Charles Okafor hails from Anambra State, Nigeria. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theatre Arts (University of Port-Harcourt) and a Master of Science Degree (M.Sc) in Political Science (University of Lagos). A veteran actor with major roles in over seventy Nollywood flicks, Charles Okafor has produced and directed a handful of films and documentaries himself. He recently became the first African Filmmaker to execute an Advocacy film project, on the menace of Irregular Migration, in Bern, Capital of Switzerland, 2017.
In this chat with Nollywood Post, he addresses the rumour about him being a pastor, his advocacy projects, family and more. Enjoy!
How did you become an actor?
My usual answer to that question is that actors are not made, actors are born. Actors here will be representative of any person that has latent creative instincts, and sensibilities. You cannot be what you are not created to be. I may be sounding either spiritual or philosophical but I hold very strongly to this view. What are you doing when you go to the university or to any other form of formal education? It’s only to polish that which is already inside of you from creation.
So I hold a first degree in theatre arts. Long before then I had creative instincts, creative muses like we say, in my very being. That is one side to the answer to your question.
The second side is that I willfully and deliberately went to study theatre arts at the University of Port Harcourt. I scored very high marks in my jamb in my time. I graduated and made a very high 2:1. This was the best in my session, in my year. I was not the only 2:1 anyway. I’m just trying to say that was the best, as there was no first class in our time.
I would also want to add very quickly that growing up, there were tendencies that would inform what I would eventually become in life. I was told by my uncles, some of them late now, and my parents who are late too, that I’d always exhibited tendencies that pointed in the direction of what I eventually chose to study in the university. So that again goes to strengthen and corroborate the position that I hold that actors are born not made. Hope that answers the question.
It does. You are one of the pioneers of the movie industry in Nigeria….
No, no, we must put things in proper perspective. The acting scene in Nigeria started long before home videos. Long before us we had already begun to have modern filmmaking. The likes of Hubert Ogunde, so many people long before them. Then of course you have our sitcoms. You know Village Headmaster, New Masquerade, Icheoku, and many others. You must understand the historicity behind the new masquerade. Perhaps even the village headmaster.
Immediately after the civil war, there was a need to erect some kind of leisure construct. Something that will ease minds and hearts psychologically. That’s how the new masquerade started in the south-east and before you knew it you’ve gathered momentum and add national flair to village headmaster and the likes.
So for us I can say in all humility that I served among so many colleagues who probably pioneered what we call home video industry in Nigeria. What actually sparked this up was the success of living in bondage in 1992. Living in Bondage majorly was what kindled the fire, provoked this attraction to what you call the home video industry. You must be careful to underscore the very important role played by private business entrepreneurs from the south-east. That is, young Igbo boys who perhaps didn’t have all the education. They had gone for apprenticeship in somber sectors, electronics, textiles.
These young boys had just been settled by their ‘ogas’. Rather than pursue the life of the business to which they had committed years of apprenticeship, they took the risk of putting their little capital into this newfound sector called home videos. We talk about the likes of OJ films and many others. Boom! With that, the industry blossomed and sooner than later assumed national status. So we were part of those who pioneered the home movie industry. It is proper to tell you the right things for you to be able to convey the truth, you know. I’m not going to tell you, Oh we made the film industry. That is not true. Home video, not the film industry.
The Yorubas had Feyikogbon, they had the Awada Kerikiri and many others. In the east and in the North there were other forms of kind of filmmaking. Then of course we had the film institute in Jos. I don’t know if you remember the Cock Crow At Dawn? These had been in existence long before the home video industry. So it would not be right for me to say we pioneered film making. That would be telling a lie, that would be distorting history.
That’s good to know. So what’s been happening with your career?
Well, at some point in one’s career one thinks that one should go beyond mere entertainment. One should begin to deal with more far reaching profound issues that will engender global peace, conflict resolution, etc.
