A woman of many parts! Yes, that is what Onyeka Onwenu is. Broadcaster, singer and actress rolled into one. From the onset of her broadcasting career with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) in the 80s, to singing career and later Nollywood, Elegant Stallion (as she is fondly called), ranks among the best artistes that Nigeria has produced.
Ah, wait for this! Onyeka is also a politician, it should be borne in mind. She really surprised all when she joined the fray in 2003 vying for the chairmanship of her local government area in Imo State, on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
As if all these were not enough for one woman, Onyeka is at it again. This time, along with other notable female artistes, she is sweating it out in the studio to release an album in support of the anti-HIV/AIDS campaign. Also involved in the project are Uche Ibeto, Salawa Abeni, Esse Agesse, Judith Nwachukwu and others.
They are operating under the banner of Association of Female Musicians in Nigeria (AFEM)
Amidst her tight schedule, the mother of two spoke last week to Sunday Sun, revealing her attachment to her late father, career, kids and other issues.
Interestingly, her politician father died about 50 years ago, when she was barely four years old. But his memory remains stuck with her.
“I wish you knew my father. He usually took me along whenever he went for his political meetings. He would hand me over to (Dr. K.O.) Mbadiwe when it was his turn to speak. He was an orator, that if he speaks before anybody, the next speaker would find it difficult to say anything. The late Tafawa Balewa called him 'The Old Teacher.'”
Of all the movies she has starred in, either as lead character or support, the one most memorable to her is “Conspiracy”. Like two or more of her movies, Onyeka played the role of a widow who suffered in the hands of her in-laws. “My mother was widowed when I was only four and a half years old,” she said.
AFEM's HIV/AIDS project
“It would be wrong to call AFEM my baby. It was God's making. But, to answer you, the idea has been there for a long time. We didn't want something like a women wing of PMAN. But nobody was going to take the bull by the horn. So, one day I decided to write a letter to some female musicians and we sat down and discussed. We had our first meeting last November, and it was like we had started years back.
We realised that there wasn't enough awareness about the HIV/AIDS scourge. It appeared that some people still doubt whether the virus exists or not. In spite of the fact that we know somebody who has been infected, or somebody, who in turn knows somebody somewhere, we still carry on as if we are immune.
“From the statistics that we have, we found out that women were more infected because they have no control over their sexuality. It was either because they were married off young, or some places where, if the husband dies, the other brother took over the wife. Unfortunately, these women have no say.
“We all came together do something that would throw more light on these problems. As artistes, they best way we can do it would be by singing, so we decided to wax an album. The album is entitled “Value for your life”. As artistes, we are not making anything from the project. We are giving our time, talent and money, and all the proceeds would be used to make copies of the work available to people.”
Most recent job
“I have just finished work on a new movie. It is a story about widows who set out to help themselves. But there was a devilish element that was introduced by the madam of the group. But for the first time, my character was not so nice in this movie. I was not the victim here. It was good for a change.”
Movie roles and widowhood
“You must know a woman somewhere who is a widow. When I was about four and a half years old, my father died and my mum was widowed. Having been raised by a widow, and seeing what my mum went through, there is no way to express it. You have to experience it to know how it feels.”
“I was only four and a half years old when he died. But his memory is still very fresh in my head. I was the closest to him. He was a member of the House of Assembly. He died in a motor accident.
“He was a very charismatic man. If he enters a place, the whole neighbourhood will liven up with shouts of D.K. At their meetings, heavens help you if you had to make a speech after him. As a matter of fact, they made sure he spoke last, because if he spoke before you, nobody would wait to listen to you. He was incredibly an honest man. But when he died, those he had helped deserted us. Those he had given scholarships, or sent abroad.”
“I am very close to my sons, just the same way I was close to my dad. They are lovely boys. But I know that it is God that has been responsible for the way they have turned out. I remember that after my father died, my mum turned us to God. It is the same thing that I have done with them.”
“I have not quit singing at all. I have been busy on all fronts. Aside my albums, I have done several collaborations with many artistes in the past. “Don't forget too that I wrote the song for the inauguration of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999.”
Politics and I
“I vied for the chairman of Ideato North Local Government in 2003. I was sure I won it. God has used that first time to teach me some lessons. He used it to convince me, even more of what the people wish me to be. Now, I know that my people are calling for me. I am a strong member of the PDP. It is the party I support and love. We may be having problems now, I am sure we are going to settle our differences soon.”
NTA board member
Onyeka had in year 2000 laid siege at the gate of NTA and for over two weeks she lived in the open, a protest that elicited the support of notable personalities such as Lagos lawyer Gani Fawehinmi and Charley Boy. Her grouse was alleged non-payment of royalties to artistes whose works the NTA was commercially telecasting.
But today, she is a board member of the organisation she was once literally up in arms against, a case of what goes around comes around.
“I don't know the nature of the job yet. That will wait until we are inaugurated. But you know that I've worked with NTA. I know its challenges and what it needs to stand out. My problem with NTA was to ensure that artistes were treated well. Don't forget that I am an artiste whose rights were denied by the NTA. I did what I did at the time so that artiste would not be denied their rights again in the country. That was what I fought for, and I can assure you that it won't happen to any artiste in this country again. I am grateful to God for allowing me do what I did and I must say that I don't regret doing 0it.
“What I intend to do as a board member? Don't forget that I am a board member. I'll wait till our inauguration before I say anything on that.”