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Onyeka Onwenu

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Onyeka Onwenu
Onwenu in 2020
Born31 January 1952 (1952-01-31) (age 72)
EducationWellesley College, Massachusetts (B.A.) The New School for Social Research, New York. (M.A.)
  • Broadcaster
  • singer
  • actress
  • politician

Onyeka Onwenu // (born 31 January 1952)[1] is a Nigerian singer/songwriter, actress, human rights and social activist, journalist, politician, and former X Factor series judge.[2] Dubbed the "Elegant Stallion" by the Nigerian press, she is a former chairperson of the Imo State Council for Arts and Culture.[3][4] In 2013 she was appointed the Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of the National Centre for Women Development.[5]

Early life[edit]

Onwenu hails from Arondizuogu, a small town in Ideato North, Imo State, southeastern Nigeria, but was raised in Port Harcourt, the capital city of Rivers State, Nigeria. She is the youngest daughter of Nigerian educationist and politician D. K. Onwenu, who died when she was four years old in an autocrash a week before his appointment as Minister for Education,[6][7][8] leaving his widow, Hope, to raise five children alone after her husband's family denied her access to his property. [9]


Onwenu possesses a BA in International Relations and Communication from Wellesley College, Massachusetts, and an MA in Media Studies from The New School for Social Research, New York.[10] She worked for the United Nations as a tour guide before returning to Nigeria in 1980 to complete her mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Lagos, Nigeria.



As a Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) employee, Onwenu made an impact as a newsreader and reporter. In 1984, she wrote and presented the internationally acclaimed BBC/NTA documentary Nigeria: A Squandering of Riches which became the definitive film about corruption in Nigeria, as well as the intractable Niger Delta agitation for resource control and campaign against environmental degradation in the oil rich region of Nigeria.[11] A former member of the NTA board, she has also worked as a TV presenter, hosting the shows Contact (1988) and Who's On? (1993) both on NTA Network.


Originally a secular artist, Onwenu made the transition to gospel music in the 90s, and most of her songs are self-penned. She continues to write and sing about issues such as health (HIV/AIDS), peace and mutual coexistence, respect for women's rights, and the plight of children. She began her recording career in 1981 while still with the NTA, releasing the album For the Love of You, a pop album which featured an orchestral cover of Johnny Nash's "Hold Me Tight", produced by Berkley Jones. Her second album was Endless Life, produced by Sonny Okosun, and included another cover - the Everley Brothers' "Walk Right Back". Both records were released under the EMI label.[12][13]

Onwenu's first album with Polygram, In The Morning Light, was released in 1984. Recorded in London, it featured the track "Masterplan" written by close friend Tyna Onwudiwe who had previously contributed to Onwenu's BBC documentary and subsequently sang back-up vocals on the album. In 1986, she released One Love which contained an updated version of the song "(In the) Morning Light from the previous album. Another song, "You and I", was re-recorded for the 2001 film Conspiracy starring Nkem Owoh and Onwenu herself.

For the 1988 album Dancing In The Sun, Onwenu adopted a more Afrocentric sound and collaborated with veteran jùjú artist Sunny Ade on the track "Madawolohun (Let Them Say)". This was the first of three songs the pair worked on together; the other two - "Choices" and "Wait For Me" - centred on family planning, and were endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria who used "Choices" in their PSA.[14] Dancing In The Sun, Onwenu's final release on Polygram, was dedicated to Winnie Mandela, the subject of a song of the same name which Onwenu performed live when Nelson Mandela and his wife visited Nigeria in 1990 following his release from prison.[15]

Onwenu diverted to Benson and Hedges Music in 1992 and released the self-titled Onyeka!, her only album with the label, after which she made the transition to Christian/gospel music. Her latest collection, "Inspiration for Change," focused on the need for an attitudinal change in Nigeria.

She is in partnership with Paris-based La Cave Musik, headed by a Nigerian cultural entrepreneur, Onyeka Nwelue and a UK-based Jungle Entertainment Ventures, headed by musicologist David Evans-Uhegbu. La Cave Musik is set to release her collection titled "Rebirth of a Legend". In recognition of her contribution to music and arts in Nigeria, she has been celebrated by professionals like Mahmood Ali-Balogun, Laolu Akins, Charles O'Tudor, and former PMAN president Tony Okoroji among others in the arts industry in Nigeria.[16]

In 2013, Onwenu served as one of the three judges on X Factor Nigeria.[17]


Onwenu's first movie role was as Joke, a childless woman who adopts an abandoned baby in Zik Zulu Okafor's Nightmare.[18] She has since featured in numerous Nollywood movies, and in 2006 she won the Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance in the movie "Widow's Cot". She was also nominated that same year for Africa Movie Academy Award for "Best Actress in a Leading Role" in the movie "Rising Moon".[19] In 2014 she was in the movie Half of a Yellow Sun with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandiwe Newton, and Lion Heart (2018).


