Exclusive Interview with Kanayo o Kanayo
Does the name Anayo Modestus Onyekwere mean anything to you? Nothing or just a little may be. What about Kanayo O Kanayo? Now I can hear you scream wow. But the two names belong to the same person, who undoubtedly is one of the biggest practitioners in Nigeria's movie industry.
Born on 1st March 1962 in Mbaise Imo State, Kanayo O Kanayo who is fondly called KOK by his friends has invested an unbroken 33years in acting with 20 of the years in Nollywood, an enigma he played frontal role in creating. Alumni of the University of Lagos, KOK who holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Philosophy and Masters Degree in Political Science from the same institution rose to national stardom when he acted Chief Omego in the pioneer buck buster movie 'Living In Bondage' an instant hit that marked the beginning of Nollywood. This was followed later by another chat- buster called 'Circle of Doom'. Although he was paid a miserly N1,500 for his role in Living in Bondage in 1992, KOK who has appeared in over 250 movies has become so priceless in the industry that he now pockets millions of Naira to make appearance in any movie or anchor a big event. Before Nollywood, KOK worked with NTA as Guest Artist where he played roles in the New Masquerade alongside veterans like Zebrudaya, Giringory, Prince Jegede Shokoya and Ovuleria.
He was part of the Village Headmaster, featured on Television Play House, At Your Service and later in some popular Soap Operas like Checkmate and Ripples. For his outstanding performances he has received several professional and service awards both from Nigeria and from abroad including Afro Hollywood Award London 2000, African Actor of the Year 2006, Ambassador Award New York 2009 and Nollywood Award of Excellence among many others. In exclusive interview with Daily Times, KOK who once described himself as the oldest man standing in Nollywwod explains why he now combines acting with active politics, why PDP is his preferred Platform as well as revelation on some family matters. He spoke with Bonaventure Melah
DT: You have spent so many years as an actor, in fact 33 years in all, 20 years of which you spent in Nollywood. Why the sudden deviation? What are you looking for in Nigerian politics?
KOK: What do you call deviation? Is it a departure from a norm or standard? Please explain to me, what is the norm or standard for engaging in service, especially service to one's fatherland? If a Medical Doctor, Architect, Engineer etc aspires for a political office; is that Deviation? So you call Arnold Swazznegger's venture and Governorship of the State of California a deviation? What about Ronald Reagan?
I think it's wrong to assume that the National Assembly is meant for lawyers only, for instance. The Assembly would always need individuals with diverse background and varied experience.
So for me, I think the second part of your question will suffice with the answer: to contribute further to national development through the socio-political, academic and technical knowledge I have accessed.
DT: Certainly Sir, you have paid your dues as an actor having featured in many plays like The New Masquerade, The Village Headmaster and Soap Operas like Checkmate and Ripples and then in some of the most successful Nollywood movies like Living in Bondage, Circle of Doom and the rest. Do you think you are prepared for politics? Do you have the requisite experience in Human Management?
KOK: I have been in several areas in the private sector managing men and resources. My understanding so far has been very intriguing. It's fascinating. Human capacity development and what you refer to as human management are essentially related.
To develop human capacity, people must be given platforms to express their talents in a very friendly environment. That way the inner capabilities will surface. No individual is without a talent. I have allowed men, women, boys and girls who have worked under me as PR practitioner, actor etc to express themselves without limitations, and to those I have mentored it has been a rewarding and worthwhile experience. When I am confronted with such statement as 'Do you think you are prepared to play Politics' it elicits the feeling of treachery. As a Masters Degree holder in Political Science from the revered University of Lagos, I feel somehow offended by that street definition of politics as simply characterized by thuggery, arson, ballot box snatching, killing, maiming etc. That statement makes me remember what Shirley Maclane said “It is useless to hold a man to anything he says while he is in love, drunk or running for office”. “I do not know how to play politics, I know how to serve”.
DT: Specifically Sir, what do you want to achieve in politics, first for yourself and then for the community, the nation?
