My formative years
When I was growing up as a girl-child in secondary school, Ronke Ayuba, Ruth Benamasia-Opia and Siene Allwell-Brown were the rave newsreaders on the NTA (Nigerian Television Authority), which was then the only television network. A lot of us, impressionable young girls, watched them, and I remember that when my parents were out of the house, I would wear my mum's iro and buba, and makeup my face with her Nku range of beauty products and read my dad's newspaper, believing that, one day I would be able to read the news competently like those gorgeous women.
The two male newsreaders on the network then were Sola Omole and John Momoh.
And, on radio, I remember a woman, Deola Alagbe, and a man, Yanju Adegbite, both of whom were breakfast show anchors on BCOS (Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State) back then.
I also remember Funmilayo Akitoye, a news reader, also on BCOS.
These were people who unknowingly informed my dream to become a broadcaster. They made huge impression on my young mind.
They were so powerfully popular, brilliant, compelling and had many people literally eating out of their palms.
It was only Uncle Yanju that I met and shared my fantasy with, and eventually we became friends.
I remember going with Ilemi Okoka, another auntie in the industry, to see Ruth Benamasia-Opia at NTA. She could not believe that I came just to see her, to touch her. I told her that I had always admired her, so seeing her was my dream come true.
My name is Anike-ade (my dad's preference) Funke (my mum's preference) Treasure (Divinely bestowed upon me). Much later, when I got to know about the significance of names, and I had been told that I was born when it rained, I suddenly had an epiphany one day and decided that I ought to have been called Bejide, so I added it to my name at one of the several schools I attended. And, at as some point "Belinda eh, Belinda" reigned as a song. It was a monster hit back then. I think I was smitten by Grady Harrell's looks. I thought to myself that I should be Belinda as well. But, using these two names on my notebooks in addition to my given names was a task. Nobody told me to remove them before I did. You see, I have always been fascinated with names.
My father was a soldier and he moved around a lot on transfers. I was born in Osogbo, Osun State but I cannot remember anything about the place because those were my toddler years. However, there are photographs of being carried by one person or the other because I was a charming child.
Then, my father was transferred to Ilese, which is close to Ijebu Mushin in Ogun State.
So, I grew up in Ijebu Ode. We lived among the people on Bonojo Street because the barracks at Ilese had not been built by then.
At the back of our house, which was either No. 8 or No. 9 was a shrine of the Alagemo masquerade. So, when the Agemo season was at hand, we always hid away at home. My parents had me and my younger brother, Segun, then. The twins came later and we were no longer the centre of attention. Segun and I almost literally went into oblivion. They used to refer to my mum as Mama Funke or Mama Segun, but with the twins' coming, we lost that prime position to them and she became Mama Ibeji, not even Mama Taye or Mama Kehinde. But, what could we do? We had to accept the new reality.
I am from Ibadan, Oyo State. In fact, it took me a while to realise that I am actually from there because, it just felt like this (Ijebu) was where I ought to come from.
I was at Olu-Ola for my nursery, and Baptist Primary School, Sanni Luba Nursery and Primary School and Army Children's School, inside Ilese Barracks for my primary education. I was the library prefect at Army Children's. If I was not in class, I was in that room that was called the library reading little, little books. I believe that this contributed to my being a writer later in life.
From there, I attended Area Community High School, Owode-Egbado, just for a year or so, when my dad was transferred to Egbado. It was here that I had my menarche.
I ended up at Our Lady Girls Secondary School in Ijebu Ode because my parents did not want me travelling around with them any longer and felt that Ijebu Ode felt more like home. The rest of the family - my mum and brothers - moved to Ibadan as my father continued his many journeys across Nigeria and outside the country.
While at Our Lady, I was a boarder and went home only on holidays in Ibadan. Those were the times I would watch NTA and listen to BCOS and see those newsreaders/anchors I mentioned earlier. Those were also the days when the Sketch and Tribune were popular and my dad was a reader and collector of the papers. Later, he added Newswatch and TELL magazines.
I was the agriculture prefect at Our Lady. I do not remember the reason I was made one. The school had a poultry. I co-ran it with the Agric teacher.
I was a quiet, shy child and kept to myself a lot from primary through to secondary school. I was not a people's person then.
It is remarkable that at this time, I was analytical. I could think through things. I could give you the cause and effect. This attribute which has stayed with me helped when we went for literary and debating programmes at Our Lady, because the points I gave our team helped them to win. But, I was too shy to represent the school. In fact, each time that I was made to represent us, we failed woefully. I was painfully shy. I never could face a crowd. Unbelievable, when you think of what I do today.
