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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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Monday, January 29, 2007


At 6a.m l staggered out of my room, tears pouring down my cheeks, my eyes reddened by lack of sleep and hot tears. My daughter bounds into my room and leaps on my bed, giving me her usual sideways hug, she says e kaa ro mama and beginning to prattle on about our planned day out. Then she must have sensed my despondence because she looked at my hastily wiped face and asked in alarm, mummy why are you crying?

I automatically did what parents have been doing for centuries, l lied to protect her innocence, l said oh, something got in my eye and it is hurting me. She looked at me in disbelief and said but why are you sad? I said, well l spent all night reading this book and the story is around the Nigerian Civil war, which was very sad. She looked as though she’ll let that go for a second then pipes up, what means civil war mummy? I was stumped, how does one explain insanity to a five year old?

Years before she was born, her dad, my friend Segun told me a haunting story. He grew up in the ethnically diverse and vibrant pre civil war Jos. His friends were Igbo and Hausa children with whom he ran barefoot in the street playing games. People whose parents and homes were like his. One day as he set out on his way to school, the world changed, his schoolboy senses felt the pogrom before he saw it. As he walked his usual route to school, the streets were empty save the many copses lying around. Decapitated bodies of his little friends, their parents, their siblings, their relatives. He walked on in a daze and as he turned into a street, he lost his youth. Right there a mob was stoning a very fair skinned Igbo boy. He thought he recognized the boy, a neighbour and was confused as to why he was being stoned by his old friends and neighbours. He saw as the stones sank holes into the boy’s fair beautiful skin, as the blood oozed even as the boy begged for his life. Segun told me that what he would never forget was the look of disbelief that never left the fair boy’s face even as he went limp and silent. Nobody touched Segun or his family, he was Yoruba.
To underscore the extent of the ethnic cleansing that preceded the civil war, he told me that his school St. Murumba lost so many children either to the massacre or the mass East bound exodus and the eventual war that there were only about thirteen children left in his year.

Before Segun’s story the political upheaval of the 60s and the war had always seemed benign to me. I was born after the war and aside the stories of my fair skinned Igbo looking Yoruba dad being hassled here and there in Lagos, the Biafran experience was just a blip in the on going Nigerian story.

That has changed; it changed after l read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new novel HALF OF A YELLOW SUN. l confess to a deep admiration and genuine fondness for the work and person of Chimamanda. Once in a rare while on my job l come across a sterling mind against which l can sharpen my under utilized interviewing skills. I fell in love with her after my first interview. Her amazing clarity of mind, mischievous twinkle in the eye and curl to the mouth, that knowingness about her. That such a young, female person from Nsukka writes with such mastery, such wisdom, such creativity and brutal beauty brings a song to my heart.

HALF OF AYELLOW SUN is a work of fiction but we are live in the fiction. That is why l couldn’t put it down till the break of dawn, that is why l look at the Igbo a little differently and why l have started buying up as many books on the civil war as l can to read. I cried because so much of the underlying issues are unchanged and because all around us in Nigeria and all over Africa, the world is still silent when they die.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I arrived Lagos last night struck once again by the total chaos, dirt and darkness but enthralled by the sheer energy and spurred on by the anticipation of a return to the people who love me the most. I have a love hate relationship with Lagos as do most true Lagosians. I love her energy, her warmth, her diversity, her resilience and her pseudo cosmopolitanisms. I however detest her dirt, chaos, pollution, crime and sometime bloody-minded sheer callousness. Most of all I am often stupefied by her mind bending indifference to the level of human degradation in shameless display all around her.

Picture this. Two Thursdays ago l am doing my morning dash from school run to studio praying that the black market fuel in my car doesn’t cause any havoc. Ikorodu road is a madhouse as fuel queues stretch in all directions and vehicular movement slows to deep shoehorn curve crawl. Young boys peddling fuel in dirty beige jerry cans weave a heaving tapestry around the cars and commuters wait for non-existent busses to ferry them to work.

