60 garlands for beloved queen of Silverscreen, Rachael Oniga
The undisputable queen of the Silverscreen, Rachael Oniga, is 60.
The social media scape quacked with congratulatory messages as soon as the character actress took to her handles to announce that she has attained the ‘ripe age of 60.’
In fact, it was the broadcaster and notable journalist, Precious Eze, who first broke the good news of her clocking 60.
And until the fair-skinned actress took to her social media handle to confirm the development, many who reacted to Eze’s post thought he meant that the actress of many credits had just clocked 50.
‘Sixty? She doesn’t look 60. She looks 50 or even younger,’ a facebooker wrote. But ‘Mama Rach,’ as some of her younger colleagues call her, is 60.
“I am 60 and it has been 60 years of God’s grace, mercy and favour. I return all the glory to Him,” was the terse message she released on Tuesday.
And by yesterday, she has had over 15000 likes, 200 shares and over 500 comments, and still counting.
Such is the popularity of the actress and mother, who never knew about 25 years ago that she would become a choice actress in the Nigerian television and movie culture.
Indeed, as Oniga revealed, she would probably have dismissed whoever predicted that she would emerge a beloved actress as a wishful thinker and or ‘a fake soothsayer who merely wanted to patronise her.’
Her childhood desires was to become something of an ‘entrepreneur’ or a top rated ‘working class lady.’ A career in acting did not cross her mind at all, or did it ever feature on the list of her career choices.
But fate, which lurked around whilst she decided later on a career in computer programming and was to later work for some years in a Dutch consultancy firm as personal assistant to the managing director, was soon to have its way.
It was also at that time that she and the father of her three children agreed they should live separately. Not only did her marriage of several years turned sour, she lost her job in the process and was left to tend the family as a single parent from then on.
As if fate was suggesting that her days of emotional trauma were over, Oniga had gone to Yaba, Lagos to do some shopping when she ran into the veteran actor of the Village Headmaster fame, Lai Ashadele.
That encounter with the actor around the busy Ojuelegba road in the Surulere area of Lagos was to later turn the dice positively for Oniga, who till date considers that encounter one of the most memorable experience of her life. It indeed marked a turning point in her life and choice of her career.
The fiery actress of the screen recalled that on her way to catch a bus around the Ojuelegba area, she had feasted on a number of movie posters. On one of them was the face of ‘Uncle Lai Ashadele,’ whom she had known over time. The sight of him on the posters rekindled the acting passion, which she had exhibited as a child.
But still, she never gave a thought to acting in the same measure as the likes of Ashadele, even though the feeling that she could have been on any of the posters had she given a shot at acting ‘at those early stages’ lumped through her.
She recalled with nostalgia that encounter with the gray-bearded actor that has today turned her into an actress who is rightly eulogised for her terrific acting talents.
“When I met Ashadele, he told me of a television soap- Memorial Hospital a Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) programme they were shooting at Badagry under the direction of Chris Obi Rapu. So, when he said I could come over and try my hands at acting, I agreed.
“And when I got to Badagry, Rapu asked if I really wanted to act, because they needed someone to play the role of the Matron and then Mrs. Bright. Unfortunately, the matron had more roles and they had invited someone to play the role, so they said I should play Mrs. bright.
“It was my first time of having to face the camera, but the entire production crew was stunned that I could be that composed on my first day on set.
“That was how it all began,” she reminisced.
Indeed, it was on that programme that her terrific talent was first noticed. From there, the motherly actress got other television roles. Soon, home video producers, who too felt she possessed the acting strut, started looking her direction.
Movie director, Chico Ejiro, was the first to offer her an opportunity to prove her acting mettle on home video as a lead character in the emotive home video, Onome, one of Opa William’s peaks as a producer.
Oniga effort as ‘Mama Onome’ caused tremendous stir.
After that, she featured in quite a number of other home video productions and instantly became one of the sectors recognisable and most sought after actresses.
Her movie credits, which include a remarkable appearance in House Girl, Thorns of Love and My Mother’s Pregnancy, swelled by the weeks, months and years.
However, it took an appearance in the Yoruba language video, Owo Blow, for the producers in that circle to acknowledge that she could act too in that medium.
Straight away, invitations to feature in Yoruba language flicks mounted.
Born to an Urhobo father and an Isoko mother, Oniga hails from Eku in Delta State.
She had her primary education in Lagos and her secondary in Uromi in Edo State. She returned to Lagos afterwards and was enrolled into Rimax Computer College, where she bagged a qualification in computer programming.
It was about this time that she got married and secured a comfortable paid employment. The marriage, which was later not to be for reasons she would not want to divulge, was blessed with three children.
Oniga’s strength as an actress in the Nigerian home movie scene is in her ability to act both in the Yoruba and English platforms and she is described as a cross over actress.
That multi-lingual acting ability has served her well as an actress and she has on that account done more movies that she can even recollect.
That is why it was an up hill task getting her to say how many movies she has done since she stepped unto the movie turf a little over two decades ago.
“I cannot count the number of movies I have done, both English and Yoruba. But the English, I am sure I have done over 100, including Take Me to Mama, My Mother’s Pregnancy, Big Time Chick and Lady in the Forest.
“But I like Onome, which is the first in English, Owoblow, which is the first in Yoruba, then Sango, Oduduwa and very recently, Kada River.
“So many. In fact, all the movies I produced are memorable.”
Till date, Oniga, who has won several awards, including the Best Yoruba Actress by the organisers of the THEMA awards in 1998, has found her arrival as a top-rated actress hard to believe.
Acting has indeed made her an outsized version of her own story. She also added that it has helped to provide for her needs in a number of ways.
“Acting has made me popular. I have become exposed and a lot of people know me now. It has opened other doors.”
Asked whether she would retire anytime soon, Oniga interjected swiftly: “No retirement for me o! By God’s grace, I would continue to do this until when I am 80.
“Even when I am 80, I will still act and that time, there will be no more make up. I will act naturally.”