No longer the shy, shy girl
I broke my shyness in Umuahia, Abia State during my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) days and I think also partly at Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, Ondo State.
I had gone for my NYSC with my father's radio/cassette player, because I love music. My father had an incredibly beautiful collection of jazz and R & B music.
Little did I know that my broadcasting career would begin at the NYSC orientation camp in Isiala Ngwa.
While there, we found out that there was a public address system used in the Orientation Broadcasting Service (OBS) for lost but found items. One day, somebody among my fellow corps members wondered, 'why don't we just play music?' So, we were playing music and whenever any lost item was found, we would stop the music to make the announcement.
Then another person asked, 'why don't we start a request programme?'
I can see the faces of my colleagues as I am talking now but I cannot remember their names.
Then they said I should start since I have the music collection.
So, we approached our supervisors and they said we should go ahead. So, we started running shifts and the corps members would send papers to us requesting special songs for (their loved ones).
Of course, it was a rewind-and-fast-forward operation but it was fun and I was thrilled to be part of it.
With my fame at the camp, it was only natural for the authorities to post me to the Broadcasting Corporation of Abia State (BCA) in Umuahia. And that is how my career took off in the News Department.
What to study
Even as I fancied the Ronke Ayubas, at some point, I did not know what I wanted to be.
When it was time for me to pick a course of study in an institution of higher learning, I wanted science. I felt that the arts was a walkover for me. I wanted where the challenge would be.
At some point, I wanted to do agriculture economics - which I was quite good in.
I had sought to go to the University of Ibadan (UI) to read agric economics but I did not meet the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board's cut-off mark. I think that there was the issue of my poor showing in mathematics. I was pathetic in the subject. I had repeated Form Four at Our Lady because I failed mathematics and I was in the social sciences. I also failed it in WASCE. I only got a P7 in GCE O'level.
I did not waste time at home trying to pass mathematics. So, I took the examination for admission to colleges of education and polytechnics. It was the first time that JAMB introduced an examination for that category. I remember filling in English and Geography, which I was also good at. I had an "A" in it in my West African School Certificate Examination. I got admission into Adeyemi College of Education. So, you see, I trained as a teacher. I stayed back at Adeyemi for a degree in education which was then being awarded by the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. Today, it is a stand-alone University of Education. I did teaching practice and all that.
When I talked about breaking my shyness partly at Adeyemi, you can imagine that I contested for the presidency of the Geography Students Association. I did not win: I came second.
When it was time for me to do the degree, I was in a dilemma because I did well in both subjects but it was my mum who told me that my strength was in English. She noted that it is versatile and I could build on it to do anything. My mum was a primary school teacher who retired as a headmistress.
I loved teaching. It is my superpower; which is not surprising that I ended up as a trainer.
Being a broadcaster
Would I have ended up as a teacher if I did not get involved with the OBS at Umuahia? I do not think so. This is because I think that the university was pushing me to where I should go.
When we were working on our final project at Adeyemi in the English Department, there was the Odun Oba Festival in Ondo that my group covered and I was the anchor for the documentary. I was the one doing the interviews and one of those interviewed was the late former Nigerian Minister of Information Chief Alex Akinyele. It was from here that I began to see my strength: the voice. At that time, I had this accent also, which had come from the Oral English we did in Forms Four and Five at Our Lady.
We also had to do a presentation of our final project. When I finished, everyone went quiet and, suddenly, an applause erupted and I remember one of my fellow students now an academic doctor, named Owolewa, saying 'Funke Akintoye, reporting for the BBC.' It was a most remarkable day for me in school.
It was something I did without knowing the talent I was showing forth.
But at BCA, I did not go straight on radio.
My first assignment there was to report the military Sole Administrator of Abia and Enugu States Navy Captain Temi Ejoor.
After that, I became a news producer, producing different programmes.
I never read the news. I was always writing. I do not think that I even thought about it that much until one day a guy who was one of the presenters said to me, 'do you know you have a good voice, you should be presenting.'
I was about finishing my service year then.
So, I went to Chuzi Iboko who was the Director, Radio Service. He said that he would ask that I do an audition because he could see a great potential. When I first heard Chuzi Iboko's voice on the radio, I said to myself, 'who is this?' His voice had such depth, baritone and presence that you would just want to listen.
So, when Chuzi heard the audition, he was wowed and he said he would put me on air. Then I started pairing with him and Carol Nelson-Atuonwu. Those were really big broadcasters and I, who had yet to finish youth service, was pairing with them. Incredible.
