When Onyeka Onwenu, the lady Nigerians have come to know musically as the elegant stallion sang, If You Love Me, You Go Wait for.Â Me, in that musical marriage she had with the legendary juju musician, King Sunny Ade, little did she know sheâ€™d end up one day, keeping her fans in limbo.
Eleven years after she released her last album titled You Are My Everything God on Kennis music label, the Aro-ndizuogu, Imo States born star who remains the only Nigerian musician ever signed on by Benson and Hedges music returned during the week with a new album titled, The Legend
The mother of three whose greatest dream as a politician is to become a local government chairman speaks on the album she recorded with some new breed producers and more.
Were you paid for the Imo State endorsement?
No, I wasn’t. It was my Governor’s idea. He is a man of vision. Today, everybody says a new face of this…new face of that. But truly, the New face conceptÂ started off in Imo state. Governor Ohakim came up with the concept, and I was approached to execute the project. AndÂ honestly, I didn’t know it would be so well accepted that I should be identified with all that is good about Imo state.
I really like to thank him for the honour because it is one thing for you to have done well, and it is another thing for the people to recognise your effort,Â and want to identify with the image that you have created. So I did it. I wasn’t paid for it. Although, there was an honorarium for my clothes and the likes. Not that I would have wanted to be paid. There are things that you do for the sake of community or society and it was really my honour to be able to do that.
And how does that make you feel?
The fact that my picture adorns the concept means much to me. It says this is our daughter in whom we are well pleased. So, to have her image welcome you into Imo state means we approve and love her, we equally love what she is doing- that’s the acceptance I am talking about.
Relocating to Imo state from Lagos to serve your people on a political platform. Was it what you bargained for?
I have always been involved with anything my people are doing back home. My input in my community has been very strong. I keep it on the low side because there is one thing I learnt from my upbringing- if you are doing charity work, it is your commitment. The world does not need to know about it. The only time they should know is if you need publicity to do more. If you go back to my village, you’ll feel my impact. God chose to put me for his own reason in a small town in Aro Ndizuogu.
In politics, I have asked Him (God), what do you want me to do? I never felt I would come out (to do politics) even though I was born to a man who was a high flyer in politics. It never occurred to me until the time came and God put it in my mind that this is where I want you to go. It didn’t make sense to me initially- this local government thing. A lot of people would ask me, why local government? It didn’t make sense to me too. If I was the one who came up with the idea (participating in politics), I wouldn’t have thought about local government.
Where would you have considered?
Possibly, the senate, governorship or even the presidency. I am good for it. You are good for it too. God said,I am sending you to the local government because that is the closest to the people and that is where you can make a mark very quickly and sow. It is not about Onyeka Onwenu really. It is about doing what I can at that level. I insist that if you can get it right at that level, you have got it right.
How many times have you contested?
It is my second time. I wanted to quit after the first time because I saw a lot and I wasn’t happy. Imagine that my party said, you are the flag bearer and some people said , No, she can’t be. We won’t let her. These are high flyer people and because they were scared that this woman was going to perform and then she’ d show us off as incompetent. And once you set a precedence, anybody coming after you will have to meet that standard, if he can’t do better. This was the fear. They appreciate and understand that the people want me and that I am in a position to change things, given my commitment. I don’t have any other magic, except that my heart is in there 100 per cent.
Maybe, the first time you tried wasn’t the right time?
It’sÂ God’s time. I did go down in prayers. I grew up in a Christian home and we seek God’s face in everything that we do. I have no apologies about that andÂ I am not ashamed of it. When I sought the face of the Lord and asked,were you not the one who sent me? He said, yes. I said, why didn’t I win? He said, I didn’t say you would winÂ the first time. I said, Come out and you came out. Now go back again. Surprisingly, I didn’t want to, but he said Go back and here I am.
Beyond the council level now, you are involved in service to the people of Imo state at another level. Tell us about it.
