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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

''How NTA Cancelled My Live Show For Interviewing A Gay Man'' - Funmi Iyanda

Funmi Iyanda was Nigeria’s top TV host before she put a gay man on air and lost her live breakfast show, New Dawn. She has decided to share her story of how she was victimized for interviewing a gay Nigerian man, Bisi Alimi, on New Dawn, in 2004.
Bisi Alimi eventually left Nigeria after the TV show and was granted asylum in the UK.
Read Funmi's full story after the cut...

It’s a good thing my meddling mum took Musibau off his alcoholic dad just before that wretch of a father was sent to jail for raping a minor. My mother went missing a year later so I never saw Musibau again but that’s another story.

He was 15 but he looked 12, l was seven but l looked 10. People generally looked weird in my neighbourhood, but nobody thought anyone one weird – odd maybe but life was odd wasn’t it?

Musibau was the first to run into Miss John who spoke Queen’s English and walked like a girl. Everybody called him Miss John, I have no idea why. But we were interested in him because we needed to walk through his garden to climb into Baba Olugbo’s compound for the agbalumo tree.

Nobody dared walked through Baba Olugbo’s compound to get to that tree. He was a wealthy molue bus entrepreneur with seven wives, a distended, shirtless stomach, marijuana thickened growl and a fast horsewhip for clueless kids.

I had four older sisters and two younger brothers but I felt closest to Musibau perhaps because we had a shared tendency to get into trouble and a common dislike of Nureni. Nureni was crippled by childhood polio and so dragged himself around on his muscular torso except when he went to school wearing his leg braces and crutches, which made him vulnerable.

We did not like Nureni; he had a caustic tongue, a reptilian ability to wrestle you down then strangle you and was genius at maths. He was faster moving dragging himself than he was on his crutches. He hated those crutches but he really liked Mulika.

Mulika was one of the two daughters of Alhaji Abara whose two wives wore hijabs so you couldn’t tell one from the other. I of course could; Mulika’s mother was the one with the two Pelé on her cheeks, right above her haughty cheekbones. A stunning woman. I knew because I saw them in the women’s quarters every time I went to play with Mulika, who had inherited her mother’s looks.

We all loved Alhaji Abara because he had the best spread for breaking fasts at Ramadan. It didn’t matter whether you were Christian, Animist or Muslim. You could come break the fast on divine akara, even if you didn’t fast. He used to say only Allah sees the good heart. We all attended Koran classes because it was fun and then went to church on Sunday because of the music and dancing.

My mother didn’t mind us going to church and Koran classes, in fact she supplemented all that with occasional visits to seers and herbalists who read our signs and cleansed our aura. Everyone did that, even that nasty priggish Catholic Mama Uche who acted like she was the pope’s first cousin.

Miss John always pretended not to see us sneaking through his garden and jumping over Baba Olugbo’s fence to pluck some agbalumo. A few times, Baba Olugbo would see us and come running belly first, whip flaying but we always out ran him, Nureni in front and Mulika, scarf flapping, at the back.

We never got caught until the day Nureni came on those damn crutches that made him slow. Baba Olugbo caught Mulika by her scarf and I tripped over Nureni’s crutches.

We knew we were in hot soup because once Baba Olugbo finished whipping us, he’d hand us over to our respective parents each of whom would apply equal supplementary punishment. That meant my tough mother’s hour-long frog jumps, Alhaji’s half day Koran writing and Nureni’s aunty’s numbing, monotonous curses.

We didn’t mind the whipping so much, a few lashes, a couple of pain killers and we’d be back trying to get more agbalumo’s off that tree. Once you’ve been whipped, you don’t get whipped again on the same day for the same offence – even the adults had some sense.

So it was I laid on my back staring at Baba Olugbo’s protruding belly button, Nureni’s fast breathing in my ear, dreading the inevitable – when suddenly Miss John walked up.

Perhaps it was his Queen’s English or our lucky day but he gently took the whip off Baba Olugbo’s clenched wrist and laughingly told him he had asked us to get some of the ripe agablumo for him seeing as it was abundant.

Baba Olugbo did not want to look like a mingy old fart; he was after all a rich man with political ambition. He grudgingly let us go, and I swore to Nureni and Musibau later that I saw Miss John wink out of a kohl-lined eye.

I remembered this story recently when I was asked why I, as a straight celebrity, a word I dislike, I support Bisi Alimi and LGBT rights.

Nigeria of today seems completely homophobic, xenophobic and religiously polarized as though that is the way we always were.

This would be an incomplete narrative. The way we are today is a result of the political and economic breakdown of our country, a topic for another day. However the ensuing widening income gaps, extreme poverty, illiteracy and crime has encouraged distrust and exclusion at every level.

My sense of justice, fairness and rationality supersede any latent sense of social propriety. Gay rights, civil rights, religious rights, gender rights, child rights are human rights. Justice, equity and fairness are my idea of morality.

I was a little girl who grew up in the same neighbourhood as gay Miss John, Muslim cleric Alhaji Abara, disabled Nureni, Mulika in her headscarves and pious Catholic Igbo Mama Uche.

I saw differences in ethnicity; religion, gender, class and sexuality but these differences did not carry judgement. We lived together mostly harmoniously; any lack of harmony was on account of individual bad behaviour not genetic differences or lifestyle choices.

I miss that Nigeria. I guess in a way l still live in that Nigeria in my head.

And that was why in 2004 I risked my career to put Bisi on my sofa and conduct Nigeria’s first interview of an openly gay man on national television.

Bisi and I did pay a hefty price for that action, he more than myself.

Was it worth it? I’m afraid l have never had the luxury of absolute self-congratulations or flagellation. What I do know is, at that moment, it felt right. And every moment since then, it has felt right.

I do what feels right by a conscience conditioned by my justice-minded, meddling mother, a childhood experiencing the beauty of diversity and a belief in our common humanity.

Perhaps the childhood I speak about was a dream. If that is the case then that dream is my vision of the future to come for Nigeria.
Funmi Iyanda is award-winning broadcaster, journalist, columnist and blogger. She produced and hosted Nigeria’s most popular and authoritative talk show New Dawn with Funmi, which aired on the national network for over eight years.

She is the CEO of Ignite Media, a content-driven media organization operating out of Lagos. In 2011, she was honoured as a Young Global Leader (YGL) by the World Economic Forum and was recently named one of Forbes 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa.

Iyanda has just hosted an event co-organized by Alimi and backed by GSN called Rainbow Intersection which looked at the complex relationships between race, religion and sexuality in Britain.

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