Popular actor and On Air Personality, Steve Onu, popularly known as Yaw, tells ADEMOLA OLONILUA about his childhood and career.
I overheard you telling your friend that you would still get another power bike after you had an accident with the last one you had. Why this craze for power bikes?
I love them. I have a scar on my hand which I got when I was involved in an accident with my power bike on the Third Mainland Bridge. I was shocked when I heard of the death of Yeni Kuti’s ex-husband. I learnt he had an accident with his power bike. He showed me the bike before his death, I have forgotten the brand but it runs very fast. When he showed me, I told him that I would soon buy the same type of bike; it was a new bike. It happens but one has to be very careful when riding a power bike. I prefer cruisers to speed bikes. Speed bikes are too fast and Nigerian roads don’t encourage the speed they are built for and also, people do not respect bikers on the road. I just prefer cruiser bikes.
Reflecting on the days of Twilight Zone to Flatmate, now Yaw is a household name; how has the journey to stardom been for you?
It has not been rosy and I am sure it has not been for anyone. I am still growing and would definitely get there someday but when that would be, I don’t know. I just believe that one day we would get there. But I have learnt that there are no difficulties in life; neither are there challenges but opportunities to get better. I have been struggling all this while and would continue till I can finally say that I have made it.
I am sure there were some trying moments you faced while building your brand.
I started in 1995 with home video films. Then I used to trek from Alaka Bus Stop to Kilo at Surulere because I was trying to manage the money that I had. Sometimes I would trek from 23 Road in FESTAC Town to a place we call Uziz’s Garden. Then from there, I trekked to Mile 2 just to manage my transport fare. Aside those challenges, there were people who were always there to laugh at me, asking if I was sure of what I wanted to do with my life. But I was determined that I was going to make something out of life.
I had a relative who looked at me when I was much younger and told me he felt my destiny was to be a mechanic. He took me to a welder’s workshop and told me to learn the craft but I told him I was not interested. Then, motorcycle was not a mode of transportation but he promised to take me to where I could learn how to repair motorcycles. He predicted that with the way Lagos was going, people would soon begin to use it as a form of transportation. He advised that if I could learn how to fix motorcycles, I would be a force to reckon with. I remember his word clearly; he told me that he was just trying to help out but that I was just being useless. I told him I knew where I was going; I had the big picture in my head. I had no encouragement from my parents to study arts but we thank God, the rest is history now.
You once said that when you accepted to study Theatre Arts in the university, your mother was against it. What did she have against the course?
I had an uncle, Ralph Onu; he is dead now. He was an actor and did not make anything from it. I am talking about the era where they used to do Behind the Clouds; he used to act with KK Shanana and Chris Elabotubo. My mother would always say I should look at him and asked if that was the life I wanted to live. She used to ask if I wanted to end up like my uncle who she said could not feed himself. I kept telling her that because Ralph did not make it did not mean I would not. I told her she kept telling me about Ralph, how about Richard Mofe Damijo? I asked why she didn’t compare me with him. She went to the extent of telling her sister to go to school and tell the authorities to deny me admission. All that is in the past because now she wants everybody to know that she is my mother.
At what point in your life did you meet RMD because I learnt he was the one that advised you to study Theatre Arts?
I met RMD in 1994 at an audition. He told me that he loved the way I talked and asked if I studied English or Theatre Arts. I told him that I had not even gained admission into the university. He then advised me to study Theatre Arts.
How did you react after you met him again?
I saw him after a very long while and when I told him that he was the one that made me study Theatre Arts, he had forgotten that we had met before. That was before I did his movie where I was assistant director. He said he could not remember but that he was happy that I took his advice. Every event I organise, he comes to support me. Sometimes you hear a word once and you do not take it seriously but when he spoke to me, I grabbed it and did not let it go.
How much were you paid for your first movie appearance?
I think it was N500. I can’t remember the name of the movie but I was cast as an extra. I thought it was big money and I believed I was made when I was paid the money. I had told everybody that I would be featuring in a big movie and they would see my face in it but unfortunately, my part was cut off in the movie. I was so unhappy when that happened because I had bragged a lot about it. I also featured in a film by Francis Agwu but the film never came out. It was called Devil’s Disciples. Eventually I did one with Tade Ogidan and I was paid N3,000.
How did you get involved in doing comedy?
I found out that I was playing mostly humorous roles. There is a difference between stand-up comedians and comic actors; they are not the same thing. Most people believe that once you are a comic actor, then you are a stand-up comedian; I try to blend both. I started by acting comic roles and the response I got was really encouraging, so I decided to stick to it. Nkem Owoh would always say during the Masquarade series that he used to seek serious roles but was never given any until he discovered he was made for comedy. I found that out too and I toed that line and it is working for me.
Kidnappers recently released one of your presenters, Akas, does that make you afraid that you might suffer a similar fate?
To start with, I think Lagosians are lucky. It is only God that can provide absolute protection. Lagos is a bit safe and also I don’t talk much in public. Except you know me very well, you would not know who I am. Of what use would I be to anyone who wants to kidnap me? I don’t have money, what would you gain from kidnapping me?
You are the seventh child of ten children. What was growing up like for you?
Growing up was fun and my mother was a disciplinarian. She slapped you once you misbehaved. She detested absentmindedness and would slap you endlessly for that. Then I used to be the black sheep of the family, very troublesome. I was so rebellious that I was sent away from my secondary school. I was always on my own but whatever I set my mind to do, I would do it no matter what it would cost me. It might take time but I would get it done. My elder brother was also stubborn. I think we got this trait from my father.
You often speak of your mother but hardly about your father. What kind of man is your father?
My father used to be on the quiet side. He is the kind of person that when you do something, he would wait for his wife to come back before he speaks about the matter. For example, I could go and meet him that we didn’t have palm oil. If I told him it cost N30, he would give me N100 without bothering to ask for the change. But when his wife arrived in the evening, he would call me and raise the issue. He would want his wife to know that I collected money for palm oil from him even though there was palm oil in the house.
He would also not forget to say that I had not returned his change. That was when I would be in trouble. My mother was the active one while he was passive. I talk less of my father because he is a reserved man.