I’ll give you an example. In 2016/2017 the government of Switzerland funded an advocacy film project. I had the honour of being commissioned to produce and direct a series to address the issue of irregular migration in west Africa. Lots of young men and women died in their bid to cross to Europe through the Sahara desert. We had to film in two jurisdictions in the capital of Switzerland and Lagos. We did a full quarter sitcom titled The Missing Steps.
Did you feature in the series as well?
Yes of course, I played Steven. My roles were played in Switzerland. YouTube has all its episodes. It was on digital television globally and on national television networks. You can go to my website and see the interviews that I granted to European media.
You have been busy, despite your absence on the local scene
Well, we all shouldn’t be talking too much. I say this with humility, some of us are loud mouthed and we tell a lot of lies. My definition of stardom is not to build an exaggerated life. Just keep quiet in your corner and continue to contribute to humanity. Take small steps.
Between 2016 and 2017 with what we did in Switzerland I was invited by the ECOWAS and they commissioned me and we worked between 2018 to 2019 on the issue of what we call the Free Movement of Persons and Migration in West Africa.
Stanlee Ohikhuare travelled with me. He is one of the best cinematographers we have in this country. We filmed in Switzerland, Togo, Nigeria and Ghana. It was funded by the European Union and ECOWAS. Actually we were supposed to premier to a gathering of the ECOWAS heads of state and governments in Abuja but the COVID-19 pandemic complicated the plan so we don’t know what’s going to happen. I just wanted to tell you some of the advocacy that we’ve done. The title of this one is Pearls on 15 Hills. If I explain the concept you will understand why we choose that title.
The whole idea was to see how we could use the instrument of film to promote some regional integration. We hope that people will begin to travel, do business, and pursue their dreams within West Africa, instead of having the desire to go to Europe by road and dying in the process.
We have what we call the Accra Protocol of Free Persons of Movement and Migration. We call it the Accra Protocol of 1975 and the whole idea is so we can have something like the EU. For example, If you have a Schengen visa for example, you are allowed to travel to all the EU designated countries.
According to the Accra protocol of 1975, You can can travel with your Nigerian passport 15 African countries without a visa. You can decide to live anywhere in West Africa without anyone asking you for a job or work permit. You can decide to own a home without anybody asking you for one document or the other. That is the concept of the Accra protocol. The project now is to use the instruments of film to promote and showcase with Africa such that our youth, who are migratory in nature, and every human being is migratory in nature, will do more of moving from one point to the other within Africa, and that over time weill developed Africa, grow its economy and also strengthen what we call citizen community neutrality.
What you are saying is that what was written into law in 1975 is still working till now?
Good quest. Yes, to a very large extent. It has its challenges no doubt, but in principle, I dare say it’s still working.
Are there challenges? Yes. There are certain obstacles arriving from peculiar sovereign policies and what have you. You know when we went to Togo to film, we had access to everything that we needed as though we were in Nigeria. I know there has been some tinkering with the Accra protocol. The way it worked in 1975 is not the way it is now. There have been several amendments but largely I would say that it worked and it’s still working. Because right now you can pick up your bag and your Nigerian passport and you’ll be stamped into any country in West Africa. Once there you’ll be able to do whatever you want to do as long as you have your passport.
Unfortunately, the government of Ghana recently imposed a one million dollar deposit that you have to pay before you start doing business. That in my opinion contravenes the entire principle of the Free Movement and Migration. But I’m sure something led to that decision governments are working to trash that out. So, largely there is a one citizen principle, or ideology which is what FMM tries to propagate.
Charles Okafor as Idahosa. Can you talk about that project?
Idahosa Trails is an eponymous film based on the life of the archbishop Benson Idahosa.
He was a large pioneer of what you call modern Pentecostalism in Nigeria. In the 19th year of his death a documentary was commissioned by the churches’ leadership and Stanlee Ohikhuare was commissioned to produce and direct it .