Yes, indeed. The appointment I got was to be the chairman of the board of Imo State Council for Arts and Culture. When my governor sent me there, he called me and said, Look, there is nothing there. It has been so run down that what is happening there is really bad. That is why I am sending you because I know you are capable of rescuing that place. And in six months, we did it to the point that he bragged with us (the council).
Can we talk about the council that you met, what you have done so far and how you were able to change it.
There was nothing there. The grass was so overgrown. No morale, nothing. When I got in there, I nearly cried because all that I could see was potential. Imo people are very vibrant. In terms of culture, it is us. We are the heartland. I cried because I saw the beauty, talent and all but no motivation. The council didn’t even have a bank account.
So,Â how was it operating?
I don’t know. And when we came in, there was opposition. But little by little, they could see our commitment. I am the chairman but the board was willing to work. Sometimes, when we go for cultural fiestas, I would lead the troupe in front – dancing and wearing the traditional outfit. I mobilise everyone and when we get into the arena, you will know that something is happening. Everything started to turn around. So, after fighting initially, they (oppositions) now accepted and we began to work together. Then, we started refurbishing and putting up a building based on our subvention and the money we were making at the side. Now we are asking for accountability where there wasn’t any. They didn’t see a board which was coming to chop money. We were spending our money. They don’t pay me any salary. They just pay me sitting allowance which is not even enough to cover my expenses. So, this was the example that we set but we can even do more and we are striving to do more. And now that the governor has agreed that we should go on 100 percent, we have new ideas and if I am there for another six months, we are going to do more to make him proud.
What happens to your local government intentions if your governor offers you a commissionership post?
(Laughter) I think he knows that I will prefer to go to my local government and he is very sensitive to such things. He knows that anywhere you put me, I will give it my best but I amÂ sent for a purpose.
What if there is an offer?
We will cross that bridge when we get there. He won’t do that because he knows how passionate I am about the local government, even before he became governor. We have had opportunity to talk. What he has come to do is to provide an enabling environment, creating the proverbial level playing ground and let the people put me there. That is the mandate by which I should be there- the peoples. Don’t put me there because I have money to share because I won’t share. I don’t give or take bribes. If I bribe you today to work for you, I am not going to work. I am going to steal your money and make back what I have given out. I won’t bribe anybody. When I was saying this, they said, she is naive.Â I said, I amÂ not. I told God when I was going there that, If I get in there, I will do it your way. If I can’t do it your way, don’t let me get in there . Because, what is it? You go and make that money, you lose your pride, the name you have laboured to make, your father and mother’s name, all because of money you can make elsewhere and even make more.
What is it about the local government that so attracts you?
It is very simple. Get it right at that level and you have saved this country. It is closest to the people. I will be the president that they see; the governor closest to them and that is why you have 774 local governments in Nigeria. If they are functioning, let the state do its job too. By serving at the local government level, you can execute policies and see directly if they are working or not. It is very important. We have left it for the wrong people and that is why we are suffering. But I can do it excellently because I have a sense of integrity and everything I have done has been done passionately.
And what about your opposition?
We have the best relationships now. We are friends now. They are my supporters.
So you might run unopposed?
No. You will always have contenders and its good to have people that will keep you on your toes. I don’t want an unopposed scene.
And what happens to your music?
Music and entertainment are going to drive development in my politics because it is a huge sector. Entertainment is the biggest employer of labour in the world. Why can’t we use it?
So, what plans do you have for the local government?
First of all, the monthly allocation will be used to develop the place. An enabling environment for education will be created. I have a foundation – the DK Onwenu Foundation, giving out scholarships right now. Teachers will be taken care of. You might be wondering, Ã¦where will she get the money to do all these? We are not even going to rely on the subvention that will be coming on a monthly basis. We are relying on galvanizing the people of Ideato to come together and help themselves. There are agencies all over the world that when they bring money to work in Nigeria because the environment is not so good, they take the money back. They will bring their money this time, get their money’s worth and attract world-wide attention.
