didn't say thank you and you reply, 'So, because he paid my child's school fees, I should go and kneel down for him?' See, no gratitude.

Somebody buys lunch for you, and then you say, 'is it not only lunch he bought?' Even if you buy a car for somebody, the person can say, 'is it not just a car, or is he the only one that has given somebody a car?' No gratitude! It is always good to show gratitude. We were at a restaurant one day, the waitress brought something to the table then I told her thank you, she laughed excitedly, and the person I was with asked her why she was laughing, and she replied, 'how can Bob Manuel thank me!' So she was used to celebrities and other high profile people who dine there, not saying thank you to her, perhaps because of their arrogance or just taking it for granted that she has to serve them since its her duty!

We need to show gratitude... always!

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