Chief Patience Ozokwor is a veteran Nollywood actress, musician, fashion designer and gospel singer, who has won several awards. Ozokwor was among the 100 Nigerians honoured by the federal government to celebrate the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates in 2014. In this interview, she talks about her journey in life.
At 60, what are the things you are grateful to God for?
How can you ask me such a question? If I am not grateful to God for anything then I will be grateful to him for life. The greatest miracle one can have is to be alive, more especially when one is healthy too and not begging for food. There are so many other reasons why we need to give God praise and it can never be enough. I can never thank Him enough.
You started acting on stage while you were in secondary school. What attracted you to the craft?
Passion! I enjoy it. Once you enjoy what you do every day, it will be like it is coming from the inside. I remember in those days when we were young, I would always gather children around me and we would stroll to the nearest market, picking (Egusi) melon where they were grinding it and coming home to cook and eat. Sometimes we go to a tailor’s shop to pick pieces of cloth and bring them home.
At a time, you were working at Radio Nigeria. How did you get the job at such a young age?
I wasn’t quite young when I got the job. I was already married with children but I got married quite early. I had a cousin who was working with Radio Nigeria and she came to the school where I was teaching – WTC Enugu. So that was how I joined Radio Nigeria; first as a producer of children’s programme and then when my official letter came, they made me an announcer/newscaster. I started from there but eventually we were retrenched. They shut down the medium wave radio and then left us unattended to. But it was at a time when the Federal Government created a lot of states – Anambra, Imo and so on. So those from Imo and Anambra states were employed by the radio stations owned by their states of origin.
How did your journey to Nollywood begin?
It was fine. I actually didn’t have a job and I became a confectioner because I did Home Economics in school and in our own time, we were very lucky; what they teach now at the catering school was what they taught us in secondary schools. That was where I did a bit of needlework. I learnt how to cut patterns and things like that, so anything I could do with my hands was pleasing to me. But I didn’t go borrowing or begging people for money. It was hard but I was able to weather the storm. All these things that people do now like offering catering services and decorating event venues, I believe I started it in Enugu.
When did you get your major breakthrough in the industry?
It wasn’t long after I came into the industry that I had a breakthrough. There was a movie we did titled ‘Amina’ and there was another one titled ‘Odum’., that determines who you are in the industry. When you have so many fans, it means that so many people are watching your movies and will be buying them. That is what matters to the marketers. So after the film was shot, my name became ‘Authority’. So, that ‘Authority’ brought another one – ‘Apology’. Then there was ‘Submission’; it just started like that and there was no dull moment.
So why did you allow movie producers to typecast you as someone who is wicked or does evil in movies?
I do good movies too but you know acting like an evil person is very difficult and that is the kind of movies people like to watch. People like to be real, sometimes they think that the person that is doing good things is faking it but when you show that evil aspect, that is where the action is. I once fought till the end in a movie and it came out fine. If you know what it means to be fighting, quarelling and so on, you will know how difficult it is for you to do it.. So I don’t regret it; as long as it is bringing money to me, I will continue to do it. But it didn’t matter because I told myself that once they got to meet me, they would know that I was different from the person they were seeing on TV.
After all, what is acting? I have been in the midst of people who will be speaking for me, telling people that she is that kind of person, I know her.
When I was working with Radio Nigeria, if anybody was transferred to another place or if they left, I was always the one that would be going round to tell people that somebody was leaving and that we needed to have a get-together. I would collect money, cook and bring everybody together to enjoy. When I left, no one else could do it. I was so active that being overactive was killing me. I was always looking for what to do. I would open my salon (for hairdressing), work there before leaving for work proper.
You got married early in life following your parents’ bidding. Was it that you were betrothed to him?
