ALL I WANT TO DO IS MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF MY PEOPLE...ONYEKA
Onyeka Onwenu is a singer/songwriter, journalist and actress. She is a graduate of Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts and the New School for Social Research in New York City, where she obtained a B.A. in International Relations and Communications and a Master's Degree in Media Studies. Onwenu recently veered into politics when she contested the Local Government Chairmanship for Ideato North in Imo State in 2002.
Though unsuccessful in her bid, Ms. Onwenu plans to seek further opportunities to serve her people at the local government level. In this interview, she bares her mind on how making the difference in the lives of her people is the most satisfying thing that she longed for. She also spoke on the possible impact the new electoral reforms will have on the future elections, plus her beauty routine. Enjoy;
You contested for the local government election in 2002. What prompted that decision and how far have you gone with the project this time since you lost the 2002 election?
I was at a gathering and was being introduced to this prominent Nigerian as a politician, someone turned around and said “she had always been a politician.” I think that by using my music to address issues, I have actually been doing that. So, it was almost seamless to transfer my energy into running for Local Government chairmanship.
You get singing about these issues, about poverty, want and what have you, and you feel that there's so much more that you can do, and you find yourself in a position where you can make the law or help carry out decisions that will change people's lives, improve the lives of women and children particularly in the rural areas, because there's so much poverty there. And you as an individual, there's not much you can do because how many people can you help with the money you have? And you yearn to do more, so, this is my way of trying to get into a position where I can do that.
If a Local Government is run very well, with integrity and commitment, providing the proverbial enabling environment for people to grow their businesses, you will find that you have helped the greater number of people, you give them hope. I liken myself to a grain of sand that falls into an oyster before a pearl can be formed. When a grain of sand, something that is almost like an irritant falls into the oyster and because the oyster is irritated and agitated, movement starts going around that grain of sand, and before you know it, it builds something around that grain of sand, and that is your pearl, the precious jewellery, and that is the way I see myself.
I see myself as that one person that can help to galvanize efforts, that can help to make people see that they have hope and direction and if you can ginger other people and if you have a number of them working together in this one environment, there is no way we cannot succeed. I did it in 2002, it didn't go through and I had to go back and ask my God certain questions, because I don't like to do things when I'm not led by God because when one is patient and listens to the voice of God, you'll find that things will not go wrong. And what I got from him was “go back and do it again, I did not tell you you were going to win the first time. Learn the lessons that you needed to learn and then move on,” and that is precisely what we've done. We know that it is not something beyond our grasp and we can do it. So, for me, the next few months will be very tasking and challenging but most of all, I'm looking foward to going to live in the village, I'm thoroughly a village woman now.
How far have you gone this time with the political position you are running for now?
I have indicated my interest and I'm a committed member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). We have campaigned and won the presidency. We all had something to do with it because we did all the campaign. The governorship in Imo has been sorted out, PDP controls the House of Assembly, we also have three senatorial slots and same with the House of Representatives. We have done very well.
Having worked very hard, I think I am the kind of candidate the party is looking for, for the Local Government, because, I think that they have come to that realization that the local government is the most important sector being the closest to the people and if we can get it right at that level, 50% of the job is done. So, the local government is very important to the PDP and the party has recognized that it is a candidate like me, who has a name to protect, that will not go there and mess things up because I want to pocket the local government money.
I'm certainly not one of those that you will come to at the end of the month to say, “you will be giving this person half a million naira or five million naira,” no, it will not take place during my time. I have made a promise to God, and if I'm going to go and fail, don't let me get there. I don't need the name, I already made the name, I don't need the money, I'm quite comfortable. All I want to do is to make a difference in the lives of my people and there is nothing that I will find more satisfying than having gone there and made that difference because I believe that if we lay down an example, others will look upon it and follow suit.
What are the challenges you've faced on the journey so far?
It's not an easy thing to go and campaign in the rural area. You're contending with all kinds of people that are not on the same level of understanding and as educated as you are. It is not an easy task at all, but the fact that I'm known as an entertainer and a musician who has had a purposeful musical career, has helped me because the name is already known.
They know my antecedents, they know I'm not somebody that will put her hand in something and soil it, so all of that helped me. On the other hand, having done well in music and now will she do well in politics? That was another challenge. But, again, they have also seen that I'm thoroughly a grass roots person. I can blend anywhere you put me, whether in the midst of the rich or amidst the poor, I'm okay as long as I know and I'm convinced that I am where God wants me to be for his purpose and glory.
Looking at things from the general perspective, how would you position the entertainment and political sector in Nigeria in the next five years?
Looking at the musical industry, there's been great improvement. When we came in, the industry wasn't that bad and we had lots of people, particularly the women, but gradually, when the economic situation of the country went down, the music industry became badly affected because people will eat first, then pay rent before thinking of buying any musical tape or video. Also when the big companies left Nigeria, we didn't have too many companies coming in that knew what it meant to be a record company.
For instance, piracy issues and payment of copyright dues were not properly addressed. Although government had laws but no one was taking the laws seriously. All these things brought down the industry. But now, there is competition and greater attention is being paid to Nigeria from outside the country. A lot of young people are coming out and they have international potentials and if it goes on like this, the industry will thrive and we are looking foward to that. Politically, Nigeria is fine. I know people like to say that the last election was not free and fair.
Yes, may be, yes may be not, but at the same time, we would have learnt something. As you can see, President Yar'Adua is going towards electoral reform. Something will be gotten out of this bad situation we just experienced. If what we get out of it is to have strong electoral laws that will be applied next time around, that's good. No country developed with democracy over night and Nigeria is not going to be different. So, we have to be patient, yes we have to keep criticizing ourselves because it is when we acknowledge that we've done wrong, then we'll know we have to do right. So, it's good, I just see it as a forward movement to perfection, we are not just there yet, but we will get there.
What will you miss doing when you eventually win the election and move to the village?
I will miss nothing because even now, I barely spend much time in Lagos. I'm more in the village than here. Besides, there are fresh foods at the village and I will be free from the hustle and bustle of Lagos life.
What is your beauty routine?
Because of my very demanding schedule, I developed a simple routine . Ido walking on one spot in my bedroom in front of my mirror, so I can see all the places I need to work on. I also do stretch exercises for about twenty minutes everyday. I wear low cut, I have no hassles of going to the salon to make my hair, I just wash it and cream it. I also believe in having my inner peace at all times. Even if you're stressed, because we all are, in this environment, there should be that inner peace that what you're doing is to the glory of God, that for me compensates for the rush-rush.
Also, I believe in taking vitamin supplements because we never eat well enough to be sure that we are having all the nutrients we are supposed to have. As for make-ups, I seldom wear it except I'm going for an outing or I'm going on stage. I just use the eye liner and a little lip gloss or mild lipstick on a regular day because our weather is hot and is not too good for excessive make-up.
How do you love your clothes?
My clothes are simple and comfortable.
What is your jewellery taste?
I like special pieces that others don't have. I like my things to be unique , not wearing huge stuffs and lots of gold but I love special jewellery that only me and may be a few others, have. Sometimes, I go to some odd places to look for jade, topaz and all kinds but it is not a do-or- die affair for me.
What is your taste in perfumes?
I keep it simple and I love rare perfumes, not the common ones. It has to do with your skin. That it smells nice on me does not guarantee that it will smell the same way on you. Don't ask me the name because they all change from time to time.