KOK: To be part of the restoration of the dignity of man. It is self evident that politics offers a wider opportunity for effecting change, access to government and the governed, show the light and the people will find the way. For my community, I want to be continuously seen as an asset to its people, development, and standards for measurement of values and creative enterprise. And for this great country, that has offered me access to harnessing my other talent, I want to be one of the ideological dispatch riders of this nation by imposition of ideological supremacy on the psyche of our people – what the former Senate President, the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, would refer to as Quotable Quotes. With my varied talents, I do not want to be a passerby nor an on looker to the events that shape our nation.
DT: You have made a first attempt in elective politics. Tell us your experience in Nigerian Politics based on your earlier outing.
KOK: With my aspiration to represent the good people of Ahiazu/Ezinihitte Mbaise Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives in 2011, I have very mixed experiences. What an aspirant goes through is a reflection of a sad reminder why some people win and do little or forget their constituents. The impact of money in our politics is a very challenging expedition. The ship of state cannot be steered with our kind of politics. Every constituent mounts a toll gate in front of his or her house, office or any location of meeting and would gladly extol the virtues of the visitor but will be quick to add that “The children's school fees have to be paid”. What an aspirant goes through to be elected to any position is somewhat reflective of how much corruption has become monstrous.
If we must succeed to building a preferred Nigeria, Money Politics must be de – emphasized. The question should be; What are you bringing to the table, what values have you created, how ready are you to defend the people and constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria etc. Aside this, money bags will keep on hijacking our common wealth and common sense.
DT: What then is your plan for 2015? What platform would be considering?
KOK: The year 2015 looks far, yet very near. My people will decide. I am in constant touch with my constituency and in regular consultation with the needs, challenges and aspirations of my zone. My membership of the PDP is by choice, political prostitution is not an option to effective representation. The year 2015 is the bridge, when we get to the bridge we will cross it. We crawl, walk or run, but surely we will cross it.
DT: Let us now go to acting and Nollywood. You were there in Nollywood from the beginning. You featured as one of the lead actors in the pioneer movies that birthed Nollwoood and has been there all through, what can you say about Nollywood? Has it been a success story? What are the challenges and necessary interventions that would move the industry to its destination?
KOK: Nollywood is a sure, definite success story; the only industry in Nigeria that came from nothing to something; never enjoyed any government patronage yet became a brand. However, Nollywood as presently constituted got to its peak before it started.
I recall with nostalgia the days in Lagos, Enugu etc when production buses moved in different directions for shoot. We were at work, producers generated employment, directors developed technical know-how to those who understudied them, fledging actors emerged. There was passion and practitioners were committed.
What you watch on DSTV now is what I would describe creatively as “Operation was successful, but the patient died”. This was how good we were ten years ago. The grass is no longer green. The days and years of passion, commitment, creative engineering has dissipated. I feel very bad to be reporting this very sad commentary.
For a clearer understanding of those outside the precincts of Nollywood, the industry was nurtured by the benevolence of traders who did their best to produce movies in video cassette format. There was no design to build an industry. Till date also, no design has been made to build an industry, hence, the industry is largely unstructured.
The marketers/distributors as designated also doubled as executive producers (sponsors) did utmost “miracle” of turning around this video market to a world brand of film making. They took all the risks but failed to employ the services of experts who could help it transit to the level of sustenance it needed for new trends and challenges that evolved. There is a lot to say but for another day.
By intervention, government must buy into the industry and bail it out. If those who laboured and made Nollywood an international brand are finding it difficult to appropriate from the $200m facility, it is the duty of government to remove whatever obstacles there are so that resources can be ploughed into the art and entertainment industry to strengthen it. There has been absence of institutional funding mechanism.
For the survival of Nollywood, the following points are critical:
a. Establishment of enabling law for enhancement of professional practice.
b. Creation of synergy between various parastatals for greater efficiency.
c. Promotion of foreign and local investment in the industry; favourable tax laws in form of tax rebates and tax holidays.
d. Practitioners especially actors should be sponsored to international festivals.
DT: Can you tell us the most passionate roles you have played in different movies that give you sense of satisfaction and those you really wouldn't have taken if you had choice?
