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Funmi Iyanda: The People’s Advocate

Interview News

Funmi Iyanda: The People’s Advocate


Funmi_2Funmi Iyanda’s office at the Okupe Estate, Maryland was enveloped in quietness on a sunny Friday afternoon. The reception was relatively busy as the receptionist was attending to two people before me. While I was waiting to be ushered into her office, I seized the opportunity to visit the restroom. I walked past her while she was giving instructions to one of the guys seated behind the computer. Her tall slim frame was noticeable as she was clothed in a white shirt. “Eniola, I am ready when you are,” she tells her publicist.

Eniola ushered me into her office, which is few steps away from the main working area. As I settled comfortably into the seat in front of her, I could not help but admire her courage and natural beauty. Perhaps my gaze was so piercing she asked: “What is going through your mind as you are looking at me?” She knew my stare was pregnant with meaning. Her wide eyes stayed on me while the interview lasted. She never baited an eyelid. There was no sign of intimidation whatsoever in those eyes.

Funmi started her TV show with New Dawn on 10 before it moved to the NTA network service under the name: New Dawn with Funmi. Now, she has moved out of the studio with her new talk show on DSTV, Talk with Funmi. All she wants to do is to tell the story of real people, the common men and women— their hopes, frustrations, dreams and survival against all odds.

Through her show, she has been able to let ordinary men and women on the street know they matter regardless of what people think or say about them. “People will treat you badly as long as you allow them to treat you badly,” she said.  “I want to show people that they are ‘people’ and they matter. If the after effect of the show is for people to know that they should get their voice heard, it will be good. One of the things that I wanted to do is to do a special series on nationhood, electioneering, e.t.c. I have many plans.”

Funmi’s intention  has always been to give people a voice because she wants people find worth, for their lives and achieve their goals. “I have never been away from the people,” she told me frankly. “I have been told by friends to tint my car windows, but I don’t want it. I don’t want to be the kind of person who can’t walk into Tejuosho or Ajangbadi market. I did not realise how badly decayed the infrastructure in Nigeria were until I got on the road. If Lagosians complain about Lagos, they are in heaven compared to other parts of Nigeria. I had also forgotten how beautiful Nigerians are not only physically but in their person so encountering them one-on-one was a reminder of what was not working and what was and it gave me hope because if we are visionary, some of these things can be solved its just that we have not developed the will. I think vision and courage is what we need.”

Through Talk with Funmi, she seeks to tell the true Nigerian story through the eyes of the people. Therefore, she does not celebrate people rather she tells their story. “I don’t choose to celebrate; I choose to tell the story. It’s not my call to celebrate; it’s the audience that will choose. I will definitely do a lot of stories on Lagos for sure because it is the creative hub of Nigeria.”

Funmi_3Her show has featured top personalities in government such as the Lagos State governor, Raji Fashola. She has also interviewed faceless yet purposeful people like the hunter, Ogunjimi. These two people she says are doing something unusual in their various endeavours. “There is no way I will not do a story on Fashola because he’s different from the norm in administration in Nigeria so we definitely wanted to do a story on him. But what kind of story do we do on him? That’s what I could not determine. I decided that I would not shoot him the way people would expect a governor to be shot . I wanted to find the person behind the office, in fact I wanted to film his family but I couldn’t even put in all of that because it became so tedious.”

A hunter would be the last thing an average viewer would like to see on TV not after a wonderful outing with the Lagos State governor but Funmi’s passion for the ordinary people will not her be. And so, she weaves an impressive story out of the hunter’s life.  “For ogunjimi, she recalled, I was looking for a hunter. I remember when I was young one of the gifts of my childhood was that my father used to send me to his father in the village in Idaogun in Oyo State. My grandfather had a huge farm and we used to go to the farm with tractors. I used to love it. One of the things I remember from my grandfather’s time was that there was one man who was a hunter in the village and we were very scared of him. I remembered that hunter and I said where are the hunters now? And I also remembered the palm wine tappers because we used to wait for them to come for their tapping so we could help them carry their palmwine so they would give us a cup. So I was thinking about all that when we went to Yorubaland and I said lets find the hunters so    was the one that found Ogunjimi.”

Then, Funmi was looking for a mere hunter but she stumbled on an incredible character. “We did not know that ogunjimi would translate so well on television. He is who he is and that is one of the things I set out to show to people. We are so class conscious, conscious of money and material things, we don’t see people for who they are. Some of the most beautiful, interesting and fun people are the cooks, drivers, e.t.c. and they are the majority of this nation. I wanted to give voice to those kind of people.”

Funmi_4In spite of her strong stance against bad governance, Funmi has been able to make friends with top public office holders yet she says they have come to accept her for who she is. “I’m a journalist. The best thing is that they know I have no agenda, I don’t want to be a senator, I have no political ambition but I know the role the media should play even if our hands are tied I know we can do things. Particularly in an environment like this, if you cannot do things directly, you can get a lot of things done almost indirectly and achieve the same thing.”

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