I am reading my show run down and research papers at the back of my air-conditioned car, barely allowing the throbbing humanity around me penetrate my consciousness. The first show is on the Boxing Day vandalized pipeline explosion that killed over one hundred people including children. As we crawled into Fadeyi area l noticed smoke rising from the distance, as we crawled further l realized that it was a smouldering corpse, most likely a pickpocket who had been dealt the usual Lagos fast jungle justice. I did not flinch but look almost clinically at the human waste, ash falling into off his back, l noticed his erect phallus. About a hundred meters down the road, there was another young man, apparently burnt earlier for his fire was completely dead as he wore his macabre vehicle tire necklace. As l looked l noticed children walking casually by on their way to school, edging around the corpses. So did the hawkers on the highway, the black market fuel peddlers, the stranded commuters, the people in the cars and busses. Slowly, l hear my mind finally screeching in horror at the utter madness of it all.

How in the name of all that is decent and human can we all just carry on our normal routine in the face of such complete insanity?
I wanted to get down and start shaking everyone out of a collective coma but l am aware that it is that very comatose acceptance or denial that keeps us going. My driver mutters the usual refrain, “na God go save us for this country o”. This is the city where l witnessed my first extra judicial street burning from capture to last writhe at age seven. I have witnessed many since, in fact, last year an 11 year old boy was accused of kidnapping a child, beaten and dragged bleeding over a 2 km distance to be incinerated in full daylight. It was recorded by an eyewitness and broadcast on local TV.

At the studio, l send a cameraman to take pictures of the corpses (changed my mind about posting it them) and the show starts. The government official denies the death toll from the pipeline explosion; he calls the oil scavengers greedy and labels me emotional for asking for deeper non-symptomatic evaluation of the entire issue. He is cagey and defensive, the expert is non committal, the journalist is frustratedly trying to report what he witnessed and l am walking a fine line trying to get a semblance of the truth out fully aware of the shadow of the censors at my back. If l asked the sort of questions l want to, the show will be axed.

Seven hours later l drive by Fadeyi on my way home, the corpses are still there, the smouldering has stopped, but humanity continued to heave distractedly around them, accustomed as she is to seeing very little good in a city with so much God.
Monday, January 22, 2007

reply to all on change a life article

@ all, l have tears in my eyes to see your responses, l hadnt replied because of server problems and having to do so much by myself. Thanks laspapi for being a joshua. l will digest it all and get back to you all when l return to lagos. l believe we can start a movement for change using our collective talents and resources. thank you.

On The Goody Controversy

A week away
Between a problematic server and a backbreaking work schedule that includes constant travelling, keeping this blog going is no mean task but they don’t call me shangree (uncool 90s term for never say die) for nothing. I have in fact had an incredible two weeks spanning three cities, Lagos, Cape Town and Johannesburg. In typical fashion l find it easier to write about my experiences after the fact by which time reason has tempered the extremes of emotion usually provoked lending coherence and structure. From the chaos and corpses on the street on the day l left Lagos to the Vital Voices Summit with 250 women across Africa and beyond and the head spinning experiences packed into that week in Cape Town to my languid days in Johannesburg l do have a lot to recount. It will mean writing everyday forcing me back into rhythm, shall l start therefore with the most stupid…

On The Goody Controversy
I have been watching more than my usual share of international news in my hotel rooms and therefore cannot get away from the Jade Goody/Big Brother/Racism brouhaha. Quick summary for those who usually have more important issues to deal with. Jade Goody is a loud mouthed, barely literate, near train wreck young mother who became a national British celebrity and earned millions of pounds in endorsements, show appearances, magazine columns and so on through the ubiquitous voyeuristic reality TV show Big Brother. Shilpa Shetty is a beautiful Bollywood star with over forty films under her belt and and the adulation Indian fans. Celebrity Big Brother is an extension of the show concept using B rated celebrities as well paid guinea pigs. A ratings winning formula that satisfies the thirst of a celebrity obsessed and voyeuristic world.

The allegation of racism emerged due to the bullying of Shilpa by Jade and two other housemates who hurled racial slurs at her and refused to pronounce her name. A large portion of the audience sent in complaint, the media waded in with 24/7 coverage, people protested in India, sponsor pulled out, the finance minister Gordon Brown was hounded about the issue on a visit to India and so the circus is in full swing.
Aside from incredulity on my part at how pointless the issues that engage the western media often is in the face of real issues elsewhere and my alarm at how the manufactured bar conflict of work seeking celebrity has been thus elevated, I am mostly amused by it all.