No, I wasn’t betrothed to him, but my mother was a kind of woman that always liked to punish any child that misbehaved publicly. You know all those Christian mothers that would be in the disciplinary section to punish children. So, she didn’t want her child to come out of secondary school and not get married because she was afraid you could bring her to where she had been punishing people. So she insisted I must get married. I said okay but I had a suitor. But she said no. I didn’t know what to do because I had put all my eggs in one basket; he was in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I was waiting to go to school so that I would marry him but my mother wouldn’t wait. So I had to obey her. There was a big fight but in our days, you would not be the one to say I will marry this person; it was your parents that would have the final say in your marriage, so I had to give up.
Despite that, you have been married for many years whereas divorce is very common now, especially among entertainers. Do you have any advice for them?
I am ashamed because I read the Bible a lot. I know that God does not like divorce, but I have discovered that it is not the problem of the actresses. Some of them come to marry us (actresses), thinking that we have money; they don’t know that our industry here in Nigeria does not have too much money. Yes, it can take you to different places and you can meet people that will bless your life but the problem is that they expect too much. Now, a lady who is a star, if she doesn’t get a job in two or three months, she would have spent her savings and you know the kind of life we liveI decided to ignore everything that came my way and stay with my children. I might not stay for everybody but I stayed for my children no matter what; that was why we could achieve this. My husband did not have a house, he didn’t have this, he didn’t have that.
You later gave your life to Christ. What exactly informed that decision?
I didn’t just give my life to Christ, I came into the film industry as a member of the Scripture Union; I was a bible study teacher as of that time. I was a born-again Christian long before I joined the film industry.
I cannot tell you that wearing trousers is a sin but I will tell you what the Lord told me. He said if you want men to lust after you, that is your business. So when Tonto Dike and others started criticising me that I talked about weave-on, I told her I didn’t tell you to stop wearing weave-on, I only told you what the Lord had told me about it.
How would you describe your childhood? Were you stubborn?
I was not stubborn and I was not quiet. It was all play, play, play. But I was loved by so many people around.
At the time you ventured into acting, what were your parents’ reactions?
Only my father was still around and he was excited seeing me in a movie. Like my husband too, he would say (to our children), come and play your mother’s film for us to watch. They enjoy my movies. My immediate younger brother, who is in the US, will say that I have found my talent and that is why it has swallowed me.
If you were not an actor, what else would you have been in life?
I would be cooking. I still cook till today.
Do you think there is a conflict between your faith and your profession?
No, there is no conflict. You know, we do drama in the church. It is like I am preaching; I say that the movie industry preaches to the whole world. A pastor can be in his church and be preaching to the people there, but the movies go very far with their stories. It is part of what I am doing.
You hardly act romantic movies and it was like that even during the earlier part of your career, why is that?
They never give me that role to play but I did one that came out fine – Love after Love. It was with the late Justus Esiri.
People see you as wicked because of the roles you have played in movies, so would you describe yourself as a romantic person?
I am highly romantic o! If I am in love with you, you will know; I can’t hide it. Everybody around will know I am in love with you. So I don’t go jumping from one man to the other but if I have feelings for you, everybody around will know that you are the man. All the same, because I don’t kiss in movies doesn’t mean that if such occasions come up, I wouldn’t have done something like that but God just shut that side for me and I never had any reason to kiss somebody. You know, I am always on the cantankerous side. Such people don’t kiss and they don’t do romance. The kind of roles I play actually help me not to get to all that.
Since the death of your husband, have you ever considered remarrying?
Yes. There was a time I wanted to remarry but my children said no. They are all grown now. They said if they were young, they wouldn’t have objected. Now that they are grown, they say they will be my husband and they have been trying. The only thing they don’t do is go to bed with me (laughs). They said that their friends would laugh at them that their mother abandoned them, but I didn’t see it that way. It really brought problems. I wanted to remarry but my sister and other relations came and said that I should concede to them and I accepted but with the condition that they would also listen to me anytime I tell them to stop being friends with any of their friends that I don’t like and they agreed. So we have been managing one another.
Do you have any regrets in life?
The only regret I have in life is that I wasn’t allowed to marry the man of my choice. That is it but I was able to cope. I had suitors, I was going to choose one among them but my parents said that I would marry their choice. If they had allowed me, I would have loved to make my choice.