By Christian Agadibe
Call her Margaret Thatcher of Nollywood and you will not be accused of any wrong. In deed, in most of the roles she plays in the movies, she comes across as a no-nonsense woman. But then, many wouldn’t believe that she is direct opposite of the ‘wicked’ character she often potrays on screen.
A day with Patience Ozokwor at her residence in Enugu revealed the actress popularly known as Mama Gee as a devoted Christian and dedicated prayer warrior who would not hurt a fly. The widow and mother of four children was a reporter`s delight as she kept the tape rolling throughout the exclusive interview session. She categorically told The Entertainer that though men do pester her for marriage as old as she is, she has decided not to remarry. Ozokwor, however, maintained that if she comes to this world again, she would choose her husband by herself. The actress bared her mind on a wide range of issues. Excerpts:
What have you been doing lately?
I have been working with the youth, to help the youth who have talents to be able to use their talents. If you look at the industry the way it is now, some of them find it difficult to be noticed. I am planning to have a talent hunt soon. You may ask why I am putting more into entertainment, I want Nollywood to be bigger than Hollywood. I decided that this year I am going to do it with entertainment and make sure that whoever wins will get what he/she should get.
To what would you attribute your recent awards?
It is God`s grace and I give it back to Him because He’s the one that enabled me to fulfill that. It is a sign of hardwork, since God has given me the enablement to work hard and sometimes God gives you the enablement to work hard and you won’t work hard, it makes God a liar. He is the reason I got those awards so I dedicate them to Him.
How was growing up, were you born with silver spoon?
Some children don’t have people taking care of them. I had my school fees paid, I had good education. I had everything. Well, my father was not too rich but we were comfortable. He wasn’t begging for food. He was a landlord and then my uncle that took me was doing well. My uncle took me when I was six years old. He just loved and raised me.
You worked at Radio Nigeria, what was the experience like?
I was an announcer with Radio Nigeria before I became a staff in 1982 and I worked till retrenchment came in 1984. Within those few years it was really good experience. I was employed as announcer, later I was transferred to production department. I was producing for women and children. I had debate and teachers programme as well. The retrenchment came as a surprise from the government, they shut down the radio and laid off every staff. That was how we got retrenched.
After retrenchment, what next?
I entered the movie industry after my retrenchment from Radio Nigeria, and I started putting young girls into my fashion designing company because I did Fine and Applied Arts in school. I was lucky to be among 30 Nigerian women that were sent to Cameroun for small scale enterprenuership course for nine weeks. I learnt a lot of handcraft there and I was able to establish an outfit where I trained young girls on handcraft, fashion designing and catering. I had an outfit called Art Queenties, my business aim was teaching young girls, fashion designing, hair dressing, beauty and body care, and kitchen services. They were doing handcraft too. When my husband fell sick, for so many years he was sick. I couldn’t tend to him and take care of my business at the same time. So, I gave up on the business. Later, I got a political appointment with Udi Local Government as WDO, I couldn’t hand over to anybody. I had to shut down the business.
I also taught in a school. I was teaching home economics in a secondary school. I went to Institute of Management and Technology and I used the certificate to get a teaching job. From there, I went for the political appointment. I later left the political appointment because of my husband’s illness. After my husband’s illness I was about going back to the same business when an idea came for me to join the movie industry. And it is paying me far more than anything I can think of
At the beginning of your career, did anybody try to discourage you?
My senior sister tried to discourage me, but every member of the family said ‘forge ahead’. My husband was actually sick at that time, and her only reason was that people would think that I had abandoned my husband. But I said that’s how I get the money to maintain him; to go to the hospital. The children had grown when I entered the industry so they usually take him to the hospital when I was on location. I made out time to be with him in the hospital too.
Why are you always acting a wicked mother-in-law?
I only try to expose the ills in the society through my actions, that is why I do it to the best of my knowledge. If you do it flimsly people will not understand you, but if you do it deeply people will really know and those who are involved know themselves now. People are changing, some young girls are even learning to stay with their mothers-in-law, they have discovered that their mothers-in-law don’t like them, they are discovering what they do wrong and what their mothers-in-law do wrong, some are trying to bring them to balance. So, that is the essence of what I do and I will not hesitate to do it because the message is passed and people understand it. If you ask them now they will tell you ‘she is not like that but she is only exposing evil and wickedness in our society’ and I have to expose wickedness to the best of my knowledge.
What is your assessment of Nigerian women?
Nigerian women are great, they are hard working. I am not exaggerating, Nigerian women who are trading do their trade very well, and they make their living and train their children through trading. They are helpmates for their husbands. Some of them don’t even look up to their husbands anymore, they don’t even wait on their husbands, they prefer to fend for their family, they have succeeded where the men have failed. Women who are widows are even greater, you see them struggling every day, you see them climbing buses, travelling to the north and south to get goods and sell them. Some of them come into politics and they show their might. Nigerian women are great, I doff my hat for them.