KOK: I do not romanticize over passionate roles or dispassionate ideas. Every role represents a gap between a character and its linkage to other characters. But suffice it to, say that
“Lost Kingdom” produced by Infinity Merchants in 1999 presented a glimpse of how people graduate from one crime to the other. It was exhilarating to lead one of the largest casts in a Nigerian movie set to achieve that standard of movie production in 1999.
I would not have taken those that did not put Nigeria first, those that lacked social relevance to the labours of our heroes pasts, those that had strong dictates from executive producers who only thought about profit and not about creative enterprise.
DT: In most movies, you play the roles that portray you as prominent and reputable, sometimes as a chief, rich businessman, top politician, king maker and at other times, godfather. Is it by design that you get these roles? Do the roles you are given have anything to do with what you think of yourself, your aspirations, your dreams?
KOK: Not by design but by casting. The casting directors or panel decide who plays what. The actor has no contribution to this, only his flexibility does.
DT: Also, how does your role in movies affect your relation with the public? We ask because you always take up roles that depict you as shrewd, arrogant, dangerous, conniving businessman, dangerous politician and notorious godfather? How do people see you?
KOK: I am at home with the roles I play. I am at peace with the Almighty God for giving me the talent to exhibit what he implanted in me. My fans see my role as close to nature and are proud of me, as I am of them in their millions. God bless Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike. I say this with every sense of modesty, I am one of the most beloved actors of this generation. I do not know why people love me this much.
DT: You are one of the most eloquent speakers in Nollywood. People say they study English through your movies. What did you study and where?
KOK: I give God almighty praise and thanksgiving for the gift you described but I'm challenged to be better than that off screen, and I must confess that I have received accolades and commendations from various quarters. This is where I challenge those who lack respect and decorum for those who appear on TV, to be wary. Some of us are imbued with both native and academic intelligence. I have a diploma in mass communication, BA Philosophy, diploma in Law, M.Sc Political Science all from the University of Lagos.
DT: 33 years as an actor, 20 years in Nollywood, are you satisfied with what life has offered you with regards to fame and fortune?
KOK: This is one area I may not have wanted to comment on. I am constrained for the reasons of evaluation of the years gone by, especially for posterity sake to say that God has been most benevolent with life and talent. If not for artistic and intellectual contentment, I would have left a long time ago. The actor in Nigeria is loved but not respected. My contemporaries in other disciplines have better stories to tell than I do. My children are expected to go to the best schools, fame has smiled on me but fortune frowns constantly and threatens my retirement.
DT: If you were not an actor, what would you have been doing?
KOK: A mouth and eye for those who murmur and voice for those who are voiceless – a lawyer.
DT: Would you like to tell us about yourself? Who is Anayo Modestus Onyekwere? Who is Kanayo O. Kanayo? What's the difference between the two personalities?
KOK: I was christened Anayo Modestus Onyekwere on the 1st of March, 1962 to Mr and Mrs. Donatus and Isabella Onyekwere of Nru Umueze, Oboama Ezinihitte Mbaise, Imo State. I had a Spartan upbringing under the watchful eyes of my elder brother, John Onyekwere in Enugu. My parents as Christians were very strict in discipline and never spared the rod. My father was soft spoken, I never heard him in fierce discussion with anybody, my mother was deeply religious and taught me the best religion on earth – humility. A good singer and local dancer, both have passed on, I am the light they have left behind. KOK is my professional name and the brand Anayo leverages on without differences. One and same; no more, no less. My philosophy of life has had to change a few times. Presently, it is that “He who holds what belongs to a child will definitely release it when the hands begin to ache”. My fortune and that of Nollywood is being held by people who don't value entertainers; those who have refused to quantify our contributions to national development.
DT: On a final note, can you offer an insight into your private life, age, family, passion, love life, anything?
I am married to Nneka Onyekwere and we have a family of four. A girl ( Uloaku Valerie -12 years) and 3 boys (Clinton “Onye Eze Mbaise” – 10 years, Kosisochukwu Montell – 8 years, Einstein – 4 years). They all live with me happily in the Centre of Excellence, Lagos.