Long story cut short, I hear people say that it was a huge success. We received an overwhelming applause and review at the world premiere in Benin City.
So who were the people you worked with in that movie/documentary
I know Nobert Young was there. Liz Benson, Osas Ighodaro too, my humble self and a few others. This guy that came in from America, David Schifter.
What was David Schifter’s role, since it is an indegenous movie?
Don’t forget the movie stems from a documentary. So, it revolves around the American doing the documentary on this great bishop and televangelist. His work brought him to Nigeria. While in Nigeria he experienced some miracles. So, that was played into the motion picture, as it were
What’s this we hear about Charles Okafor becoming a pastor?
Thank you for this question. The reason I’m expressing this gratitude to you is because of one very painful thing about the The Social Media. There’s a lot of intellectual laziness. People are so sill to go about spreading false information about other people. They do not make the effort to talk to the concerned party like you’ve done. That is why I’m impressed that you’re bringing the questions straight to me.
I am not a pastor in the clerical sense or ordination sense of the word. Yes, I’m a Christian, and I have been for close to two decades and a half. I am born again and I am proud of it. I get invited to speak at church programs, Christian society programs, youth development summits and all those and some people went to town and branded me a pastor.
What would it have cost anybody to have walked up to me to say, hey, are you now a pastor or are you gravitating towards it? I will very happily offer what I’ve just given to you. So this is the best medium to give it to you. For example, if you go on the Internet what you will find there is that I was born in 1960. For crying out loud! My oldest brother wasn’t even born in 1960
Also my middle name is Izuchukwu, but what you find out there is Ezechukwu. That is the height of irresponsibility. Because all you need to do is call me. And I was born on July 23, 1970.
The point I’m trying to make is, in all fairness I may not support the government clamping down on social media, but I am in support of regulating it. Because it destroys people. Somebody can wake up in the morning and destroy you with social media.
We are not sophisticated enough to want to dissect and analyze information. How many of us are educated in this country? This is a society that thrives on rumours. Today everyone is talking about a certain Jibril being the president of Nigeria. That the real president died some years ago. Now it ought to challenge every modicum of the money that my father spent sending me to school. How can I, with a masters degree be so railroaded to believe someone who is president is a cloned person? And somebody saw it somewhere and made the whole world swallow it hook, line, and sinker.
There are things that we ought not to give any level of serious attention. The reason I’m saying this to answer your question is that I feel so embittered and that is the reason I hardly grant interviews. I want to just have my small world. But for the fact that you come across to me as one of the different ones. Else for a very long time I said to myself look I don’t want to be part of this madness.
They tell a lot of lies, they cook up stories and they do not know the collateral damage of the kind of things you write. There are things you put out there that affect people’s marriages. There are things you put out there that are read by people’s children, who will use it to taunt their classmates about their fathers and mothers. There are collateral ramifications that can arise as a result of your sheer irresponsibility, simply because you think you can just throw anything into the social media space and nobody will get to know who you are.
So I support that the social media should be regulated! Let there be a sort of policing of it without necessarily clamping down on people or any of people’s freedom to engage in this new normal, this new information superhighway that is free.
Let’s talk about home. How have you been able to combine being a daddy, a husband, and all that you do?
Grace, grace, grace and more grace. Number one is that from the get go I recognize that my chief ministry is my home, my family. That comes before anything. In fact, it comes before church, tome. I proposed long ago not to be a failure in marriage.
I grew up in a family where we didn’t have much. I was born in Ajegunle, though I come from Anambra. I grew up in a monogamous setting where we all ate from the same bowl no matter how dirty it was or how sour the soup was. We ate it anyway. I saw my father love my mother like no other person existed. So when I got married, not just me but my siblings, that was the covenant we owed not just our parents but God Almighty.
