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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Friday, February 16, 2007

Nicole


One of my friends called me in a panic last week and said, 'did you
hear? She is dead, Anna Nicole is dead". My hard drive whirled in
confusion for a full minute, then she said, "you know, the glamour
model, ex wife of the geriatric millionaire, law suit with his kids,
weight battling, alcohol addled brained, reality show star, son
tragically dying right after birth of multi paternity battles child
Anna Nicole Smith". Oh, l said, that Anna! The last time a thing like
that happened was with Diana Princess of Wales when a friend shrieked
down the phone in Abacha darkened Nigeria, She's dead, lady Di is
dead. I thought it was our own lovely lady Di Oputa and was about to
call Charly boy when she said l know the royal family killed her, then
my slow brain got it.

I will never cease to be amazed at the insatiable quest for and
interest in the affairs of others that fuels celebrity culture or the
inability of people to see that it is all about commerce and recognize
that the over exposed celebrity is often herself or himself a victim,
a pawn in a brutal game they are usually to begin with not privy to
the rules and future consequences.

Of course celebrity is a bastardization of fame. In the true sense,
fame and acclaim should come from the body of work or achievements of
an individual but since it became isolated as an entity to be traded
with impunity, the casualties have increased.

I always curtly state that fame is a by product of my job, one l do
not crave or particularly enjoy, fortunately it just has never
penetrated my subconscious so l am still often startled when people
stare at me and truly embarrassed when they gush, genuflect and hug
me. I am deeply respectful of the love and support and hurt by the
misunderstanding and sometime hatred but l did not choose it and in
Nigeria where it is so cringingly and cheaply purchasable, l avoid it
as much as l can without hurting my career. Although, come to think of
it you sanctimonious so and so Funmi, in Nigeria, if you are not a big
man, a rich man, a famous man or any combination of the three, isn't
your arse grass?

Ms Nicole's death, far as it is from my own realities and environment
is non the less a tragedy, no amount of money in the world can be
worth the media circus of the life she lived and that poor child of
hers, what is to become of her?
Wednesday, February 14, 2007

VALENTINE AND THE BREAD

I am sitting here all alone laughing so hard my sides hurt; l am reading some of the articles l wrote in my twenties and suddenly it hits me. I have become one the bitter twisted old women l used to look at with complete disdain and making a mental tufiakwa (that’s a unique tongue sucking, finger clicking, eyeball rolling, body jerking expression of never) resolved never to become! Its official l am a jaded, frustrated old bitch, albeit of who still looks good in short baby doll dresses (l think). A classic 1661 that is age 16 from the back and 61 full face. It my own fault really, l was born old in my head and at 35 l feel like I’ve been alive for 75 in my head. So how did this happen without my knowledge?

It all started with my darned homeopath who in treating my PMS induced depression suggests l think back to the happiest times of my life, no prize for guessing they were also the years l was most blindingly in love. Then I’m reading London Time’s Sunday health supplement and these riveting article on the chemistry and science of love. Apparently, there are particular hormones responsible for lust, romance and attachment, which can occur simultaneously (i.e. love) or more familiarly, in singles. Just then one of my wise older friend calls and mid discussion recites one of her pearls of wisdom “l don’t know how you people go for months without a man, half bread is better than pufpuf (fried flour pastry)’. For once l pressed her to explain what she means and she says, “Women are always looking for some non-existent ideal, some whole bread. It does not exist, if it does, it is very rare and one must not atrophy or develop cobwebs down under waiting for it. Just make sure you don’t eat some damned pufpuf, which would be some mean, bad, abusive motherfucker. Settle for the half bread, just be sure you know yourself enough to determine the kind of half bread you’ll eat, whether sourdough, rye, whole-wheat, multigrain or good old Agege Bread but don’t do no bread, that is just plain depressing”.

When accused of having no sexual ambiguity recently, a lady l know quipped, I’m not ambiguous l am just knowing, l know where you are going before you open your mouth. Which is a typical old bitch retort, true to life but no one finds true love, lust, romance or attachment by being knowing. Unfortunately true lust, romance and attachment is often attached to happiness, which has been linked to longevity and health. Therefore in a quest for health, longevity, l sought out my less knowing more lovable (lustable) self. l read these two articles written when l was 27 and 28 consecutively but in quick reversal to my old bitch self l find that this article written when l was 29 might be the truth about happiness. Hang on, which would mean l became an old bitch at 29? l can hear you sniggering in youthful derision but know this, it is true that we all do become our mothers, l give you another 10 years and you’ll see what l mean.
Monday, February 12, 2007

GETTING BEYOND FRUSTRATION

I was going to write about some other "the rich also cry Nigeria" (quote from the dry witted Onoshe Nwabuikwu) happenance when my imperious young friend Tayo tells me an even more awful story, then my iconoclastic friend Temi walks in all 6 foot 1 inches of righteous anger and litany of Nigeria's many woes. We had started to do the typical Nigerian thing and lament about Nigeria when Tayo turns to
Temi and says but what are you and l going to do about it?

