Nkechi Chima, Abuja
Actor, lawyer and politician, Kenneth Okonkwo has done well for himself in the Nigeria entertainment industry. However, having gone into politics and contested for the governorship of Enugu State but lost, he says he is not giving up yet.
In this exclusive interview, Okonkwo narrates how he was born in a refugee camp during the civil war. He also talks about his family and how to revamp the comatose Nigerian movie industry. Enjoy it.
Could you tell us briefly about yourself?
I attended Union Primary School, Nsukka, St. Theresa College, Nsukka and then attended University of Nigeria, Nsukka where I studied Business Management. I proceeded to University of Lagos where I obtained my LLB. I also studied for Masters in International Law and Diplomacy at University of Lagos. Then I obtained a doctorate from Chartered Institute of Economics. I was also educated in Theology. However, I started acting at the age of 23 when I played my first role in Ripples, before featuring in Living in Bondage. After my acting career, I bagged a degree in Law. As you can see, we are in my chambers called ‘Supreme God Chamber’. I’m also a politician.
Would you say you have attained success with all you mentioned?
I will say it is just the beginning of what I want to attain on earth. I have accumulated degrees, which is one part of success for me. Acting, for me, is a natural endowment, which I never studied but was passionate about. I will say that I have done well in the industry, spanning 27 years of my acting career. Indeed, it is a great privilege to have been the lead actor in the movie that gave birth to Nollywood, and yet I‘m still relevant in the industry. I studied law; I have not achieved what I want as a lawyer and politician. So, I think I have laid the foundation and it’s time to build on it.
You are one of the pioneers of the industry, what would you say Nollywood has achieved spanning 27 years?
As for Nollywood, we have done well spanning over 27 years; we are rated second in the world of movies. So, we just have to continue doing what we have started, to be the best in the world, and to achieve this we need more governmental support, because entertainment flourishes in the environment of peace. We don’t talk about entertainment when there are security challenges, so we plead with the government to ensure that we have good security in Nigeria. Also, government should support the industry by empowering us with partnership to achieve more growth.
What can you do to make Abuja the hub of entertainment like Lagos?
Lagos enjoyed a lot of monopoly when we started Nollywood. Now, we have Kannywood, which you cannot find in Lagos, because there is no manpower to shoot their movies. Though, we have the Yoruba movie industry as well in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria. We have places like Asaba, Port Harcourt, Owerri and Enugu that are growing in terms of location. Abuja is the nation’s capital; we have been shooting movies in Abuja, but you cannot take it away from Lagos because it’s the hub of entertainment. So, the leadership will always make policies. We are trying to connect with those capable to help us build an entertainment hub in Abuja. So, we will partner with the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory to achieve that.
Have you had any low moment in life?
My faith teaches me that when I have God, I’m above every temptation. So, I don’t have any low moment. I’m a strong believer in God, once you believe and practice the words of God, it will work for you. So, I have high moments throughout my life.
Could you tell us about the high moments?
(Laughter) The high moments are there especially my academic qualifications. My high point was the circumstances that surrounded my birth; I was born in a refugee camp. Most Igbos were refugees during the Nigeria/Biafra War and I thank God that I’m alive. My highpoint was when I entered primary school, my hands couldn’t reach my ears, but they admitted me because I insisted. Also, my highpoint was that I never repeated a class and I graduated at 23. Another highpoint was that at the age of 24, I acted the first movie that started Nollywood, and the world accepted it.
You contested for governor of Enugu State, you also contested for House of Representatives and lost, are you giving up on politics?
No! I am still a politician.
Could you tell us a bit about your family?
I am married to Ifeoma, now Mrs. Kenneth Okonkwo and we are blessed with children.