Bob Manuel Udokwu’s face is not new to millions of Nigerians who have seen his movies many times over. His is also a familiar face as the anchor of the TV reality show, Gulder Ultimate Search. In this interview with Funmi Salome Johnson, Udokwu speaks on verious issues including how he handles his female fans whom he says he satisfies in the best way he can.

What was the experience like at this year’s Gulder Ultimate Search at the camp?The experience was quite different from that of last year in the sense that the topography was not the same, the people we were working with were not the same, and the search itself was not the same. At some point in time when we were working, storm came, we had rains at night, we had all sorts of weather changes and different sorts of challenges but in the end, we were able to succeed in finding the lost chronicle. It was also tasking for me as a person being able to handle a reality show presentation, I had to draw from my experience and training as an actor and having been a performer for many years. Elements of productions were there just that there were no formal scripts and there were no stops and starts like you have when you make mistakes during normal recording, you cut and probably take it over again.

These things were spontaneous, they were real and they were happening in real term, it was a real challenge but we were able to take care of the situation that came along.

In comparison, which will you say is more challenging of the two editions, this year or last year’s?They constitute different challenges in their own ways. It is just like when people ask me sometimes what productions that I see as more challenging than the other. Everyone of them comes with their peculiar challenges because stories are not the same, so, I think that each one presents a different sort of challenge so you just have to rise up and meet with it and the challenge for me this year which I probably would say was more than last year’s own is that last year’s own was the presentation for the first time for Ultimate search, there were lots of expectations and when I did it well, I remember I told the press that if I am not called back for next year, whoever is called, will struggle to beat my record and if I am called back to do it the second time, then it becomes more challenging to beat the record that I have set because… ask anybody, athletes, professionals in every fields, if you have set a standard that is very high, it is always very difficult for you to beat your own record because you are the one who set that record so you have to work extra hard which I did and I am glad that I can confidently say that I have beat the re record of last year and it can only get better as far as I’m concerned.

What is that driving force that keeps you going amidst all the obstacles you had?For me, being in front of the camera is a divine thing, it is a divine calling and so I believe that I was prepared by the divine, by God who is the fountain of creativity. To study this field when people were looking down on it, when people didn’t realize that there was going to be an industry coming out from this field, so I get my motivation from things around me and then the divine inspiration moves me when it is time to roll.

So I don’t sit down and plot and plan that this is how I am going to do it, if I have the basic information of what I am supposed to do, the divine takes over. What I can call my inspiration that moves everything I do is the divine inspiration passed through man as a physical entity that you can see.

How would you describe the motion picture industry in Nigeria. Are we meeting up to international standard?No we are not. A lot of interests have been generated by the motion picture industry, a lot of noise has been made but I keep saying that it is now time for us to settle down and work hard for us to get to the level that we should be. Things are still in a state of flux as far as the motion picture industry is concerned; and a lot of industries are concerned, not only the motion picture industry.

You can say today that our roads are well paved, you can’t say that we have uninterrupted power supply, you can not say that food is cheap. You can not say that amenities like water is there, when you go to the market, you find out that prices of these things have kicked the roof, so it’s not just the motion picture industry alone, all over the nation itself, people are groaning on the serious strain and it is affecting the movie industry.

This may not be an excuse for us but I said all that for people to know that you do not remove those in the movie industry from the mainstream society, everything that affect the society also affect the industry because we are all living here, we are all Nigerians regardless of all the pretences because the job of the entertainer is to make people happy whether you are happy or not.

However, we as practitioners need to go to the drawing board and be able to set up systems that will in a way make things go higher than it is now, the system is in a flux, things are not properly structured and we need to have more professionals in the field, we need to collaborate with people from out there, in Europe and America because the profession is not like any other things where you cut corners like you do in all sorts areas in this country, where you hope to cut corners and expect the world to say okay this is good.

There are standards and you just have to struggle to meet up and work with those who have met the standards and be able to tell your story in such an international way that people can see your story and say okay, this is good and we can understand the story. My assessment is that we need to go back to the drawing board and work harder.

What do you think is responsible for the backwardness, is it lack of fund or lack of enabling environment?We are not operating in an enabling environment and a lot of people who claim to be practitioners in the industry are not professionals. We need to train and retrain personnels; we need to have standard equipments.

Also, there are cleavages; there is division even within the practitioners. Unfortunately, a lot of people think about themselves over and above the country, the community in this part of the world but when you think about yourself and the job as it affects millions of people in the country and all over the country and you think about yourself first, it becomes misplaced priority. A lot of people position themselves in a way that they think about themselves first and not about how the industry is going to get better or about how we are going to improve standards or how we are going to move forward. Not until we sit back and look properly into these issues, we are not going to get anywhere.

What do you think can be done to improve piracy in Nigeria?Piracy is a world wide phenomenon. There are very beautiful laws against piracy in this country but it is just that those laws are on paper and that is why I refer to them as paper tigers. Our law enforcement agents are just there as figure heads. For instance now, I am an actor and I have works out there which people are pirating, which I have seen too.

