Let me start first by saying that I am humbled by the popularity of this column, only six weeks after it made its debut. I am told, and this has been verified by random Google search, that this column has been culled and appropriated by practically every social media platform including leading bloggers all over the world.
One of such bloggers called me, to say she has been eagerly awaiting my column every Sunday, and updates on my blog, EkereteUdoh.com, so she would be the first to post my stories. I must say that I am flattered.
Last week, I published on this page, excerpts of an interview that Omotola Jalade Ekeinde granted my New York-based newspaper, The Diasporan Star, in December 2009, and also on my blog. The interview, though done some years ago, was still relevant. (the kind of interviews that have no time-limit or currency). The story has become a hit on social media and some other newspapers here. The popular blogger, BellaNaija, culled the story, and a day after, Omotola, through the same BellaNaija, denied ever granting the interview to Sunday Vanguard. She, however, did not deny that the said interview did take place and that some other excerpts of the same interview were published in The Diaspora Star, which she had read when it was first published.
Since her denial, there has been a feeding frenzy on the social media, with some misguided fellows thinking that the interview did not take place and I am offended by this. The notion that I, Ekerete Udoh, one of the pioneers of this genre of journalism in Nigeria, a man who God has used to promote and project Nigerian pop culture and its practitioners both in Nigeria and in the Diaspora, would publish an interview that was not properly conducted is, to say the least, stupid, puerile and utterly objectionable and I AM MAD AS HELL!
Let me, for the records, state that the said interview took place in Omotola’s HOLIDAY INN, hotel room in Yonkers, New York. Since 2008, I have been the publisher of The Diasporan Star newspaper, easily and without sounding immodest, the most popular newspaper that projects and promotes Nigerian, nay African, pop culture, politics and our way of life in the United States. The newspaper, to the glory of God, has grown in stature and reviewed by such newspapers as The New York Daily News, Post, among others.
In 2010, when the Queen of Daytime Television, Oprah Winfrey, did a segment on her show on Nollywood and Bollywood, and wanted background information on Nollywood and its stars, it was my newspaper – The Diasporan Star – that she turned to. Her production outfit, HARPO, contacted us, and we provided the background information she used in the segment where Genevieve Nnaji was called ‘The Julia Roberts of Africa.’
Because of the impact my newspaper has made in the United States, I was honored by the New York State Senate in 2012 for ‘Outstanding Community Service’, an event where CNN’s Anderson Cooper was also honoured. I have been invited to address students on African pop culture and politics at many institutions in the United States among them the New School of Social Research in New York City, a top school that has as its president, the former Nebraska senator and former Democratic Party presidential aspirant, Bob Kerry.
My newspaper has been media partners to a number of campaigns in the U.S, including the Obama/Biden Campaign Organisation, where we canvassed support for the African-Diaspora community for the ticket. Ours, therefore, has been a credible medium, and I hold, very dearly, my over 20 years of storied journalism career.
Now, this is the fact of the story. I first met Omotola in 2008 or thereabout, when her then manager – Jim Bass – asked me to help promote her in North America. Omotola had a musical performance at Lehman College, the Bronx, as part of an event that was put together by former beauty queen and Nollywood actress, Regina Askia. Because I was her big fan and was proud of what she was doing, I agreed to help promote her in the media. Since then, Omotola and I struck a very professional relationship.
In 2009, during another of her visits to New York for the premier of an HIV/AIDS movie produced by Nollywood actress and producer, Chisom, I helped alongside her then manager, Bass, to organise a meet-and-greet session for her at the popular Nigerian watering hole – Tropical Grill, a restaurant and lounge – located about ten minutes away from JFK Airport, and has played host to many prominent Nigerians including former President Obasanjo. My friend, Ms. Bola Jawo, the owner of that restaurant, agreed to give us the hall free, to host Omotola. Jawo can authenticate this.
At the event, Omotola was so impressed by the huge turnout of fans and our friendship deepened. It was at that event that I asked her for an interview that was going to be different – where emphasis was going to be placed on her private life, her marriage and other angles that the media had not explored. She told me exultantly, “Thank God, this is going to be different form all those generic questionnaires I have been used to, from Nigerian journalists”.