Onwenu is a member of the People's Democratic Party.[20] She has contested twice to become the Local Council Chairman of her Local Government, Ideato North Local Government Area of Imo State, and lost at both attempts.[8] but was appointed Chairperson of Imo State Council for Arts and Culture by former governor Ikedi Ohakim. On 16 September 2013, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan appointed her the Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of the National Centre for Women Development.[5]


In 2000, Onwenu protested against her former employer NTA over their refusal to pay royalties on her songs (NTA 2 Channel 5 had used "Iyogogo", a track from the Onyeka! album, in station idents without asking her permission). After then-director general Ben Murray-Bruce blacklisted her from transmission, she embarked on a hunger strike outside the station's premises.[21]

Onwenu's activism attracted widespread support from various artists, including Charly Boy, who lambasted Nigeria's reluctance to pay royalties when songs are broadcast on television and radio. Other notable Nigerian musicians were present to show their support for her cause, including Tony Okoroji and Chris Mba. Aguike, who was then known as Emma Agu and the founder of Musicians of the Niger, also rallied all Igbo musicians to join her in protesting against the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). NTA resolved to settle the issue amicably but denied barring Onwenu from appearing on their channels.[22] The protest was called off after six days when Onwenu and NTA came to an arrangement regarding royalties.[23] On March 4th, 1998, Onyeka Onwenu's career took a major blow when she participated in the notorious 2 Million man march, showing support for the late Sani Abacha, the military despot who was then the Nigerian Head of State.

Personal life[edit]

Onwenu notably keeps her personal life private and has often refused to disclose private information regarding her ex-husband, a Yoruba Muslim.[24] She is the mother of two children - Tijani Charles and Abraham.[25][26][27]


Year Film Role Notes
1996 Nightmare Joke with Pete Edochie and Franca Brown
Not Your Wealth
Conspiracy with Nkem Owoh
Chain Reaction with Pete Edochie & Liz Benson
2004 Government House
2005 Women's Cot with Joke Silva & Zack Orji – this film received 4 nominations and won 1 award at the 2nd Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2006[19]
The Tyrant with Pete Edochie
Rising Moon
Omalinze Queen with Stephanie Okereke
Every Single Day
2006 Different World with Ramsey Nouah
2007 To Love an Angel with Ramsey Nouah
The Trinity with Kanayo O. Kanayo
2013 Half of a Yellow Sun Odenigbo's Mother with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandiwe Newton
2018 Lionheart Abigail Obiagu with Genevieve Nnaji, Phyno and Nkem Owoh
2019 Muna with Adesua Etomi, Adam Huss and Falz
2022 Ije Awele
2023 Obara'M Aunty Nwaka with Nkem Owoh

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Makams, Ahman (20 October 2012). "Onyenka Onwenu: Queen Of African Pop Music". Leadership. Archived from the original on 25 September 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  2. ^ "Onyeka Onwenu, Toolz, MI excited about Glo X factor". Archived from the original on 12 April 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2014.
  3. ^ "Charles O'tudor Fetes Onyeka Onwenu". AllAfrica Global Media. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
  4. ^ Nwangwu, Onyinyechi. "NCAC Honours Onwenu, Samanja, Others". AllAfrica Global Media. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
  5. ^ a b "Onwenu bags FG appointment". The Nation Newspapers. 21 September 2013. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  6. ^ Amadi, Ogbonna (2 March 2012). "Onyeka speaks at 60". Vanguardngr.com. Vanguard Media. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  7. ^ "Am I married to the father of my kids? No comment ––––Onyeka Onw". Ghanaian Agenda. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  8. ^ a b Adetayo, Ayoola. "Onyeka Onwenu: 10 things about the legendary musician you need to know". Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  9. ^ Plight of Widows
  10. ^ "Onyeka Onwenu's Biography". AFROBIOS. Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  11. ^ "Nigeria, A Squandering of Riches". BBC/NTA. 1984. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  12. ^ [label.https://www.discogs.com/Onyeka-Onwenu-For-The-Love-Of-You/release/5335012 For the Love of You]
  13. ^ Endless Life
  14. ^ MUSIC-NIGERIA: There’s A Message in the Sound
  15. ^ Why I Wrote Winnie Mandela
  16. ^ "Charles O'tudor Fetes Onyeka Onwenu". AllAfrica. 1 November 2008.
  17. ^ Onyeka Onwenu, M.I, Reggie Rockstone unveiled as X Factor judges
  18. ^ Nightmare
  19. ^ a b "AMAA 2006 – List of Winners". Africa Movie Academy Awards. Archived from the original on 12 February 2008. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  20. ^ Onyeka Onwenu gets political appointment
  21. ^ "I WENT ON HUNGER STRIKE WHEN BEN BRUCE BARRED ME FROM BEING SHOWN ON NTA –ONYEKA ONWENU". Archived from the original on 16 April 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  22. ^ Nigerian singer on hunger strike
  23. ^ Nigerian singer's hunger strike over
  24. ^ Onyeka Opens Up on Her Private Life
  25. ^ Odusanya, Rachael (2018). "Onyeka Onwenu husband and children". Legit.
  26. ^ Tolu (16 November 2015). "Photos: Meet The Son Of Legendary Singer Onyeka Onwenu".
  27. ^ "My Inspirational Teacher: by Nigerian singer and actor Onyeka Onwenu". Theirworld. 27 July 2014.

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