There are two Stephs in Nollywood that are popular. Before Stephanie Okereke, there was a Steph-Nora Okere. Trained as theatre artiste from the famous University of Ife, the Owerri-born actress garnered fame and fortune at the nascent stages of Nollywood but it looks like she has started singing a different song as her fortunes both as an actress and as a practitioner in Nollywood has nose-dived. Unlucky in love, Steph, as colleagues call her, has had relationships, some people say, with the wrong men.
The list includes Tony One Week, erratic and violent Jim Iyke who used to batter her on the streets and finally a marriage with Yoruba heartbreak kid Lanre Falana, which finally led to what she has called a marriage in process that never came through. Now free from all enncumberances. Steph seems to be getting her groove back. We spoke to Steph a few days ago and the actress gave us some insights into what she had been up to in the past few months.
BEING one of the few truly trained professionals in Nollywood, has Nollywood met your expectations
At the beginning yes, Nollywood seemed like it would meet my expectations , my colleagues and I had hopes that we would quickly climb up the lather, but the intrusion of massive unprofessionalism into all facets of Nollywood has long truncated that growth, so as it is am not impressed at all and my expectations have long been quashed. Our dreams and ambitions seem dwarfed by this development.
A lot of people are singing songs of praise with the level where Nollywood is now. We are regarded as the second largest movie producing culture in the world. Are you happy with that?
I wonder what is there to be happy about. I wonder why we are celebrating mediocrity. Which Nigerian movie has won anything on the international stage. Is it not Indian movies that are winning International laurels. Those who are rejoicing that we have been voted as the third largest movie producing culture in the world, have they asked about the quality of work we are doing or is it only about the quantity. They did not say we are the second “BEST” movie producing culture but the second “LARGEST”, producing nonsense. Listen, where Nollywood is now is expected knowing that we came from nowhere to get to where we are now. The stage we have gotten to is such that we have to decide to either kill the industry or take a rain check and know how to salvage it.
It looks like you have not been active in the industry for a long while now. What happened?
Have been around the industry but I have been taking my time to study what is going on and looking for a way to make myself relevant in the industry in that, I am repackaging all the stuff I have to offer so that I do not end up like the rest of the people in the band wagonof mediocrity. The works I am preparing to do now are of international standards. So let's just say I have been around but just repackaging my stuff, taking a rain-check to know exactly what to come out with. I am a trained professional don't forget that. I have to hold up my training differentiate myself and set standards for others to follow.
Are you saying that right now there are no standards for the industry to look up to?
Yes, I strongly believe it is time for us to come back in truth and put down standards that will sustain the industry and also lay standards for whoever intends to join Nollywood. Not what has happened in the past where groups of people come together for their personal interest in pretence that they want to restructure the industry. It is not so difficult to restructure the Industry if we all are sincere to ourselves. If we are agree that there is a need to do things better then all hands should be on deck with a sincere heart and if we do not do that pretty soon, some other interested bodies might do it for us and trust me, we will be worse for it.
What other interested bodies?
Government, the corporate sector, outside interests, business that do not understand what we do.
Is that not what Nollywood has been advocating?
Yes, but not when we the practitioners will not be in control of opur destinies and our futures. Not when we would only become hired hands in an industry we helped build and brought to international attention and recognition.
What are the major challenges you have faced in your Nollywood walk?
My major challenge at the beginning was basically proving myself to an industry that was just kicking off and that I have tried to do over the years with my works , at each stage of my career, I have had to prove my onus and as it stands, I don't think I have done badly, but presently, the challenge I am facing is how to make further positive impact on the industry such that my presence will be relevant now and well after I have left the industry, something like leaving your footprints on the sands of time and these are the reasons why I have taken a break and gone back to the drawing board.
It looks like a new trend is emerging where actors are becoming musicians and musicians are looking for ways to get involved in
Nollywood. What do you attribute to that? Is it the restlessness of the artistic spirit or is it the need to make more money?
Yes I have noticed it. All I have to say is that, a lot of people have some burning desires inside them to do a lot of things especially as an artiste, so whatever input any of my colleagues have made into the arts apart from acting, I it is believe is borne out of that desire to do stuff and not necessarily because they are no longer relevant to Nollywood. By the way, I am presently in the studio working on my music, and if you must know, I was into music long before I went into acting and this part of me, I intend to share with my fans.
Your marriage broke up sometime back and you have never told us the reasons why that happened
Well, as u said, I have not really come out with the main cause of the breakup, well this is borne out of the fact that I didn't want to rush into making statements to the press that I am not sure about or that I may regret in the future. Without making too much explanation or excuses, I would simply tell you that what I had was a marriage process that was truncated and I intend to grant a proper interview on that. That is why I have taken my time to be careful on what I say about that relationship for now.
So many Nollywood marriages are breaking up. is it the pressures of the work, the lives artistes live or what?
Marriages are breaking up in Nollywood same way it is breaking up world over. Truth is, it is not just a Nollywood thing, it is a trend world over, mainly because of economic changes. A woman can no longer sit down at home waiting to be fed. One income families don't work anymore. Women need self fulfillment and actualization. That challenges the men. This is the reason you go into a court and you see lots of couples going in for divorce and hey not all of them are from Nollywood, it's just that folks in Nollywood are popular figures that get their stories put into the public by the press.
Looking at yourself and the life you have lived. Would you like to change anything about yourself?
Nothing my brother, absolutely nothing, because I believe God made me the way I am for His and the purposes of my life and He allowed anything I have encountered in life, whether good or bad, to happen for a purpose, so I have no regrets.