- YINKA OLATUNBOSUN
Though she hailed from Delta State, Rachel Oniga was a Lagos girl; born in Ebute Meta. She grew up for the most part in the Surulere neighbourhood and is a product of an all-girls school in Abule-Ijesha area of Yaba – Blessed Girls. Energetic, she was fond of singing and dancing to keep her own company as a young girl. From Surulere, she would walk all the way to Mushin to watch movies at Rainbow Cinema. Her father took her away from Lagos to Edo State just to tame her wild and free-spirited nature. But even as a child, she would write her own drama scripts and make her friends act out some roles.
After her education at the Federal School of Science, she worked as a computer programmer. Later, her meeting with Lai Ashadele of The Village Headmaster fame gave impetus to kick off her acting dreams. She worked at Ascoline Nigeria Limited, a Dutch Consultant Company briefly and then veered into acting after her divorce. Her first movie role came with the movie Onome, after which she starred in ‘Sango,’ a historical movie directed by Obafemi Lasode. Other movies credited to her name include Passion of Mind, Power of Sin, Restless Mind and more. She was also famed for the Wale Adenuga’s television series, Super Story.
When the news of her death broke on July 30, it was shocking for many fans who adored the phenomenal actress as many were still recovering from the sting from Sound Sultan’s demise. At 64, Oniga was only getting stronger on screen with her mind-blowing characterisations that she always delivered with pure naturalness.
She did quite a lot of television series before the ace cinematographer, Tade Ogidan considered her for a major movie role in Owo Blow. At first, she was apprehensive that she wouldn’t be able to deliver on the role because she wasn’t a native speaker of Yoruba language but with much encouragement, she took on the role of Mama Wole, a single mother who is being sexual harassed by her landlord. As a single mother in real life, that role was a walk over as she had valley-deep emotions to recall in order to interpret the role.
Chief Daddy is probably one of the easiest movies to remember where she plays the character of Chief Daddy’s sister in the tragi-comedy. As the matriarch of the family, she understands that the will left by her late brother supersedes all the antics that the family members are up to. She acts as the bridge-builder with a few pints of bad blood against the legal wife of the widow. But the revelation of Chief Daddy’s surprise package, his mistresses and hangers-on, had a profound effect on the way her character as well as importance in the plot was diminished.
Oniga melted the viewers’ hearts with her depiction of Chief Segun Adeniyi’s wife, a wealthy woman lacking finesse in the movie The Royal Hibiscus. She loves her daughter to bits and is very fond of her husband but their financial woes and her desire to see her daughter get married weigh her down. Oniga’s role is quite convincing in the way she pays lip service to her heathy diet routine. For most women, the quest to healthy feeding is an on-going battle and Oniga delivered that role effortlessly.
But beyond her acting skills, Oniga had worked tirelessly to ensure that the movie industry is sanitised- not populated by unskilled or untrained actors. She joined the movement to call for better welfare of cast and crew but the whole effort seemed to backfire with she and her colleagues who were activists then were blacklisted by movie producers. After getting her groove back on screen, she remained unstoppable till she had her last breath. Those artistic works will continue to preserve the memories of an ingenious cross-over actor, one of the finest ever made.