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I Add Spice To People's Life -Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi

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Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi's first appearance on the Nigerian showbiz scene was in her role in the movie Violated and later the popular soap, Palace. A certificate holder in drama and theatre arts from the Westminster College, England, Funlola is the producer and presenter of Touch of Spice on radio and CEO Spice Angels, Lagos.

In this interview with Reporter, Gbenga Bada, she spoke about her person, memories of her late mother, her quiet wedding and desire to hit the movie sets again full-time.

What has the experience been like running a radio programme for close to a decade now?

Asking about running Touch of Spice for a decade is like asking a child about the day to day occurrences of his or her life in the last 10 years. Imagine a child being born on the first day of the show, that child would be in the primary school or if the child is very bright, might be in secondary school. So, I could answer that question for a whole day telling you what it has been like for me and my crew with Touch of Spice on radio in the last 10 years. But in a nutshell, I can tell you that my times on Touch of Spice in the last 10 years are my best of times on earth as much as my worst, with different experiences from financial to other challenges.

What challenges are we talking about here?

Challenges that have to do with decisions as an entrepreneur, dealing with the management of a media house, dealing with advertisers, sponsorship, dealing with guests and coming up with interesting topics that keep listeners on the programme. Also, dealing with the Nigerian issues like fuel scarcity, beating traffic because; there are times I have started the programme on my phone and somebody in the station would have to hold their phones against the microphone while I start the show from the car just to ensure that Touch of Spice kicks off at exactly 8 p.m. every Saturday evening. I remember I have been someone's chief Bridesmaid and I abandoned her because I had to get to the station for the programme. Or when I think of so-called stars that have snubbed me when I invite them for the programme and they say no or stall till I forget about it. There are those who jump at it and come on air though. So, there are some negatives but also there are positives because I can say that during Celebrity Takes 2, 70 per cent of all my votes came from my listeners because I was on air every Saturday canvassing for votes and my group on facebook were also doing the same. All that wouldn't have been possible without Touch of Spice. But summing it up, I would say it's the best times and the worst times in the last 10 years. I would say that I have grown as an individual, an artiste, on-air personality, and an entrepreneur. I have also grown as a creative person, in the business sense and more importantly as a Nigerian. You also develop some political tendencies in dealing with people and issues, but I look back and just feel the sigh of bewilderment.

On the issue of Celebrity Takes 2, would it be correct to say that you won as a result of you canvassing for votes through your listeners and fans?

I cannot regret that or say that it's not true because everybody that goes into a competition goes there to win and so did I. I also believe that I merit the success because I tried and threw myself wholly into the competition and I came out tops. You see, I don't regret neither do I owe anyone any apology for using the medium I have to canvass for votes. The musician did same by telling his fans to vote for him at shows and events, so also the fashion designer, who did same by canvassing for votes from customers and what have you, likewise the beauty queen and every other contestant. I put in all I needed to and extra to ensure that I came out tops.

What would be your reaction if it is being said that you probably gave it all the shot you had because of the remuneration?

Remuneration? Why would anyone think of me doing what I did in the Celebrity Takes 2 all because of remuneration? I once worked for a top agency to keep Touch of Spice going. The only remuneration, which the Celebrity Takes 2 has given me, is probably the automobile, which I think I deserve for everything I did to win the competition. At least, for all the scars I had, the falls and rigorous training all because I wanted to excel in the reality TV show. I sure know that I deserve the automobile. The remuneration is definitely not something that spurred me on but the zeal to excel in whatever I do, whatever has my name on it, sure is one thing that gave me the energy to do well and not the remuneration.

I threw so much energy and passion into the contest because I'm a perfectionist and one who believes that everything I decide to do, I need to do well because my name, integrity and personality are important things which are very dear to me and which I don't toy with. I remember I couldn't eat pepper and I trimmed down a lot because I had to do things that I might not be expecting and I wouldn't want to choke. And since I was in it already, there was no going back just like every other contestant felt. There are times it wasn't easy or times when my instructor and I had problems but we never allowed that to affect our desire to come out tops. There were times we didn't talk to each other throughout the dancing sessions but we were both committed and were determined to win. I had to throw everything I've got into it because I always wanted to come out successful in everything and anything I do. There were even times I would rush to go back and do Touch of Spice.

When you started Touch of Spice, did you see the programme coming this far?

It's more like a shock because in the first year and months of the programme, I definitely did not think about it going 10 years down the line. I just found out that I came in every Saturday and did what I wanted to and before I knew it, we did the first year, second year, five years, seven years and just went like that till now. I didn't even think about the years it would go on but all I wanted to do was just to touch lives because that was what I set out to do from day one. Looking back now, I believe I have been able to achieve that aim and vision or purpose of beginning Touch of Spice. A lot of people are testimonies to that even some of the people around me, who were listeners turned friends and fans and some even close family friends. I have a lot of success stories of young people, who have now become successful adults and have achieved their aims and are doing very well. There's a particular listener, Yemisi Falaye, who was in part one as a law student when she became a fan and listener and now she has graduated and still hooked on the show. There's Kunle Falana, who is now an author, same with Joseph Iregbu, who is currently in the United States and is about launching his book. These are the things that cross my mind when I look back over the last 10 years.

Can you remember some of the not too good memories of running the programme?

