Actors Aki and Patience Ozokwor joined wife of the Rivers State Governor, Judith Amaechi at the ‘Celebrities read to children’ segment of the Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014 opening events.
THE question drew giggles from the audience.
“Why is Aki so short?” the child asked innocently and with a straight face.
However, some of his peers and the adults in the hall could not contain their sniggers as they waited expectantly for the actor’s response. But Aki (real names Chinedu Ikedieze) simply took it in his stride.
Using the theory of creation to explain his point at the session held inside the banquet hall of Hotel Presidential, Rivers State, he told the child that he was born that way. “God didn’t create men equally. If you look around, you will see that some people are tall and others are short, even shorter than I am. I am short because God has created me this way. For instance, my grandfather was 7.5 feet and according to my family members, they said I reincarnated in this form as my grandfather but I don’t believe that. God didn’t create men equally,” he said.
The occasion was the ‘Celebrities read to children’ segment of the recently concluded opening of the Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014 and with Aki on the hot seat were actress Patience Ozokwor and the state’s First Lady, Mrs. Judith Amaechi. Founder of the Rainbow Book Club, the executors of the project, Mrs. Koko Kalango, moderated.
Education is vital
Asked the secret of becoming a Nollywood star, the actor told his inquisitors to get quality education first. “The door to Nollywood is wide open and ready to admit anybody. But you need to go to school first; it’s best to go to school. You don’t become a star overnight. There are different stages you must attain before you become a star but you must go to school because that’s where you lay a solid foundation. Give 70, 80 or 90 per cent to your studies and the rest to Nollywood.”
On his state of origin and if he and his sidekick, Pawpaw (Osita Iheme), are blood brothers, Aki said: “I am from Abia State, a full blooded Nigerian and a full blooded Igbo man. Pawpaw is from Imo State. He grew up in Abia and I grew up in Imo. Fate brought us together and we are not the only short people in Nigeria. The wind of friendship brought us together.”
One of the children also enquired about his age and Aki responded with: “I’m a full adult; I’m above 20 years. I am in my 30s. When I was as young as you, one of my favourite actors was an American known as Gary Coleman. He was so short that I used to think he was a boy. I never knew he was a man. I’m in my 30s and I’m married, if you didn’t know.”
The actor who also told his audience he graduated from the Institute of Management Technology (IMT), Enugu with a degree in Mass Communication thereafter read a chapter from ‘Jaja of Opobo’. Highlighting the moral of the excerpt he read, the actor told his audience to be humble at all times. “Always try dialogue, don’t be belligerent. You should learn to turn the other cheek and think before you retaliate. Christ rewards; if you forgive, He rewards,” he said.
Next up was Ozokwor who read an excerpt from ‘The Barber’s Clever Wife’. She began by telling the children about herself and family. She disclosed that she has eight children but explained on noticing the stunned looks on the faces of the audience that four are biological while the others are adopted. “But I have become so used to them that I don’t regard them as my adopted children. I have grandchildren already, I am praying to have great grand children,” she added.
Like Aki, she also reiterated the importance of education, urging the children to face their studies squarely and not be carried away by the glamour of Nollywood. “You can’t do anything except you read; you can’t interpret a role so read.”
Asked why she plays wicked roles in movies, Ozokwor said: “I can’t get tired of answering this same question all the time. We have different specializations and it is the duty of the director to play an actor in a role that best fits. I think it is because producers and directors discovered that I play such roles very well.
You [fans] are the reason I play the role and once you tire of seeing me in the role, producers will stop.”
Highlighting the lessons of the excerpt she read, Ozokwor said she saw herself in the barber’s wife because she also went through some rough times in the past. She disclosed that she and her husband struggled after they were both retrenched and that she had to resort to making and selling pastries to maintain the family. In the midst of all these, her husband became ill and was bed-ridden for several years before his eventual death. Left with the task of raising four children, she did not despair and has done a good job with them, including the adopted ones.
Mrs. Amaechi, who read from ‘Beem Explores Africa’, was also not spared by the children during the interaction. They asked her several questions including her residence, life as a governor’s and sustaining the reading initiative of the Rainbow Book Club.
The question that provoked the most heartfelt response from the First Lady was: ‘Were you a housemaid before you got married?’ asked perhaps because of a rumour that she was once a house help.
Responding, Mrs. Amaechi said being a house girl does not make an individual worthless in the society. “The ability to make the difference is in your hand, you are not defined by what somebody says about you; don’t be stigmatised. God is interested in making ordinary things extra-ordinary. A good example is Jesus Christ who was born in a manger.”
Continuing, she disclosed that her biological mother died when she was four and that she was raised by an Aunty she described as a great educationist who also made her marks outside Nigeria. The First Lady added that she received quality education by attending Port Harcourt Primary School which her husband has since changed to a technical school and Federal Government Girls College, Abuloma. She capped off her education with a degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Rivers State University of Science and Technology.
The First Lady who also touched on her roots cautioned the children against listening to gossip. “The time for gossip, use it to praise God. Slander won’t work; close your ears to slander and barbaric things. Lies can kill a nation. Shun gossip and slander but face your book. Love your neighbour as yourself and don’t listen to people who speak evil,” she said.
100 years around Port Harcourt
Earlier before the session, ‘100 Years around Port Harcourt’, comprising stories about neighbourhoods in the state’s local councils and written by public school children was presented.
Top officials of the Rivers State Government including the deputy governor, Tele Ikuru, commissioner for education, Alice Lawrence-Nimi and commissioner for information, Ibim Seminatari, who later reviewed the book, graced the event.
Speaking after some students of the schools had related their experiences while writing the stories in the book, Mrs. Kalango disclosed that she and Titi Horsfall, a writer based in Port Harcourt edited it.
The book presentation also featured a short stage play, ‘The fate of Okoama’ which underscored the importance of reading and peace.