I was once a bus conductor...–Yaw
The name, Steve Onu, may not immediately ring a bell, but certainly, Yaw would. As an actor, comedian and an all round entertainer, Onu who is ... popularly called Yaw has participated in over fifty stage productions both in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. He has had the opportunity of working with notable directors such as Ahmed Yerima, Binda Ngazolo, Dr. Sola Fosudo and Ben Tomoloju. Yaw, is also part of the award winning cast for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Radio Drama, “Story Story'' and currently enjoying much applaud nationwide as an on-air-personlity on WAZOBIA FM 95.1. In this interview with BUKOLA BAKARE, he relives fond memories from his childhood, his passion for the arts and how he made it to the top. Excerpts:
Everybody knows you as Yaw. How did you come up with the name?
Yaw started on television. There is a television programme that I did with a colleague of mine, Kayode Peters and I used to say something at the end of every speech: Uwau Pawpaw Men Yaw. So, that's just how it started and everywhere I go, people just call me Yaw. When I came to the radio and they said that we shouldn't use our names unless it is a native Nigerian name, I was left with no other option than to stick to Yaw since I bear Steve, a foreign name.
Give us an insight into your background?
My name is Steve Onu and I was born into a family of ten . I'm number seven. My father is still alive and here in Lagos while my mother is in the East. I was born in Lagos and actually grew up here. I went to different schools; from Bright Star to Shimoye, Our Saviour's School and African Church School, Obele, Lawanson. Then, I proceeded to Abesan High School and Anwar-ul- Islam College. Afterwards, I found myself at the Lagos State University for a diploma course in 1995/1996. I began to hustle and do shows and finally, I went back for a degree course in 2000. The diploma was in Radio, Television and Film Production while my degree was in Theatre Arts.
What was it like growing up in a family of ten?
It wasn't easy but what can one do? You give God the glory for everything. Like a lot of people would say, far back in the 70s and early 80s, Nigeria was a good place to be and I really enjoyed being part of that good period. There was much fun to catch time after time at places like the Kingsway Stores and the like but, after a while, things changed and I keep telling everybody, we were born into Economic meltdown and we have been surviving. Since I was a child, they have been saying Nigeria is not good but the good thing about Nigerians is that we will always survive; meltdown or no meltdown, we will also melt up and scale through. So, with me, I had it really tough and growing up wasn't easy. Frankly, when I decided that I would study Theatre Arts, everyone saw me as a useless person.
Was there any kind of setback from your parents?
Yes, I always had that but like I keep telling everybody, when you know where you are going, just be focused and be stubborn to your dreams if it is a good one. I was and still will continue to be as long as it is a positive dream. I have a cousin who took me to a mechanic workshop to learn how to repair cars and I refused. He took me to a welder's shop and also told me to go and learn how to repair Okada. Then, there was just the normal motor bike and I told him that I didn't want any of his suggestions. He said that was where my destiny was and he just saw me as somebody that is useless. But today, I'm sure that wherever he is, he is proud to say “that's my cousin”. I also didn't have it easy, having to sell things. I sold ice-water at Yaba market, did bus conductor once in a while just to survive. In the days of home video, it wasn't Nollywood then, we would walk from Kilo to Fadeyi to be able to take Molue (bus) to Iyana Ipaja and from the bus-stop, I'd trekked to my aunty's place somewhere in Alimosho before, to say just the least. I must tell you the truth, those years weren't easy but, I thank God for where I am today.
How would you describe the personaof Steve and Yaw?
To an extent, those that know me will always tell you that I'm a calm and shy person. When I go out, I just want to be Steve. I prefer it when you say “Yaw”, keep quiet and go your own way. I get embarrassed easily even while I was in school. I respond when people greet me because who am I not to respond? Without them, there's no me. When I'm not on radio, I want to just be Steve and just be me and go my own way. I don't talk outside really. Steve is a bit on the quiet side but I de talk, maybe Yaw is more of a pidgin person but when Steve is serious, he speaks Standard English. I de try to speak English.
How challenging has it been on the radio?
The good thing about the Management of the organisation is that they allow you to be your real self and do your 'thing'. It is what you have in you that they want you to bring out, so it's not really a challenge. I am just catching my fun and with the help of Nigerians that listen to me every day, they make things easier for me; I just come and do my job and go. That's my life. It's not as if they don't monitor us, they do. I have meetings everyday and we do air check of whatever it is that we've done. I try as much as possible though to keep up my game when I am on air.
Do you enjoy what you do?
Definitely. If there is anything like one hundred and ten per cent, I'll tell you that I over- enjoy it because once I just go on the microphone, I am happy with the response that I get from people. The response prompts me the more.
What are your likes and dislikes?
