BY REMMY DIAGBARE
Ms Zemaye Grace Egbagbe in April emerged as Allure Style Icon 2009. From the onset it was clear that she would win. As soon as we opened the lines, our lines were kept busy with nominations. Three names were a constant. They were, Aisha Babangida, Nike Soleye and Grace Egbage, but at the end, Ms Egbagbe carried the day. Grace Zemaye Egbagbe turned out to be a perfect candidate for our prestigious Icon award. Born in Markurdi, but of Edo State origin, Grace Egbagbe’s father worked for UNICEF as a paramedic and they travelled all over Nigeria as a close knit family. The eldest of 8 children, one dead, she had a very healthy childhood. Her dad insisted on spending his last penny to give his children the best education. Grace went to Mary Mount Agbor , and University of Ibadan. She did a course in Radio and Television education in London then went on to do a degree in motion picture and television production from the University of California, Los Angeles. She joined NTA on her return in 1978and retired in 2007 as an Executive Director.. Grace believes our local programmes are good in content because they have the Nigerian flavour which you don’t get from films abroad. “But in terms of production and technical quality we are a bit behind because of poor funding.” A highly principled person because of her strict upbringing, which has made to be a strong and assertive person, principles she has also instilled on her two lovely kids, Zemaye and Nkemka. In this interview with allure, she expresses hr appreciation at being voted the most stylishwoman in Nigeria.
YOU HAVE BEEN VOTED BY OUR READERS AS ALLURE STYLE ICON 2009, WHICH MAKES YOU THE MOST STYLISH WOMAN IN NIGERIA TODAY.
I am grateful. Any award, no matter what it is, is recognition of some sort and can not be bad. I thank God and I thank the readers who thought it fit to vote for me. It just means that more responsibility has been thrust upon me. I have to be more conscious of what I wear, what I do, where I go. That is a responsibility that I don’t quite like, because I want to be able to do what I want at anytime. But, anyway, it is all good. I thank God, and again, I thank the readers.
WHAT IS THE SECRET THAT HAS KEPT YOU LOOKING YOUNG OVER THE YEARS? AND, DON’T SAY YOU DO NOT DO ANYTHING.
I think it is my state of mind. If your state of mind is as attuned to God as mine I don’t want to sound religious but, if you have a connection with a Higher Being, you know will take care of your needs when it is necessaryâ€¦ Just think of a two-year old with the mother or the father. That’s the kind of relationship that I try to have with the Lord. Knowing that yes, I will have problems, but when problems come there is somebody to take care of them makes me worry less. Also, just as you would chastise your two-year old if she misbehaves, I also believe that some times, we get chastised. Things can’t go well for us all the time. So, I have that inner peace, knowing that I have God. He is always on my side. The things we want that we don’t get are wants; they are not needs. We always have our needs provided for by God. When you have that peace of mind, it tends to make you glow from the inside. And you know as women, the worst thing that kills us is stress. If a woman is stressed out, either by a bad relationship or marriage or by being in a job that she hates, you will see the stress written all over her face. This is why I try to get away from stressful situations and hope that I stay as happy as I can in any circumstance. I stay away from toxic relationships! That, really, is what I will say has been the key and secret to my looking the same way over the years. Then, there is also some genetic factor. My mum was eighty- one on April 5th, but she can pass for 51. So, I think genetics also play a major role. It runs in my family.
DO YOU EXERCISE?
I don’t go to any gym. But, I will tell you what I do now. I try to walk as much as I can. I understand that swimming and walking are two very good exercises you can do without much stress so, I go on strolls with friends. However, I burn calories fast because I am naturally very restless. I like to move around and do things for myself. And this sometimes, helps me to burn calories.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF?
