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Friday, 24 June 2016

I’m the apple of God’s eyes Says Barrister Fashionista and ex TV Gal, Grace Egbagbe

Ex- TV top gal Barrister Grace Egbagbe who is fondly called Aunty Grace, went off the social radar for about some months, and there was a great clamour for her to return. What did people miss? Of course, her grace, her unique fashion sense and her enduring style. But the former Executive Director at Nigerian Television Authority says she is more than all those nice stuff.

“There is nothing wrong with being fashionable” said Grace Egbagbe “I am not ashamed to be a stylish person. I guess because I won the first most stylish woman award in Nigeria, people see me only as a mere pretty thing. That my photographs are always in the papers is no fault of mine.” 

Grace Egbagbe is a lawyer, a TV Producer, and the Creator of the popular drama series 'Cock crow at Dawn' (She gave the leading character her middle name Zemaye). Ms Egbagbe shares her newer passion and dreams with us in this interview with Paul Ukpabio at her classy and elegant home in Lekki, Lagos.  

What has been happening to you of late? Rumour mill had it that you simply disappeared.
(Laughs) Some reporters are my problem. The press keeps chasing me around. You tell me why?

Could it be because you are a reporter's delight and one of the most stylish personalities in the society; one that young people look up to?

Flattery won't get you far, but talking seriously, everyone needs a break from time to time. And all I did was to take a break, though a little longer this time. And I am glad I was missed!

What did you do to keep busy while you were away?

I did a lot of traveling and watching movies.

Where did you travel to?

Oh, I went all over. I was in London, Washington, I spent some time in Las Vegas and that was awesome. And then I visited some friends that I was in the Law School with in Barbados. That was nice!

Looking back at your days in NTA, what do you miss most?

When you spend the greater part of your lifetime in a place, you are bound to miss the friendship that would have developed - the camaraderie, we had fun! We were members of a large NTA family. That is because, NTA was like a family. I guess: I miss most the travelling. I travelled the world, which is probably why I stayed twenty eight years in NTA.

Oh really…

Oh yes, every February, I used to attend Monte Carlo Film Festival. I also went to the Cannes Film Festival. I was a Juror at the then Bulgarian Film Festival, visited the then Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Berlin, Leipzig, Moscow and I even did a short course in Satellite Communications at the East-West Centre University of Hawaii (I still get Alumni mails from them!) 

How was it like working in NTA?

It was very challenging. I joined NTA a year after it was set up under Engineer Vincent Maduka, who was the first Director General of NTA, a seasoned but a bit tough administrator! I learnt from him, that hard work always pays even if not always recognised! It was under him that I was in charge of programmes like Cock crow at Dawn and Second Chance, a comedy programme in which I cast the very distinguished Olu Jacob as an adult education teacher: his present wife Joke as a student and Madam Kofo as the student who was more interested in her outrageous hairstyles than studying! Madam Kofo is quick to acknowledge to anyone who cares to listen, that I tied her very first 'Madam Kofoish' head-tie on the programme. As for Olu and Joke, I claimed that I am their cupid's arrow!

But how did the marketing and the legal aspect of your career come in?  

When I get restless, I usually seek more knowledge because my Dad always said that, you can never be over educated. So I went on study leave without pay, to the University of Buckingham, England, where I got my Law degree. I was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1985. Prior to that, I had gotten a degree in TV/Motion picture production from the University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA.

How did the advertising aspect come in because you were well known for being a 
Director of Marketing at NTA?
That came about when Ben Bruce was the Director General and being the businessman that he is, moved me from programmes to marketing. As you know, you cannot practice advertising until you are registered with APCON. The same way you cannot practice Law unless you are called to the bar. And so, I had to become a student once again by studying for a Diploma in Advertising at APCON.

There was a time you were on TV receiving an award at APCON graduation...    