I just pretty went on with my life until I became a regular presenter.
I was on the morning show and I had to soak myself in motivational books by authors such as Robert Schuller, Zig Ziglar and Brian Tracy. Because if you were going to wake people up you better have at least one thing inspirational to tell them.
And, if you were playing a piece of music you better have something to back it up. I encountered freedom on the pages of those books. And then I started to be aware of the talents I carried and that is how I got my freedom. I just kept talking and realised the power of radio. BCA reached as far as Akwa Ibom and the feedback which came via letters then, was huge. If we had twenty letters, fifteen of those would be thanking and praising Funke Akintoye. Surely, I had a large following. People wondered how a Yoruba girl, could pronounce Igbo names fluently. That was borne out of my desire to be excellent.
I just wanted to make a difference.
Hitherto, people said that no Yoruba person had ever worked there and how would I be able to pronounce Igbo names.
I began to face the crowd during festivities such as Christmas when the station had shows and people from town would come. I was going around with the late James Iroha - Gringory of Masquerade - who was our Director, TV Services. He had a sitcom back then called Cobwebs on BCA-TV. He said to me that I would be a good actress and decided to cast me as Pawpawline, the daughter of one couple....When I rode on the commercial bikes then, children would run after me shouting Pawpawline. If I had the kind of sense I have today, I should have gone into acting. Who knows…? In primary school, I had acted in some playlets but my shyness did not allow me to shine. I would be rooted to a spot numb and mute when it came to my turn to respond in a dialogue.
Anyhow, I wanted to be retained on the station because I did not want to return to Western Nigeria because I just liked how my life was unfolding in Umuahia and my father had told me to get myself a job wherever I could. I knew him better than to not take him seriously. Of course, my mum was on the side of her husband.
I was in the 1995/96 NYSC Service Year but I did not get retained immediately after because my plan did not work: rather than a State Award from the NYSC which I had hoped to get and earn an automatic employment, I got a State Commendation. I think I waited for about a year doing Pawpawline as an artiste. If we were being paid at all, it must have been a pittance. At some point, the sitcom was stopped, so I just kept waiting. It was a difficult period for me.
Although I was auditioned on radio and did some work with BCA, I was eventually employed by BCA-TV. Even so, the same James Iroha told me that I would not be a good TV presenter because I did not have this and that. So I was taken to radio and Chuzi Iboko said he wanted me there.
I got to radio and became a sensation. I remember the day James Iroha met me on the corridor and said, 'Funke, I want to apologise to you. I am sorry I told you that you would never make a great TV presenter. Everybody is talking about you. I am sorry I said that.'
After a while, the lure of Lagos as presented in the soft sell magazines - the Encomiums - took over me. Two of my colleagues at BCA were sponsored by the corporation for training at the Radio Nigeria Training School. One of them who was not that good came back transformed. I wondered what they did to her. It increased my interest in being in that Lagos.
I expressed interest in being sponsored but BCA said they did not have the funds, but I was resolute to go to that Lagos.
So, I packed my things, tendered my resignation but Chuzi refused to accept my letter. He said if Lagos did not work for me, I should come back. I do not think it is even on record that I resigned. I should see Chuzi Iboko one more time in my life and say 'Thank You' to him. Because he was instrumental to the foundation that I had.
So, I came to Lagos in 2000 and sponsored myself for a training of about three months in basic presentation at the FRCN Training School. There, I met Benson Idonije who taught us how to interview people and Ilemi Okoka, an absolutely charming lady who was then head of presentation; the one who, years later, took me to Ruth Benamasia-Opia.
Ilemi recommended me to Ms Boma Kalaiwo who was then the deputy director for RN-2 who then took me to Prince Atilade Atoyebi, now late, who as Executive Director, Lagos, employed me.
I had gone there and they said the esteemed Veronica Osawere would do an audition for me. But, she was constantly in Abuja; that time she was reading the network news. Then, they said some other big name, who happened to be Evelyn Russel, would do the audition. Eventually, Ms Russel, now a barrister, did the audition for me.
Those were really great voices back then. So I was in the company of big people, and I could relate.
I did not go to Ray Power, which was then the rave of the moment because my parents had always believed that it was better to work for the federal government than for a private company.
Anyway, I ended up in RN-2 in its twilight days. We were almost never on air until its rebirth as Metro FM.
In a short time after, Osaze Iyamu discovered me. He asked me to join Radio Express, a breakfast show he produced on the Lagos Network of Radio Nigeria. The likes of Jones Usen and Patrick Oke were guest presenters.
