By Agatha Emeadi
Toyosi Etim-Effiong, an entertainment personality, is the product of two far-apart cultures – schooling with children from affluent Victoria Island homes in Lagos during the week and residing in the poor Ajegunle area of the metropolis at the weekend. But she grew up and learnt to embrace the part of her growing up, which would have caused her embarrassment and ended up being formed into the successful person she is today. Her experience was recently captured in a book. Being a Yoruba female celebrity married to a popular South- south actor and film maker remains another climax which has admirably learnt how to roll with and keep her marriage on an even keel. In this interview, she shares some beneficial insight on sustaining entertainment industry marriage in the face of high divorce rate
How do you feel being an author, a dream you fulfilled at last?
My greatest joy is this book that I have written. I decided to write it during the COVID-19 lockdown because I realized I had time on my hands and therefore visited my old hobbies. During the lockdown, there was no early morning rush to catch up with meetings and appointments. Everything almost stood still and I decided to go into the things that I liked, and one of them was writing. I have always been a writer. I contributed to Bella Naija, I have written for Genevieve magazine, had a blog and even started a website at some point. So, writing has always been a hobby for me. Initially, when I started to write, I in- scribed things that happen to me. My first work that drew public attention was ‘Lekki Chronicle’ where I wrote about finding myself in the same neighbourhood with brothel people without my knowledge. One day, I heard one of them say, ‘You took my white man.’ I quickly put a call through to the agent that got me the apartment to find out what was happening. The agent obviously did not know about it, I took it to social media where people were interested in knowing more. The second book I titled, “Now you know me better,” which is about my growing up in a dual situation. It happened that we lived in Bode Thomas and during the week I will go to school in Victoria Island where my rich friends, whose parents were ambassadors, captains of industry and bigwigs at a time. Then during the weekends, I usually spent it with my grandmother at Amukoko, Orile near the Ajegunle axis. It was a tale of two far-apart cultural communities. Within the week, I am with the class of people talking about Ikoyi Club, Burgers, holidaying in London, visiting the Disney World etc. while the weekend was the time to hear stuff like Baba-Fry and Daddy Showkey’s new songs etc. I didn’t fit into the Amukoko neighbourhood and didn’t also fit into the Victoria Island very well. I normally came to school with funny hair styles that my grandma would have made for me, while my classmates would come with decent weaving etc. It was a struggle to fit into the two neighborhoods. Some time ago, I had a conversation with someone who told me that I am well rounded, and I began to think positively about my two far-end journeys because I can comfortably fit into the two classes. Now, that part of my growing up that almost embarrassed and caused me shame is partly what has formed me today. I started to embrace my story and my two rich cultural backgrounds. It was through my grandma that I learnt how to speak Yoruba since she could not speak English. If I was hungry and could not express it in Yoruba, there was no food for me. Grand Ma’s church held services in Yoruba. Therefore I had to learn all the creeds in Yoruba. I eventually realized that was what shaped me. In a society where everyone tries to live without a story is causing a lot of identity crisis. People have not aligned with who and what they are. Most people pretend about who they are not, and that was the reason I decided to share my story, to show that there should be no shame in any experience while growing up. My message to all is that we should em- brace and share the different stories that formed us. That is basically the major storyline in the book including other incidents. Again, I am married to an actor and film maker, Etim Effiong, whose popularity in the last six to seven months soared. I also talked about the women which I titled, ‘So you want to marry a celebrity.’ I tried to capture all that happens in celebrities’ world and marriage.
What has it been like being married to a celebrity?
It has been very interesting because when we got married in 2017, he wasn’t as popular as he is today. I also call it the grace of God because rising in one’s profession shows good deed.
How did you meet you?
We met on the set for the first time, but prior to that meeting, we had chatted on social media and I had seen him in videos.
Was it love at first chat?
I was like I am seeing the love.
How do you cope as the wife of a rising celebrity with the girls out there?
Well, I told myself the truth because he was an actor before we got married. I know such profession attracts friends, both men and women, but the key thing is the focus for both of us. There was a Slay Women’s Festival where he was one of the lead characters of the Men Club. When they came into the hall, I saw many girls screaming around him. When they finished their panel and were about to leave, people rushed at them; security personnel had to take them to a cordoned off place.
Again, when we go out together, people would come to take pictures with him. Some of the pictures are suggestive, I am completely ignored. The one that stood out for me was when I was pregnant; the doctor, my husband and I were in the consulting room for the ultrasound scan and someone knocked on the door as if there was an emergency. I was still lying on the bed and the knock was so persistent. When the doctor opened the door, a girl walked in and said to my husband, ‘I knew it was you.’ I had not even finished dressing up and the intrusive lady turned out to be a staff of the hospital. It was that terrible.
In all these experiences, do you think, it was a mistake marrying him?
No, not at all! I knew he was an actor before I got married to him. So, it did not get me by surprise. I was also in the limelight; I had a talkshow and was good on my own. Insecurity almost started when things took off, brands now reach out to my husband for endorsements. The major thing is that I am also in the industry, and nobody is seeing me. I honestly had to think about it personally because it breaks marriages. Again, to think that the rate of divorce in the industry is higher than the regular people which comes from the insecurity the wives face, the loneliness, off and on set. There are days he would not sleep at home because of the job and they are lodged in a hotel. Some women can- not cope with that because they think, they cannot cope, but actually, one can cope. Before I had the baby, I could quickly dash out to join him at the set, but now that we have a child, will I be carrying a baby and driving all over town because I want to be with my husband. So, I had to deal with personal demons as I call them and also under- stood that we are one, his success is mine and vice versa.
How do you feel seeing your husband hug and kiss ladies on set?
I accept his job description. There are days that I have to leave because actresses become uncomfortable when
I am there with them because they cannot act well in my presence. In fact, there was a day, the moment I left, I heard the entire room shout heeey! and they screamed action. So, I am respectful of the crowd and act, it also brings joy to various homes as they watch the movies. In the early days of our marriage, when he kissed on stage, I usually asked him, ‘Did you feel anything while kissing that girl?’ and he would say, ‘No.’ It is the job and I accept it.
How have you coped as a busy young wife, writer and mother?
My saving grace is an amazing support system which is key. I am blessed with such support because it took away a big chunk of responsibilities and stress from me. After I had written this book, I was like what is the major intention for me which is for people to read and embrace their own story. It is a book on self-identity, this is who I am. I may not have rich parents, all the money in the world, maybe behind studies, not married, but this is who I am and this is my story. People do not embrace them-selves but look at other people to tailor their own lives. People take pictures from exquisite corners and send out on social media to attract attention. If one’s position on the ladder for now is to eat from Amala Shitta, and fill the stomach, please do it. When it is time to move to an upscale restaurant to have lunch, yes, we move. It is not good to eat into one’s future when one is not there yet. To my fellow youths going through the identity crisis, I want you to be yourselves.