Last week, star-actor, Bob Manuel Udokwu and his wife marked their one decade of marriage. As a king pin in the Nollywood industry, where divorce has almost become elevated to the status of a tradition, the Udokwus’ achievement in succeeding to live happily together, as married couples became something that called for a celebration.
It was for this reason then, that the celebrants last week, called together their friends, fans and colleagues to felicitate with them at Grasshoppers Suit , 24 Road, Festac Town. At a quite party that marked the occasion, and as people happily helped themselves to good foods and choice drinks, one question continued to prop, seeking for answer.
The question was: what is the magic? How does Bob Manuel and his pretty wife overcome the threatening and infectious divorce fever that afflicts Nollywood stars?In this interview conducted on the eve of the ceremony,Bob Manuel attempts to provide answers to the question.
With all divorces all over Nollywood, how have you been able to sustain your marriage for a decade now?
First of all, I am a family oriented person. I believe in the family unit. God left some aspects of creation for man to continue. And, of course, we have all come to accept the fact that the family is the first institution which God himself established.
And my upbringing and lifestyle generally lean towards family oriented life. I am among those people who believe that without a family unit of your own, you are nowhere. I cherish that value system. And I guess, it’s part of what formed my view about things in marriage, relationship and business, relationship as one person to another, where everyday life interaction is concerned. I believe in the connection we have as human beings. And I also believe in the family unit that begins to grow into something bigger and wider.
In the last ten years of your marriage, how would you describe the challenges of marriage?
Marriage institution is not a bed of roses, neither is it a bed of thorns. But in that mind set, you have to be very careful concerning how you navigate because trials will come; so also, temptations and good times, as well as hard times. That’s why I believe that most times, when new couples wed, people advise them to learn to solve their problems by themselves. The truth is that no two marriages bear the same resemblance.
This is because two people from different cultural and family backgrounds are coming to spend the rest of their lives together. More so, when you are in the public eyes, there’s always the tendency of being monitored concerning the way you live your life. For some people, you become their role model for good, and for others, you are a role model for bad. To answer your question, it’s a combination of factors. Do I want my marriage to work out, or do I want it to be seen as a failure?
A combination of factors formed what one can call the sustenance of my marriage. I look forward to such good example of someone who is in the showbiz and is able to hold his own marriage together.
That my family is not so much in the public eyes is deliberate. I don’t think many people know Professor Wole Soyinka’s family. It takes awhile for a woman in the house to understand that if you are a star, you will always be in the public eyes.
Unfortunately, I don’t see myself as a star. Rather, I see myself more as someone who has a talent to expose to the world. I do my work and return to my family to be the husband and father that I should be. I don’t play stardom to my wife and children. I don’t play stardom to anybody. By virtue of what I do, the world accorded me the status of a celebrity. You see, celebrity has to have limit, where it starts and where it ends and where the real individual begins and ends as well.
That’s where most people miss it because if I am not who I am in the place before becoming Bob-Manuel the star, perhaps, you and I will not be sitting here. When I send you an sms, inviting you to my event, you would have ignored it based on your own judgement.
First of all, I believe in that one on one interaction as human beings. Stardom comes in different ways, if you a very successful businessman, you are a star. What about those who are banking wizards. So, some people always make the mistake of thinking that it is only when you are in showbiz that you become a star.
Stars are created everyday from different fields of endeavour. It’s the totality of the personality of the individual and my world view is wide.
That’s why I try to accommodate all shields of opinion, and that which forms me as an individual takes over to shape the things I see in such a way that they can enhance my life as a performer, a family man and my life in one on one relationship with individuals that I come across on daily basis.
That is not an easy thing to do. How are able to keep your family and sibling away from your journey to stardom?
First of all, I’m very grateful to God for my wife. She’s quite understanding and highly objective about a lot of things. She’s also my fan, and the mother that I have, and who I go home to meet every night to share my story with.