My children are my best friends. We don’t go to bed without praying together. I am always conscious of the fact that whatever I do, I have children that will grow up to become people’s spouses. I’m not saying all this to come across as some kind of superhero, no. I’m only human. Yes, I disagree with my wife once in a while and we have one or two shouting matches but we never went beyond that. We would always apologize to each other. It’s beautiful. We have been together for over 15 years. That is the reason I can’t thank God enough and I can’t serve him enough.
He is there for us. I travel a lot within and outside the country but I’m a family guy. There is nothing I do that my wife and children do not know. Wherever I am they must speak to me. They chat with me before I go to bed whether I am in America or Europe or within Africa. Yes, that’s just the way it is.
How about some advice to the Nigerian youth about marriage, and maybe career choices.
Marriage is very big and mysterious. It is highly demanding in terms of the entirety of your being. Marriage is the only thing that challenges your very existence and that is why marriage is not for boys but for men. Being a man have nothing to do with physical age. It is representative of maturity and your deep sense of insightfulness and wisdom. There are people who are 21 but are more mature and filled with more wisdom than men that are 45 and 50. The fifty year old man is still a boy because he has to mature intellectually, spiritually, mentally, socially to become qualified to be with a woman.
The reason we have so many divorces, especially among so-called Christians, is because we are more attracted to the things we see physically. You’ll find that all these things would inform your decision to get married. My dear, you would have taken the first faulty step. And oftentimes if you check, most of these marriages don’t last up to one year, especially among the rich people.
You should find out first and foremost who you are. A problem in this life is that the biggest lies we tell are to ourselves. You will be lying to yourself, you will know what you are saying is not true but you will say it anyway.
I remember many years ago when some of my colleagues would be telling journalists like so and so paid me two million. I said ahn-ahn, how we wan take pay you two million, where he for sell the film? After all the piracy how he wan take make the money? Him no go make him money back?
I know how many times they asked me the same question, and nobody has ever paid me up to one million. At that time nobody even paid me up to 800,000. Nobody has paid me o. My colleagues I don’t know what they were saying. I’m just saying that we tell a lot of lies to ourselves. You want to paint the picture that you are at the peak of the world while you are in the basement. Nobody will beat you for being in the basement. God Almighty knows you are there and he will pick you up from there if you work hard and trust in him. But for you to come and claim to be perfect is self deceit.
A man who wants to get married should identify all the aspects of himself and tell himself the truth and also identify the fact that the person you want to get married to, that young lady, she’s not perfect. She too comes from a background completely different from your own. You may not agree on anything but that does not make her a bad girl because both of you came from different backgrounds?
A common denominator in all of this is respect. You may not be the most handsome guy, but if she loves you enough to marry you she should show you respect. She should not be rude to you and you shouldn’t be rude to her. She may be the ugliest woman in the world, but you selected her to be your wife and you must give her that respect. When there is respect and tolerance, marriages will work.
Whether it is among the super-rich or the middle class or the lower class, go and check, you will find out that by the end of the day somebody somewhere does not have these tools of respect and tolerance. Of course, the one that’s supposed to be the starting point is the presence of God in your marital journey. When you think you’re brilliant, Oh, I have a PhD, my father is one of the biggest names, and you do not commit your life, your marriage and your children to God’s hands, you find that you will continue to be tossed about by the enemy.
The devil does not want good things to happen to us. You must start out by saying God, how am I going to do this? And you find that somehow because you called up on Him, He will make a way for you. He may not do it now but because you have gone to a superior, God almighty, to say God help me, He will help you. These are the three things – the God factor, tolerance and respect.
Even if you give your wife 200 billion Naira, without respect she will not be happy. If you respect her, you may not even have 10 naira to give to her, but she will call you my love and make you look like a king. People will say wetin this pretty lady see for this yeye boy body? Nothing other than this guy respects her and makes her feel like the best in the world.
There will definitely be trials, disagreements and conflict. But you see, when these things are present (God, tolerance and respect), you find that when you roll them together, in the days of turbulence, these things will stabilize you.