INTERVIEW: ‘Intimate Affairs’ and my exploits –Egbemode (I)

INTIMATE AFFAIRS: The problem with long courtships
Funke Egbemode

Funke Egbemode is a household name when it comes to writing about relationships. Her weekly column, Intimate Affairs, is a must read for many. However, not much appears to be known about how she started writing the column, what drives her passion for the weekly thoughts and opinions that hold her numerous readers awestruck. In this interview by SAKIBU OLOKOJOBI, Egbemode speaks about the origin of her foray into column writing and the recipe for good column writing. She also speaks on other issues, including those bordering on the activities of the Nigeria Guild of Editors, NGE, of which she was a president before becoming the Commissioner for Information in Osun State under former Governor Adegboyega Oyetola. Excerpts:

Let me begin by welcoming you back into active journalism after being away for some time as the Commissioner for Information in Osun.

Thank you.

How does it feel coming back into active writing after being away for some time?

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It’s exciting.  Working towards deadline again; calling my Editors that I’m going to be two hours late, one hour late, or one day late is exciting.  Having edited a Saturday and a Sunday newspaper before, I’ve set a target that will be comfortable for me and comfortable for the editor.  It’s exciting to resume writing; to feel passionate about something and write about it.  You would see that I’ve restricted myself to writing about relationships for now.  This is to be able to cope with my deadline.  But it’s really good to get back into the newsroom, doing my column, Intimate Affairs.

While away, did you miss anything about journalism which you have practised for many years?

A lot! I miss journalism a lot! I miss the newsroom everyday.  I still miss the newsroom even as I speak.  I think there is just something about the newsroom that you can’t find anywhere, and definitely, in a political environment.  But what I miss most apart from the excitement of producing the newspaper, the competition and all the little elements of the newsroom… What I miss most being in the political environment is the structured nature of the job.  In the newsroom, you know what your day is about most of the time; you can predict what your day would be about.  You know when you are supposed to turn in your stories, when you are supposed to do your follow-ups, when you are supposed to think ahead and do something extra, especially if you are working on a weekend title. There’s a structure that is lacking in a political environment.

There are people who are always up in arms when I write. Some say I must be a bad woman to write the way I do.

In politics, you could wake up, thinking that today… For instance, today is a Monday, and it is supposed to be state executive council meeting; you could wake up, check your phone and they have moved the state executive council meeting by two hours, and because the governor wants to inaugurate or flag off a project quickly, or you have to do a statement or something. It is not structured.  I miss the structure.  You know that as an Editor, this is what you are supposed to do.  You know that as an Assistant Editor, this is what you are supposed to do.  That is not really found in a political space.  I miss not being able to predict what my day would be like because the political office is about serving people; the people have demands and the office has its own life, and it can call on you to do anything at any time.

Was there any time during your period as a commissioner that you felt like running back to journalism?

Apart from just missing the camaraderie of the newsroom, hanging out with the boys and girls, I didn’t really feel like running back. It didn’t get to that extreme.  But I really missed my predictable familiar turf.  For me, journalism and the newsroom are my safe places, they are my comfort zones; but I knew fairly well what I was getting into. I knew what I was leaving behind.  I just missed my familiar terrain, especially on very difficult days in political office. They were those days that I just wished they were just production days.  You know, if it’s a production day, you know when you are resuming.  But there were days that at 9 p.m., 10 p.m., especially as the election drew closer, sometimes, your day is just warming up.

You are a thoroughbred journalist, but writing a column stands you out.  How did you get into writing a column? Was it accidental or deliberate and for certain purposes?

I’d always loved writing.  I’d always loved writing even as a child because I love reading.  I don’t get to read as much as I used to read, may be five seven years ago.  I hope I will get back into the swing of reading everything I can lay my hand on.  I’d always loved to read and I was exposed to reading early in life; I wanted to write like certain writers that I was addicted to.  I read my first Sidney Sheldon at the age of 16, by which time I’d finished virtually every James Hardly Chase, I’d exhausted the Pacesetter series. I just love the way words were put together and transported you into a different terrain; into a different world.  I wanted to write.  Journalism was what I went through because it was the opportunity to write; it opened the door for me to become a writer.  So, every time I got to express myself, I felt good.  Even now, it makes me feel so good. I feel good once I’ve conceived what I will write, and then when I drop my pen.  And when the reactions to what I’ve written start coming in, it makes me feel fulfilled.  Writing and journalism were just one and the same when it comes to the door for me to express myself.

Was writing your column accidental or a deliberate effort with the intention of achieving certain goals?

I would say writing a column was accidental.  I was just a fresh reporter in 1989 and I was contributing to the Women pages in addition to doing my regular stories in Prime People.  I was just alone in the house one day and I felt like writing something in a way that when you saw the headline, you were going to be attracted to it.  I can still remember the headline: “Wanna lose your man? Here’s how.” That was the headline.  I just sat on my bed in the house and wrote the opposite of what a woman should do to keep her man, instead of writing “This is how to keep your man”. I gave it to my Woman Editor, Tokunbo Francis.  She called me to her office and asked if I actually did that myself. I said yes, and I asked if she liked it.  She said it was wonderful. I found out that she had discussed it with somebody else, and my seniors in the newsroom. She asked if I could do such interesting writings regularly.  That was how I got to writing the column called Single Girl. That was my first column ever.  Because I was single, I tried to write the kind of things that single girls went through, the fun of being single girls, the challenges and all of that.  It was that “Wanna lose your man? Here’s how.” that led to the offer for me to use the platform to write Single Girl.  I wrote the column for about three years after which I got married. It was okay for me to stop it because people knew I was married and could no long use that name to write Single Girl.