What would you say about widowhood?
Mine is not an exemplary one because I don’t have anyone disturbing me. There are some widows who are being disturbed by their brother in-law, sister in-law; they make things difficult for them. These are some of the things I showcase in the movies. On my own side, my husband died when my children had grown up so nobody disturbed us. My brothers in-law are nice, some people don’t have the opportunity and luck that I had, so that is why I don’t look at my own as a good example. Actually, nobody is there to help you but God. When you put your trust in God, God will always honour what you do as long as you don’t put your hands into bad thing. The best thing is to comport yourself, be a widow indeed and look up to God for help.
Have you ever been intimidated because you are a widow?
No, I can’t remember anything like that. My husband’s people have been solidly behind me. In fact, if you want to get their anger, touch me and they will tell you that they don’t joke with me, not because I am a star, in fact they don’t maltreat any widow in my husband’s family.
Why do we have so many divorce cases in the industry?
I have never left my family. I was with my family until my husband died and I am still with them. I have not even remarried, it is not that people didn’t come for me to marry them but I am comfortable and happy here. I don’t think there is any family I will go to that is better than the family where I am already. If marriage fails in the industry, it is because we are popular. A lot of people in other sectors have failed marriages and nobody has said anything about them. Our own is not peculiar, the thing is that some men marry actresses because they think they have money. But when they see that the money is not there it becomes a problem. You marry a girl for love and not because she is a star. If you marry her because of who she is then the marriage will last. Sometimes you get endorsement and your husband take it and then run away from the house. The next you hear is that he has remarried.
What advice do you have for married actresses having some challenges at the home front?
Actually our job is highly demanding, if you are not careful you may be away from your family for a long time. For instance, I didn’t spend Christmas with my children because I was in Ghana. I went to Ghana to shoot. I came back to bury my brother and after that I went to Ghana again for an award. The children missed me a lot and I missed them. There wasn’t anything like Christmas for me likewise some girls in the industry, but my own is even easier because my children are mature except some of my grandchildren or some of the adopted children that are here. Besides, my daughters take care of them. So, my advice is that when you have a lot to do, you should take permission from your producer and go home to stay for a while. When your children are on holiday, take them to location and stay in a hotel or rented apartment with them so that when you are going out in the morning they will see you. Make sure you keep in touch; if there is communication gap, it increases trouble and phones don’t really tell where you are. Sometimes, your husband may think you are not on location, that you have gone somewhere else. Let him come and visit you on location. If your husband comes to location two or three times, he will doff his cap because its really not easy.
What do you miss most about your husband?
His calmness, he is so calm. He had a way of letting go of a lot of things. I don’t even know why he should die, he is not a person that holds onto things or cries out for things no matter how stressful that thing is. I miss his company a lot because I am always around him. He doesn’t talk much, but you must know that he is there.
If you are to come to this world again what aspect of your life would you like to change?
I don’t know, I love everything about myself. I wouldn’t like to repeat some mistakes in life. If I would come to this world again, I wouldn’t like anything to affect my marriage. I would like to choose my husband by myself. I would want to be an entertainer again because being an actress would make you to affect people`s life. I would want Nollywood to be bigger than Hollywood.
What is Mama Gee’s typical day like?
I wake up and have fellowship with my family. If I am not going on location, I sit at home and relax; I like to relax a lot. Every moment means a lot to me. It is either I am cooking or working or I am praying.
What makes one a good actress?
The ability to interpret a story well without stress, some people suffer so much to even make it. But when the thing is inborn it doesn’t take anything from you. People would be wondering how come you are always on location and climbing higher. It is something in the blood.
Can you say you are fulfilled or have attained success in life?
I am still struggling. I might say I am comfortable but the journey is still far and I still have places to go. Once there is life you must keep moving. When they retire some people from work, you hear them say I am retired but not tired. I am comfortable but I really want to move further. I want to get to Hollywood.
What advice would you give to young women looking up to you?
They should know God no matter what they are passing through. Everybody has a deity they worship, but mine is God. I listen to Him and I read the Bible a lot. I spend time to pray on my own. If you want to be an actor, first of all ask yourself ‘do I have the ability to act ?’ ‘Do I have the talent ?’ It is not just that actresses are known. You may be in the industry but you won`t make that money. There are some who have the money but they don’t have the fame. When your motive is like ‘once I come into the industry it will help me to make quick money’, you might discover that you have been there for three years yet you didn’t make the money. And hunger will kill you and you begin to beg. Don’t put your trust in a man, don’t try to be me, try to be yourself. Tap that talent God has deposited in you. God is god of variety. If you cannot make it as an actor, you can be a camera man or a makeup artist. Unless you don’t want to work, the industry can accommodate any kind of person. But you have to be humble to stay under somebody.
