Home Interview ONYEKA ONWENU: I see my children as prized possession

ONYEKA ONWENU: I see my children as prized possession

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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. The history of Nigerian music industry cannot be written without the inclusion of the ageless singer and songwriter widely referred to as the ‘Elegant Stallion.’ In a recent chat with ASSISTANT ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR GBENGA BADA, the Septuagenarian spoke on various issues ranging from her music and more as well as her journey to fame.

Why do you think this is the right time to put out your book?

I didn’t know, it was just the time when the book was finished and it appears to be the right time. The right time in our country, looking at things, wondering where we went wrong and how we can get out of this quagmire that we are in as a nation. So it’s a good time to talk about what those of us that were born before independence experienced. Our school system was so much better. When I went to America, I was beating everybody in English Literature. They couldn’t come near me, I knew all of Shakespeare from school here, so much that my classmates had to go and complain that how come this African is getting A+ in English Literature and they are failing. Until one day I remember Mrs. Copland decided to read some of my papers that I had written and I said you haven’t even seen anything. These are things that we studied how many years ago and you people are still on it. That was the education system that we had in Nigeria. It was something to be proud of but we seem to be falling backwards with the quality of education. Breeding a nation without educated people is programming yourself for total failure and I hope that somehow we will catch ourselves. That’s how it is in Nigeria, we will get to the precipice and God will find a way to bring us back, I hope he brings us back this time.

The amount of killing, the bloodshed, is too much. The number of people who graduate and there is no job is too much, without any sense of direction. You go and study and at the end of the day you are being paid stipends, what can that buy for you. That’s why when people come to work for me, I go by my own God sent mind and say this is how much you will be paid because if you are working day and night, you ought to be able to take care of your family, your needs and still put away something for emergency.

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I think it goes back to what I say about sphere of influence. When things are bad, think about what you can do at least so that you can have peace of mind that you are doing the best for those around you.

Don’t you think over 400 pages means giving out too many information out?

No. My editor had to cut out a lot of things and there are stories that we have not written. That is where the series comes in because they are all going to come out. I didn’t give out too much. I talked about personal things but there are something’s that you don’t talk about. It’s not a kiss and tell, you slept with that person, and you went out with that person. No. The relationships I talk about are those of the most important people and I asked for their permissions. When I talked about falling in love at 13, I had to write it as the last chapter. I was done with the whole book and I had to write it at the end. He wanted that story out and I had to call and ask about this relationship. It’s not a physical thing, it’s just pure friendship that a God fearing person had and we had to acknowledge that it happened. We are called twin flames- we split from one soul. He’s the male version of me; I’m the female version of him.

At 70, what has kept you going?

It’s God that is doing it because with the way women work in the house; taking care of the house, taking care of the children, taking care of the husband and women also have to make money because it is not only the responsibility of the man. African women do not have that nature. When you are taking care of the community and her parent falls sick, it is the responsibility of the woman to take care of her parent, the men are okay but a daughter has to take care of her parents and her immediate family. We run ourselves haggard so it’s only God that can keep you together in everything you do if you have a sense of direction about where you are going. It may be hard- I had to take care of my children from kindergarten to graduate school, I also raised nieces and nephews and nobody knew that I was doing it on my own. I was doing it all by myself. If you keep it together and keep working hard, when you come out you will be looking good.

Who knows what one is dealing with? That is the art of being a woman. You deal with whatever you have to deal with and come out with a smile and keep going. It’s God that gives that grace and energy that you don’t fall sick; because if you fall sick because a lot of things will go wrong for everybody else. He has given me that grace and I will be putting up an article and I will be finishing it soon. My life begins at70 because now the kids are all grown up, the school runs is done, they’ve all set up on their own but they’ve not started taking care of their mom yet. I hope they will have plans to give their mom money every month.

Any regrets?

People would say no regrets, but it’s a lie, people have regrets. I have a few but I don’t dwell on them. You dwell on them for a while and then you move on. Life has taught me that everything will work for your advantage so even that thing that you think is a regret or a failure, if you have trust in your God, he can use it to lift you up and I learnt this a long time ago. Nothing is a failure for me; it just didn’t work this time so it means that I’m going to try another of doing it.

This is not the first time that I’m trying to do a film but the previous ones, one of them was scuttled by COVID and the lord led me to this one. This is the one that I’m supposed to do.

What has kept you this far?

