Veteran actress, Sola Onayiga, popularly known as Ireti (Cooking Practical) in the TV series, Fuji House of Commotion, talks about her tortuous journey into the world of acting. She talks about Nollywood, sexual harassment, among other issues, in this interview with TONY OKUYEME
How did you get the role of Ireti in Fuji House of Commotion?
I was presenting on Radio Nigeria; I was also acting in radio drama. So, that day Bolaji Dawudu, who was then a director in NTA, came to see Dotun Osunsanya, and he met us rehearsing a stage play. When we had a break, he told Osunsanya that he would like to talk to us because he needed more actors for a television programme. He then told us that he was impressed by what he had seen from the rehearsal and encouraged us to come for the audition. But I told him that I couldn’t come because when I get there they would not give me any role. They would tell me that my face is too dark on camera. I told him my experience in NTA, and how I felt that maybe, my face wasn’t fine enough for their camera. I just kept to myself, and decided to focus on radio and stage productions. Mr. Dawudu encouraged me to come for the audition because there is a role there that he believed somebody like me can play. So, we all went to the then PEC Repertory Theatre, Onikan, where the audition was being done. When we got in, I was given a script, and when it got to my turn, I acted with Kunle Bamtefa. After that we were to do impromptu performance. They told us the character they want to play. When I got on stage and started, Amaka Igwe was impressed and she just said, ‘this is my Ireti’. That was how I got the role.
Tell us how the journey began…
It started when I was in primary school – St Mathias Catholic Girls’ School. We had a cultural group, and I danced with the group. We used to dance on stage in the school, and the kind of performance was such that we were just enjoying ourselves, we didn’t know anything about professionalism or discipline and so on. We were just doing it in the school then, for parents, teachers meetings, or end of the year programmes. So it wasn’t a serious thing to us, then. Also, right from primary school I was part of Girls Guide. It was when I got into secondary school that I started having interest in tradition and culture, and thinks like that. Also, when I was in secondary school, I used to watch broadcasters. Then, my father used to buy us books (novels) and gave us exercise books, so that we would write about how much we’ve learnt about sentences and so on. He also bought us dictionary. Then, he had a newspaper vendor that used to supply him newspapers – Daily Times, Tribune and others. I used to go and pick them, and read them too. I used to read them like a newscasters I used to see on television, hoping to become a broadcaster in future. I was so serious about it, and I would tell people that I would be a broadcaster in future.
So, what happened?
After my secondary school, I joined a group known as Organization for Young Artistes (OYA). We started from NTV, Victoria Island, Lagos, then, featuring in Youth Scene. When we finished that programme, at the end of the quarter, we came together as youth, and we started Organisation for Young Artistes (OYA). Yinka Ogundaisi was our director and producer. Sola Adeyemo, Roland Henshaw, we were together. We started from the Museum Kitchen at Onikan, Lagos. There and then I became more interested in the theatre, because we did so many stage plays. We did ‘Oba Koso’ in English when Duro Ladipo died. I played the role of Oya, while Yinka Ogundaisi was Sango. It was after that I got admission to study Theatre Arts at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), specialization on Acting and Speech. Before then I was one of the young school leavers employed by the Federal Office of Statistics and Demography to go and interview people in establishments, organisations, and so on, about the suitability of Abuja as the Federal Capital Territory, and people who would like to go to there. I was posted to Dodan Barracks to interview the soldiers, where I spent a lot of time interviewing them. And from there, I was posted to NET. It was after that I went to the University of Ife to do Theatre Arts (Acting and Speech).
How was your experience at the University of Ife?
It was very interesting. We were always going for rehearsals and stage performances, as acting and directing students, because Prof. Wole Soyinka, who was head of department then, would never give you 100 percent. He made understand that the practical carries 60 percent, while the theory carries 40 percent. So, we were doing plays all regularly; we went to University of Ilorin, University of Benin and other places to perform. So, I enjoyed myself on campus.
How would you describe Soyinka?
He is a very nice man, down-to-earth. I could remember when we did a play for ‘Maja-maja’ (Road Safety). He had as programme for drivers in Oyo State. The play was titled Gbekude. We went to some garages in Oyo State. He took us around, and he paid us well, even as students. It got to a stage that even when we went to meet him in his office, and told him that our money was finished, he still gave us something.
In the course of your career as an artiste, have been harassed sexually?
I have heard about sexual harassment but I have never experienced it. I give God the glory. Maybe because of the discipline I got from home. My father used to warn me that I should be very careful and if I get pregnant while in school, that would be the end of my education. He warned me to beware of the boys. I attended Oriwu College, Ikorodu, a mixed school. So, because of that I was always running away from boys in the school. I was afraid that if I get close to boys I would be pregnant. That was my understanding of my father’s warning. So, that discipline came from home. But I must say that the way our ladies dress these days is something else. Also, the issue of harassment is not only in the entertainment industry. It is the same thing in other professions.
What is your take about Nollywood?
I thank God for what where we are today and where we are going, because now things are working well. I remember in those days when we used to go to radio or television stations to work and at the end of the day came back home with nothing. To even feed or buy something was difficult then. Even at the theatre, especially at Radio Nigeria when I was presenting then. This was when Abacha was the Head of State. They were not paying salaries.
Do you like watching football?
Yes, I like watching football, but not when it is live, especially when Nigeria is playing. I don’t want to give myself hypertension. I love watching wrestling. That is one of my favourites. There is a lot of drama in it.
How did you meet your husband?
We met in the course of the job. He was a journalist with Fame Magazine then.
What is your advice to up-and-coming artistes?
My advice to them is that they should be disciplined. When you are disciplined, you can go higher and higher.
In a recent interview on television, you said you are still active in the other room…
Yes. As a woman, you and your husband are not log of wood; and it is a natural thing. We do counsel people, young couples when they have that problem. I am talking as a minister of the gospel; if you don’t hold your home somebody else would hold it for you outside. It is not every time, but when your husband needs it give him; when you want, meet him, because that is the only thing that you can use to hold your home and your marriage.
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