What is the craziest thing a fan has done to you?
My fans are so crazy about me (laughs). They love me with passion, as I am here now people send me gifts from America and Germany. They ask: ‘do you know Mama Gee? Can you give this to her?’ Then they would bring it and I will take their numbers and call them to say thank you. I don’t know many of them, before I can say anything you see someone bring all kinds of clothes for me. My fans are crazy. Just crazy like me (laughs). They are crazy as I am. It is the Lord doing.
How do you manage to stay out of scandals?
Am I scandal free? Why I always overcome scandal is because I try to live a righteous and quiet life. Outside the crazy world of acting, I live a different life. I am a different person from the roles I play in the movies. I live a decent life. I am not a club person. I was not brought up in that way. I have never been into a club. The first time I saw a club was when I was shooting a film. I didn’t know all that and because of my nature people think I know everything. There are so many things I don’t know. Those who went to school with me will actually not believe that I act now. I hardly step out of the house, outside shooting I am in my house or I am in the church. Most times when they see me with somebody they think there is something going on between us; it is just that I must be in the company of people who love me.
Now that your husband is late how do you handle sexual urge?
I don’t even remember sex. I have the right to remarry but I don’t want to. So, why think about it. It is when you set your mind at it that you begin to desire it. I have erased it from my mind. When I see young people in love calling themselves ‘honey’, I just ignore it and move on. I don’t even remember sex because God has made me to be very busy. I am attending one function or the other. Even if I am in a relationship with a man, the man won`t feel much of me because I am very busy. Look at some young girls who are married, they don’t give enough time to their families, how much less an old woman like me. By God`s grace I am very busy. You can’t even bring it, once you bring it I cut you off.
What about lesbianism, there’s a rumour sometime ago that you’re going out with some girls?
I heard it too but nobody has ever tried it with me. Nobody has ever asked me to do it with her, so I wouldn’t know. Where are the young girls? Let them mention their names, who are they? Did you see any one in my house? Maybe because they don’t see me with men they thought I do women, no. For the fact that I play roles to expose the evil doesn’t mean I partake in it. No, that is just acting. I am a Christian and I don’t do such things. I will never ever try it. I can never do it. If I see somebody doing it, I will confront the person, some of them will tell you that I have confronted them. I used to tell them ‘if you are doing it, desist because it will send you to hell’.
You are a grandma, do men still toast you?
Yeah! Mmmh yes.
What is your experience like, how do you handle your male admirers?
I just tell them we can just be friends. I don’t drink, I don’t take alcohol, so we just chat and that’s all. I know my friends, they don’t even go into all that. They are serious-minded. You know the kind of friends you keep will make you have the urge to have sex. When I know I don’t have the power because of my religion. I don’t have the power to sleep with any man. I don’t even think about it. When people come up with it, I order them to stop, I don’t want it. If I tell you to stop and you didn’t stop. I will just cut you off. I will not pick your calls anymore.
Do they go to the extent that they want to marry you?
When they see that you don’t want to sleep with them they would say ‘okay, let me marry you’. And then I don’t want to remarry. I have a right to stay out of marriage and I have a right to stay in marriage. It is not difficult and that is a dream too. I want to be welcome by God when I die. Some of these men maybe they have wives too and they still want to sleep with me. At my age, any person that comes to me must have had a wife or be a widower. And if you have a wife, I will cut you off because you have a wife. If you are a widower, I don’t want to remarry. Young boys like you cannot come and ask me for that.
Has any situation humbled you?
When I see people suffering, I cry. If you want to be real emotional go to a motherless babies’ home. When I went to an orphanage in Kenya, the children sang for me. They said ‘we don’t want your money. We don’t want your shoes. We just want you to give us a home’. Oh god! I cried.
What is your philosophy of life?
Love everybody, love for all. Love conquers a lot of things. Even those who hate you, love them. I believe that when you love people, God heals you and bring you out of poverty. Only those who love can see God. That is why when I had misunderstanding with Mercy Johnson they thought that tomorrow I won`t talk to her. Why won`t I? We only had differences and we settled it and moved on. I was at her wedding. She was here in my house when my son got married. And people are there talking while we are in peace and love. Think about it.
How do you want to be remembered?
I am generally accepted by people, my fans will remember me for so many things; I have tried to affect people`s lives. I tried to help those who are weaker than me and I have tried to raise those hopeless children I adopted, I think you can see them around. I raised them, nurtured them and gave them hope. Some of them their mothers are still alive. After raising them, they would come and take their children, that’s how I touch people`s lives. We go about looking for children who are hopeless and bring them to the house with the consent of their parents.