That God has work for me to do. That I came here not just to have fun and become rich and everybody knows you but to have a sense of purpose. That I have a job to do in Nigeria, that’s why he sent me here and that’s why I’m still here. That keeps me going, it may not be one, it may be several. So if you finish this one, he’s giving you another opportunity and you follow through. If people can come back to me and say I’ve been influenced by what I read in your book, I will be satisfied.

Even though I’m a failure- because it’s not a book where I am praising myself, look at me I’m wonderful. It’s not like that. We talk about the nitty-gritty that a young woman has to deal with. Even someone in your family will say why don’t you go to Abuja and find rich boyfriend so that we can make money. It’s in there, that’s how real it is. I want young people to read it and read my answer when I said I was not raised like that and I will not start then and the person was shocked.

Would it be right to consider your book as your biography?

That’s my biography. That’s exactly what it is. You can call it a memo, a biography. That’s the love that defined me, I wish every daughter had the kind of relationship that I had with my father. But then if you have that kind of relationship and before age five you’ve lost the person, it something’s that follows you throughout your life. And you can live it in grieve- and for a long time I did- but you get a point where when you remember, it is with a smile on your face. You are grateful to God for the life you had with the person. If I had to choose living longer with my father and losing him again, I would still choose him.

You are so concerned about woman so much that you took up advocacy; what then is the driving force?

It’s because I am a woman. I was raised by a woman- a widow. My mother was 37 and had lost her second husband so she never remarried. I know the pains that women go through when they lose their husbands; I saw my mother’s strength, and how she dealt with it. From 37, she never remarried, she raised not just her five children but her nieces and nephews and those of her husband as well. My mother was extraordinary and I will always advocate for the woman. When you wear the shoes, you know where it pinches. When I’m talking about a failed marriage, I’m talking about it with a sense of responsibility. This could happen to you. It’s me sharing my life so that someone else can say this happened to her and she survived it, then I can. You don’t have to stay in a man’s’ house till you get killed- many women have died. I’m not saying get divorced because I don’t like divorce. When my husband died, I just decided to take care of my family. It was a powerful gift that my mother gave me, to say that I’m not going to fool around; I’m not going to sell myself. I’m going to stand and take care of my family. My mother gave me that gift and I gave it to my children. Talking about it gives strength to the next person.

How do you feel when you are been tagged a feminist?

I’m very proud because we often don’t understand the word feminists. We think that it is negative. Being a feminist means that I value myself as a human being, I can effect changes in my community, I can make a difference in people’s lives, I can make a difference in the nation. It doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman, please don’t bring me down and say you can’t do this, you can’t do that. You are not worthy of this because when God created me a woman, he didn’t make a mistake. He created all of us for a purpose and I keep telling people that when I die and go back heaven, when God asks me Onyeka why didn’t you achieve this and I say the men stopped me, he will ask which men. If you want yourself stopped, you will be stopped, but if you are determined that you are a child of God and you have equal rights to be here, you are willing to work for it, then it is your right to have a good life.

So what is the toughest decision that you have ever taken?

There are so many. Every day is a tough decision from when you get up from the bed, you are not feeling great, you have to pay school fees, when the kids were in America, and the way that the schools helped me was that they split the payment on a monthly basis. They were three of them there at the same time. So when month is coming I had to start thinking, the lord thought me to take it one day at a time, one month at a time and I did just that. Sometimes when I finished taking care of everybody, there will be nothing left for me, yet I would still go to bed happy. God gave me that grace. And lucky, I don’t try to impress people with possessions and I lost it all so what’s the use. I see my children as my prized possession. If you had paid school fees for three children from kindergarten to master’s degree, if you put all the money together, how many Rolls Royce and mansions is that?

Considering your success as an actress, journalist and obviously singer, is there a new role you are looking forward to taking on?

I don’t know, I have no idea. I’m going into film making; it had to take encouragement from my producer. You never know but if you trust God to show you, that thing that you thought you couldn’t do, piece of cake, because you are not the one doing it. I don’t write my songs, I download. If I’m the one writing it, I would be afraid because it would finish but since it is God, I just have to key in. My strength is God. Without God I’m nothing, I’m finished. One lady asked is there anything Onyeka Onwenu cannot do and I said is there anything my God cannot do?

What will you tell your younger self?

I was just thinking about it this morning. I’m going to say hang in there, you will be alright. I didn’t think I would be alright, I thought my fathers’ death was the end. I was just going through the motions. I’ve done well and made my family proud. My father and mother left a good name and I think I’ve done well too. I even think I’m more famous because that time they didn’t have social media and now we do. I look at it as an opportunity to pay them back by living a life that they would be proud of. My mother at 93 would whack you with the back of her hand and ask you who gave birth to you.

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