‘Why I'm Called Elegeant Stallion’........Onyeka Onwenu
— Onyeka Onwenu, popular Nigerian musician, actress and chairperson, Imo State Council of Arts and Culture
Many would readily describe her as a woman of many parts, but famous songstress, Onyeka Onwenu will simply tell you that she is first a journalist before any other thing.
Onwenu, popularly known as the Elegeant Stallion, is also a singer, actress and politician. Her foray into politics began a few years ago when she decided to run for the chairmanship of her local government area in Imo State, on the platform of the People's Democratic Party (PDP).
Penultimate Friday at the Jade Chinese Restaurant in Ikeja, GRA, Onwenu's friends and well-wishers treated her to a dinner in honour of two major achievements that recently came her way. First was her recent appointment by the Governor of Imo State, Ikedi Ohakim, as the chairman, Imo State Council of Arts and Culture;the second was the unveiling of her pet project, Omenuko Ojemba, an epic movie which tells the story of quintessential man.
All-night long, the guests who turned out for both events wined, dined and toasted to the good health and success of Onwenu. A few others even went further to say words of prayers for her, sending her forth to her new appointment with God's guidance. When it all ended, The Source was on standby to speak with this lady of many parts who is also one of the most charming women in the country. What anyone can't possibly take away from her is her deep affection for her father who died over 40 years ago.
“My father was a politician and I adored him so much. I thought he was the greatest man that ever lived. He gave me so much love in those early years that would last me a life time,” she proudly told http://nollywoodgists.com
Her new movie project, Omenuko Ojemba, excites her also, as she proudly states that it wouldn't be just like any other Nollywood story. According to her, expertise in all areas of movie-making would be employed from within and abroad. The movie, she said would be put up for international competitions.
In 2003, Onwenu contested the chairmanship position of Ideato North Local Government. Till date, she believes that she won the election (even though it was cancelled). “I know that my people are calling for me. God used the first time to teach me a lesson and convinced me on what the people wish me to be” she quipped, adding that her recent appointment would not halt her ambition of wanting to serve her people at the local government level.
She has also appeared in numerous Nollywood productions. Perhaps, her best performance was in the movie, Conspiracy, where she acted the role of a widow who suffered immensely in the hands of her in-laws. Onwenu is mother of all-male children who are currently in the university .“I am very close to my sons. I love them and they love me also,” she told http://nollywoodgists.com We hope you'll enjoy this chat we had with her.
Congratulations madam. How do you feel over your recent appointment by the Governor of Imo State as the chairman, Imo State Council of Arts and Culture?
Very grateful to God. When you are chosen to serve, it is a big responsibility. I see myself as a gamut of what we are, both my life as a journalist and as an entertainer because you can't separate them. You entertain, inform and educate at the same time, but people have not had respect for what we do. This appointment is giving us respect, its not just about Onyeka Onwenu, its about the people I represent. I started my professional life here in Nigeria as a journalist on television, that was how I made my name and not really as a musician. I worked with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), I also did a film about the country which is still the definite film about Nigeria, so, I see myself representing a whole group of people who are coming after me. You are much younger, I am fronting for you, to show that journalism is an honourable profession, that the people who are journalists are equipped to do a special kind of job because you don't need just one talent but a gamut to bring it together. We are very important to the society because we bring attention to bear to the real issues in the society, which is how to move this country forward.
This is a country that is blessed with both human and natural resources. We ask the questions and ask the government to be mindful. God has a particular bias for Nigeria but it is a pity that we are lagging behind but we must not loose hope, we must recognise that if you take your sphere of interest and do well there, you are an ambassador. It doesn't make you more popular than he who sweeps the street. That brings in the passion and dedication. We are all ambassadors in our places of work. So, this is my sphere of influence and I am willing and able to give my very best. Its not about money, because nobody is paying me to be the board chairman; in fact, flying between Lagos and Owerri and staying in hotels, they can't pay for it. But I'm willing to continue to make that sacrifice, so that at the end of the day, our children will inherit a country they can be proud of.
What does this appointment mean to you?
It means a great deal. It means that we are recognising the importance of Arts and culture, that its not just those who can't make it that go into this profession. We are special people . Putting me there is like putting a round peg in a round hole and recognising the importance of Arts and culture in the development of our country. If you don't know who you are, how are you going to have dreams and vision to fulfil that? Its what we do that tells us that we are a wonderful people, we have a colourful culture, whether as Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa, we have a background and this is what we have to show the world and when we come out, they know we are there. When we take our culture around the country, we are colourful, energetic and attractive. Let people stop seeing the bad quality of Nigeria and recognise that we are also blessed, good and have a lot to bring to the table. Culture also means tourism. Tourism is not all about hotels or leisure, its about people coming to see you, in your glory. These are some of the things we want to emphasis on and make our young people proud. So, I am flattered, honoured to be in a position where I can look at the state and say, 'what can we do with the culture of this state what can we do to give the young people confidence in who they are.'
Won't this appointment clash with your ambition of wanting to be chairman of your local government?
Not in anyway, and the election is not coming up in the nearest future. In fact, my governor has said he wants to reinvigorate the whole system there and really, I am so happy. People didn't understand my coming out to that position in the beginning.