I am not empowered by the law to arrest them and prosecute them because that will be taking the law into my hands but what happens if I take the law enforcement agents who by law should be the ones to apprehend these people, you inform them and they arrest them in the morning and by afternoon, they are back in business.

So the will to apply and enforce the law is what we should look into because intellectual theft is worse than armed robbery because when an armed robber attacks, he takes that which you have and probably let you go and you can always work hard to get even better things than the ones they took from you.

But in the case of intellectual theft, you use your head to create something that should feed you for life; somebody sits in his backyards and make millions out of your work and you walk on the streets like a beggar, that’s worse than robbery because you have been robbed, you have been cheated and you have been called a foolish man and somebody else takes credit for your sweat and blood and your intellect. So if the laws on piracy that we have are properly enforced and the violators of the laws are arrested, prosecuted and jailed long term in prison and people see that, I think it is going to go a long way.

Don’t you think fund is the major cause of this situation?Apart from funding, what these people do is to sit at their backyards, pick up a copy of the work and they start to make several thousands of copies and you see because the country is already flooded with cheap materials from all over the world ranging from cars to all sorts of things, even furniture, not even branded ones but used ones. People are beginning to get used to the idea of ‘look you just have to get the used ones’ so as long as they can see picture, it doesn’t matter to them if it is pirated or not, even if it doesn’t have any cover or packet.

We need to re-educate our people that when you patronise pirates, you are also robbing your own brother or sister who you should idolise like they do abroad. It is only us that can promote our own, we don’t expect America or Britain to come and promote Nigerian artists, it is we as a country, as a people that could promote our own, that could make the world see our people as celebrities, foreigners can not do that for us.

Kennedy says ‘you do not ask what the country can do for you but you ask what you can do for your country’ you can not say that effectively here in Nigeria because we know of people who have suffered for this country and they died as foolish people because they were not appreciated. The section of our anthem that says ‘the labor of heroes past shall never be in vain’ I think we just say that with our mouths, it is not in our hearts, otherwise we should be able to recognise that beyond those who siphon this country’s money, the entertainers in this country are the ones who have taken the image and glory of this country all over the world and so they deserve recognition, they deserve to be incorporated in the things that government do, they deserve to be part and parcel of governance because we live with the people, we work with the people and we know of the society, what else do they want? Until we all become members of a political party? If we form a political party and they register us, we will win elections.

So are you thinking of going into politics one of these days?I am a free citizen and life itself is politics. It is the right of every citizen, afterall nobody was born into politics. Of all the credentials they have, nobody came into this world as a politician, nobody even came into this world as anything and I don’t think any of them began to display traits of being a politician when they were in primary or secondary schools, but some of us started showing the traits of what we are today right from when we were toddlers and so I mean it will not be big news or big deal if I say I am going into politics. It is all part of life and those who are there are not better than we are, they are not more qualified, some of their credentials are even dubious, we have seen people thrown out of the state and national assembly for fraudulent papers but our educational qualification is all over the place, things about us is all verified, we are better than most of them

People should trust us than they trust them. Why do you think they put posters for people to know them, it is because they came out of the blues, nobody knows them, so it will not be a big deal for me to say I want to go into politics, it is all part of service to the country. Have I not served my country better than most of them by making people happy, curing hypertension and most of human stress by watching the good movies we do on television and promoting the image of this country? We are the ambassadors that the country has, that don’t get paid by any arm of government.

Amidst the busy nature of your profession, how do you joggle between that and the home front?My family is used to it. Not that they can ever get used to the absence of the man of the house, but they know I have a mission with a vision to accomplish something that will endure and I have the support of my family. It is what I have been doing all my life so I am glad that I have the type of supportive family that I have and it is not easy. But if you look for the easy road out, you will just look like anybody else.

How do you cope with advances from female fans because I know they must be coming in droves?For me I see them as satisfied customers. What they see that probably attracts them to me is what they see on television and what I do on TV is not my personal self. Stories, characters written that I have to play. I respect my fans, I give them audience, I am also disciplined and firm without being abusive, so I have a way of handling that. It doesn’t really derail me from what I have to do.

What is your view on the reality of sexual harassment in Nollywood?It goes both ways, it is not just show business. When you look at show business well, there is no sexual harassment there, because if you have something to offer, nobody will harass you on that scope. You need to go to other fields, go to the banking sector, go to the legal, medical profession, go to customs and go to police, even the Army, the forces where they use that to intimidate the ones that are coming in and all that. It works on both sides depending on who has advantage over the other. If a female has advantage over the male and he likes the male, he makes sexual advances and nobody says he must say yes if you have something to offer.

Those who complain or claim that they are being taken advantage of, are those who probably don’t have anything to offer because if you do, and the person knows you are an asset, the person will not have the guts to make sexual advances towards you, so it is neither here nor thee.

Do you have any advice for upcoming ones?They have to first of all get a good education because that is a good tool, a good key and a good material. They should work hard, be patient and make sure you have what it takes. Don’t jump in there because you saw your friend doing it, your friend may have the talent from God while you don’t, we all have where we fit in.