By Sylvester Asoya
As a teenager, his fondest dream was to become a lawyer. In fact, he was inspired by Barrister B.S.C. Ezenwa, Mbaise’s first lawyer and the famous father of Justice Mary Odili of the Supreme Court. He also loved the respect lawyers and judges of old enjoyed and the special occupational dress worn by them. Kanayo O. Kanayo, one of the leading movie actors in Nigeria desperately wanted to live the life he had imagined: dress like Ezenwa, the renowned lawyer every working day, go to court and argue, defend defenseless people, live large, challenge anti-people policies and also attract that fading admiration associated with lawyers in those good old days.
But those attractions and ambition are actually part of the endless childhood thoughts and dreams that more often than not, fail the test of reality, possibility and time. However, Kanayo’s world collapsed shortly after his secondary education when he realized that law as a career choice was a pipe dream, at least for the moment. So, in no time, he returned to Aba, where he had attended secondary school to continue his acting career that began with his appearances in school musicals, plays and other dramatic performances.
As a secondary school student, Kanayo was in reality, above average and his classmates attested to his excellent grades, not just in the arts, but also in science subjects. His dream of becoming a lawyer was therefore aborted prematurely essentially for lack of financial opportunity. But after his stint at the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, Aba where he took part in different productions and theatrical performances to earn a living and mark time, he headed to Lagos, the land of dreams. In Lagos, he announced his arrival in a big way with his role as a ruthless and shameless tycoon in Living in Bondage, a flick that later became a forerunner of Nigeria’s modern movie industry.
After the success of Living in Bondage, Kanayo immersed himself in the Lagos theatre scene, going from place to place and acting role after role. With a recognizable face which has many advantages in this part of the world, he also veered into public relations as a way of doubling his income. However, his professional development journey as an inexperienced public relations practitioner blossomed and took a turn for the better when he obtained a professional certificate from the Mass Communication department of the University of Lagos. His career in PR was further bolstered with his induction as a member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, NIPR Lagos State chapter.
But his insatiable desire to get better, drove him back to University of Lagos for another programme. This time, he obtained a degree in philosophy after a four year drill that exposed him to philosophers and their big ideas.
This restless dream maker later returned to the University of Lagos to study law, his first love. For a few years, he attended lectures enthusiastically and promptly too, at the faculty of law despite his busy schedule. I remember accompanying him to the university a couple of times; decked in his white shirt and black trousers, Kanayo looked every inch, a school boy in his funny costume, an adult law student among teenagers. At a point, I thought he was crazy especially with regard to the excitement and commitment he brought to bear on this law programme that stretched him beyond limits.
Again, his dream of becoming a lawyer was cut short when he left Lagos abruptly for Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. He later became chairman of the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism Studies, a national agency where he also left a mark. Abuja is in a way, quenching Kanayo’s thirst for knowledge and fulfillment with the experiences, certificates, degrees and higher degrees that are now at his disposal. Kanayo has finally got his groove back in Abuja, and this is significant. He is currently a final year law student at the University of Abuja and in a few months, he will get admitted to the Nigerian Bar. At last, this dreamer will now live his dream after a restless run. What a convoluted journey!
But Kanayo, a recipient of many awards for excellence both on stage and screen, loves acting and drama despite his attachment to law, his first love. He once told me during a visit to a certain location some years back that he enjoys the best of two worlds by just being an actor, a profession that has taken him to many people and places. “I am paid to enjoy myself, can you beat that, Asoya?”, he once remarked jokingly. He has featured in over a hundred movies and stage performances with themes on socio-cultural issues, politics, the economy, health, citizenship, minority and gender rights, love, betrayal and identity within and outside Nigeria. And like Ronald Reagan, the great actor and former president of the United States of America, Kanayo also loves politics and he has never hidden his interest and determination to serve. Perhaps the time is now ripe for him to deploy all his education and experiences towards a purposeful representation of his people.
I first met Kanayo O. Kanayo about 20 years ago through my friend and brother, Azuh Arinze, former editor of Encomium Weekly, publisher of YES International Magazine and one of the pioneer reporters of Nigeria’s movie industry. Azuh and I have come a long way but that is a story for another day.
At the time I met Kanayo, I was a stringer for a Germany based journal that was interested in Nigeria’s boisterous entertainment scene, the sprawling movie industry and news worthy items from Nigeria. I was actually commissioned to engage the principal players, monitor trends and review pictures. It turned out that Kanayo became the first. We had a long talk on many issues, and at different occasions, I visited him at filming locations and sets.
A few months later during my annual vacation, I traveled to Nru Umueze Oboama, Ezinihitte Mbaise, his ancestral home in Imo State in search of the essential Kanayo O. Kanayo. Before that unforgettable journey, World K.O.K. as I fondly call him, had told me stories about his childhood and life. He also revealed a few things about his late father, Donatus the optimist who washed clothes for a living. Donatus also touched lives in his own way in Oboama and the places he worked. Kanayo’s father was a disciplinarian, a conscientious worker at Ulakpor, a community in Imo State, a devoted husband and father, a community leader and lover of Kronenbourg beer. When I eventually arrived Mbaise, I met K.O.K’s mother, Isabella, an old woman of uncommon style and the actor’s siblings. I also encountered Kanayo’s elder brother, John, a.k.a. (the boy is good), the pathfinder who was Kanayo’s first mentor and guardian in Enugu, the coal city.
Kanayo who is a Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR) may be considered cranky and conceited by some persons but that is also an opinion, and those who hold such views are entitled to them. After all, the actor is human. But this does not in any way, invalidate or diminish his good nature and his positive disposition, or question the fact that he is popular, well-loved and appreciated, not just in his industry but also in his community back home. He is compassionate, friendly, modest and fair-minded. He also remembers. I recall his visit to the Federal House of Representatives during my stint at the National Assembly about seven years ago. He actually took me unawares with that visit and almost created a scene as everyone wanted a photo session and a feel of the star actor.
In many ways, this actor is obviously a study in perseverance. One of the most interesting things about him is his strength of character. Even after many years, he is still moving on and working towards his dreams, regardless of all the obstacles. He surely has a duty to young people today in search of life and meaning. And there could not have been a better time than now that all loose ends in his extraordinary life and career are already tied up.
Congratulations in advance, World K.O.K!