I’m very grateful to God for my wife, and this has also wrapped up on our children who are still very young but are intelligent enough to understand that Daddy is a very special person, who’s virtually known by everybody. My son has starred in the same movie with me. Also, both my son and my wife have starred with me in one or two commercials.
They know that I’m not just like the regular Daddy that you meet everyday. In a more concrete term, I have come to find out that you need to separate that which puts you in the public eyes and other parts of you which ought to be private but really are not. Before I got married, my family was that of my parents and my siblings.
I started out very early in life. The first time I appeared on stage, as much as I can remember , was when I was in primary two. And by the time I was in primary four, I have done my first full length play. At primary six, the school drafted me into the school’s debating and television/radio programme for children. This was back in Enugu, where I was born and brought up. By the time I got into secondary school, surprisingly rather than joining the drama group, I opted to join the debating society.
During my years as a junior student, I rose to become the Vice-President of the debating society. And by the time, I left secondary school, I became a guest presenter at FRCN Enugu, in a musical programme that encourages studio audience participation called “Guest the Tune.” I was also involved with a stage production outfit comprising students of Institute of Management and Technology(IMT), Enugu.
While I was doing this, I was also handling TV shows and drama . By the time I went to the University of Port-Harcourt to study Theatre Arts, I had gone through the radio, stage and television. I must say that while I was at UNIPORT, I was so blessed to have studied under the tutelage of the late, Ola Rotimi, who was Head of Theatre Arts Department. The man saw the raw talent in me and promptly took me under his wings.
Today, it pains me so much that this great scholar is no more. But I’m in touch with his family, especially his first son. But I would have been more grateful if my mentor had been alive. Ola Rotimi took me like a son.
He didn’t reserve anything from me. He opened my eyes to what good theatre is, as well as a good actor. I’m proud to say, among all his students at UNIPORT, without fear of contradiction that I was closest to him.
Take for instance, when the late Hubert Ogunde came to perform at the Civic Centre in Port-Harcourt in 1988/1990, I was the only student that Ola Rotimi asked to accompany him to the civic centre to watch Ogunde perform on stage. That night, I had the privilege to shake hands with the late doyen of Nigerian Theatre, Hubert Ogunde. I still cherish such memories. So, when you translate all that into personal life, you begin to realise that acting is like wearing costumes.
If you had not married an actress, do you think you would have had a peaceful marriage?
Very much so, because there are a couple of people in the industry who are still living happily together as husbands and wives, and who were married before me. A lot of people have asked me in the past why I didn’t marry an actress. I replied, saying that when I was ready to marry, my choice was open to any girl.
I didn’t categorize the kind of woman I wanted for a wife. But I have no regret concerning the kind of woman I married. Though, my wife was not trained as an actress, marrying me makes her a member of the family. To answer your question, if I had married an actress, it’s not the profession that matters but the latent qualities of the person in question.
My wife is a combination of beauty and brain, and a good home maker, somebody you can lean on in terms of distress, somebody who supports you when things are so rough. We have so many actresses who have the same attributes. Actresses who have been married and turned out to become the backbone of their husbands. It’s not in the profession. But it’s so much in the individual.
For me, it’s not the profession, rather it’s the individual. I have answered this question before- that when I was single, my choice was open as who would be my wife. Then, I asked God, saying, “You know me very well, and you were the person who gave me this talent right from childhood, and made me become one of the pioneers of what has come to be known as Nollywood. Give me the kind of wife that would support me and never a distraction to me.
That’s why today, I kept my wife out of the public eyes for quite a while. At least, the first five years of our marriage, we hardly attended functions together. Not that we didn’t have functions to attend together but I just decided not to put her in the picture.
You said your wife used to be your fan. How did you meet her?
I met my wife while pursuing my Masters degree programme at the University of Lagos. Then, she was an undergraduate at the same university. I majored in Political Science with specialisation in International Relations. One evening, I went to make phone calls in one of the business centres within the institution or was it the refractory to eat. While on my way, I saw this tall and elegant looking.