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Onyeka Onwenu defends Toni Payne against ThisDay writer, Azuka Ogujiuba. A must read!

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ThisDay Style writer, Azuka Ogujiuba wrote an article on October 30th titled 'A Blaze of Glory for 2Face' where she referred to Toni Payne as a groupie. Music Legend Onyeka Onwenu decided to respond to the article.
Read it after the cut...

ThisDay Newspapers: Azuka Ogujiuba's Hatchet Job on Ms Toni Payne - A blaze of glory for Tuface - Saturday Oct 30, 2010. - By Onyeka Onwenu

I have rarely made it my business to respond to newspaper articles, but when I do, you can be sure that I have been sorely provoked.

You can also imagine that in nearly thirty years as an Entertainer, running the whole gamut of the industry as Singer/Songwriter, Actress, Broadcaster etc, I have had more than a fair share of unwarranted attacks. I have also witnessed others go through it, especially women. I have come to accept these attacks as some of the hazards of the job we do. There are people who are just jealous of others' progress and who perhaps live vicariously, albeit with malicious intent, through the doings of those they envy. Some of these people happen to be journalists who by virtue of their profession, have the advantage of the pages of a newspaper or the air waves, as instruments of harassment and denigration.

That said, let me remind all, that I am a journalist and have unlimited respect for my profession and training. Nigerian journalists are among the best in the world and I am indeed proud to be one of them.

Nigeria is a society which professes to respect women, but in practice we do not. Our tradition is to keep them down, relegate them to the background where they are best seen and not heard. When they manage to break through the glass ceiling, striving to be themselves and excelling against all odds, we celebrate them, quite alright, but with an undertone of fear for their “brazen”, “aggressive” and “uppity” disposition. And as soon as the slightest opportunity presents itself, we quickly pull them down.

A journalist who never fails to disappoint in this regard is Mr Reuben Abati of the Guardian Editorial Board. On the issue of Nigeria's First Ladies and their “Powers”, Abati's language is almost always condescending and denigatory, to the extent that I am compelled to conclude that he harbours a deep resentment for women – for some reason. His last contribution to the Okirika Waterfront demolition debate and Her Excellency, Dame Jonathans' expression of concern, earlier this year, comes readily to mind.

Quite a few journalists in the 80s and 90s made their names criticizing Onyeka Onwenu, mostly for no reason other than their wanting to be noticed. I refer to people like Azuka Jebosi and Ladi of Punch Newspapers, Mayor Akinpelu and Faj of the defunct Fame Magazine.

At a point, Dele Momudu, God bless him, was moved to admonish Faj, who, not so subtly had tried to rubbish my CD “Onyeka” inspite of the fact that it was adjudged to be a brilliant outing in 1992.

Mayor Akinpelu declared to all who cared to listen that he “could not stand Onyeka Onwenu” who according to him was indeed “finished”, as an Artiste. This was during the campaign for PMAN (Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria) Presidency, which pitted me against King Sunny Ade, in 1998. The Anti – Onyeka campaign continued with great intensity until I took a number of Entertainment Publications to court and won substantial amounts of money. These publications sought to damage my reputation. I was portrayed as a person of easy virtue, a prostitute, a trouble maker and an unserious Artiste. Hard to believe, is it not?

My crime was my audacity of purpose, outspokenness and insistence on being given my due respect. For displaying a modicum of self respect and restraint in my public conduct, I was labelled a snub, with the usual comment, “who does she think she is”.

Well, I was never one to back down from a challenge and I gave as good as I got. I made no apologies and I continued to be myself – self assured, focused and dedicated to my work. In due course and grudgingly, these journalists had no choice but to begin to show respect and appreciation for my person and my work.

In all these attacks, the most perplexing were the ones from a female journalist, the Queen of Junk, she was called, at the time. For some reason, she really had it in for me, other female Artistes and even fellow female journalists.

I had taken enough courses in psychology in college to realize that the attacks were coming from a sense of inadequacy, in herself. When her career of bitterness and vendetta took a nose dive and she couldn't compete in an era where journalism of personal attack had lost its lure, I concluded that I was right.

And that brings me to Azuka Ogujiuba and Toni Payne.

Ms Toni Payne is my publicist and a young woman who impresses me with her zeal for work and excellent knowledge of the Nigerian Entertainment terrain with regards to what she does, which is publicism. She is respectful and conducts herself with decorum. She handles assignments with a seriousness that belies her young age. Ever since I came in contact with her, for the publicity of my Legend CD early this year, I have not ceased to be amazed by her appetite for work and sincerity of purpose.

To watch her pummelled on Azuka's Saturday This Day column, week after week, and unnecessarily, has been a torture for me. Ms Payne has laughed off these obvious attacks but I am not prepared to do so.

In her article “A Blaze of Glory for Tuface”, in discussing the issue of Tuface's Baby mothers and the “danger they portend to his career (an issue I most definitely do not want to delve into), Azuka manages, as usual, to draw in Toni Payne, whom she describes as a “Groupie”. This is for marrying the Artiste 9ice, I suppose. Hear Azuka, “Toni Payne who conspicuously falls into this category because of her undying and unimaginable love to be called “Celebrity” has finally created the biggest Rift or 'BEEF' as they say in the Nigerian Entertainment scene. Azuka goes on and on, wondering how Toni Payne could live with herself. She ends the tirade with this: “Some even suggest that 9ice's decision to end their marriage was a smart move”.

My dear Azuka, if you have a thing for 9ice, why don't you go after him and leave Toni Payne alone. You have become too obvious and deliberate in your attacks. This is not journalism but vendetta, unprovoked, unwarranted and unbearable for those of us who pay money to buy This Day on Saturdays.

Your Editor should now call you to order. Enough!

I had not intended to write this article. I had made a personal phone call to Ms Ogujiuba, to try and speak with her about her unrelenting attacks on Toni Payne. This is the conversation that ensued.
Me: “Hello! May I please speak with Azuka Ogujiuba?”
Azuka: Silence (there is some talking in the background).
Me: “Hello, my name is Onyeka Onwenu. Am I speaking to Azuka?”
Azuka: “Yes, what do you want?”
Me: “You seem not to know me but I really would like to talk with you about Toni Payne and the fact that…”
Azuka: Cuts in – “How did you even get my number?”
Me: “Oh I see that you are intent on being rude. Well, I will write your Editor instead. I don't do rude” I switched off.

My song “One Love” has a line which says “living in the world is a struggle just staying alive” and that is true, particularly for a young, professional woman in Nigeria. The last thing she needs is a misdirected, ambitious and envious journalist, trying to put her down, ostensibly, because of her marriage choice.

I am not interested in Toni Payne's private life and it is not my place to defend her choices but I do take exception to a journalist attacking someone for no good reason, particularly a woman. Azuka Ogujiuba, get a life and leave Toni Payne alone to live hers.

God bless you.
Onyeka Onwenu (MFR)


Azuka Ogujuiba, ThisDay writer