Oh yes, and I have my son to thank for that. He warned me “Mummy please be serious and don't go and disgrace us.” That really hit me. And just as a good child works hard not to disappoint his parents, so did I burn the midnight oil, not to disappoint my children. I'm happy to say that, not only did I graduate as the Best Female Graduate, I was also the Overall Best Graduating Student and I also won three other prizes as Best Student in other subjects. The good news was that, all the awards came with cash prizes.

Between programmes and marketing, which did you enjoy the most?

Both! But there were challenges in both areas. In the programmes area, we did not have enough funding to make good programmes and I think this is still the case. It was hard to convince the public that the foreign programmes that they enjoyed so much, cost millions of dollars to produce. As for marketing, people were just not ready to pay for airtime. They knew the effectiveness of advertising their product on a network like NTA, but they were not prepared to pay the charges. And because there were so many outstanding debts, we decided for the first time, to insist on no-payment-no-advert. In other words, your advert will not get on air 'especially on the network news' unless it was paid for beforehand. At the time, the telecommunication companies had just set up, so they were our major advertisers.

Why did you choose to be a career woman?

If you are asking me why I have a career, I will say it is necessary to equip yourself for survival in this difficult world. But I will also say that I was greatly influenced by my father, who believed in education for women, at a time when women were relegated to the background. And I wonder what I would have been today, without my education. I am the first female graduate from a small village called Okpekpe although you can't call Okpekpe 'small' now after the internationally acclaimed Road Race that takes place there: A race that only a few years ago, was just a dream. Today, the village that was previously largely inaccessible now has an express road running through it. Thanks to the Executive Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, the village now has an annual Road Race. We had well known athletes from Ethiopia, Kenya and other places, taking part in the race.

Why did you study Law which is so un-related to TV?

Like I said, I needed to do something different and I was particularly intrigued by law series that I watched on foreign TV. I have often been a victim of total misconception of who I am. What law does is to make you look at two sides or more to a story. So law has given me a discerning spirit. It has also helped me not to judge or condemn anyone so quickly. 

Why aren’t you doing movies?    

How do you know I am not? Is it because you have not seen me in some Nollywood movies or because I have not produced any (laughs)? First of all, acting in Nollywood movies, would have just complicated my problems more. As for movie production, I do have a couple of scripts that I am working on. But having acquired my training from an internationally acclaimed school in Hollywood like UCLA, I want to do a first class production. And first class productions cost a lot of money!

There were lots of pretty faces at NTA during your time then…

Yes, there were, but there are still pretty faces there now. Or don’t you like the faces you see there now (laughs)? 

What values were instilled in you as a child that helped to make you the person that you are today?

One that stands out clearly is what my Dad used to say to us, ‘hard work doesn’t kill.’ I watched my Dad wake up early in the morning and once that radio call came in, that there was an outbreak of communicable disease like measles or smallpox, he will take off; sometimes running into days before we saw him again. It got to a stage where I insisted on travelling with him on his little tours, because I had a special bond with my Dad. He was my mentor and my hero. My Dad also taught us to be frank and to say it as it is. I guess ‘diplomacy’ or double-speak was not something to be encouraged! So I try as much as possible to be honest and straight forward with my friends. And I can’t pretend to like you when I can’t stand you!

You rose to one of the highest positions at NTA, do you think women have been given a fair chance?

Yes, but not enough. Didn’t some wise guy say “if you want a job done, give it to a woman?” Women, especially Nigerian women, have the capacity, the knowledge, and the intelligence to do any job that has been held by a man. The taste of the pudding is in the eating, so how would you know if a woman can do a job well, if you don’t try her out? We have women doing creditably well in the oil and banking sectors. But hitherto, women have been their own worst enemies, pulling each other down instead of up: Which is why I give kudos to an organization called WIMBIZ who spends all their time in helping and mentoring other women. Credit must be given to the present administration for giving more women than ever, a chance to hold positions that were previously considered the exclusive preserve of men.
People assume that successful ladies hardly do simple women chores at home. Do you still do them?