I will say I am childlike in my approach to many things. I just told you about the two-year old. I have this incredible faith in God, that I will be what He wants me to be. He will look after me, when I have things to be looked after. So, I have this childlike approach to life. I think that is why I attract a lot of young people. I find a lot of young people walk up to me saying I am their role model; they want to associate with me, etc. I am humbled and flattered by such request. I don’t get arrogant or carried away. I say to myself, â€œLord what have you given to me that all these young people see?â€ Then, also the older ones are the same someone once said that listening to me that they wouldn’t think that I was such a sage. Because, a friend of ours had a problem and by the time I broke the situation down and analysed it for her, I showed her that she had no problem at all. So, I guess I am a woman for all seasons.
AS WOMEN GROW OLDER, THEY TEND TO PUT ON WEGHT BUT YOU HAVE MAINTAINED A STEADY WEIGHT OVER THE YEARS. HOW HAVE YOU MANAGED TO KEEP OFF THE POUNDS WITHOUT POUNDING THE PAVEMENT?
I wish you had seen my daughter when you came in. My daughter is a size 4 and I wear a 12. At some stage, you are bound to put on the pounds. If you eat more than you expend, you will put on weight. I think I am lucky because, mine is genetic. Sometimes, I eat when I am not supposed to. I am ashamed to say it. At 10pm, If I am craving egusi and pounded yam or eba, I will eat it. Nothing will stop me. My daughter used to protest but that is just me. Old habits die hard. When I am abroad, because I have time to myself; to walk around and go to the gym with friends, going to the gym is like a social outing. So, when I am abroad, I lose more weight than I do in Nigeria. Because here, how many places can you go to? You are caught in traffic and by the time you get to the gym, you are stressed out and you don’t feel like exercising any more. But, I do eat whatever I like but I am supposed to eat sensibly. So, I am working on that, you will see!.
HOW SHOULD WOMEN TREAT THEMSELVES?
I think women should love themselves. You have got to love yourself. If you don’t love your self, who is going to love you? You have got to start with yourself. I love myself and I have no apologies about that. I love the way I look. I love what I eat, what I wear, where I liveâ€¦ I love my life. If you don’t love yourself, you will be miserable. Why do you want to live a life of misery? So, women should learn to love themselves. And, do not set your standards by other people’s standards. That is very important. Your standards must be set by you. Oprah tried several times to be slim; at one stage she gave up. She declared: â€œI don’t have to be slim.â€ Now, she is a healthy, curvy size. We all love her and she loves herself the way she is. If she were skinny now, people might think she was sick. So, you must love yourself and be comfortable in your own skin.
LET’S LOOK AT YOUR YEARS AT THE NIGERIAN TELEVISION AUTHORITY (NTA).
I spent twenty-eight glorious years with NTA. I retired in 2007 and I have been having a ball, travelling since then; spending time with loved ones.
WHEN YOU WERE AT THE NTA, YOU CREATED ‘COCKROW AT DAWN’, BUT THERE SEEMS TO BE SOME CONTROVERSY ABOUT THAT. TELL US HOW THE PROGRAMME WAS CREATED?
I joined in 1978 when Mr. Vincent Maduka was the director general of NTA. The head of state, Gen. Obasanjo then, wanted us to cultivate farms at our backyards to encourage rural farming; so every family could grow food for itself. I was given the mandate to create a programme that would portray that. I was heading the programmes department at the time, temporarily, as acting head of programmes. That was before Dr. Ezeokoli was appointed Director of Programmes. I created the role of the main female character and gave her the name, Zemaye. I didn’t want her to be identified as coming from any of the three (main) regions. So, instead of an Ngozi, Biola, or Halima, I decided to use my middle name, Zemaye, which nobody would know unless you come from my little village Okpekpe in Edo State.. And, it means â€œLet us live.â€ The next thing was to look for a producer. At that time, Peter Igho had just won best producer at the last TV festival that we held. He was at NTA Sokoto, at the time. The director general, Mr. Maduka, asked me to write to him to come and head the production. Peter chose Jos as the location because, it was peaceful and because hev was such a great producer, it turned out to be one of NTA’s most acclaimed drama series. In those days, Ene Oloja (who played the role) used to call me ‘The Original’ and I used to call her ‘The Fake Zemaye’. So, that is how ‘Cockcrow at Dawn’ came to be. At that time, we never used to write ‘created by’ on the credit because; we felt we were doing our job. It was Dr. Ezeokoli who first used ‘created by’ with ‘Tales by Moonlight’. I also created ‘Second Chance’. I will tell you about that as well. Again, I was directed to come up with a comedy show based on the British comedy, ‘Mind your Language’. I remember clearly the day we brain-stormed on the concept. I was in my office with four others. One of my colleagues then, Mohamed who is late now, was the one who gave us the Hausa ways of expression during the process of characterisation. ‘Madam Kofo’s character for instance, was my idea of a student who was unserious and , who always had fights with Roli Every time she is the MC of an event and I am there, she never fails to give me credit for being the person who tied the first head tie for her because, I wanted her character to be the one that would be disturbing Roli with her flamboyant headgears.. We got Olu Jacobs, who is one of the best actors you can find, to be the teacher. When we were recording that pilot, I was eight months pregnant with my son and I was due to travel out two days after that. We were in the studio till 2 a.m. because, we had to finish that day. By morning, we handed over the pilot to management and they loved it. That is how ‘Second Chance’ came to be.
