My father wanted me to become a shoe-maker —Rukayat Lawal spill

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Actress, movie producer and writer, Rukayat Soliu Lawal is a familiar face in the Yoruba sector of Nollywood. She is popularly known as ‘Iya Ibadan Sneh’, a nickname she got from a character she played in the movie ‘Okola L’Amerika’ – a movie by Olaniyi Afonja Sanyeri. The Ibadan-born and bred actress in this interview by FEMI OGUNTAYO, talks about her childhood and her journey through the Nigerian movie industry.

How has the New Year been for you so far?

Well, the New Year has been great, I haven’t fallen sick, I am strong and I pray and hope to see this year through and more years to come.

Generally, my plans are that I become bigger and better than I am currently. It is everyone’s desire to be better than they entered the New Year and I believe all my plans for this year, Almighty Allah will help make it a reality. This year I have a big project I want to execute and I am currently still on it, still doing my homework and want to make sure I have made solid preparations ahead of the execution of this project.

Tell us about your childhood, how was growing up for you?

I had a lively childhood; I enjoyed my childhood so much. The thing is, I have had this talent in me right from childhood, and I could remember that I was a member of every cultural troupe right from primary school.

So, you grew up in Ibadan?

(Laughs) Of course, I am Ibadan born and bred. I grew up in Ibadan and got married in Ibadan and I am still in Ibadan.

Tell us about your educational background

I didn’t have the opportunity to further my education to tertiary institution level. I was very brilliant in school then, but my parents were not that rich. I had my primary and secondary education in Ibadan.

So, would you still like to further your education to the tertiary institution level if you get the opportunity?

Yes, I have been trying to go back to school now for the past 15 years, but you know our job is a time-consuming one. I have not really had the time. If I have the time to go back to school now, I will. There is no ‘Late Comer’.

Let’s talk about your career as an actress. When and how did you join the movie industry?

Like I said earlier, I discovered I had this talent when I was still a young girl. During those days when veterans like Eda Onile Ola would go to schools for stage drama, there was this man called Segun Ojo, I think he is late now. I was able to get in touch with one of his band members and from there I was able to join them for rehearsals. Even though I had it in mind that I was going to join a theatre group, I didn’t have anyone to connect me. This was around 1887/88. There was even a time I used to join my friends who were members of a church drama group, even though my father was never in support of that, I

would sneak out to join their rehearsals and join them to act too.  So, as God will have it, when I was in secondary school, my then boss Ibrahim Jawara, brought a stage play to my school then – there was no video then. I was so happy that I decided that I was going to watch the drama and that after their performance I would walk up to them and tell them I would like to join their group. Fortunately, someone I know was a member of the group, so I told him I would like to join their theatre group. He invited me to join their next rehearsal. I couldn’t sleep that night; I was waiting for the day to break. I was in JSS 1 then, so I went to the rehearsal and fortunately for me, they were rehearsing for a play then and their female lead character was asked to beg her husband and sing for him but she couldn’t sing very well. That is my area of speciality – I sing very well. So I volunteered to teach her the song but instead, I was asked to replace her and take the role – that was my first time at their rehearsal. I took up the role and I sang and everyone was impressed and said ‘a star has come’. So, from then going forward, I became part of the group and I

played a lot of their lead roles. We travelled to schools, do stage plays, dance, sing, sometimes we trek to perform, sometimes we get transport fare, sometimes we didn’t. Even when I wasn’t paid or paid less, I was enjoying the adventure, because passion was the driving force then. So, from that group, I met with Ojopagogo’s group and went there to gain more knowledge. So, from there I started growing, then video came and we were still doing it, till today. I thank God for how far I have come.

When you started acting, did you get the support of your family members, especially your parents?

My dad was never in support, he said he didn’t want his daughter to be a theatre practitioner – and then, it wasn’t lucrative. He wanted me to go learn a trade – shoemaking in Agbeni. Then I told him I wasn’t going to learn shoemaking, I told him that if he couldn’t help further my education, theatre is what I was going to do. One of my older siblings too was not in support of what I was doing then, I was living with him then. Anytime I went for rehearsals from school, I would come home late and he would discipline me and told me I was too stubborn and adamant on this theatre issue. He is in the United Kingdom today and he is very proud of me. Now, he would call me to ask for my next movie, he doesn’t miss them, and he tells people around him that he has a sister who is a movie star. Unfortunately, my father is late now, but my mother gave me her full support.

When you started acting professionally, did you see it as something you would do and become famous with?

I never thought of it at all. Even when I started and I saw my fellow women in other fields making it, travelling out of the country, riding in their own cars, I used to think about it, asking if I would ever be able to ride in a car and do all these things because then, we weren’t paid well. Even when we go to locations for a shoot, we sleep at the movie location; there was nothing like you being lodged in a hotel and all that. So, it was just the love and passion for the craft that kept me going. I never thought it would now be something that would make me this big. Glory be to God for where I am today, even though I am not even there yet because I know those who started with us but are not where I am today.

What are your achievements as an actress?

Well, I thank God for what He has helped me to achieve. I have been able to have my own house, pay for my children’s school fees, travel abroad and I have also been getting some privileges all because people know me and they have seen my face in movies. May God continue to make us relevant.

A lot of people know you as Iya Ibadan Sneh, how did you get the name ‘Iya Ibadan’ and why ‘Sneh’?

Iya Ibadan is actually a name a lot of people know me by. I got that name from a movie I featured in – a movie by Olaniyi Afonja Sanyeri (Okola L’Amerika). Even though before then I have gotten some nicknames from some movies I featured in but that character ‘Iya Ibadan’ was the one that a lot of people stuck with. I was the one who just added pepper to it by adding Sneh to Iya Ibadan to make it ‘Iya Ibadan Sneh’.