Bouncing back from the dangerous brink of depression and all the negative emotions arising from a marital scandal that threatened the very essence of her being, popular On-Air-Personality, Toke Makinwa, has wrapped her stormy experience into a calming volume. She told Vanessa Obioha that young people will draw many lessons from her life
Who is Toke Makinwa?
An orphan? A cheated wife? The controversial Vlogger? A fashionista? There are many descriptions of the young, enigmatic lady and these were probably some of the burning questions on the mind of journalists gathered at a mini-lunch table at the balcony of her PR agent’s office in Ikoyi recently.
Their confidence and curiosity could be touched. You could hear it in their voices and see the goose bumps on their skin.
At last, they will get the scoop, an exclusive on the lady whose marriage scandal last year involving her fitness trainer and newspaper columnist husband and her subsequent silence made major headlines and is still trending on social and mainstream media.
Usually, journalists are tempted to discuss the subject of interview among themselves before the interview. For some reasons, this was different. They talked about everything else but the interviewee. This was one of the rare occasions they resisted that temptation and were protective of their questions, not eager to share whatever they kept close to their chest. A colleague even stayed glue to her phone and occasionally smiled as an acknowledgement that she was still attentive to the small talks going on around her. It was difficult to say if she was digging up facts about Toke or chatting with a friend.
Due to the overwhelming requests by the newshounds for exclusivity, the interview was conducted in turns. It was going to be a long day for Toke. Somewhere in the back of this reporter’s mind, she wondered if the popular On-Air-Personality would not be too worn by the time she encountered her. Each person was attentive to take his turn. Once the PR officer called the next reporter, they sprang to their feet in excitement, ready for the kill. After the first reporter returned with the news of Toke’s uncooperative stance to speak about her personal life, their jolly mien began to wane.
What is there to write if she won’t talk about her personal life? They mused. Nevertheless, they went in to try their luck, to see if they could break the camel’s back. Yet, the young author refused to budge. Her reason was simple, the perfidious matter of her husband and all the odium surrounding it do not define her. It was just one chapter of her life. There is a Toke that people do not know. A Toke she wants to unveil on her terms, without skewed colouration from the media.
Her action was a deliberate strategy to keep the anticipation of her audience till the day she unveils her latest achievement at a book launch. A small video clip directed by Kemi Adetiba had been released on her birthday, November 4, to announce the book. The book cover was released a week after.
Of course, she was aware of the many questions begging for answers. But like she pointed out severally during the interview, she wanted to tell her story herself. It was very important she told the story many are dying to hear by herself.
What is her story?
It is contained in the 14 chapters of her debut book titled ‘On Becoming’. Published by Farafina, the narrative is a journey into her soul.
“It is Toke like you have never seen her before. It’s honesty, raw, real. It’s trying to take on old practices and traditions that we have to accept as a people that shame people to silence. It is about that shame that society puts on you when things are not going the standard that society wants things to be. People are dying inside. A lot of people don’t talk enough. They are scared of people seeing that all is not perfect with them which is a sign of weakness. But being vulnerable is strength. It’s much stronger to be vulnerable than silent, than trying to hide it. It’s also going to show different sides of me. I’ve learnt a lot and I will like to share that with the world.”
Sitting behind the glass desk, Toke who just came out of the confinement of a hospital looked young and determined in her fringe hairstyle and a casual tank top and pants. Leaving the hospital straight to face a session of grilling by journalists was a pointer to her stoic determination. There was no sign of the woman who many have called controversial and all manner of names. Rather, a confident aura oozed out of her like fresh milk. She described the book as one of the biggest projects she has ever done.
“A lot of work went into this book. Each chapter is different from the other. It’s a whole new process. I talked to my PR agent who had written a book before. I wanted to find out from him what it takes to write a book. Then just as I was leaving, he suggested we spoke to the big publishers in the country.I was still a bit hesitant. Then he made the call to Farafina, booked a meeting and in just that meeting, they gave me a book deal.
“This book put so much pressure on me, from choosing the book cover, taking photographs, the layout design, sitting with Farafina, the back and forth, I pushed myself. I have never pushed myself the way I pushed myself on this project. But I’m excited. Seeing the finish product, it was very emotional for me knowing that I committed myself to it.”
Contrary to public opinion that her recent endeavour is an ambitious effort to put the spotlight on herself and perhaps reap cash benefits, Toke revealed that writing a book was never part of her plan. It was reserved for her retirement from the media.
“The truth of the matter is that I wish I could say I always knew I was going to write a book. I wish I had it together and say, this year I’m going to write a book. I’m thankful for how everything played out. The Bible says all things work out for good for them that love the Lord. I never knew what that statement meant until I was thrown into confusion.”