The next day, in the company of my two daughters, Ekaete Bukola and Uduak Temitope Udoh, respectively, (my daughters, Ekaete, who has already graduated from college and will be starting her law school in the spring 2015, and Uduak, who is a freshman in college, are Omotola’s fans and had told me they will not forgive me if I didn’t take them along to see their idol). I drove to Yonkers – a distance of about 30 minutes from New York City – and the said interview took place right there in her room at the Holiday Inn. It was a meeting of two friends and I remember her even jokingly telling me not to take pictures because she just woke up and “looked a mess”. We all laughed and told her she was as beautiful as ever.
Since then, I have done other stories on Omotola and she has regularly sought my help to tamp down negative situations that arose about her.
When in 2011, a picture surfaced on the internet showing a man with his hands firmly grabbing her butt, and it sparked a media frenzy on the state of her marriage, with most accusing her of cheating on her husband, it was me and my news paper, that she ran to, to help debunk that story. Not only did she grant me an interview, she also made me speak with her husband, who had stoutly defended her. That interview finally put a lid on that brewing mess and it is all over the social media. I reproduce below, that interview and her confirmation of the initial 2009 interview that she purportedly denied was ever granted. The Diasporan Star edition of May 2011 reported the story.
“In our last edition, we did a cover story which was titled, `Omotola in the eye of the storm! Husband angry over butt-grabbing photo at the Grammys…Why she apologized.’
The story centered around the rumors then spreading all over the world about the state of marriage of Omotola – by far, one of the most visible and popular stars in the Nollywood firmament – following a butt-grabbing incident by her escort at the 2011 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, an event that had Omotola, as the first Nollywood star to ever walk the Red Carpet at the star-studded event.
The picture had elicited wild rumors and innuendoes – with some speculating that her relationship with the guy, whose hands was on her backside, had more to it than meets the eye.
Some had openly stated she was playing games with her marital vows.
We had reported in the same article our inability to get Omotola to state her own side of the story, since she was shooting a movie in Ghana. We had, however, relied on close sources to piece together our facts which provided the background to our story.
A few days after the story hit the newsstands, I received a call from Omotola, who expressed the desire to finally speak on the issue. “I am now going to use this platform to put this issue to rest once and for all”, she said.
Omotola went on to add: “People have insinuated all kinds of things and read numerous meaning to what was nothing but an innocuous picture taken of me and a member of my new management team at the Grammys. The picture was an innocent one, signifying nothing.
“I have been married to my husband for 15 years now, and I say this loud and clear that I have never cheated on him, and would never do so ever! Remember I said in an interview I granted you in 2009, that yes, I have been tempted numerous times to violate my marital vows, but I have always resisted the temptation to do anything that would bring dishonor to my marriage and my children.
If I told you – as a popular actress – that we have not been tempted, I would be lying to you. But should one sacrifice all what one has built, nurtured and worked hard to establish just because you want to indulge in some ill-motivated affair? No. I don’t believe in that. I count myself blessed to have married a perfect gentleman, a man who has supported me throughout my years in the industry, and is still there, as a rock of Gibraltar. My husband is a rare find, and no amount of temptation will ever make me cheat on him.
“So the notion or the rumor that my haters and nay-sayers have spread to the effect that the guy at the Grammys was my boyfriend, is ludicrous, to say the least! If I wanted to cheat on my husband, would I do that in the open? Would I advertise my boyfriend for everyone to see and at such a public function? Just analyze that logically – would that be a commonsensical thing to do?
“This rumor is really a sick one and I’m offended. My husband is my soul-mate and I will never soil or put that trust in jeopardy – no matter what and the extent of the temptation. It is not worth it.” (At this point, she handed the phone to her husband).
My wife is no flirt – Husband
It was obvious from the manner Mr. Ekeinde, pilot, sounded, that he was pained and frustrated by all the unfounded rumours about his wife’s glorious outing at the Grammys
“My brother, I am very proud of my wife’s accomplishments and I join other well wishers and millions of her fans to toast her success. I’m a little surprised that instead of Nigerians celebrating her appearance at the Grammys and her being the first Nollywood star to walk the red carpet, they are busy spreading tales and rumours that do not exist”’, he said.
“Truth be told, I was not angry with my wife when I saw the picture. Why should I be? I know who I married, how self-respecting she is and also the nature of her industry. She is an actress for God’s sake, and it is not out of place for actresses to appear in scenes that may look a little out of place for a married person.