FROM COMMUNICATIONS TO LAW, WHY?
I had done an MFA in TV Production; it’s a specialised degree for the arts. The only other thing would have been to get a Ph. D, but I didn’t want to do anything too academic, so I stayed with TV: I wasn’t sure I would stay long. But I did because, I loved the job and I loved the people I was working with. Half way through, I got restless and decided to go and study Law. I had always been fascinated with court room series and how a lawyer can convince the court that black is white by brilliant arguments!
DO YOU USE THE LAW EXPERIENCE?
I do agreements and make sure my clients are not at disadvantage and are well protected. The court process is so slow that I don’t think I will want to go into full practice, although things are faster now. But, it is an alternative and it is good to always have alternatives in life.
YOU HAVE THREE DEGREES, YET PEOPLE SAY THAT HIGH FASHION AND INTELLIGENCE DON’T MIX. IN OTHER WORDS, WOMEN WHO ARE FASHIONABLE ARE SOMETIMES PERCIEVED AS UNINTELLIGENT.
Let me correct you there. I am not into high fashion. You people are the ones who say so. It comes to me naturally. I wear what I feel comfortable in. I have always equated my style with comfort. I went to school when I needed to. In addition to my three degrees, I also have a Fellowship in Satellite Communication from the University of Hawaii. For me, you can’t know too much. It is always good to keep updating yourself by acquiring more knowledge. You can combine being fashionable with being a highnet worth person. A lot of intelligent women I know are also fashionable.
NOW THAT YOU HAVE RETIRED, HAVE YOU FINALLY SAID GOOD BYE TO TELEVISION?
It can’t be bye to television. If I have to do anything, it has to be television-related because, that is all have done most of my life Yes, I am working on a variety show.
FOR ONE WHO HAD SPENT TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS IN TV, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ABOUT THE STANDARD?
In some areas, they are improving while in others they are going down. Take a small station like Channels Television; they decided that their forte is News casting. They package the news so well that all their reports are a delight to listen to. So, standards are improving, especially now that there are plans to go HD.
LET’S LOOK AT WOMEN IN NIGERIA. HOW DO YOU THINK WOMEN HAVE FARED?
Women in Nigeria have done very well. They can hold their own anywhere in the world. They have just not been given enough chance. And, unfortunately, they are also stereotyped. You hear things like, â€œOh, you can’t do this job because, you are a woman.â€ There is no job that is meant for a woman or one for a man. Who says a woman can’t climb that ladder and pull down whatever needs to be pulled down if you give her the chance. Who says a woman can’t drive a danfo and do it better than a man? So, it is just a matter of conceptions that we grew up with that are not correct. Because women are seen as the weaker sex, they get to work twice as hard, just so that they can prove that they are doing just as well as men. For once in the history of Nigeria, a woman is now petroleum minister-and women usually perform well when given one chance.