Soon after, Eddie Iroh became Radio Nigeria's director-general and its fortunes changed.
About three years after or thereabouts, Radio Nigeria was looking for young people to start reading the network news. I happened to be the first of that cadre. I read my first network news with the legendary sports commentator, Tolu Fatoyinbo, who was then FRCN's director, programmes
There are many other remarkable things in my broadcasting career in Radio Nigeria including training news readers, with Zakary Mohammed, on Treasure FM, Port Harcourt when it was newly created; producing and presenting a network programme on Nigerians in the Diaspora, called Nigerian Pride, outside of Abuja, initiated by the late DG Ben Egbuna; became a presenter of Radio Link which at a point was the highest programme anyone could aspire to on Radio Nigeria; pioneered corporate development unit in FRCN Lagos Operations when Ken Okere was the director and I co-created our own in-house Knowledge Centre different from the Training School and was the general manager, Radio One, FRCN's all-news station where I implemented the biggest change project my broadcasting career. I am proud of my mentoring and coaching work across FRCN. I was a beacon of hope, a door opener, a pathfinder and go-to person for up and coming professionals within the system.
My lowest moment would be being taken away from Radio One - I was promoted to assistant director, coordinating the three radio stations in Radio Nigeria, Lagos - and seeing the fortunes of the station dwindle progressively. Although it was a higher calling, for somebody who is an active broadcast journalist, it was pretty much like being caged. I took up the challenge, anyhow, and was able to organise a joint programme conference for the three stations in FRCN Lagos Operations, which had not been held for at least decade. I also helped, among other things, to help set up a museum, and created the Radio One Children Sports Fiesta.
Indeed, I thrived in Radio Nigeria as a career broadcaster.
I found myself busy doing training for other organisations and the demand was high. I activated my exit strategy. I became certified as a leadership coach, mentor and facilitator. A series of events made me realise that my time was up at Radio Nigeria. I left in 2019.
One of the things I am busy doing now is social entrepreneurship with a focus on menstrual health and hygiene. It came about one of those moments what I was GM of Radio One when a young lady spoke at a programme I attended at the University of Lagos, on sanitary pads and menstrual health; how girls cannot afford pads. Hitherto, I did not think it was a problem. I invited that young lady to a Women Summit we had on the station in commemoration of the International Women's Day in 2017. She came and spoke brilliantly about this challenge. It never departed from me.
So, today, I advocate for free sanitary pads for young girls in secondary schools. The journey started in earnest in February 2019 with the support of twelve media women who joined me on the journey. When COVID-19 started, we had to change plans. Eventually, I created a sanitary pad scholarship for school girls. We had 200 girls on it who were getting pads and other sanitary items monthly to combat period poverty and remain in school. We celebrated our one year anniversary last month (October).
I now run a podcast on telling period stories to normalise conversations on menstruation and issues associated with it. We have had a company donate ten thousand units of reusable pads to the campaign: that is impactful. To support our scholarships or/and contribute to our campaign on tackling period poverty, please help sign this petition.
You can support our work as we enter into the second phase of the pad scholarship by donating to the account of Illuminate Nig Dev Net LTD/GTE-SANI with No: 1017179136 at Zenith Bank.
We plan to consolidate our presence in nine states by penetrating the rural areas. We also wishto expand beyond those states too. We are also scaling up our media campaigns
My core desire, meanwhile, as far as broadcasting is concerned is to have a production firm which will feed radio and television stations with creative content; that is a gap that I believe needs to be filled.
I have engaged in a series of exciting projects since my voluntary retirement from Radio Nigeria. I have been through different layers and levels of transitions that it seems I am starting life afresh. I have turned fifty even as I believe that I do not look my age or well, I honestly do not feel like I am fifty. I am no longer married. I have had a career makeover. The universe is pushing a lot of new things my way and I am taking everything as they come, one day at a time.
TO KEEP US GOING
This initiative which started as a demonstration project for an intern of The Journalism Clinic has, before our very eyes, taken a life of its own, demanding a lot more resources than envisaged.
Your kind support will keep us going. You can do so securely here.
May I also request you to kindly join our community by subscribing to our newsletter so that we can deliver the toris directly to your inbox, hot and fresh. Please fill the form here. So, as we keep growing the brand, we will be sufficiently ready for long-term support through product placement and sponsorships.
Taiwo Obe, FNGE
Commonwealth Professional Fellow
Founder/Director, The Journalism Clinic
+234 818 693 5900