Of course Jade Goody’s comments were racist and her conduct reprehensible but isn’t she herself a victim of a bigger smarter machinery? Big Brother, like most reality shows is very much manufactured reality with an overriding goal, to push the envelop to ratings paradise and earn a pot of fortune in return. Behind the machinery are some really smart people who pitch potentially combustible personalities together and then add a few ignitable and sit back to watch the earning boosting conflagration. Whether they have gone too far now is debatable.

What do you expect when you put Goody who is the sometimes likable, ignorant, body issues battling, serial bad relationships surviving, famous for being famous single mother made good with the beautiful, exotic, aloof, elegant, slender, male magnet and frankly superior working actress Bollywood star? Forget the cultural and personality differences, as women they will clash and to me this is the true heart of the conflict. Jade feeling threatened by Shelpa attack her the only way she could, by that which made her different. She couldn’t very well have attacked her beauty or star status but she can mock her accent and refuse to deal with her humanness by refusing to pronounce her name. A more enlightened person would have found other ways to take out or hide her inferiority complex but that would not give great TV ratings.

Jade has been evicted, channel 4 is being hounded to pull the show, the debate rages but l can predict the following post the media frenzy.
One, Jade Goody’s “career” will survive, her enthusiastic albeit shambolic passion for life is not manufactured, the British public like the sad sod who publicly battles with her demons scenario a la Kate Moss, Pete Doherty, George Best. Finally she is an international newsmaker now so all she needs is a good manager to help her leverage on that starting with a tail down visit to incredible India and a goofy smile embrace of all things Indian whilst there. As for Shilpa Shetty, this is a career enhancing controversy. A bullied Barbie is a clarion call to all the living Kens and the long dead knights to come running to the rescue. The offers for jobs will roll in, even Hollywood might call, as soon as she losses the Indian accent!

As the reality TV fever grips Nigeria, feeding on the joblessness and hopelessness of her youth and nurtured by a system that is emotionally primed by the belief in miraculous, instantly gratifying interventions, l am concerned. Unlike the west, we do not have a deep enough celebrity culture and the supporting industry to suck in the instantly famous. Even in counties where they do, these have been known to have a short shelf life. In Nigeria, their naivety, youth and “talents” will be exploited but in exchange for what and for how long?
Monday, January 08, 2007

Changing Lives (long, somewhat sanctimonious but heartfelt)

here we are 5 years later

Wednesday 3rd of January, l pick up the newspapers and beyond the usual grime of politics, mindless crime and irrelevant events, l am riveted by two stories. One was the truly admirable story of the fulfilment of Oprah's six-year promise to build a leadership academy in Africa for poor girls. Explaining the intrinsic goodness of this
latest initiative from the queen of, what the heck, everything! Would be stating the obvious. The ripple effect of that singular action will be felt for generations long after Oprah is gone to her maker. The other story was of some of Nigeria's richest CEOs who had built a new boat club. I have no comments yet. Fast forward a few hours, my programme comes on air and it is the nationwide repeat of our annual change a life show, for me also the culmination of a five commitment to the education of 50 children from absolutely poor single parent homes.

Six years ago when l started the initiative, my desire was to do one
simple seemingly insignificant thing on the 1st day of the year that
will make a huge difference in the life of the person at the receiving

I started by announcing at the end of 2000 that anyone whose life can
be transformed with just N10, 000 should write in. At that time, the
show was aired only in Lagos. We got over 5,000 letters, which took
one week to sort out. As usual, l didn't have a dime to fulfil this
promise so l went to a number of companies and they turned me down.
The year before, l had served as the youngest person on Bola Tinubu's
transition committee and earned a reputation of a young Thatcher (the
man calls me Aje, (witch) up till now) so l knew he would listen to
me. He agreed to support the idea and on the 1st day of 2001 l gave
away N10, 000 to 69 people with the governor in attendance and an
unprecedented statewide audience as witness on Live TV!