The fact that I have been on it for seven years and bringing attention to it, has elevated the discourse and debate that local governments are really the most important part of government. You being there at the local government level means you are the president, governor, etc that they know. Get it right at that level and you would have solved more than 60 per cent of the problems in this country. When I first came out, people didn't give it a thought and people had a hard time figuring out what I was going in there to do. But I kept talking and now I am glad that my state government listened to me and has said that if you are coming out for that post, you really must have the interest of the people at heart. You are not coming to steal because now the whole world is watching, so if that is what I have achieved, its good. I have not given up my ambition and this is what the governor is saying to me: “We have seen your commitment. We want to keep you busy, for these good seven years you've been chasing after this thing, you've been talking, debating and so on; and we have heard you. But begin to do it now before the election.' Well, it may be that the election will come and I lose, I don't know because I'm not ready to buy anybody's vote. I do not have a godfather. I have done this for seven years and God has given me the grace because while I am raising my children and taking care of the extended family, I am still able to do this and be able to finance it. Recently, I told my governor that when you talk to the people, as I have done and you ask them what is the list of their priorities, the first five items would all be roads. We are suffering! I will continue talking about this and bearing in mind that 68 per cent of roads in Nigeria are local government roads. So, this is really the responsibility of the local government. Nigeria is only going to get better when we get people who are committed.
What do you think you have for Arts and culture in Imo State and Nigeria in general?
God has opened my eyes to see that everything is driven by government. My government is making investments in the Oguta Wonder Lake projects, hotels, building pleasure facilities but without culture what has it got? People have to come to Imo State to look at the Ikeji Festival and see all the masquerades as they come out. We also have wrestling, story telling, et cetera. We also want our children to be able to speak our language. My children have a hard time doing that because they are half-Igbo half-Yoruba and I'm currently begging them to pick one and speak. I take part of the blame because I didn't realise it earlier, that you must make sure you talk to the children in their mother tongue. They must be able to understand it because if not we are losing it. Give it two or three decades you lose not only the language but also the culture; thus, it is something that is of concern not only to Ndigbo but to the whole Nigeria. Let us teach our children their language and who they are. Let them find pride in it and this is what they will offer the world.
Recently, you unveiled a movie project called, Omenuko Ojemba. Can you tell us what it is all about?
Omenuko Ojemba is a wonderful story; one that we can all learn from. Its the story of a man who made a big mistake. He was defined by his attitude, reaction and he picks himself up and goes again to outshine whatever he was in the past to become a man of destiny, wisdom, riches and prosperity. Everywhere he went to, he prospered and he was able to redeem not just himself but those he sold into slavery at the point of his desperation. Omenuko Ojemba is a story that can be applied to yourself, to a state and a nation. Don't be defined by your failure but by your ability to rise above your failure and become great.
How did you come in contact with the story. Is it a true life tale?
Yes. I come from Arondizogu. I adored my father and thought that he was the greatest man that ever lived. He died when I was four and half years old. He gave me so much love in those early years that would last me a lifetime and I looked at his background and who he was and the people that he cared so much for. He was a politician, an educationist. Then I said, 'what is it about this Aro people'. So I started reading. The Omenuko story was the first Igbo novel and I began to learn from it by watching my people falling down, getting up and not being recognised as the great people, they were living in poverty and coming out of it. So, I said to myself that this story needs to be told. It's a story of redemption or rising above your mistakes.
How do you intend telling the story?
Through an epic. We are taking Nollywood to where it should be going. It's not a typical Nollywood story because its going to be well told and would be done with technical expertise. It will be done to international standard and we will enter it for every international festival and by God's grace we will win. We want to use it to encourage other people. Nollywood is self-made courtesy of the traders who put their money together to build it. We need to encourage every culture to say that even a small ethnic group has something to give to the world. We also need to encourage the private sector to come in. We need to encourage the arts.
How much do you think it will take to produce this movie?
We want to raise over N300 million because if we are going to compete with movies done in Hollywood and so on, we need to come up with the funds to make it possible. We will create employment opportunities and train them. We will bring in technical expertise from abroad and we'll have a full film village. It's not just about this movie alone.
Will the film be made in English?
Partly, because we'll have a narrator that is going to be introducing the story in English. It goes right straight into Igbo but we are going to have both English and French subtitles. We also intend having German, Spanish and Italian subtitles because we have Nigerians in the diaspora and other people interested in our culture.
It's been quite a while since you released an album?
I am working on one right now (laughs) and its very exciting.
You really have time to record an album now?
Yes. You never leave music because its a part of you. It's God's gift and I want to use it to glorify Him. I also use my music to talk about issues concerning the country.
What informs your style?
I don't know my dear. If its simple and I am comfortable, I go with it. If it tells something about me as an African, great.
You are mostly called the Elegant Stallion. How did you get that title and how do you feel when you hear it?
I don't know. I think it was Azuka Jebose of The Punch in those days who came up with it. It has to do, I think, with the way I walk and present myself. I didn't argue with it when he started it so it just stucked (laughs).
Given a choice, would you prefer to have a longer hair?
I had it while growing up, so when I went to America I permed it myself but it fell out. So, I quickly took a scissor and cut my hair. Once I began to enjoy the freedom, there was no going back. I pour water on my head everyday and I love it. It's easy. I admire those who go to the salon, but I do not have the patience.
Tell me about your family?
I have a wonderful family. I have lovely children who love me and I love them too. They are all now in the University so I have time to do what I have to do. God has helped me with them because he own them; I am just a custodian.
How old are you now?
I am 56-years-old.
Wao, but you don't look it one bit.
I think its great. Its the Lord's doing and I am very proud of it.
Do you have any female child?
No. I've just got boys. And I think God did it on purpose because I am always talking about women. He put me in the midst of men and I am always arguing and putting forward the female argument. Let me tell you something: whoever my children will marry, will owe me.
In what way?
Because I have raised them to respect and love women. That is the way they should be. If my son will ever get into an argument with his wife, he knows I'll be behind her. So, he won't bother getting into one with her.