Just then, Wale Ajadi who is a phenomenon to be encountered called from London and in explaining that l was too ill to make my schedule trip to London, l reel out a catalogue of woes. Wale firmly said, "look Funmi you and l have had this conversation before and we all know the
problems, ole ni gbogbo won, in fact with the exception of a few ole ni gbogbo wa, ole ni won ni bi yin na, won kan bo dada ni (they are all thieves, in fact with the except ion of a few, we are all thieves and they are thieves here too, only it is carefully concealed).

The truth is l don't want to hear any more grammar or listen to all these PhDs. We need to move from a power economy to a people economy and that means generating commerce, to do that we have to get beyond frustration and start organizing thought, space and people. You have a great project in the works to go around campuses and reengineer young minds, focus on doing that; let us all focus on doing something. If we have no solutions and are not catalyzed to action, let us shut up.

It is not going to be easy, it is not easy anywhere but we have no choice, if not for us but for the next generations". After a few more such "pleasantries" Wale hung up and l open my inbox and see an email from the lovely Pamela Braide on the concept of armchair activism which l thought might be a brilliant way to organize Nigerian within and without on concrete specific projects. It is true that we must shut up and get up. We must decide whether are we going to be the generation that changes the Nigerian equation in the next quarter of a century or are we going to become the generation our children abuse and curse at pepper soup bars from Norway to Cape Verde in 25 years.

To start with, l’d like to organize a wikkipedia like, internet based volunteer and support group to institute our change a life programme into self sustaining legacy. Perhaps if we can do it with this simple charity based initiative, we can expand the model to so much more. All willing to get beyond frustration and change lives please send an email to changealifeproject@gmail.com
Tuesday, February 06, 2007

One Day, One City Three Stories

Pic:Idowu, Pa Amodu and I
One morning last week on my way to work, l sent the following text message to some friends of mine
…Dropped off my shrimp (one of my daughter’s nicknames) at Grange in Ikeja queuing behind Mercedes G wagons and BMW X5s. Round the corner I see an Okada (commercial motorcyclist) charging down the road, 5 children squashed around the rider, ages between 3 and 6, clutching plastic lunch baskets and school bags, wide eyed as they hung on for life. I reach for my camera and just then, he screeches to a halt in front of their school gate. Opportunity missed. My phone rings and my production assistant says she’s not sure we’ll be able to record the show because power’s been bad nationwide and the station has had no electricity in days and was off air yesterday. The two generators have broken down. She’s considering dismantling and calling off the guests, we’ll lose money and man-hours and the show’ll fail. The traffic on Ikorodu road is mind numbing and someone just rear-ended us. I calmly put on my nano and Femi Kuti is singing Scatter Scatter into my ear as l read up on my research. Just another day in the city of God.

Same morning 4 hours later, we have overcome all the odds and the cameras roll. 1st show. His name is Abdulsalam Idowu, he crawled into the studio on all fours, dragged my red chair towards him with his muscular arms, biceps, triceps bulging and heaves his bulk unto his seat, his legs dangling aimlessly down the edge. He holds himself up stiffly and refuses to be drawn into the pre-recording banter. We can’t afford a warm up artist so in addition to everything else l do my own audience and guest warm up. Experience told me l need to draw him out gently but firmly without over the top cheer or undue pity.
To ease the tension, l began the show with an easier target; my 2nd guest Pa Amodu was a chirpy, happy, sprightly 68-year-old undergraduate at LASU. A true interviewers delight, he told the story of his 52-year search for higher education painting an incredibly kaleidoscopic picture of life, beliefs, culture, norms and the upheavals of Nigeria and how it affected him through those years. His discipline, total embrace of life, youthfulness and humour warmed every heart in the studio. A father of seven, including a university lecturer, his first grandchild is also a student in the same university. Known as “youngest graduate” on campus, his determination is to earn a PHD before he dies.

