Tobi Igbenoba-Onikoyi is a Nigerian actor who played the role of Silk in Africa Magic’s Tv series ‘Dilemma.’ Having graduated from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana with a B.A. in Theatre Studies, she has appeared in several stage productions such as ‘The Chibok Girls: Our story’ which was staged at the Ubumuntu Arts Festival in Rwanda and at the Georgetown University in Washington DC, ‘Moremi’, ‘Eneli’, ‘Perfect Man’, etc. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, she speaks on the role entertainment industry can play in boosting the economy and what Nigeria can do differently to enable the entertainment industry add meaningfully to the country’s GDP.
Let’s begin with your profession. Why did you choose acting?
I chose acting because I love the thrill of performing and I also love being able to take on different personas. It helps give me a better understanding of the human experience and also gives me the opportunity to explore the world.
What was your upbringing like?
I had a very happy childhood. I would say my parents were both liberal and conservative at the same time. They made sure to teach my siblings and I what we needed to know but also let us make our own choices. Yes there were up and down days but I have a very close relationship with my siblings and close enough with my parents which made my childhood fun. My mother drummed it into us that getting an education is so important, that no one can take it away from us, that’s where my thirst for knowledge came from. We were always encouraged and told we could do anything not because we are girls but because we are human beings. From a culture perspective, we’re half Deltan and half Yoruba so it was truly a mix; though the Deltan aspect was instilled by my grandmother and what I researched online. My childhood dream was actually to become a renowned doctor. I held on to that for the longest time till I watched Omotola Jalade Ekeinde in a movie and fell in love with her craft, it then occurred to me that I could do what she does. I changed my course of study and moved to art class in secondary school and started dreaming of being a world famous superstar. I’m blessed to have worked my way though life following the guidance and support of my parents, it’s not the typical “hustled” my way story, but to achieve anything, one must be prepared to do the work required.
If not acting, where else do you see yourself?
Athletics. I love running. I used to run back in primary and secondary school till I focused on acting. I love the adrenaline rush that comes with being in a competitive sport.
So far, walk us through the journey that brought you to your current stage as an actress?
It’s been quite an interesting journey. From when I decided to become an actor while I was in science class in secondary school and had to move to art class without informing my parents, to me going to study theatre studies in the university in Ghana, to getting my first paid job as an actor whilst in school in Ghana, to the various auditions and the yes’s and no’s, the late nights and earlier mornings. I believe it all helped me stay the course and appreciate the journey which has actually not been easy.
Talk to us about Dilemma and your role as silk? What’s the outstanding message for you in the series and your general experience?
Being part of the Africa magic series Dilemma was quite exciting and also a learning experience. I had the opportunity to work with industry experts, both cast and crew. Playing Silk was everything. I loved the fact that I played something different from what I usually played, I loved that I had to go physical (fighting scenes) and basically just do something outside of my comfort zone. The outstanding message I got from the series Dilemma is that in the long run, love always wins no matter how many obstacles are there.
What are the salient and deep messages you want to pass through your acting career?
To live. Have fun at any given opportunity and make sure you remember to breathe even when you feel overwhelmed. Nigeria’s economy is at a crossroad. Debt is mounting, the exchange rate disparity is rising, and inflation and other economic indexes are bleak as an end is fast approaching for our fossil fuel.
What role do you think the entertainment industry can play in boosting the economy?
The entertainment industry can play a vital role in the economy by taking part in some sensitisation projects. They can use these projects to spread the word about the different ways people’s behavioural attitudes affect the economy, and also engage in activities that encourage people to vote. In terms of boosting the economy, Nollywood is the third largest film industry in the world, having more stringent rules about how our films are distributed and supplied, we can definitely add enormous value to the economy if things are done right.
From the government to the players in the entertainment industry, what can we do differently to enable the entertainment industry add meaningfully to the country’s GDP?
With the number of movies being produced by Nollywood annually, the industry contributes massively to the economy and can actually do more with the support of the government. We need to value our entertainment practitioners and make sure they are being trained properly, paid well enough and have access to funding to develop their craft and grow a thriving industry.
What’s your take on domestic violence and women’s human rights in Nigeria, do you think the entertainment industry can play a role in changing the narrative around these societal issues?
My take is that awareness of how victims can be helped is not strong enough. Victims need to be encouraged to speak out, and more centers are needed to help these people, including more awareness on the centres.
Yes I think the industry can play a role in changing the narrative. I think the entertainment industry can curate content that addresses domestic violence, stop shamming victims, highlights its negative effects on victims and their immediate families and where they can seek professional help without being judged.
Where do we expect to see you in the next five to 10 years?
In five years and beyond, I want to be an expert in other aspects of production asides acting; specifically producing and directing. I want to add value to the industry by leading my own production team and producing and directing really good projects (movies, series and even stage plays). Furthermore, I would like to develop myself as a professional that can help and mentor aspiring actors and be a part of the mentorship programme myself. I am driven to be the best at what I do so I intend to spread my tentacles within and outside Nigeria. This will give me the opportunity to continue to develop my skills, take on interesting projects, and work with people I can really learn from. I see myself winning awards both locally and internationally; basically putting Nigeria and Nigerians on the map.
What inspires you the most about Nigeria? What’s the major turnoff about the country?
What inspires me about Nigeria are the people. A large percentage of them (mostly youths) are change agents striving towards making a difference in the country, especially in the government. Youths are using their voice and every means to cause a positive change in the system. Also, most Nigerians will not settle for average. People strive every day to create a better life for themselves and their family. Nigerians are hardworking, tenacious, and success driven. My major turn off is the corrupt government we have. Others include power-hungry, self-centered, and greedy humans occupying positions of power. Corruption in Nigeria is like a transferrable disease that has eaten deep into the system. Corruption isn’t only in the government; an average Nigerian in a position of power will abuse it for private gain.
What’s your take on the 2023 election?
2023 election is shaping out to be the most important election in Nigerian history; the people are more concerned about their future and lives. Insecurity is on the high, inflation rate is over 21 percent, unemployment is on the high, our debt is N77 trillion, the economy is bad. Nigeria is in need of a leader with character, competence and capacity and I know Peter obi is the man for the job; he is the only one that can guarantee a secured, united and productive Nigeria and Nigerians needs a government they can be proud of because this country is great and as Prof Lumumba once said when Nigeria wakes up, Africa would never remain the same.
Do you think your acting career and acting generally has been appreciated in Nigeria?
Honestly, no but it’s partly linked to the fact that the industry is quiet competitive and there are a lot of actors coming up daily. Although a few people know me and appreciate my craft, I feel like as time goes on, more people will acknowledge me and what I have to offer.
What aspect of humanitarian activities interests you? What specific humanitarian projects are you currently working on or plan to execute?
Children, single mothers, and advocating for victims of domestic violence. In December 2021, I did something small for the people on the street by sharing food to them and named it. I’d like to feed more people on the street and also assist single mothers and also victims of domestic violence with leaving abusive relationships.