Three things come effortlessly to Onyeka Onwenu, MFR. No. 1 is her mastery of the Queen’s English. No. 2 is her unmistakable style of singing. And No. 3 – her never – say – die spirit, no matter what she’s going through. Deservedly dubbed the Elegant Stallion, the irrepresible businesswoman and entertainment practitioner was weeks back appointed the Director General, National Centre for Women Development by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. YES International! Magazine’s AZUH ARINZE was the first journalist she shared her plans for the new office with. Let’s hear her…
Congratulations on your appointment as the Director General, National Centre for Women Development.
How did you feel when you got the good news?
Elated! Elated!! A little bit taken aback because I think it dawned on me that this is a call to service and this particular area is an area I’ve been passionate about; it’s an important area; it’s an area where we need a lot of work and it has to do with the very survival of Nigeria because the women are the mothers of the nation; they bear and raise the future generations of Nigeria. If we don’t take care of them, if they are not able to thrive, the future of the country will be affected. I remember a lot of the young ladies who are out there today having difficulty with their education, having difficulty with finding work and having to prostitute themselves, being kidnapped and some of them trafficked around the world and I’m thinking these are future Nigerian mothers; mothers of the future generations. We have to keep these issues on the front burner, we have to as a nation realize that we have to do something and do it now before it’s too late so that we can rescue these young ladies, give them a sense of belonging, give them a sense of self worth and guide them towards the right path to self realization and help them realize that they have to make a huge contribution to the development of this country.
What would you say got you the job? Why did the President single you out for this job?
No. 1, God’s grace; no. 2, we are fortunate to have an administration that cares about women; that has promoted women’s issues, women’s rights, women’s involvement in governance. This is the best we have ever had it in terms of our involvement in the running of this country. If you look at the number of women appointed, if you look at the portfolios they’ve been given, we are fortunate to also have a First Lady who is passionate about women and their contribution to nation building. So, these are the two things that I believe are responsible for this positioning. And I want to really thank God and I want to thank Mr. President and the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for having this faith in me and for having this confidence that I can do this. I want to thank Nigerians who have responded so positively and I want to say that because I’m going there by the grace of God, I know that I would succeed; I know that I would not let people down, because I know that it is not Onyeka Onwenu who would be doing this, but we all and it is by the grace of God and I would be doing it in co-operation and in conjunction with other people; stakeholders and members of the public. Anyone who cares about this country! And I’m willing to learn; learn from anybody who has something to bring to the table and I’m not going there as if I know what I’m doing; I know it all. I’m going as a servant, I’m going as someone who is open to new ideas, someone who’s willing to work and give 1000 percent.
This new job, what does it entail? Or what are the things expected of you as the DG of the place?
Well, the expectations are huge. This is a centre that is basically all about women. Women advancement in this country is on our table; advocacy, capacity building, training, creating awareness about issues, all of that. It is quite huge, it is wide and we need to define it properly and we are in the process of doing that, because we would come out first of all with a master plan. We would carve our path and know exactly how we are going to achieve it and what needs to be done. And I dare say that the expectation out there is huge. Now, it could be frightening; but I’m not frightened, because like I said, I’m not the one who’s gonna be doing it; we are doing it together; you and I; every woman out there, every man out there, because we all have mothers, we all have sisters and we have daughters and so, I’m not afraid; I’m not afraid of hard work, I’m not afraid of learning, I’m not afraid of taking directives, I’m not afraid of co-operating with other people and I am looking forward to it.
What is going to enjoy priority attention when you get there?
First of all, I believe that creating awareness is very, very important. Aside the training issues and expanding and providing entrepreneurship direction and backing and guiding people coming into their own with technical issues; creating awareness…Do you know who you are? Who is a woman? What is the role of a woman? Let’s define that first of all. Let’s know who we are, let’s know what we can do for this nation, let’s not dwell on negativity, let’s dwell on the positive and come into that positive of who we are and what we can do for this country. If we can do that kind of advocacy, if we can raise the awareness of every little girl in this country, that you are important to this nation, you have a role to play in this nation, if I can just key into that, if the centre can key into that, we would be on the right path.
Most people know Onyeka Onwenu to be a musician, a broadcaster, a businesswoman, an actress and now she’s going into something different. How do you intend to juggle and merge all of them now?
Is it really different? It’s not different. Anything I’ve been doing all my life, I’ve used music, I’ve used film, I’ve used everything I have done to draw attention to women’s issues. That was what struck me when this came; I said oh my God, this is what I have been doing with my life. Remember, I’m always on the fore front talking about women – we are the women of Nigeria (sings the song). The Peace Song. This is what I’ve been doing, and doing it passionately because as a young woman raised by a widow, I know the challenges that my mother faced, I know the challenges that I faced and still made it! And this is what I’ve always wanted to share with other people; this is what my mentoring is based on. And I mentor a lot of young women. I say to them be steadfast, hang in there, work hard, believe in yourself, you can make it, you can get to the top of your profession, the sky is not even the limit, you can even go beyond that. I have never seen being a woman as a disadvantage. On the opposite, I’ve seen being a woman as an advantage, because I’ve always believed that women are imbibed with a certain sensitivity and sensibility that allows you to build, to nurture, to give, to care for and this is precisely what the society needs; this is precisely what the country needs. So, I have always done this. Only now, on a larger scale and working in conjunction with a team.
So, what you are saying in essence is that Onyeka Onwenu will still sing, act, etc?
If I do any of that, it will all be centered around my main job – and that job is DG of the National Centre for Women Development. Everything that I do now will be to promote the work that has been given to me. If singing is going to make me get across to the young ladies out there, to make sure that their lives become useful, that they don’t have to prostitute their bodies; I’ve done it in the past – Wait For Me (her duet with King Sunny Ade…Fine young girl, love e dey for body, this thing dem call love na serious affair, make you think well, before you gree, abeg o, if you love life you go wait for me…) Hey! That’s what I’ve done.
You live in Lagos, are you going to relocate to Abuja because of this new job or how are you going to do it?
My office will be in Abuja and my office will be all over Nigeria. Wherever these issues take me to, I would go.
You’ve been on the scene for long, what is the secret of your staying power? What has kept you there for so long and also relevant?
It’s God’s grace! It’s not because I’m the best or the most talented. God’s grace, hard work and focus. I just feel that the talents that God has given me, the opportunities He has brought my way, for me to serve Him; when you are servicing society, you are serving God, when you are improving the society in which He has embedded you, you are serving His people and you are serving Him and that’s all that I want to do, all that I want to continue and I want to give more. There’s a capacity and a capability to give more and that’s precisely what I’m going to do; that’s why He has kept me going.
What is the biggest mistake that most female musicians make? Where do they normally get it wrong?
I think the biggest mistake any musician would make is to think you have arrived and you have it all and you know it all. That would spell your doom, because you never quite arrived. You should strive to learn and adapt, renew yourself, reinvent yourself every time, because the industry is changing on a daily basis, the business is changing on a daily basis, the world is changing and you’ve got to be able to flow with it. If you are not, you are left behind.
What is the greatest thing that music has done for you?
Whaaaooh! I don’t know about the greatest, but there are so many great things…
We want you single out one…The most significant one.
Giving me a platform to bring joy to others, to bring attention to issues I’m concerned about, to give glory to my God. It’s a platform. That’s what it is.
What has music not done for you?
It’s done everything for me! There’s nothing that music has not done for me. It’s done everything (Laughs).