Kanayo Modestus Onyekwere Kanayo KOK is a household name in Nollywood. A consummate and passionate actor, he started his career back in the South East with stage plays and TV dramas on NTA.
In 1992, the film industry witnessed a revolution with the shooting of the blockbuster movie, ‘Living in Bondage’ which he was part of.
Since then, K.O.K has not looked back as he has featured in more than 150 movies and still counting. He speaks more in this captivating interview with ORJI ONYEKWERE
How has it been combining law and acting?
Being a lawyer has always been of interest to me and this has not stopped me from doing what I have been doing, rather it has afforded me the opportunity of marrying both together; that’s entertainment and law. What I have been doing on television for many years has been advocacy and what you also do as a lawyer is fighting and defending people’s right. So, both professions have come in handy for me.
You may not see me in the court every day, but I have been making impact in building certain projects, marrying law and entertainment. One of them is what I have been doing for some time which is what we call the Peoples’ Lawyer, it is a law clinic serving as an avenue to enlighten people and give them voice concerning their rights. If their rights are bridged, you tell them what to do. I have been doing this for a long time and it’s already on YouTube.
It comes in as part of what I wanted to do and I have program too that will give voice to the voiceless and serve as a societal buffer for enlightenment and advocacy. Advocacy is my special area.
How do you feel when people only perceive your impact in the industry from some of the roles you have played as a ritualist?
I don’t feel bad or distracted at all. There is drama, life and what I do for a living. It’s like when I die in a movie, does it mean I am dead in real life. Drama therefore is make believe, mirroring the society within the context of the stories that are told. For instance, you talk about the 2023 election that was floored by irregularities; if you want to showcase rigging and irregularities in election in a movie, you will have to recall what happened and write the story as it is.
We have had lots of rituals and ritual killings in Nigeria, the movies are just a reflection of what we hear and see. You hear of women going to hotels and their pants missing, what are those pants used for? You heard the case of a man jumping out from his land cruiser jeep somewhere in Ikeja, Lagos, a couple of years ago and he went naked. What would you call that?
You remember sometime last year, the story of a lady who lured her best friend to her house, conspired with her husband and they gave her rice to eat. After eating, she slept off and they dismembered her body. How would we dramatize this? The messenger is K.O.K; the message is, stop doing bad thing.
So, you are emphatically saying that money ritual is not good
It’s not good and will never be good. I will never be part of it and have never been part of it. When you hear somebody call me night sacrifice, it was just the name somebody called me during Obi Cubana’s mothers burial.
One thing about names is that immediately you start rejecting it, it sticks. Call me any name you like, but pay me my Cheque. If we listen to the message, we will change the society more. I am just a vessel.
An actress in an interview few weeks ago said that it was the Yorubas that started what is now known as Nollywood and the industry belongs to the Yorubas. What is your take on her position?
I wish you could give me the name of the actress that said that. We were all acting drama for the NTA before 1992. We were also doing several stage plays engaging in drama productions. Kenneth Nnebue, NEK Video Link was producing Yoruba movies and was selling in the markets in Lagos.
Mike Orihedinma was in Onitsha producing Igbo movies and selling in the South East. Kenneth Nnebue, an Igbo man was producing Yoruba movies, then in 1991/1992 wrote a script titled ‘Living in Bondage’.
Before then, the theaters belong to the Yorubas, no argument about that, but people were not buying local films to watch in their houses except foreign films. Immediately Kenneth Nnebue made ‘Living in Bondage’, it caught like wild fire and almost everybody bought into it, so home videos became a trend and a trade.
Some left the business they were doing before to invest in movie production. The coming of ‘Living in Bondage’ gave rise to what we have today as Nollywood, a name that was coined by a New York Times journalist, in 2002.
Get it clear now, I had an interview with Afia TV in Enugu last week and I told them that Pete Edochie took part in cinema which was called ‘Things Fall Apart’ which ran on NTA for many quarters and it was not a home a video. We did the first home video in 1992, but ‘Things Fall Apart’ was done before that time.
If you talk about seniority in home video somebody like Pete Edochie has been there before we produced ‘Living in Bondage’. So, anybody who talks about the industry looking at it from tribal or regional perspective is very economical with the truth.
Most of them who are talking today were not even born then; some of them have not started practicing. This one, we will battle it to the end.
The other time, I strongly opposed former Information Minister Lia Muhammed, when he said that Nollywood was the reason for the preponderance of ritual killings. Who taught politicians how to rig elections, is it Nollywood?
I know you started with TV drama in Enugu, but after the movie ‘Living in Bondage’; you seem to have abandoned TV series to concentrate only on movies. Is there a reason for that?
I appeared in the soap opera Ripples. There is no reason for my absence because there was more movies to make than series. It’s only recently that most companies have started showing interest in series.
Movies are more marketable, and give you more exposures and more money. That’s an area we also wanted to show our strength.
What are elders like you in the industry doing about some of the off camera bad behaviors of some actors
There is the Actors Guild of Nigeria disciplinary committee which I had sat on some time ago. Under the current president Emeka Rollas, we have achieved a whole lot in discipline, conduct and calling actors to question when they have gone beyond their call.
There were many cases of drug abuse last year involving some top actors, some even needed rehabilitation. If you remember, a top actor was suspended about three or four months ago for drug over use. So, it’s a caution.
It is something I have spoken widely about earlier that if nothing is done, it will ruin the industry because most people coming up will think that we do drugs before we act. We have had incidences of some top actors coming to location and seating in their car after shooting and sleeping for two to three hours in their cars because of the drug they have taken.
All those things are challenges to the industry and the Actors Guild of Nigeria have dealt with a whole lot of things. It’s a continuous process. We are also addressing other forms of indiscipline too.
Don’t also forget that most of these things come to limelight because of who we are. You hear of doctors having affair with their patients and nobody talks about this. You hear of corporate executives sleeping with their secretaries and nobody talks about this, but this not to justify any wrong act in the industry.
The fact remains that these things come to the fore because we are in the limelight and a lot of people see us as their role models.
Will you still try your hands in politics again?
My brother, you have asked me a question I am afraid to answer because of the situation in Nigeria now where people have lost confidence in voting. Where people decide that there is no need campaigning.
Where top politicians have said instead of wasting my money in campaigning, they can easily buy their way to that position they are seeking for. For now, I will keep my peace; but I will always be willing to serve as a lawyer, however I will not jump into it
Do your clients find it difficult to adjust to the fact that Barrister K.O.K is different from Mr. K.O.K, the actor?
When you do things with people’s knowledge the can accept it easily. 70 percent of Nigerians knew when I was studying law at the University of Abuja, that same percentage or more knew when I was admitted to the Nigerian Law School, Abuja, and the same people knew when I was called to the Bar. They knew I had undergone a process.
They did not just wake up and hear that K.O.K has been called to the Bar. My first job has always been acting, but people also know that my new found area is law which provides me a lot of opportunities to do many things.