‘’The key thing is that my wife respects her marital status, and in our 15-year-marriage, she has been the best woman any man could aspire to have. In spite of her stardom, at home, she is my wife. She cooks for me, takes care of the home and, above all, is a great mother to our lovely children.
“I sincerely would implore her fans not to buy into rumours and speculations about her marital life, because I, the husband, the one that is lucky to have her as my wife, am so proud of her and I continue to thank God for bringing her into my life. I could never have asked for a better wife than her.”
Now, let me address the point she made that she did not grant an interview to Sunday Vanguard. About six weeks ago, I became a columnist in this newspaper.
And since one of the planks of this column rests on popular culture, I have been publishing AUTHENTIC AND CREDIBLE interviews that I have had with leading personalities over the years. There is no ethical kerfuffle involved with this practice. A writer or journalist who did an interview with a given subject can use same interview in any other credible media platform of his choosing, as long as the said INTERVIEW WAS PROPERLY CONDUCTED AND THE STORY IS REPORTED ACCURATELY.
That was what I did, with the Omotola story. She granted me an interview, and I am now a columnist with Sunday Vanguard, a very credible and easily one of the leading mainstream newspapers in Nigeria, and I decided to use the story, with my byline boldly displayed, which should suffice. Her story is not the first I had done along this line, which, I may add, is a universally adopted practice by journalists all over the world. Journalists are free to syndicate their stories in whatever medium or platform they deem fit.
For three weeks, I ran an interview I did with Her Excellency, Mrs. Bianca Ojukwu, the beautiful and erudite Nigerian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Spain last year in her home, in Enugu. When I did the interview, I was not yet a columnist with Sunday Vanguard, but I exercised my editorial judgment and used it to flag off this column.
Call from Bianca
When the interview ran in Sunday Vanguard, Her Excellency, Mrs. Bianca Ojukwu, had called me, while I was on a quick trip to South Beach, Miami, Florida, about three weeks ago, to commend me on the interview and even told me she couldn’t get a copy of Sunday Vanguard in the entire eastern states because the paper sold out. She called me from New York where she had gone for a socio-cultural event and I told her that I was now doing a column in Sunday Vanguard and she wished me well.
Mrs. Ojukwu did not deny the interview on the account that the said interview was not meant to have been published in this paper; she knew that the interview had the full complement of my integrity and professional bonafides, and was happy for me. In the weeks to come, I will use other exclusive interviews I did with other popular figures in our politics and pop culture worlds on these pages.
Omotola my friend
Omotola is my friend and even at this very strange moment of our friendship, I will still count her as a good friend. She has been a great ambassador of our arts and a role model for millions of women and I will not excoriate or eviscerate her, even though I am so massively tempted to get REAL ANGRY and to use the American street slang “wild-out” but I will hold my fire for NOW.
I count myself as one of the standard bearers of this genre of journalism and thus, acutely aware of ethical issues and concerns. I was trained at City University of New York, Queens College Department of Journalism by the same faculty members who taught students at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and my late Head of Journalism Department, Professor Judith Serrin, whose book: Muck-raking: The Journalism that Changed America” is used by almost all journalism schools in the United States, was a former Professor at the Columbia School of Journalism. Another professor who taught me broadcast media – Professor Solomon was the long time producer of CNN’s Larry King live.
I have been hosted by New York’ Times Ombudsman at New York Times 43 Street, Manhattan office, and have been regularly invited by CUNY Graduate School of journalism to speak on the impact of ethnic media in America. So I take ethics and professional conduct very seriously. I have preached this to all the reporters and journalists who have passed through my tutelage and I will continue to hold aloft the ideals, values, ethos and ethics of our profession.
Let me also add here that not only do I hold a bachelors degree in journalism, I also hold bachelors and masters degrees in political science, where I was the Best Overall Graduating student of my class of 2006, International Relations at the Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. Brooklyn College produced some of the leading lights in various areas of the Nigerian professional fields, among them, the late loadstar of Nigerian journalism – Dele Giwa, former Ogun State Commissioner for Information, Taiwo Alimi, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi among others.
I have an acute sense of right and wrong and have mentored hundreds of journalists who today, are publishers, editors, top op-ed writers, commissioners of information, special advisers and corporate affairs heads of several agencies. I will continue to do this, as long as the good Lord gives me the strength to do so!