One of the reasons the corporate types refused to help was that N10,
000 cannot make a significant difference to anyone's live and that the
people would just run away with the money. Well maybe N10, 000 was
nothing to them but "suya" (open fire grilled, peppered beef kebab)
money for an "aristo" (sugar daddy) date with an underaged girl but l
knew of people who left dying kids in hospital because they could not
pay N5, 000 hospital bills. Yes some of the people did walk away but
we had an 75% success rate with people starting little businesses,
paying school fees, hospital bills or just having enough to feed the
kids for a while! One of the awardees then was Sekinat Ayeyemi, a
wiry, shy, retiring, devout Muslim student who is today one of my most
able assistants, a confident, assured young undergraduate who oversees
the change a life scheme. She it was who went with me on the last trip
to Cape Town. Six years ago, Seki needed money for school fees and
someone to give her a fighting chance, today her professional future
is assured and her human person is elevated, now she is mentoring some
of our other kids.

During the course of 2001 l noticed the alarming numbers of
unschooled, unskilled young widows, abandoned wives and single mothers
who came to us for help. Each had an average of four children.
For the year 2001 l therefore decided that l was going to find gifted
children from the most absolutely poor single parent homes and ensure
that they got basic secondary education. The response was
overwhelming, we spent one week sorting the letters, two days
conducting physical interviews and another week verifying the claims.

I will not bore you with the truly pathetic story of each family. I
will however never forget the interview with Atinuke’s mum, a young
unemployed university graduate who was jilted by her lover and
ostracized by her family. Her innate dignity as she held on to her
wide eyed daughter whilst weeping the most awful silent tears. Once
again, no corporate organization agreed to help so l went back to
Tinubu that year and for the next five years.

It has been a tough but fulfilling journey for not only do we pay the
school fees, buy the books, uniform and so on. We set up some of the
parents in trade or jobs and pay for medicals or get intervention in
case of serious illness requiring expensive operations and care. We
counsel, support, and oversee the lives of these families. There are
great results like Mary and the four kids in a shop (story for another
day), the mmeribe twins and little waliu but there has been
immeasurable pain as in the deaths of Yiseyon and Damilola last year.

This is the last year of my 5-year promise, Tinubu is leaving power.
In the six years of change a live not once have we got support from
any organization despite our best efforts and the clear proof of our
work. It would not have mattered if we were getting deserved returns
for our creativity and work, so we can commit a sizeable percentage to
these interventions. However, seven years, over 30 unsolicited awards,
including Nigeria's version of the Emmys and we still cannot get
advert or sponsorship support which would have empowered us to do

Imagine if after the Oprah show blew the rating in her first years
nobody took note, nobody placed adverts and bought into her vision,
creativity and effort so that she could diversify and build an empire
that keeps giving, where would she get $40m for a school for poor
girls in Africa?

Why is it so?
One, Nigeria’s political, business and social elite is not connected to Nigeria’s reality, they don’t watch Nigerian TV so they don’t know what is going on except what they read in deodorized, stylized and often compromised newspapers. Two, Nigeria has no rating system and this encourages corruption as there is no empirical proof of how many people are watching. Most of the shows with sponsorship on TV can be traced back to some advert executive, brand manager or company executive who is a silent partner. I know for sure of a reality show where 45% of the cost of sponsorship goes into the accounts of two of the sponsoring company’s top executives. Three, Nigeria buys hype, not substance.

Back to the 3rd of January and I picked up the papers once again and looked at the smug faces of the boat club executives, why do people castigate politicians who get to power and take care only of their personal, class and group agenda, isn’t that the shameful norm? Yes there is nothing wrong with a boat club but why is it a front burner story? Why is it a big deal especially in Lagos with over 8 million people but no alternate to road transport in a city surrounded by water? Oh l forget, isn’t it also the city without a light rail, train or metro but an elite helicopter service? Why are they are not pulling resources together with the federal or state (that’s another political minefield) government to tackle public transport as a commercial venture, you know, solve human problems, make money, live better yourself. But why do this when you can get by on patronage and live on an over crowed degraded island where you can parade your boats, babes and baubles?

