MY LIFE WAS THREATENED WHEN I WROTE ABOUT THE IGBINEDIONS AND I HAD TO MOVE ABOUT IN BULLION VANS -MOJI DANISA
She was known as the 'Queen of Junk' in the print media. Her kind of stories dug into the messy affairs of celebrities and government officials. Moji Danisa, a fair complexioned journalist, left the print and opted for the electronic media after disappearing for a while. In this interview, which took place in Abuja, she speaks about her career, relationship with Charly Boy, her failed marriage, and lots more. Excerpt…
Where have you been all this while?
After I left AIT, I just decided to do a Morning Show for Galaxy TV. Morning Show was something I had been playing with in my mind and I was waiting for a medium to let it out. You know, when you have an idea you just want to work to see it on TV.
I tried it at Galaxy TV, I liked what I was doing, but after a while I lost interest because I was trying to do a Morning Show with a little bit of current affairs, entertainment, a little of everything, like the magazine show on TV, which I conceptualized at AIT. But then, it didn't work out the way I planned it because of revenue. I had to drop the idea and start writing again.
I was writing for The Sun, which I liked because everybody reads The Sun. Somehow, Charly Boy and I met, we had been discussing a project, and when he wanted to start this magazine, he called me. That was when I was still at AIT, but then I didn't think I was adventurous enough to move to Abuja, and I had these little children, I didn't want to upset the status quo at that time. But, when they had relatively grown up, I said ok, why not try Abuja? He broached the idea again, saying, 'Moji, why not come to Abuja, I will relocate you and everything.' Then, I said why not? To me, it was a different thing altogether, it was something I had not done, I had not done a glossy magazine, I am not known for gloss. I'm known for hitting hard and looking at things from a different angle. I said to myself, Moji, you are not getting younger; try something more relaxing, it's better to make friends rather than enemies. I took up the job. Now, I'm having fun, and I'm learning everyday.
What is Charly Boy Magazine up to?
It's an inspirational magazine. That is what I like to call it. Using the normal parlance, it's a lifestyle magazine.
Life as a broadcast and print journalist, which is more exciting?
Definitely, print is more exciting than TV. In TV there is so much glamour, so much presence, you are known everywhere, you are seen everywhere, but then, I call it easy reporting. All you do is take your tape and put it in somebody's face and the person talks, except for those in investigative and entertainment on TV. Maybe because I have spent so much time in print, in print you flow, you want to see your magazines or newspaper doing well. You are always on the move; you always want to catch up with your competitors. That was quite exciting and even relaxing for me.
Anybody can adjust. It all depends on where your passion is? Actually, many people don't know that I started from TV. I started from NTA, Benin City and moved to BTV, now Edo State Broadcasting. I left BTV as a sub-editor; I was doing programmes before I went to School of Journalism. While at the School of Journalism, I discovered I could write. The print came for me, I was writing for The Guardian as a young girl. I watched football matches and wrote about football. And the editor liked it and said he would like to give me a column. That was how it all started. I was trying to get a job at NTA, but then I saw the joy being read by the people who didn't even know you are the one who wrote the story.
While writing junk, what were the challenges; making enemies instead of friends?
Writing what you call junk had always been my orientation. You call it junk, I call it facts. When you write the truth, people don't like you, they always fight you. For me, the whole thing started from secondary school where I did a magazine we used to paste on the notice board, I called it Weekend Bonanza. It was at Anglican Girls Grammar School, Benin City. I had always had that zeal to tell the truth as it is. I don't know if it's a virtue, or a problem.
Write it as it is, don't colour it, that's my orientation. When we started Climax Magazine, every other person was doing oddity, I said to myself, these people call themselves role models and they are doing crazy things. I decided to focus on the sex aspect. Everybody was doing the wrong thing. People were marrying their house-helps; their wives' friends. And I said ok, why not focus on these. From there we went into crime reporting. I was reporting criminal acts in high places, political murders everywhere. People were dying. I took it upon myself again to report these crimes.
I was working like three nights without even taking a bath. I was short-changed in the business deal. I was such a child, I was just excited that somebody was putting in money for me to do the newspapers, so in my excitement I didn't wait for the papers to be worked on. I didn't wait for any legal agreement, I just went in with all my life. As soon as the paper started doing well, things became shaky, I had to leave. At that time, I was married, but no child, I was having miscarriages, working late into the nights without taking a bath. I decided to stay at home, have a baby and make my husband happy at that point.
In those days you were hitting people hard, were you ever assaulted?
No. You know why I liked it, people didn't even know me. I'm not a very sociable person, I hardly go out; even when I'm out you won't know this is Moji Danisa. I have this innocent peaceful face. Again, I was extremely shy, I was always avoiding public places, avoiding people, I never had anybody beat me up, it was only when I wrote about the Igbinedions that my life was threatened, and I started moving in bullion vans all over the place.
That was the closest I got to being assaulted. Yes, people called me 'Queen of Junk', and I loved it, because I set out to be the best in my profession. The more they talked about me, the more I liked and I basked in it. But I made a lot of powerful enemies till date. It's really affecting me, because when I started having issues with my bosses there was hardly anywhere I could go, all doors were shut against me, but the most painful aspect was my colleagues, I was just very lonely for a long time. It didn't get to me though, because I was never hungry, I had also made a lot of powerful friends who they made sure I stayed afloat until AIT gave me a job. That was how I re-invented myself.
