Tempo (Lagos)

Nigeria: Spice Girl

Don't let the headline fool you. Funlola Aofiyebi is more than what the other Spice Girls are. OLUMIDE IYANDA writes

Forget her role as Ese in Violated. Forget her as Kofoworola Baker in the hugely popular television soap, Palace. Funlola Aofiyebi is not some spoilt babe who just returned from abroad only to boss over some people. Yes, she has lived in England for seven years in real life. Yes, she played the role or roles of a "has been" in Violated and Palace convincingly, but 26-year-old Funlola needs to be seen beyond these roles in the two productions. This explains why she has not been seen in any other video or television production after Violated and Palace. Nigerian producers tend to typecast actors and she does not find that challenging. She believes that soon the girls will be separated from the women and the Nigerian moviedom will rise from its current uninspired state.

Currently, Funlola presents A Touch of Spice, an interactive radio programme on Star 101.5 FM in Lagos. For one hour (8-9) every Saturday night, listeners are regaled with a pot-pouri of well cooked home made entertainment. A segment of the programme is about throwing a poser where listeners can call in and respond to questions about everyday happenings. Trivia questions are asked which callers provide answers to. There is also interview of guests where Funlola asks probing questions from the guest.

The word Spice is very significant to Funlola. It signifies something that adds the finishing touches to a meal. In her own case, that meal can be a party, a mood or any other occasion. It represents a positive impact on people's lives. "Spice appeals to me because it is something that adds zest to life," she told TEMPOLife.

Although Funlola has always had the trademarks of a Spice Girl-sassy, confident, witty and a beauty that radiates from within-she did not adopt the name Spice until 1997 when she applied for a radio job. The station was Cool F.M., Lagos and she was part of the first batch of presenters that were trained to go on air. When asked to pick a radio name she promptly thought up Spice. While she never got to eventually present on Cool F.M., the experience she got during training inspired her. Cool F.M gave her a taste of radio broadcasting and the skills she acquired still serve her well.

Born on 24 November, 1974, Funlola is the last child of her parents. She grew up as one of the boys around her brothers and father. Her older sister travelled out of the country while she was still rather young and her mother is now in the after life. Primary education was at Maryland Convent School, while she started her secondary education at Maryland Comprehensive High School. She left after one year for a seven-year sojourn in England.

After finishing secondary school at Dick Shepherd School, Croydon, her folks thought it was wise for her to train as a doctor. This had always been their preference and it explains why she did science subjects in school. Her heart was, however, more in the humanities. To realise her dream, she worked and raised money to pay for her certificate course at Westminster College, West London. She returned to Nigeria in 1994.

With eyes on acting, presenting on television and radio and writing, Funlola soon settled down to the challenges the Nigerian entertainment industry presents. She started off modelling, appearing in calendars and commercials. The itch of modelling did not last long and it ceased to be challenging for her. Then one day, she went to visit her girl friend at the University of Lagos and that visit set her on the road to fame. She was expressing her disenchantment with modelling when one of the girls present suggested introducing her to someone presently working on a film production.

The person she was introduced to was award-winning director, Amaka Igwe and after serious auditioning she got her role as Ese in the acclaimed Violated. Ese was the overseas returnee wife of the character played by Richard Mofe-Damijo. From Violated, she moved to the theatre and appeared on the stage play, The Mansion written by Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi and directed by Bayo Awala. "Like joke, Like joke" her profile rose and her next role was that of which dreams are made. She landed the lead female role in Palace which incidentally was her first television appearance. In Nigeria, just as it is in other parts of the globe, the lead role in popular soap operas is a statement of an actor's talent and success. Names like Regina Askia, Ego Boyo, Clarion Chukwurah and Taiwo Ajai will always be remembered for their lead roles in Mega Fortunes, Checkmate, Mirror In The Sun and Winds Against My Soul respectively.

Palace which was directed by the dynamic duo of Tunji Bamishigbin and Ralph Nwadike remains one of the best things that came out of African Independent Television (AIT) before it faced its recent travails. While it remains to be seen what happens to Palace now that AIT is back, Funlola concentrates a lot of attention on her radio show. A Touch of Spice continues to win more instant fans, especially in the 15 to 35 age bracket. The challenges are tough but she gets by. Getting adverts is not easy but she has managed to secure some.

Her latest challenge is presenting New Dawn On Ten, a breakfast programme on NTA Channel 10 Lagos made popular by Funmi Iyanda. Funlola comes on board in April and she hopes to bring all her natural humour and wits with her. She admits that the programme represents a big shoe for her and she will strive to fill it successfully.

Her choice as a presenter for the programme is borne out of her quick wit and a universal knowledge of issues. As a young person herself, she hopes to appeal to more youths in the tradition already synonymous with the programme. Naturally, she can grab the attention of older persons as well. New Dawn On Ten represents the fulfilment of yet another dream. That is, that of presenting a programme on television.

With all her career dreams coming to fruition, Funlola continues to add just the right amount of spice to people's lives. Unlike the world famous Spice Girls, she does not need an exposed midriff or acts that can pass as soft porn to be a star. The final year sociology student of the University of Lagos knows she is good at what she does. If she really gets lucky, Funlola might add her dream of writing to her achievements very soon. And there's always the chance of a good movie script and director coming along soon.

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