FROM being a music superstar, actress, journalist, politician to becoming an author at 68, there’s not much that Onyeka Onwenu doesn’t have an idea about. OLAITAN GANIU joined the woman, who is widely referred to as the ‘Elegant Stallion’ in her younger years, for a virtual chat as she released her memoir titled, My Father’s Daughter. Onwenu spoke on various issues ranging from feminism to music and more as well as her journey to fame.
YOU’RE 8 years older than Nigeria, what your advice for the country as we clocked 60?
Let’s hold this country together for the younger ones. We cannot leave this place worst than what we met. So, it is a matter of individual efforts because I believe that we all have peers of influence even a small child does. Within your peers, what can you do to make life better for the next person? What can you do for yourself, your neigbour and your country? We all can do something.
Mostly, I’m begging the leaders of this country. We are fast approaching the pessimist, let’s be careful. Each time we had done so in the past, God has a way of pulling us back from the brink and made us say that God loves Nigeria. We pray that He will be able to pull us back again but we’ve got to help ourselves by stopping the corrupt practices, being leaders we called to be, serving the people, leading by example, teaching our children right. ‘You destroy this country you ain’t got no other’ because other people have their problem, they won’t take you in. So, we got to stay here and be mindful of our doings. Don’t start something that you don’t know how it going to end.
For younger people, you have a responsibility to learn, to be polite, to speak the truth, be hardworking. We all have responsibilities.
What is your take about feminism and girl-child rights?
Feminism, that word that we are so scared of? It is not a bad thing, it is a good thing. It means, as a woman, I’m not going to apologize, I’m not going to be the second rate, I’m not going to take the backseat because I’m a woman and I ought to be seen and not be heard.
I always say when I die and go to heaven to meet my God and He asks: “Onyeka, why did you not achieve things I told you to go and do.” I’d say, “Papa, the men didn’t let me.” I can’t give that excuse. What I am saying is that it doesn’t mean that I am better than the man, it doesn’t say that we must all be doing the same things because we have our different strengths and weakness but we must complement and respect one and other.
Guess what, I have boys and I don’t have girls but I have many daughters out there. What I always tell them is – be yourself, be your best and don’t let anybody push you down and do not push down anybody, either.
It is believed that young female is often taught to suppress their feelings for them to get along with others, what’s your view on this assumption?
Don’t let anybody make you suppress anything about yourself – talent, zeal, insight, who you are, your world view, your ability to express your truth. Don’t give anybody that kind of power because if you lose it, you lose yourself. Keep applying yourself, doing good, loving yourself, neigbour at some point the world will come around and acknowledge your truth and the fact that you did not give up or sell out.
Does your new book ‘My Father’s Daughter’ address some of these challenges?
Yes. ‘My Father’s Daughter’ address the issues facing the girl-child. Hoping that a lot of young ladies would read this book and learn some coping measures they can take for themselves.
Basically, I come out of this, not apologising for being a woman – a strong woman, a successful woman, a forward-looking woman. I want every girl-child to know that they created for a purpose. Yes, you are going to face challenges, this is the society we find ourselves in, but you’re going to surmount and survive them to make good with the purpose of your life.
It is a book of stories, my experiences with challenges that I had to face. It doesn’t glamorise anybody’s life, it just says this is what I went through, these are the lessons that I learned and maybe you can learn not to make the mistakes that I made. The book doesn’t paint me having a perfect life or having all the answers but it says this my stories. It’s very deep. Though, it might not be a perfect book because I am not a perfect person, no one is.
Recently, you revealed that you married to a Yoruba Muslim. Did you face any challenge from your kinsmen being an Igbo woman?
Not at all. My family kind of knew that I am an independent-minded person. I will do whatever I wanted to do in terms of whomever I fell in love with. He was a Muslim before we got married and there was no objection to that. My children are proudly Yoruba and Igbo, so if you say something bad about the two tribes, they’ll query you and that is the attitude we should all have.
Let’s stop insulting and deliberating and putting down each other. We are blessed with the richness of our culture and that is what makes this place (Nigeria) very interesting. Be proud of who you are, where you come from because you can’t love someone without loving yourself first. We should accept what God has done to this country by putting us together as one entity.
You are one of the very few female singers in Nigeria long ago, what was it like finding your voice in a male-dominated industry?
I don’t know where to begin, but I do talk on how difficult it was… about PMAN and all the processes of mine and other people’s contribution to the industry including Chief Mrs. Chris Essien Igbokwe. She brought a lot the entertainment industry.
There’s a serious worry about the quality of music in terms of lyrics and nudity in comparison to evergreen songs recorded by the older generation, what your advice?
Be careful of what you live for prosperity. If you can’t give your best, don’t step out because what you recorded is always going to be there for long, so you got to give it the very best. Center your artistry around something that will last with meaning, not just shaking bumbum and it’s just the women that are always shaking it, the men don’t shake anything. Women are worth more than shaking their bumbum. Enough of the bumbum.
Though, everyone is free to be creative, but just know that yours will not last while the other person with meaningful lyrics will remain evergreen.
Musically, we’ve not heard from you. Are you using your new book to get fans back?
I have ardent music fans. They don’t go no-where (laughing)… we are together. But, I have been releasing stuff, the way music is been put out these days are different. If you go to my Youtube channel you will see a lot of my new music. There’s the one called, ‘Arumba’ which is about a young girl and the dangers that she’s exposed to and I also have a song on IDP, ‘Not Alone,’ and many several songs on the platform.
Any plans to collaborate with the new generation artistes?
I have been collaborating. Phyno and I did a song titled, Ochie Dike which turned out to be a beautiful version. So, it’s up to the new generation artistes to call me on. I am always available, especially for women, I will always support because women, ‘we must shine more than the men ooo!’… but if they (female singers) don’t reach out to me, I can’t force them. But, they should know that I’m all about them.
What’s your motive of writing a memoir?
The thought of writing this book has been with me for quite sometimes. The reason is, for people of my generation, we have a lot to teach and share. As my children are growing up, I tell them a lot of stories but I need to put these stories in writing, so they can pass it down to their children and grandchildren. When I’m gone they know that they have this grandmother who was a bit of emotional and bit of a tough lady.
The book is not just for my family but also the young people out there because I always feel bad about what is happening in the society, where the country is going, we are losing a lot part of our culture, socialization, the teaching of parents to children. I want to leave behind young people that will read and say ‘Oh! Now I know. So she went through this and survived it. I too can survive.’ Those are my reasons, though it was difficult writing it.
How much of your career does the book capture?
The book is over 450 pages. I talked about my failure. When you fall you get up, you don’t need to stay in one place. Learn from your mistakes and move on – it is about the lesson learnt – in public life, music, school, acting, broadcast as well as growing up. I hope this book inspires everyone to write a book so that we can share with the next generations. You should not go to heaven without writing a book.