All these celebrations make me look back and think about the times that I wept because I didn't have funds to continue with the programme but after which a way out came. I think about the times when I would come into the studio and would be told that the programme would not be going on air until I settle certain debts, I think about the time I had to work in an agency and my salary was what I was using to pay for airtime for Touch of Spice. I think about the meetings that I held with the management staff of Star FM, when I would plead with them to give me more time to settle some of my debts and give me a chance to prove myself, likewise the times the management admitted that the programme also adds value to the station and so, the programme can stay. In all there are highs and lows because I also think of the anniversary, which I have dedicated to my late mother because the anniversary is close to the death of my mum.

When you started the programme, you were always referred to as Funlola Aofiyebi and after a while, it turned into Spicy Mama. Why?

That is simply what my crew wants. I don't know and can't even remember how it started but I remember that everybody had spicy to their names and maybe because my crew felt it wasn't polite calling me Spicy Funlola and they just decided to start calling me Spicy Mama and it stuck.

People change from their usual ways to someone different after they get married as a result of the responsibility which marriage brings with it. So, what has changed about your personality since you got married?

I won't really say anything has really changed about me aside the fact that my name now carries Raimi. Well, I have become more responsible, I now know that I have someone to look after and be responsible for. I now make joint decisions and maybe, I can now discuss some issues, which I couldn't discuss at some point on Touch of Spice because people believed I wasn't qualified to talk about or discuss such issues because I wasn't married then.

How do you cope considering that when you started, you could have done things your own way but now the programme has grown bigger and you have gotten married?

I manage my time so that I won't be having my bath when I'm supposed to be sleeping or sleeping when I'm supposed to be having my bath. My husband understands my job and he helps with one idea or the other to make things work better just like I do to his own things. I mean, he gives advice on some topics, which he feels we should talk about just like I do in his own field. We complement each other like the couple that we are.

What is significance of the numbers 7, 8, 9, 10 to the 10th anniversary of Touch of Spice, which you have continually left as a teaser for many?

Well, the significance of the numbers to the anniversary is simply thus, On the 7th day of the 8th month, which is August in the 2009, Touch of Spice would be celebrating her 10th anniversary! It's just as simple as that. We actually have a couple of activities spread over the month of August but would be keeping that under wraps because my crew is pressurising me to do a lot of activities and we have already started. We won't want to expose everything but there would be a Touch of Spice train, which would accommodate our true fans that have been there all the years to celebrate with us. We would be taking them out on a trip of a lifetime and you can simply get on the train by sending an email to us telling us all you know and your memories about Touch of Spice, the presenter, guests, topics that we have treated and the crew, as this will qualify you after our team has certified that you are truly an ardent listener. This is simply giving back to the listeners, who have been there over the years, it's not like we don't want our new listeners to also be on the train. We want all our listeners to know that it is not easy taking out time to follow a programme for 10 years. We would also be cutting a cake at every programme all through the month and each cake for each week would be a letter from the word spice.

It would be recalled that you shone like a star while you took part in some home movies and suddenly, you eased out of the tube. For a lady, who never gives up and is passionate about whatever she does, why did you quit the world of make-believe?

I didn't quit the movie world, it's just that I had to define what I wanted for myself in the industry. After I got back to Nigeria, my first movie role was given to me by Amaka Igwe in the flick Violated and I was able to interpret my role. The set was quite professional and that is what I want for myself in the industry, I have built my name and career that I won't want it to just wither away. You see, I found out that the problem with the industry is typecasting. When you are asked to act the role of a spoilt brat, who just returned from London in a flick, you'd find out that the next five roles that would be given to you would be the same. That is not professional for me; I mean, my versatility as an actor because I am a professional and trained actor shows when I'm able to act a variety of roles in a variety of flicks. But, aside that, I have been into TV soap for MNet called Tinsel and that is all I'm liable to tell you at the moment.

Would it be correct to say your resolve to choose the roles you take is as a result of your educational background abroad?

Why does my educational background have anything to do with it? It is something that I have chosen to do because I'm a professional. We have some people who studied here in Nigeria and have the same view with me and we also have people who studied outside the country that have divergent views but this is who I'm. Even if they say I carry my nose up or that it's pride, it's my ethics. I have to be professional in what I do and that is what makes me a more promising and versatile actor. All I know is that I'm doing my job to the best of my capacity and my schooling abroad has nothing to with it.

You are known to have always put on a scarf on your head as a result of your religion, why is this not the case in recent time?

The scarf has come to become part of me and I have a lot of them, I wear the scarf and I'm a religious individual. I'm a Muslim, which I think everybody knows. I love tying the scarf because I feel comfortable in them but you also have to understand that I do some other things and when I'm going for some meetings or when I'm going on a production set, I can't afford to tie the scarf around. Interestingly, I just left the store where I get the scarfs from and I have just ordered for more. It's just something about me that I love.

What are the different things you are involved in?

I shall begin with acting because I believe that is my first love. Unfortunately, that is the one I have done the least for different reasons. However, acting is my first love; then, presentation on radio and TV. I started off, doing voice-overs and TV commercials but I love being on radio because my aim and vision was to touch lives, add that touch of spice and make better people. You know spice is something that you sprinkle in your food and it gives it the best taste. That's just what Touch of Spice is, a touch of that little spice that goes a long way to make you improve on your person and give you that push to become a greater and better person. For now, my time and energy is concentrated on Touch of Spice.