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You obviously have a large readership.  What is the relationship between your readers as a result of your column, Intimate Affairs?

Plenty of relationships; it has opened doors of counseling; it has opened doors for arguments; it has given me the opportunity to reach out to a lot of people and lot of people to reach out to me.  And I must confess, it has opened doors of opportunities for me, because people ordinarily that I would not have access to would just call me out of the blue or send me a text out of the blue and say I like what you write, do you actually believe such things? Or they want to argue that I was wrong.

My first rejoinder as a columnist on Single Girl came from the United Kingdom.  I still remember vividly. The Prime People was big; it had a UK office. So, they sent my letter in from the UK.  It is not like now where you can send text messages etc.  There were no (mobile) phones then.  I kept the letter for a very long time before I later misplaced it. The column I write has created a small community of people who read Intimate Affairs; even in public offices. I’d met traditional rulers who would say, “Wao, this is you?!” I’d met very influential people, highly placed people, politicians, religious leaders who would just want to shake my hand simply because they had read me for years.  They just wanted to talk to me.  So, there’s a community of people that I have been able to build over the years and it keeps expanding. Now with the New Media, the community has become really big. Every day, I get people sending back what I wrote to me.  The one that has created the greatest readership in recent time, I think, is the one titled Women who shared their men.  A lot of people keep sending it back.  A Nigerian ambassador to one of the European countries sent one back to me. These are people you would think would only respond to political issues.  Relationship is about everybody.  Everybody is in one relationship or the other; the universe is about relationship – Son and daddy; daughter and mother; boyfriend and girlfriend; side chick, side man; man and many wives; husband and wife and all that.

From Single Girl to Intimate Affairs, did you set out to achieve anything? And if yes, have you achieved that goal?

I started just because I wanted to express myself because there was a way I felt and had always felt about men-women relationship.  I’d always had strong opinion about how a man should relate to a woman and how a woman should relate to herself and take responsibility for what happens.  In my teens, I’d always felt that it was an insult for a man to tell a woman he had slept with that he is not responsible for the pregnancy. I’d always felt that it was an insult and that no woman should take that insult, beg or plead for the man to accept that pregnancy.  It’s your body that is about to produce another human being and you should take responsibility for it.  I’d always said any man who refuses to take responsibility for a pregnancy lives to regret it.  I didn’t set out to achieve what eventually came to me.  I just wanted to express myself – those strong opinions, those strong views.  But as time went on, I found out that it’s just something that came naturally to me, that I could influence how people talk about themselves, that I could help shape women, their opinion, help knock men into realising the harm and the hurt they cause. Gradually, I became someone that people ask for advice and I just knew that the way I wrote was a gift.  I became a counsellor. Over time, people wanted to me to create a day for counselling when I was writing Intimate Affairs and Adams Apple in The Punch.  That also happened when I was in Daily Independent.  There were people calling me to come and consult, but I said I am a journalist and I don’t want to be a counsellor in that way. I don’t want to be anybody’s agony aunt. I did not set out to do all that, but I found out that I am good at it. I have cleared-eye when it comes to discussing relationships. I do not like people allowing relationships to take advantage of them; you should enjoy your relationships; you should not allow it to become a burden; you should not allow it to pressure you. It is something that should be beautiful irrespective of whatever relationship it is, whether between mother and daughter, in-laws and so on.  It should be beautiful. I enjoy being able to tell people the way it is and the way it should be.  But that was not what I set out to do.  It was just to express myself.

My Intimate Affairs community is full of very decent, highly cerebral people – people who are really mature in their views and expressions.  Once in a while, I get heavy knocks.

Have you been at any time misconstrued, for instance, to be chauvinistic? I’m asking because I saw a reaction to one of your write-ups recently where someone was saying, jokingly though, that “you want to dey teach our wives bad things, abi?”

(Laughs). I think that happens everyday with every piece.  There are people who are always up in arms when I write. Some say I must be a bad woman to write the way I do. Some people had said that that was why I could not find a husband.  They didn’t even know that as at the time they were saying it that I was married. You know people just say all kinds of things; they don’t even know you, they get angry because your views don’t just tally with theirs. I’m used to getting all kinds of feedback.  But I have found out that the average Nigerian is very mature when it comes to relationships. My Intimate Affairs community is full of very decent, highly cerebral people – people who are really mature in their views and expressions.  Once in a while, I get heavy knocks. But if you have been doing something since 1989, no knock now can create a dent.  I’d had people joke: Ah, you are a very bad girl; Funke, how did you come up with that?  Elderly people, men and women also call to say that is not the way it is.  “That relationship you wrote about shouldn’t have ended like that.” For instance, when I wrote about polygamy, because I’ve never been a polygamous person, my mother is my father’s only wife. So, when those who know me read when I wrote about polygamy, they called me and said, “this is how polygamy operates in the west, in the north” etc. So, I learn and we laugh about it.  It also helps me to do my own research.

*Concluding part to be published on Wednesday.

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