I hate liars and lazy people. I like hard-working people. People who lie a lot lose their honour as soon as they are discovered and with me, they lose my attention. I also hate it when people don't trust one another. While on air for instance, I give away recharge cards and yet, people will still call you and say ''Its a lie, you have used it before giving it to us'', which is usually painful because it is not true. But, I appreciate people that stick to their words. If you say something, please do it. I don't like people who think that they are smart by telling lies, it is always best to stay focused because that way one will easily get to the top.
You have done a bit of comic acting before coming to the radio. How do you reconcile these?
I'll just still say that it is the grace of the Most High. Believe me, without him, it is not possible. The talent is just there and it is just for me to discover the medium through which I want to pass my message. When you are acting on stage, you have to make everything larger than life. On television, it is the tube and they are watching you; you bring it really low and when you are on the radio, they are not seeing you, they are only hearing you. So, you must be able to convince them. I don't know where it comes from.
Can you recall some fond memories from your childhood?
My mother used to beat the daylight out of me. That, I will never forget and every day on the radio, I keep talking about her and people keep asking me “Why your mother and not your father?”. I believe if not for my mother, I for don spoil tey tey. Because every little thing I do, my mother will always be at the back of my thought. There are so many things that their thought wouldn't even have to come up once you are dealing with my mother but with my father, you can do it. I had this clique of friends when I was in the secondary school and we used to cause trouble. People would bring dollars to school and we would go and change it for them. When I got to CMS one day, my father saw me. Immediately he sighted me, he started shouting my name. All of a sudden, I changed and started walking like a lame person (general laughter). People were telling me “That man is calling you'' Dem no dey catch breeze now, so I pretended that I was not the one he was calling. When I got home, he asked me where I was by eleven o' clock, I said I was in school. He said that he saw me at CMS and he kept quiet. In my heart, I knew he knew I was lying but just decided to overlook it. Meanwhile, I know that if it had been my mother, even if she didn't call you, you are the one that would go and meet her and say,''Look at me, I surrender''. When I was much younger, I used to save money inside kolo because they used to give me 10kobo to school everyday. I would come back and turn the kolo upside down and remove the money. One day, I went to buy kuli kuli, my mother came back and wanted to know where I got the money from. She called me a thief and slapped me so hard that I did not realise what I was saying when she asked me what I was searching for and I told her that I was looking for my eyeballs?(Chuckles). Anyway, all these things actually made me who I am today. If I had not gone through all the floggings, I would have gone the wrong way. When I got admission into Lagos State University to study Theatre Arts, she didn't like it at all and she said that it was an avenue for me to become wayward. In the end, she is happy with what I have turned out to be today.
Can you recall any embarrassing moment you have had before?
When I started off as 'Yaw,' somebody met me on the road, and he just hit me on my chest Gboa, ''na you I dey see for television,'' he asked?. I couldn't react because if had done so, it would have amounted to being hostile to your fan's good intention. There was this other day that I was in a bus and the people were yabbing me that I didn't have a car. I felt like dying. When people ask me things, I don't talk especially while in the bus. Even if a conductor is holding on to my change, I simply won't bother. I was at a particular agency one day and the receptionist said “Yaw Yaw” and the other one said carelessly ''Who the hell is he?''.Some people can really be nasty. I had not even started on radio, it was just television. I was so embarrassed and felt very bad.
So, where do you draw your inspiration from?
From God and the society. I read a lot of information from the newspapers. I watch the television and I listen a lot. I'll also give it to my listeners because they are always there to pass one information or the other to me.
If you were not on radio, what would you have probably been doing?
I'll be a showbiz person,an actor, because I've been an actor all my life.
Have you featured in any Nollywood flick?
In those days, I featured in Diamond Ring with Kunle Dada. I started off as an actor and did some minor roles. I also featured in My Guy (Part 2) for Basorge Tariah Jnr, My American Nurse and a host of others. I'm more of a stage person, so I've acted here and outside the country.
Do we expect to see you back on stage soon?
Yes. I had my show on March 8th at The Muson Centre and I intend to come out with a stage play yearly. It is not easy and it is so expensive to package.
What is your philosophy of life?
We before me (others before self); an eye for an eye - but with this one day, I am sure there won't be an eye again.
What is your message to everyone who listens to you in the morning and would probably want to be like you?
First and foremost, discover who you are and your talent. Like 9ice said “Omo na turn by turn, this industry ,omo na plenty python, any how e go be, just stay focused on your way to the top”. If you discover who you are and you know that there are pythons everywhere, you will definitely get to where you are going. It's not easy and I'm sure my story is not the only one. There are greater people who have done lots to be able to get to where they are today. Mine is just moin moin. 9ice also said ''Omo na turn by turn, beg Baba God make e reach your turn''. I end my show everyday with Street Credibility. It seems to be talking to me everyday and I keep telling 9ice'' Thank You'' for that song. They should pray to God always for their dreams to come to pass.
Is there a woman in your life?
Woman?.... I'm involved (general laughter)
So, we should expect wedding bells very soon?
(Cuts in) I'm involved.