Born into an average family, MARY ONYINYE OKEKE grew up to become an independent woman, a comrade in the fight for women emancipation. She is the Secretary General of the Light Givers Humanitarian Foundation and the Managing Director, Akwa-Amaka Productions, the platform she promised to use in telling the untold story of African entertainment industry. She spoke with ADA NWANAGUM about her strength, fears and struggle for survival.
I am Mary Onyinye Okeke from Igboukwu town in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State. I am a proud mother of four lovely children and we’re based in Lagos. I have lived all my life in Lagos. I grew up in Ojo area of Lagos and I attended Beta Nursery and Primary School, Ojo, and then went to Kings High School, Satellite town, Amuwo-Odofin, Lagos for my secondary school education. My tertiary education was at Lagos State University (LASU) where I obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biochemistry. I started my Master’s degree but couldn’t complete it because I was too business-oriented. I was busy chasing money (smiles). The point is this, I am not really seeing myself pursuing that course I studied in school. I am basically business-inclined. I am fully into business. I started up as a network marketer and I happened to be one of the top leaders in two companies, one of them is Max International. I do a lot of online business basically, online trading; crypto currency trading, forex trading, any online buying and selling you can think of. And by the Grace of God, I am currently the Managing Director of Akwa Amaka Productions Limited and also the Secretary General of The Light Givers Humanitarian Foundation.
My growing up was a quiet one. I came from a very strong Catholic Christian family. As a child, everybody knew me as being soft, being too quiet and some even mistook it for weakness because l would always cry unnecessarily, even over a little joke. But they didn’t know I was actually tough. I only grew to know that I was actually tough. All the same, I had a very sweet childhood. My parents, Ide and Mrs J.U. Okeke were fairly well-to-do. They were very strict too. They are great disciplinarians, but they are very comfortable and took very good care of us. They made life very comfortable for us but never spoilt us. My parents were very generous, charitable couples that always took care of people. So, my charity works didn’t start here, it’s in-born, inherited from my parents. With my kind of parents, I didn’t lack anything while growing up and as a child I was more of an indoor person, an introvert, from house to school or church then back to the house. I had very few friends that l went to church or choir practice together with. There is nothing too fascinating about my childhood days other than the fact that it was cool and I really thank God for helping me live through my childhood days to this present day.
I will say that the fact of not having everything l wanted as a child contributed in making me what l am today. You know, there is a difference between want and need and my parents made sure we got what we needed and not anything we wanted. I hail from a family where both parents are strict even though mummy is a little bit flexible but you cannot air your views all the time. Even when you do, it has to be scrutinized before it is accepted. So, with that, I was able to curtail my wants/excesses and also know how to work for what I want. You see, as young as I was then, while most people were spending their pocket money, I was using mine to do business. I started business from my secondary school level. I would buy jewelleries, those small perfumes and body sprays and would sell them in school, make money before I could spend money. So, this business life in me has been from my early stage in life. I have so much respect and fear for my father. I didn’t even have the courage to ask him for more, and so whatever he gave me, I found a way to multiply it. I have this principle of ‘make more money before you spend money’.
I was really influenced by both parents but in their diverse ways. Mummy is a very sociable person while Daddy is reserved. Daddy is a very religious person while mummy is just there. Daddy is an introvert while Mummy is an extrovert. I love to pick from both ways and then I’m able to manage my life and move on. So, both of them made great impacts on my life especially in the area of giving. Aside them, I just have uncles and aunties that just love me and their love helped me too.
Greatest achievement so far
Hmmm… for me, my greatest achievement are my children. You see, I have really not gotten to the top yet. I’m still in the process but so far so good. I will score myself 60%. But what have I achieved? I will say that I have achieved my independence because I am an independent woman and impacting lives, empowering people in my own little ways although I am yet to get to that point where I want God to take me to in life, but I am comfortable where I am now.
Well, we all make mistakes, both in our actions and in our decisions. No one is above that fact. Some things and actions are better left unsaid and un-noticed so that life must continue in peace. You see, the power to undergo and pull through some turbulent struggles in life is another achievement in my life and I give God the glory.
I don’t see anything as a threat. They might be challenging but I can’t say they are threatening. I am not wired to see things as threat. I know how to switch things and move forward. I don’t put emotions into most things of life. When this is not working, I quickly switch to the other so as not to get bored or heart-broken, and I don’t feel so attached to something to the extent of breaking me down. I have never worked for anybody or applied for jobs, so, I have never been disappointed in that area. I am an independent marketer and I don’t add emotions to what I do.
Oh yes. It’s a sure game played in our society today. It’s something we see almost every day. From when l was twelve, i started having such harassments and intimidations but I know how to handle them. Just know how to handle such intimidation and harassment when it comes and you will get better by the day.
Curbing sexual harassment
The first thing is for the girl-child to learn how to have confidence in herself because without it we are heading nowhere. So many people don’t value themselves. They are easily swayed by peer pressures or pleasures and they get this very wrong idea that they can’t make it by themselves except through somebody especially a man. Our ladies should learn to look out for what they can give out to better every situation, relationship and all aspects of life. You see, if you have this self belief and confidence you will keep looking for what you will give out rather than what you will receive. So, it is only when you mingle or go into relationships only because of what you can get that you should expect something like that, because it will surely come to haunt you. If you are my friend, l will look out for ways to impact you and help you get better, otherwise, there is no need for that friendship. There are, however, people you call friends that when you try to impact on them, you find they are busy looking for what to collect from you and how to bring you down, and this type of people are part of my regrets today.
Advice for the young generation
They should be more confident in themselves. It is very important to love yourself because if you do not love yourself enough, you will also pass that message to the person next to you and your younger generation and they will also not love you because you have not loved yourself. How can you give love when you do not love and how can you love yourself when you do not have confidence in yourself? They should always think of how to make life better for other people than just themselves. They should not be selfish. They should also bear in mind that it is not every good you do that must be rewarded by same person, with that, you will not be disappointed. Give to people without expecting anything in return. Then, every woman should always keep her head up, strong and never allow herself to be intimidated because women have power and are very determined. The same men that chased or harassed you will be the ones to help you when they see how focused and determined you are.
Role model/source of inspiration
My role model is no other than Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. She is a Nigerian economist and international development expert who has served since March 2021 as Director-General of the World Trade Organization. She is the first woman and the first African to hold the office. She has an amazing record in and outside the shores of this country through her incredible performance. Her working relationship with people has a positive impact in the lives of others. Consistency, determination and ability to achieve excellent results has been her source of inspiration. Therefore, she is my role model.
I will be remembered through my hard work and that will form the legacy I will leave behind.
No. I have very understanding parents who taught me how to be independent in order to accomplish my dreams. At 8, I had already learnt how to clean the house, wash plates and do my assignments without close supervision which actually prepared me to be the better person I am today.
Impact on career/industry
I have an existing programme that gives people an opportunity to showcase their talents irrespective of ethnic background. It is an organised programme called “Develop Your Dream Project” which encompass acting, directing, editing, production management, cinematography, make up and costume with a view to bringing out the best in them and helping them achieve their dreams.
Absolutely, choosing the right career path is one of the biggest decisions in one’s life.