Meg Oguntala, the chairman of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Ikeja Branch, is also popular actress who features regularly in Wale Adenuga‘s TV drama series, Super Story. She narrates her experience as an undergraduate to ‘NONYE BEN-NWANKWO.
Why did you study engineering?
It was the best thing I could do. In those days, if you were good in physics, chemistry, mathematics and additional mathematics, you would be leaning towards engineering. My father actually wanted me to study Medicine, but I hated biology so much that I had to settle for engineering. That was how I got to study Chemical Engineering.
Was your father disappointed that you didn‘t fulfill his wish?
Of course, he was. He didn‘t like the fact that I was going to become an engineer. He felt that engineering is a man‘s domain. He said he couldn‘t imagine his daughter being an engineer. He tried to lure me into something else, like Law.
Most people think that those who study engineering are brilliant. Would you describe yourself as brilliant?
Yes. The subjects that were required to study engineering were not for the lily-livered. You just had to be brilliant to a large extent to study engineering. A lot of people had a phobia for mathematics. It has always been assumed that those who are good in mathematics are brilliant people. If that is the case, then let us say I was brilliant. I didn‘t have any phobia for that subject. I loved it. It was simpler than any other subject, such as English. Once you know maths, you know it. You can score 100 per cent in maths. No matter how good I am, if I write an essay for you, I am sure you will still see something wrong with the essay and there will be a reason for you not to give me 100 per cent.
And you have moved up in your chosen career, so rapidly that you are now the chairman of the Nigerian Society of Engineers...
I joined the NSE in 1995. Three months after I joined, I found myself chairing committees. It became a big challenge for me. Before then, I had been the secretary of the Association of Women Engineers in Nigeria. Working in the Ikeja branch was quite easy.
And you are also an actress?
Isn‘t there a wide gap between engineering and acting?
It is quite easy. For you to become an engineer, you must have the ability to become anything. It means you are good in a lot of areas and then you have the ability to diversify. I liked drama as a young girl in secondary school. I was in the drama unit. I was also in the drama unit of Red Cross in UNIBEN. I was also the editor of Touch Press in UNIBEN then. I have been into all kinds of things, apart from engineering.
When did the opportunity to act in films come?
That should be in 2003. That was when I got the opportunity to actualise one of the dreams of my life. Somebody introduced me to Wale Adenuga and I went for an audition and got a role in one of his drama series. That was the beginning. I got several other roles in different series inWale Adenuga Productions.
What particular soap brought you into the limelight?
I’m I really in the limelight? A lot of people recognise me when they see me on the streets. If that is limelight, I have reached there. I thought the limelight is for people like Genevieve Nnaji and Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde. I always get recognised and sometimes it can be quite embarrassing. Sometimes it can be very nice too. There was a day I went to the market and suddenly somebody said, ‘See this Super Story woman.‘ I had to run away. I joined Super Story in 2003 and it was well accepted then. Almost everybody watched it. Once you take part in one or two, people will know you. I don‘t think any particular one brought me into the limelight. The first one I did was Enough is Enough. It was the kind of drama that a lot of people could identify with. I have done a whole lot since then.
Why have you restricted your acting to Wale Adenuga‘s drama series and TV soap operas?
I did one or two Yoruba movies. I didn‘t enjoy the location as much as I enjoyed the soap locations. Majority of the producers in the movie industry are not organised. I always want an organised place. Don‘t forget that I am a professional. I didn‘t want to meet with just anybody. I wanted to act and at the same time maintain my integrity. I needed a place where there was professionalism.
Can your husband make you quit acting? People have asked me the same question about my husband and how he allowed me to act. But he knew my passion even before we got married. We had discussed it from time to time. He has been aware of every step I made towards acting. My husband allows me to be myself as long as I don‘t do anything that will compromise my image as his wife.
Don‘t you think that people could think that you are an ‘iron woman‘?
I expect them to see me that way. In fairness to them, sometimes I behave as the Iron Lady. I am highly principled and I don‘t take nonsense. I guess those are the traits of an iron lady. When you are a woman and you don‘t take nonsense and you are a goal getter and you are focused, people will call you an iron lady. Well, so be it.