...then Idowu

Pic:Abdulsalam Idowu

Perhaps it was watching me interview Pa Amodu that did the trick but Idowu was thawing, l know how had a first TV appearance can be particularly when you are crippled and are coming to exorcise long buried demons.
It must have been polio but by age three Idowu had lost use of his legs. Soon after his mother died, his father remarried. In the competition for scarce resources, the handicapped child of course loses, so no education was planned for him and as his father started travelling around the country in search of a livelihood, Idowu was left with his poor old grandmother. Thus began a life of alms begging on the streets in his Kwara hometown.

The young crippled boy believed fervently that his only salvation was education so at age 8 he went to the local primary school and created a scene, crying and rolling on the floor until he was allowed to start school. He paid his way through school with alms collected begging on the street. When it was time for secondary education, he needed N550 ($3) to pay his fees but he did not have it so one day he got on a train headed to Lagos, alit at the last stop in Iddo and knowing nobody ended up sleeping under the bridge and begging until he raised N1, 400 ($10). He got back on the train months later and returned to the school to pay the N550 fees. He paid his way through school by begging.

When he finished secondary school, he came to Lagos, found a night guard at a school who charged him N20 a night to sleep in the compound whilst he goes begging in the day. Slowly over a three-year period, he saved enough from begging to rent a room in Ajegunle (Lagos slum) and pay for JAMB (university entry exams) lessons. After a few trials negotiating the minefield that is university entry in Nigeria, he was finally admitted into the University of Lagos to study political science. He is currently a 100evel student.

In answer to one of my questions he said
begging is the last resort when you have no more choices, it is the most demeaning thing you can be forced to do and to do it all your life is just painful but l knew l had to do it to get what l need to be somebody in future
.He intends to become a human rights lawyer like Gani Fawehinmi, l thought about it only for a second before l pledged a yearly sum to help him achieve this. I caught the eye of my associate producer and l know why she is rolling her balls, we are barely scraping along as a show and have god knows how many other cases in addition to our scholarship children. We cannot afford it, but l have never done anything because l could afford it only because it needed to be done.

...then Kpakol

Pic: Prof. Magnus Kpakol, Nat. Coordinator NAPEP

Quick change of clothes and it is time to do the second show. He walks in, hair carefully groomed in some wavy, high maintenance manner; suit cut in the pristine fit of a high-end international designer and l welcome him onto the set. His American accent is so pronounced l was shocked when he told me he was an Ogoni (pronounced ogonai by him) man. Prof (as his media team insists l call him) is the national coordinator for National Poverty Eradication Program (NAPEP)
A genial enough man who might have got an easier deal had he not come right after the first two stories l had done. After listening to Pa Amodu and Idowu and going through what l had that morning to do my work as well as seeing those kids on the Okada, no one was going to come and sell me propaganda. Now l know that the good Prof. of economics has little choice, ours is not a system where you tell the truth and keep your job especially when you have such tastes in body maintenance. I also know that NAPEP cannot solve the poverty problem on its own but to come and boldly say that power has improved, the economy has grown and over 50% of Nigerians live above the poverty line is asking for trouble. Suffice to say it was not an easy time on the show for him, even the usually over censored NTA producers were angry. In speech he actually said something like when we had hurricane Katrina…” we? He claims that poverty reveals itself and when prodded says that means that because democracy allows us freedom of expression we can see more people complain about poverty as against the military era excuse me? More nuggets of wisdom like if you get only three hours of electricity we have to teach our people to manage it instead of complaining so says the man with standby generators.


I have no problem with Kpakol as a person but he represents the disconnect between the rulers and the ruled in Nigeria because if l were to assimilate that he knowingly said those things when aware of the actual situation on ground, l go craze. As my darling friend Temi said, when Marie Antoinette pre revolution France said let them eat cake to the complaint that the people were hungry, she truly did not know that cake was not an option for her people.

Its 6am now, my nanny and housekeeper conspired and left last week to earn Oyinbo (expatriate) salaries (l paid them well above the national wage scale and feed, clothe and housed them but l cant compete with American dollars). l have spent the weekend recovering from malaria and a tooth infection, my overworked doctor friend best friend insists l need a couple more days of rest but l know otherwise. I must get up to bathe and get my daughter ready for school, drop her off, go to the studio to record the show, come back to finish my business plan, see the bank manager, the dentist and an executive coming in from Johannesburg from whom l seek sponsorship so l can keep telling these stories. Fortunately l have my younger sister, my brilliant mentee, my small dedicated production team to help so l am smiling as l get up from my computer to face another dawn in the city of God.

Uncut excepts from the interviews here