Of course I cook when I have to. It also depends on who I am cooking for (laughs). 

You have been quoted in previous interviews that marriage will come when it will! Have you closed the chapter on marriage?

No one closes a chapter like that in one’s life. When I see the right man and I have a good relationship, if he proposes, I will say yes. But I am not going to say yes to marriage, just to please the society or just to be a ‘Mrs’ to somebody. I am not going to take somebody or marry somebody for the sake of it. What will that do for me, nothing! There are too many unhappy marriages already!

What do you value most?

My God, my children, my family and my genuine friends.  

And how would you love to describe yourself?

I would describe myself as the apple of God’s eye! My name is Grace and people say that I live my name. I like to be gracious to people, I like to be kind to people and I like to be frank to people. I like to be honest as much as I can and I don’t give a damn about what Mr A or Mrs B thinks about me because, what others think about me is their problem not mine.

What does success mean to you?

Success is being able to do what you like when you like (as long as it is legal). Success I think is being able to be you. Success is to live your life the way that fulfils you. And my prayer always has been that God gives me satisfaction in whatever I do because, you could have little money and be happy or have lots of money and still be unhappy because you want more.

A key ingredient to happiness is the satisfaction that comes from within - a satisfaction with what you have. God usually gives us what we need. He feeds the flowers and birds of the air, so He is sure to feed us as well. But what gets us into trouble, is our insatiable greed and need for more. If people want what they can’t have, some would go as far as to kill to get it. So I think that contentment is the primary key to success and happiness.

Are you fulfilled?    

I am very fulfilled because I have God and incredible children and a loving family.

How do you take off stress, and what keeps you looking so young?

First of all, I try not to stay stressed, which is why I take off to go and relax, in an environment outside my usual home. I love to watch movies and dance and listen to soft music. There’s hardly a movie that is out that I have not seen. All these help me to de-stress. I also play golf when I can find the time. As for looking young, I thank you for your compliments. But I think I have my parents to thank for that. 

When my Dad died at 79, his waistline was 32 inches. My mom just passed her mid eighties and she walks on her two feet! She’s as sharp as a 60 year old. What makes women age fast, is usually husband and child problem. There’s a proverb that says, ‘a woman that has no child does not suffer child bereavement. So I do not have husband problems and I have amazing children. Plus I am content with all God has given me. I count my blessings every day! And I think my childlike faith in God keeps me happy and looking like a child.       

Permit me to ask you this question about fashion. What does fashion mean to you and how important is fashion in a woman’s life?

For me, I equate fashion with comfort. You cannot be comfortable if you are wearing something that you feel uncomfortable in. I believe that one should wear what is appropriate for the occasion. So I’m saying for instance, I will not wear Jeans to a Sunday church service or wear a ball gown to a pool side party. I do not condemn seeing outfits on others which I cannot wear.  For instance, if you have Tina Turner legs, by all means, wear your minis and just because I can’t wear them, will not make me condemn you for wearing them. People assess you by the way you dress; the first time they see you. And their first impression of you, usually last forever. So when you leave your house to go out, you must endeavour to look nice. ‘The rule of thumb’ is to wear what you feel comfortable in and don’t follow fashion trends blindly. Fashion is huge business but unfortunately, I do not think that we have tapped our potential enough in the fashion industry in Nigeria. A woman should always look nice and alluring.

Why are you not in active politics, don’t you want a political appointment?

That is precisely my point, I see that many go into politics because they want political appointment and I do not think that is the right motive for going into politics. One should go into politics to make a change for the better. It’s not that I am adverse to politics, but I am adverse to the way people see politics as a do or die affair. People should be in politics to positively impact their society. To help people who need help. From what I hear, I thank God that some people think about me in positive terms. I am wary about my good name being rubbished by the way politics is done here. I like to help people and communities quietly. I cannot be so blessed by God and not share with others. Unless people are true and honest to themselves, the way politics is played will continue to be the bane of our society.                                               



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