People also think that such women boss their husbands around...
The home is one aspect and the profession is another. A good woman will be able to combine both without compromising her home and making herself the ‘husband‘ in her home. With the background I had, I have never thought of behaving that way at home. I know and I believe that my husband is the head of the family. I believe in that a lot and I practise it. In my home, my husband is the boss and the lord.
How was growing up?
It was fun most of the time. It couldn‘t have been fun all the time. I did most of the things I wanted to do. I was in drama group when I was in secondary school and my father allowed me to go out to represent the school. I had fun. I was not restricted. Even as an engineering student, I was a politician. I was a congress member and I also had fun. People feel that engineering students are bookworms, but it depends on your person. I was not a book worm.
Did you grow up in a polygamous home?
Yes. It was a bitter and sweet experience. There were many bad moments. But with the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn‘t choose anything better. I know that it is not easy these days. I don‘t pray that my husband marries another wife. I will not even accept it. But the experience I had prepared me for life. I can face challenges because of the experience I had when I was growing up. You will learn to be independent in life. The challenges of life begin when you grow up in a polygamous family. It has prepared me well and I am able to face challenges. Nothing shocks me.
Did you experience hard times when you were growing up?
I have had my own share of rough times. At 46, life has not been easy for me. Some people may have had it easy. My father was a policeman. He retired as an Inspector of Police in 1984. I didn‘t have the kind of opportunity that some of my mates had when I was in the university. My father could barely afford my meal ticket.
How did you make ends meet?
I managed with the little he gave me. I did the 0- 1- 1 thing. It has even influenced me till date. I still don‘t eat breakfast. I didn‘t need to depend on any man. Men would have given you more money and plenty of stress. Back then, there was fear of going out with older men because they were the ones that could afford to give you money. The boys were more interested in collecting money from us. I wasn‘t adventurous enough to go out with a married man. Some of my friends even travelled abroad when we were in school. I was scared. What if something happens to me? I was so close to my father and there was nothing I didn‘t tell him.
What will you do if your husband eventually takes another wife?
I will do all I can to protest. He is an African man. I know it is not impossible. But I will do all I can to protest. I don‘t want to share my husband with another woman. It is not a good thing
How did you meet your husband?
I met him when I was on industrial training with the NNPC in Warri. He had just returned from the US where he studied. We met and that was it. We started as friends. I was in the fourth year, going to the final year. We decided to tie the knots thereafter. I met my husband in 1985 and we got married in 1988.
Were you attracted to him because he was an America returnee?
Coming back from America was not a plus. We are more used to the people around us. We had heard stories of people who have plenty secrets abroad. My father even said it was better to choose somebody whose history was known. My father had to conduct investigations about him.
You still look very young. Do you still get male admirers?
I do all the time. I enjoy the admiration. Let‘s be sincere, it is good to know that people still appreciate you. It boosts your ego and your self image.
Do you get tempted to cheat on your husband?
There is nobody who doesn‘t get tempted. You just have to tell yourself that it is temptation and you flee from it. The Bible even said temptation will arise. Being able to resist the temptation is the key. But there is nothing I‘m looking for again in any other man. My husband is handsome. I wouldn‘t have married him if he wasn‘t handsome. I married him because he has all the qualities I wanted in a man. Above all, he is a good husband. He is very dependable.
What does he do for a living?
He is a civil servant. He is a chemical engineer too. His profession was not what got me attracted to him, but it helped. I wanted to marry a professional. Somebody who read any course, apart from a professional course wouldn‘t have had any chance with me. If a woman marries a man who is not at par with her, there could be problems. We know that men have a very fragile ego, so you have to marry a man that you can look up to.
Now that you are the chairman of your association, doesn‘t he get envious?
He doesn‘t belong to my branch. But he needn‘t be. In his own field, my husband is a first class chemical engineer. He is more than a director. Why would he be envious of an ordinary branch chairman? He has excelled in his field and he is very confident.