Were your parents afraid for your safety?
My mother was scandalized, she was angry, upset; she wished I would just drop the job, especially as it was not bringing in money. She thought I would get killed, but my dad stood by me. 'You will not be killed, tell them the truth,' he said. My father was my rock, always calling and sometimes gave me a hint, and I would hear my mum screaming at the background 'you want them to kill her'? When I told her I was coming to Abuja, she said thank God, you are leaving that type of journalism, cursing everybody and causing commotion everywhere. My brothers and sisters were okay with that, but my mother wasn't.
How did you get those terrible gists?
I could go to where they sell burukutu in Lagos and sit there quietly I could be in a bar where you least expected me to go, but I knew that a certain class of people went to the place. I got a lot of gists, which I followed up. Sometimes, some people wanted to talk about their friends. Your best friend gave the information you could work on, and then, housemaids, at times family members. That was why I was hardly faulted in my investigations because I knew the right people to use.
How are you coping with Charly Boy?
As a boss, he is a perfectionist, a slave driver, and sometimes not the best of bosses. When you are not giving him what he wants, he actually gets angry. And because we are friends, I just calm down and get over it, and try to do what he really wants. What he wants is beyond what any of my former bosses had ever demanded. What he wants is: Moji, I want you to be bigger than who you are, but he would not stop to ask, is that the height you really want? But I am adjusting, and I'm happy about it, because I have changed since I came to Abuja.
I have dropped a lot of bad habits, a lot of things I thought I could not do I have started doing. I can now walk up to someone and say, I want your contact number, I want this or that. I wasn't doing that before, I was really shy to ask for anything. Being a slave driver, I thought I worked hard, but with Charly Boy, I work ahead. This lagging attitude of journalists that I had because I grew up in the newsroom, I may have worked for three days and he still wants me to come to the office by 8 a.m. And I would say give me a break, we have that once in a while, and he tells me you are a journalist, I don't want you to always be that part. We are trying.
You said you dropped some bad habits working with Charly Boy, what are the habits?
I love going to the bars, I love enjoying myself, having a drink and sometimes more than a good drink.
What do you mean by more than a good drink?
I mean from one good drink to two good drinks and stuffs like that.
Do you smoke?
I have never smoked. You find yourself getting into that kind of lifestyle, but coming here have simmered me down, I am cool now, and I give him all the credit.
I am surprised you said something like that about your boss; I thought you'll be spoilt working with Charly Boy?
That's what people think. That is the conflict; Charly Boy is the most misunderstood person on earth. The first day I met him and he said come drive with me, I thought yeah, I'm going to have fun today, but it was work till evening, I didn't even eat. I was barely 26 then. He didn't even offer me a meal until we had finished. I went with him everywhere and that was the day I knew he is a focused, disciplined person. You can see Charly Boy smoking in his privacy, I haven't seen him womanizing or partying. He is a very private individual. Most times it's from the office to home, and when he gets home he goes upstairs and finds it difficult to come down stairs.
If you are not a journalist, what would you have been?
I would have become a lawyer; that was what I wanted to do until I discovered I could write. What I would have really loved to study is International Relations. I love history, I love international politics; I like to know what is happening and why they are happening and why they happen or would not happen again. That is what I would probably have done, because I had gone back to school like three times to do it, but I never finished.
How long have you been living in Abuja?
I have been here now for one year.
How is life in Abuja?
Lagos stress sometimes is good. It keeps you on your toes. You are more creative in Lagos, but in Abuja life is too relaxed. Sometimes I see myself shouting at people, somebody wants to sell a recharge card, he waits for you to come, or you want to buy newspaper and the vendor wants you to come down from your car. I ask them are you people doing business at all? I'm glad I'm with Charly Boy, who has the Lagos orientation. So, things are moving fast. When someone asked me the best day of the week, I tell them Monday, because Saturday and Sunday are the most boring for me, nobody visits me and we go and sit in one place.
I miss Lagos terribly; I like the calm here though, especially for the children. Sometimes I feel like, oh Lagos, especially during weekends.
How is your husband?
He is fine, we are separated, but he is fine. I was madly in love with him and I almost lost my senses for a long time, but it didn't just work out. We are two very stubborn people and our values are different. We didn't share common values family-wise. There were things that shocked me in the marriage and I wasn't mature enough to react appropriately.
Would you re-marry?
Of course, before nko, if I see a man who fits into my idea of a husband, not my idea of a husband when I was younger, why not?
What is your idea of a husband now?
Dependable, responsible! When I was younger, it was handsome, tall and dark, dashing, intelligent and all that.
How was your childhood?
Growing up was fun. I grew up in Benin. My parents were strict Catholics; I never knew how to interact with neighbours, maybe that's why I find it difficult to make friends. We were never allowed to visit neighbours, to eat food cooked by someone else, it was straight from school to the house and or church. All we knew was our father and mother. The high point of my growing up was when I told my parents I did't want to be a good girl anymore.
I told my parents I wanted to go to the Institute of Continuing Education. I was telling someone sometime ago that most of my age mates who left secondary school at 17, 18, were all there. There was no school uniform, we could do anything, we were big guys and babes. It was like HSC, and we were radicals. Ideas were flowing, socialist, communist, we were reading international history and we were so happy in that environment. Those two years were my most memorable and I think those two years formed the radical I became.