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The beautiful mother of two speaks with ’NONYE BEN-NWANKWO about life after her nude photograph scandal ... Excerpt from the interview
Why I took a break
The entertainment industry does not require you to be active every moment. Sometimes, you have to relax and take care of other issues. I have not done any production in a while. It is because I got married. You need to nurture and water your marriage, not just relax. You need to give your marriage time, invest in it and enjoy it. And this takes time. You have to stay away from other things and concentrate on it. You have to set your priorities right. Now I am back. I just finished a production. I am involved in other projects. I am writing a book on Anita Hogan. I have many stories to tell.
My take on competition
I am not participating in any competition. A lot of people come into the industry with that mentality. You have to carve your own niche. You make your contribution to the development of the industry. In the process, you will not look at what other people are doing. Of course, this is a money-making business and a producer always wants to use a ‘marketable’ face in his movie. The way it is, I don’t even need to inform any producer or director that I am back in the industry. People should be the one calling me and asking me about my new project and wanting to be a part of it.
My new project
It is a television soap opera that I have titled Koko’s Diary. I looked at the society from the diary of a house maid. I have finished shooting the series. I have completed work on one season, but I am not satisfied. I want to do more. I have a time schedule and I have been advised to add more. I love what I have done so far. For casting, I used fresh faces. I didn’t even play the lead role. One girl called Lola played that role. She has very unique features. She was very flexible on the set.
I am married to a foreigner. I had to blend into his culture in order not to suffer from culture shock. I had to learn the language and I took the integration exam. Now I speak Dutch very well. I am very comfortable with the language. I go wherever my husband goes. I am not the type that says we should live apart. No matter how much money I have, I want my family to live under one roof. There is nothing unique about marrying a foreigner.
He is just like every other man. It is not that I have always dated a foreigner. I had dated Nigerian men and other Africans. Men will always be men, no matter the colour of their skin, origin or physical features. If a man needs attention, you will give him the attention.
A man’s needs are the same everywhere. Now, my home is Holland. I have to be very partial. That is where I want my children to grow up. Education in Holland is free and it is standard. There are no separate schools for the rich or the poor. I bring my children home often. I want them to know their African background.
Why my marriage has survived
I am not going to compare my marriage with that of my colleagues whose marriages broke up. Nobody prays to have a broken marriage. No woman wishes to get married and watch it break up after some years. I don’t make fun of situations that I don’t even understand. In my own case, it is just God that has sustained my marriage. I might sound old fashioned, but it is just God that has done it for me.
He knows everybody. In every challenging situation, He will always tell you what to do. I read all books about marriage, but it doesn’t work that way. You have to go into a marriage with an open mind and then make the best situation out of anything you see in it.
The nude picture scandal
The scandal happened some years back. Life is all about challenges. I learnt that one does not have to run away from anything that is thrown at him. If you run, the challenge will still be there. On the night that the pictures were published, four popular actors came to my house with a car and said I should pack my things and go to Ghana. They said I should stay there until the crisis died down. But I told them I wasn’t going to run. I didn’t do anything wrong, so why should I run? I didn’t kill anybody.
I am not a criminal. Many politicians are stealing our money and making a mess of our country, yet they come out with bold faces. So why should I run? Somebody offended me and you want me to run? The actors were shocked with what I was saying. I told them I wasn’t going to run and that all I needed was their prayers.
I don’t think I know where that courage came from, but I think my father’s spirit was with me. My father told me he loved me. I am tough. I had to practice what I preached. A lot of people thought that crisis would break my toughness. You can bring me down, but you can’t break me. You are not my creator. My life is in the hands of God. It was just God that gave me the strength.
How my family and friends reacted to the scandal
Many parents would have come up with a holier-than-thou attitude. But mine kept telling me how much they loved me. They stood by me. It was one of the things that kept me going. Some people said I married the man because of the scandal. Only time will tell. Immediately I became an actress, I knew I had forfeited my privacy. Time will tell if my marriage will be successful. I am only enjoying what I have in my hands. I am enjoying my family.
I am human. Of course, sometimes I think of that scandal and I become very sad. It has become part of my personal history now. There is no way anybody will mention Anita Hogan and that scandal will not be remembered. But it depends on the angle you look at it. My children will hear it. Even my grandchildren will hear it and say their grandma is a ‘hot’ mama. What if I hadn’t married the same guy? We were just two people fooling around in our privacy.
Should other people have told us how to sit down in our home? It depends on the angle you look at the scandal. That is why I want to write my book. Many people are psychologically and emotionally harassed. My own case was harassment from the pit of hell. Some people need encouragement. They are not as tough as I am. I want my book to touch people who are being harassed. No matter how much you have been pushed, you can get your life back.
I don’t get embarrassed. If I am walking on the street and I don’t touch you or hit your car and you just stare at me, it is your business. Nigerians respect other people’s’ privacy. I was brought up to understand that stares will not tear your cloth. Embarrassment will not tear your cloth. It is good to live a perfect life, if you can achieve it. But if it doesn’t happen, there is nothing you can do but to move on with your life. I have forgiven the guy that published those pictures. In fact, I forgave him that first week. My pastor called and said I should forgive. He said I should just kneel down and say ‘I forgive him.’ I didn’t know how to do it. I thought it wasn’t going to be possible. But somehow, I did it. I have forgiven him.
My parents had a problem. Both of them remarried. I was their only child. I chose to live with my dad because he had money. I chose him because of the comfort. I have a very wonderful relationship with my stepmother. I am closer to her than my biological mother. It might be because I stayed more with her. In spite of the fact that my parents had a misunderstanding, they saw to my education.
I hold a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts and a master’s degree in International Law and Diplomacy. My father said I should pursue my dream. He had wanted me to work with the government. He said it was pensionable. Also, he wanted me to be an athlete. But my heart always leaned towards the arts.