On our part, we will continue with change a life, and our many unorthodox, (we are not into the NGO and Foundation racket, we will work with already existing organizations that have substance and are true) life improving interventions as well as our multimedia shows, slowly learning lessons, building resources and capacity as we go along. Why? Because it needs to be done, because it is so frustratingly easy to do and because the results are unquantifiable.

Click here for the Pictures Gallery and video clips
Friday, January 05, 2007


Actually, the real slogan on one of his scrumptious tee shirts is WHO THE FUCK IS EMMY? But alas l find that as l grow older l become boringly conformist in certain ways. I just didn’t have the balls (yep girls have them too, only higher up and nearer the brain, hence more rational) to make it the title or wear it. The one l wear says FASHION RULES ARE FOR FOOLS. But hey what am l banging on about? Over the holiday season, l was introduced to Emmy Collins, a London based Nigerian designer who presses the right buttons with me. His male line is painfully stylish and cheekily funky. The tailoring is sharp and pristine; sort of Oswald Boateng meets Dolce and Gabbana. The colours, detailing, fabrics and textures are really divine. His shirts are so beautiful you will steal them off you boyfriends back, just pull a pair of leggings on and add a huge eighties leather and hardware belt and finish with a pair of loubotinis.

His female line is wicked, not for the fainthearted or body hating. The printed 100% silk kimonos, mini kaftans, micro mini dresses are to die for. If you haven’t got the legs or the balls just add super skinny pants. I especially love the high waisted nautical theme pants, it grabs and flaunts the butt and drops to the ground in leg elongating glory. I love his use of colour and his instantly sexify your life vibe. Great news is that he has opened a shop on 43 Awolowo road. He doesn’t even know l am doing this but l am committed to talking about anyone doing good in Nigeria in any area of life. Emmy rocks!
Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Here Is Hoping

playwriter, director and lawyer laspapi and l post xmas glutonny

So second day of the 007 year huh? Happy New Year people! Apologies for the long absence. Body no be wood. On my part l have spent the holiday doing what all sensible, rational humans do at this time, getting introspective, depressed, then compensating by partying, drinking and eating too much, then waking up on the morning of New Year reaching for a bag of detox tea. Make no mistakes l am a person given to tentative extremes (my self preserving brain never shuts down long enough for me to get really plastered in any sense) so l take my New Year detox and renewal very seriously. This is especially more important as 2006 towards the end became truly bloody-minded. From the plane crash to the commando style politics and robberies, to the pipeline explosion, Godwin Agroko's death, Saddam's execution and the return of the fuel queues, that year dragged everyone down with her. Now l am perfectly aware that l am being ridiculous and it is all just another date but isn’t there a tiny bit of even the most rational mind that must buy into a little superstition.
Take that new Denzel film Déjà vu, beneath the entire science mumble jumble; it is after all a film about juju, religion and the drive for that one chance at snogging a beautiful girl. The world is taking inspiration from Nigeria.
Now as l totally abandon my rational mind which reminds me that each day is just a rotation of the earth and that the happenances of each day are a consequence of our actions or inactions of the day before and all the other days before. That mind pointing at the worsening fuel queues as an indication of where the new bride 007 is headed. However, heading that rational mind at this time will be denying one of the factors, which makes us human. The sense of hope. That is what a new year, a new child, a new job, a new relationship; a new pair of shoes is about. The sense that this time it will be better, we will be smarter, sexier, richer, wiser, and luckier. As with a new relationship, we will start by detoxing, hiding or trying to exorcise our flaws, then we will slowly get tired with aiming for perfection and begin to settle as other factors of life assail us until either like with 2006 we don’t ever want to see the frigging bastard again or as in the rare cases (haven’t got a year in recent Nigerian history to compare) we develop a shock absorbing, mutually honouring relationship that endures from year to year. That of course is true of individuals as is it of nations, more that anything else it s about developing a system that works, continually participating in and engaging the system knowing that there is no end, no nirvana, no utopia, just warm companionship occasionally broken by periods of great triumphs and turbulence.
In the year 007, Nigeria needs BONDs, Beacons Of a New Dawn; a new year is about hoping that we will find them. In the meantime l shall begin with the most invasive detox of them all, a colonic irrigation, maybe if l clean up well enough, l will get wiser, sexier, richer and happier, isn’t that what a new year is about?