Death! The Remorseless Grim Reaper

By Femi Akintunde-Johnson
Between April and June this year, Rachel Oniga and I chatted like never before. She was so busy from around March, apparently trying to make up for the almost one-year drag of COVID-19 terrorism attacks on the world, with more devastating effects on the creative space.
I wanted to clarify a lot of misyarns concerning her so as to make her entry in my book, Reflections…most representative of her sterling contributions to the arts. She would respond late to my incessant WhatsApp queries with charming cuteness – something like this: “FAJ, oni binu ni o…sebi you know d wahala ise wa yi…” (FAJ, please, don’t be angry…and you are familiar with the demands of our work).
Of course, I do…so I kept pressing her for answers…and she eventually delivered…even calling to clarify her clarifications a couple of times.
To her eternal credit, she was one of the first persons to pledge a number of digital copies of the first draft; and when the final book came out, she was one of the first 10 entrants in Reflections to pay and collect her paperback (Naija version) less than two weeks ago.
Intensely private, and conscious of her endearing reputation, this was her final note to me when I wanted to know where to send her book; she ‘warned’ thus: “This is my no. But only you can have my no. This is special to close and special people”. Of course, we played it according to her rule…so we can remain close and special to her.
On another occasion, she wrote: “So sorry, I just forgot. I no fit lie for you my brother”. Such charming openness; such assertive pleasantness.
She quipped on July 10: “Oh, sorry. I received it,” in reference to getting her copy of ‘Reflections’. Then, days after, she’s gone!
Did she even get the chance to read the book, or what we wrote about her? Death…so remorseless.
Here is an excerpt from her entry in ‘Reflections’ as our tribute to a dogged and committed art-isan: “She is one of the few critics’ favourites noted as the archetypal long-suffering mother, the ill-fated first wife, or the beleaguered widow. These teary roles to Rachel Oniga are like water at the back of a duck. Yet, she was a late bloomer, arriving at the core of the creative process at a matronly 36 years old. Her first appearance on television was via Memorial Hospital (1993); while her first movie was shot and released in 1996 (Chico Ejiro/Opa Williams’ combo) Onome – where, of course, she cried us a river as an unfortunate mother of an endangered daughter.
Owo Blow (1997, shot in 1995) was her first Yoruba movie; Borepo was her second. Others followed in quick succession, such that this pleasant personality would now have amassed close to 400 movies across the two blocs (English and Yoruba).
Here’s a shortlist of her English credits: Agony of a Mother (2002), The Only Nigerian Girl, Passion of Mind (2004); Sango, Out of Bounds (both 2007); Died Wretched (1998), Power Of Sin, Restless Mind, Doctor Bello (2013), 30 Days in Atlanta (2014), Oracle Online (2015), My Wife & I, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel (both 2017); Chief Daddy (2018), Truth & Riding (2019), The Senator, and Kada River (2018).
Some of her Yoruba movies are: Ebere Adigun, Tibi Tire Laye, Farayola, Omo Pupa, Tomo Tiya, Gongo Aso, Itan, Nkan Adun, Okun Emi, Ori Oko, and Jagun Aso.
She has also self-produced some movies: True or False, Aramide, Bibire and Ife Eleyele (last two in 2013). Oniga would be 64 on May 23, 2021.”
Adieu… Rachel Tabuno Oniga… till we meet again.
So, what’s your favorite Rachel Oniga quote? What would you remember her for?

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