Back to your music.
I am just coming out with a CD. The introduction had been done, last week. I am still entertaining.
How is it coping with politics, music, motherhood and all that.
If I tell you it has been easy, I will be lying about handling motherhood and all that. I am a care-giver. I live with a 91-year-old woman – very strong, capable and smart upstairs. She engages me, believe me. I have got people at home in Aro Ndizogu to take care of. Same in Obosi – my mother’s village. So, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens because it is not by might.
How is it working with young producers when in the past, you were involved in your own production?
I am the executive producer and all the producers are young people just like I am a young lady (laughter). They were all excited. They had a good time. I didn’t know that God had a reason forÂ it (the album) taking so long. Some of these songs had been bubbling in my heart from way back. Some I had done before, like Nso Nso for the Christians. We also did a remake of the Peace song which is now called Maryam’s Peace. That song is for Maryam Babangida. She asked me to write it to celebrate peace in 1988. And before her death, I was canvassing the idea of remaking a modern version of it and then using her in the video as lead role because it is her song.Â And then she passed away. The lines that used to say,May our lives be filled with love. May our days be long and happy is now when you came, you filled us with love. You made our days so o o lovely (goes silent in sobs and tears). I will want to present it to the family because we need to remember Maryam Babangida. She showed us how women should hold their head up. We (women) came into our own because of Maryam and she took a lot of knocks for it. She took them (the knocks) with grace and dignity. I know it is not a popular idea, what I am canvassing but good or not, it was when they started wearing ankara that we started patronising our designers and the industry has changed for the better. It was Maryam that we saw wearing the ankara, so we wore it.
It is called The Legend. It is two CDs in one pack. Each contains seven songs. When you hear what ID Cabassa did on Maryam’s Peace song, it is one track that will make you flip. It speaks to your inner self such that when I listen to it, I am inspired. Many of the songs were not written. I would come in with an idea of maybe just two lines and within 30 minutes, I have the whole song. As for Cobhams, he forced me to write about my father. We did the song together. The back up vocalist broke down twice. We were all crying. The girls (back up vocalist) father wasn’t dead but she said, I want to go home and hug my dad. When my mother heard, she said, ehn,ehn, you wrote a song for your father. I said, Yes. Remember, I sang for you first. So don’t go there. We owe the fathers. Even if your father is dead, give to charity in his memorial. Do something in their honour.
There is another song, Kosi. You won’t be able to sit down listening to it. If you ask everybody who worked with me, from ID Cabassa, Cobhams, Wole Oni, Yemi, they’ll tell you. Even the ones I re-mixed, I didn’t write them down. We willÂ be there and sometimes, the presence of the Holy Spirit will be strong and weÂ will just have to stop and start praising God. If you listen to the song Nso Nso, it will get to a point and you’ll hear me speaking in tongues in the background.
I was doing the lead when he (the Holy Spirit) just took me over.
So, I feel like an outsider standing by and appreciating what God has done in this recording. When He said to me that I am going to do something that hasn’t been done before, I didn’t understand. He did it not to glorify anybody but himself.
I have three boys, including my nephew. TC is three years older than my nephewÂ who is also three years older than my last boy. But the last one will always want to hang out as one of the boys while the elder ones insist he is still young. So, there is always that quarrel.
In my family, there is something so clear that is ours – a lot of love. My father set the example for me. My mother isÂ not demonstrative. You have got to accept her that way. So, in my home there isÂ a law that you can get hugged anytime. All you need to say is I need a hug. Even I say I need a hug and I am surrounded. I was a busy mother in their early years, but it was either I took them with me or brief them from time to time. They knew everything. I would call them on the phone, telling them what is happening and if there wasÂ a situation, they ll even have their input. They could talk to me. They could come into my room at anytime. They could ask me anything and get answers.