On June 13, 2015, social media and mainstream media went agog with the news of Toke’s husband, Maje Ayida’s infidelity. Pieces of her life were turned into a public display as journalists, critics, bloggers and even her fans tried to understand the scandal. How could Maje cheat on the media personality with his ex-girlfriend, Anita Solomon?
Toke addressed this issue in the ‘On Becoming’ video which started with newspaper clippings on the walls and voiceovers of reporters breaking the news of her messy marriage scandal.
This singular scandal would later be the inspiration behind her first self-penned book. Specifically, a month after the news of her husband’s infidelity spread like a wildfire last year. Those were very trying periods for the 32 year-old lady who couldn’t fathom how her lover of many years could hurt her so much.
Although, it was speculated that they had a rocky relationship before they finally tied the nuptial knots in 2014, news of her husband impregnating his ex-girlfriend and his alleged plans to send her abroad for safe delivery of the child really shook her. Suddenly, her life was a public discourse. Everybody had something to say to her, both good and bad. Her critics were infuriated by her silence but she drew more ire when her first public speech didn’t address the issue but rather appreciated women who wrote to encourage her.
During those tumultuous days when her confidence was nearly swayed, she reached into herself. The incident taught her a voice that speaks to her from the inside. These messages became clearer last January.
“There is the spiritual side to Toke. As an individual, I do nothing without talking to God. So there’s always this dialogue with my Creator. I do that at the start of the year. Because in the nature of our business, you find yourself doing so much and not having the time to take proper stock of what you have done. That happens to me at the end of the year when I analyse the year in view. I see the weakness and the strength, things I could have done better and things I can work out in the next year. At the beginning of this year, I had asked myself what we were going to do.
And the book struck my spirit but I was so sure it was me and not God. I never really thought of writing a book. I saw it as something I would do eventually, maybe when I’m retiring from the media; something to leave for those coming after me. I never saw myself as an author. Then many people started talking to me, to reaffirm what I heard in the place of prayer. ‘Write a book, there’s a book coming in your life’. I still wasn’t convinced.
Then I thought: what am I going to write about? And in all the confusion, pain and shame, and all the things that had happened to me at that point, I started to document how I felt. Some days when I felt good, I will write it down. I will even voice it myself. ‘Today you felt like this, you did this, you felt bad’. I was my own shrink, basically.
Eventually, it became a lot of voice notes. In July last year, it came to me again that I told you to write a book and the biggest challenge was what I was going to write. The voice was clearer this time. It said: This happened to you to share. This is your purpose in life, you are meant to live and show some other people. You walk through the door, you don’t close the door behind you, you leave the door open so that people who are coming can look at you and say if she did this, you can do that as well.”
Toke’s life was still under scrutiny after the scandal. More controversies trailed her. People abused her, they criticised her Vlog sessions which has a notoriety for controversies because of her topics that many deem inappropriate.
Will it be limiting to conclude that the Vlogger courts controversy or is she simply misunderstood?
“Everyone at some point in their lives has been or will be misunderstood. I think it is what you do with that information or what you do with that being aware that people might misunderstand you. I find out I’m a person who likes to focus on her goals. I don’t dwell too much on the noise out there or the things that are being said. If you read the book, that’s something I shared in the book and I think it’s a huge part of my story apart from the fact that I’m grounded in my faith and pray about everything. I feel like I’m also focused on where I want to be and it’s important I share that with the world. I have no issues with people misunderstanding me because you can’t take the good alone. It doesn’t put any pressure on me. I’m more pressured by my own goals.”
Another interesting topic she addressed in her book is the loss of her parents in a fire incident. It’s been an issue she never really spoke much about.
Out of these challenges, Toke has grown to become the woman she is today. A fearless woman who is ready to explore her dreams, she shied away from projecting herself higher than her age mates. She is only too happy to feel blessed at her achievements at a very young age, “I think it’s a wrong perspective to look at someone else’s journey and project that for yourself. I think that’s one of the mistakes young people out there make. That’s why you find a lot of frustrated people and perhaps, that’s why people don’t support each other as they should. Your sister should inspire you. There are people who have done things I have never dreamt of but should that discourage me? No. That is what ‘On Becoming’ is all about. It is inspirational.
I want a lot of young people to read the book and learn from it, to make that conscious effort to apply themselves to certain things. Don’t give up on anything. You have to constantly push yourself. Don’t run away from your struggles. Accept what God has given to you. Look for what is in your hands and work with it.”
While she was excited about her latest ambition, she admitted that it was a big shoe for her to fill.
“I was very nervous. I remembered calling my PR agent to say the cover is coming out tomorrow. Are we really sure we should pull the plugs on this one? But I think developing cold feet at some point is all part of it.”
Now that it is all set, she can’t wait to embark on her book tour of South Africa, Kenya, United Kingdom and United States. The book will be available for sale from tomorrow. By the way, she is already planning her second and third book. Such confident projections can only come from an unshakable faith that she is steadily becoming the woman she is meant to be.