ELEGANT TV presenter, Funmi Iyanda is one of the most fascinating presenters in Nigeria. Her documentary, Lagos Stories was nominated for Monte Carlos TV Festival Award held in Monaco, France. She recently rejected an offer of a presenter in Cable Network News (CNN) London. In this exclusive interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly, she opened up on why she declined the job, why she rested the popular New Dawn, her career and challenges of being a single mother and many more…
Your documentary, Lagos Stories, was nominated for Monte Carlo TV Festival Award. How do you feel about it?
I feel great, vindicated and challenged to do more.
You took people into the nooks and crannies of Lagos, how did you get the inspiration to produce such a feat?
Creatively, Lagos is one of the most fascinating places on earth. The stories burst at the seams but because we are a part of the story, it was hard to step back to interpret it. I have always tried to tell Lagos and Nigeria stories as part of the human story not a curious exception.
How did you identify the resource person’s you worked with?
I found my creative partner, Chris Dada through a friend, our energies matched and we found all the others using the yardstick of skill, talent, work ethnics and courage. Finding people on location was not difficult. I am a Lagos citizen, I was born here, I know and understand the city intimately. I can speak with, for my people with confidence and understanding.
How long did it take you to actualize this dream?
It was not a dream, it was one of our many projects. This one took a year.
What were the challenges you encountered during the course of shooting the documentary?
It is just the dearth of skilled and professional talents and the unfortunate tendency of our people to talk more than work and the penchant for dishonesty. Then of course, there was the difficulty of finding. Talent, skill and funding seemed to go in parallel directions here.
So, how were you able to get support?
We always have ideas for development. We do the creative treatment for an idea, do the concept note or marketing and sales, we pitch it to corporate organization, international television, platforms, development agencies, etc., and we either get a commissioning by a station or find the sponsorship, partnerships or arrangement that works. It is a business like any other.
Can you tell us how you got the conviction to start your shows?
It was not a conviction, it was a compulsion I could not escape. Human beings fascinate me; I write well. When all come together, you tell stories using all available media.
Ok, what is happening to New Dawn, your programme in recent times?
I rested New Dawn.
Are you giving it a break or you want it off the air?
The Nigerian media space is not designed to sustain a show like that no matter how meritorious. I kept it going for years because it was important and necessary but even my own doggedness has a rational limit. I, however, did not realize how much of our socio-cultural landscape it occupied until I stopped it. People still accost and accuse me of abandoning them. I suppose I can see the vacuum as I often watch the emerging socio-cultural and political issues unfold without a conscious, informed narrative or interpretation or even just a vehicle of expression beyond the stilted norm.
New Dawn played that role and nothing has replaced it. I often battle a sense of responsibility towards the mass of Nigeria because my role as an amplifier of their voices is under-utilised, but I cannot do it on my own forever. If someone pays for it, we will do it again.
Talk with Funmi is no doubt a success and inspirational. How did you conceive this idea?
I just wanted to understand and interpret Nigeria better. Nigeria as an ideological idea would become better embraced by all her constituent nation stations if we show one another our strength, similarities, collective advantage. The elections violence, killing of youth corpers, riots, etc., are fall out of years of politically engineered mistrust and culturally inaccurate representations as well as trauma from a system completely crippled by a militarization of our senses. Nigeria is a traumatized nation in need of new direction.
How do you become informed without full experience? That’s why I got a 30-man crew on the road and travelled around Nigeria, interpreting our stories, people and issues. I would have done the whole country if we had the funds, it was a very expensive project. It was also fulfilling and the recognition internationally reassured me that I wasn’t completely mad.
But being a very busy woman, how do you relax?
I like to cook and eat with friends, go to cinema with my daughter, go out dancing and go to the beach.
How do you choose what to wear for occasions?
I don’t go out much, I find events stressful and often pointless. When I go, I dress to be happy.
In terms of career and material achievement, do you think you have achieved what you set out to achieve?
I don’t do agendas, I follow my instincts. So, I don’t set out to achieve any of these. Each success is a pleasant surprise that leads to the next. I find out that once you do what you were born to do with every fibre of your being, applying the best principles, knowledge and resources you can garner, material success comes as other forms of success.
However, I imagine that a life lived just in pursuit of material goals will be a very limited one indeed. After all, a person can marry, steal or acquire more quite easily but then what? I seek self-actualisation through meaningful work. I will never retire.
Of all what you have, what do you cherish most?
I have no attachment to anything material and I don’t believe in ownership. Material things are pieces of creative ideas on loan to us from the person inspired to design such when we buy them. I cherish people and relationships.
Recently you had an opportunity of being a CNN presenter, why do you decide not to take up the job?
Surely, that would have taken my career backward. Why would I want to be a presenter on CNN when I make shows that CNN would happily commission and buy? I have been offered several shows to produce and host for a number of international platforms, two are in development, both are continental and audacious. It will be great when they happen. The best part of the past two years was the constant assurance of my creative appeal to a wider market. My business and creative partner is always asked, ‘Will Funmi be in it? She’s great, she’s such a star.’ Standing side by side with Felicity Huffman and co at the awards in Monaco, and seeing the reaction of people who didn’t even know me made me believe that I have achieved a lot.
If CNN offered me my own Piers Morgan type of gig, then yes! You know what would be great? If I am able to do the same for a coalition of NTA, AIT and Channels. Right now, the policies and economies that are against it are daunting but time will tell. My passion is to create stories, shows, films, documentaries that meet international production standards for Nigerians and to tell such stories to an international audience without a disconnected glossing over, puerile climbing down or other forms of loss in translation.
But with all these, do you feel any form of challenge in your line of business?
Life itself is challenging, all businesses are challenging. That’s life, I embrace it.
Tell us what you can’t wear on any of your programme?
My programmes are not about clothes, I wear whatever works creatively.
You have been a single mother for a long time, tell us how you are coping?
Just like all mothers cope.
Do you prefer being a single mother?
I prefer being a mother.
You will be 40 years old this year, what are your expectations?
I am curious about the next 40 years and wondering what my 80 year-old self will be up to. Life is an adventure, a gift to be cherished.
What do you think you should have achieved by now that you are yet to achieve?
I should have been able to swim by now!
Do you intend to celebrate it with any special show?
Tell us about your daily routine.
I don’t have one, each day is special.
How would you define success?
Being happy in one’s skin.
Then would you consider yourself successful?
I am happy in my skin.
What is your philosophy of life?
First, seek understanding.
*This story was first published in Encomium Weekly on Tuesday, June 28, 2011