Genevieve, Betty Irabor and “AIDS PEOPLE”

Publishers of glossy magazines should be careful what tales they tell. But no one seems to have warned Betty Irabor, Editor-in-Chief of leading women’s magazine, Genevieve.

Irabor has been telling careless tales. To quote the lady herself, the ill-advised non-story she tells in the June issue of her magazine is one “brow beaten” tale. A big to-do about plucked eyebrows and a mix-up over a razor whose unwrapping she did not witness. Recalling the thoughtless paranoia she whipped up at a photo session months before, Irabor revealed herself to be a hysterical drama queen. And it wasn’t edifying.

Much ado about a pair of eyebrows, perhaps. And if eyebrows were the only things at stake, we could leave preening socialite-publishers to their fickle ways. They can continue to mingle in exclusive social circles, air-kissing with mutually appreciative society ‘darlings’; doing lunch; doing their hair and nails endlessly; and wearing criminally expensive clothes. For good measure, they can throw lavish parties for charity, to reassure themselves that their existence is not without purpose.

But this is not about eyebrows; it is about HIV/AIDS ignorance on a grand scale. And so we cannot look away, neither can we keep silent.

Genevieve Magazine is an influential publication for women who want to be in the know. A Nigerian ‘Essence’, ‘Vogue’ and ‘Marie Claire’ rolled into one. It enjoys a massive following, telling aspirational women how to look, what to wear, how to walk, how to design their homes, where to be seen, and who to look up to. Genevieve sells a lifestyle, albeit one beyond the reach of most of its readers. You have to be of a certain social cachet, with trailer-loads of cash, to be like the women in Genevieve. One may therefore call Betty Irabor a peddler of dreams. Dreams that thousands of women are happy to dream. If they cannot be like rich, connected women or beautiful models, they can at least feel good – flipping through the glossy pages. This kind of influence comes with a huge social responsibility, and Irabor is found wanting.

Whether or not one cares for elitist company or extravagant colour-coded parties, there are reasons to like Genevieve. For a start, it is a glowing example of successful Nigerian entrepreneurial flair. After the June edition however, readers may question their devotion to Genevieve and its ubiquitous publisher.

Irabor’s magazine did what she called “a first” for its March issue. Instead of models or society belles, Genevieve had as its cover-girl a woman living with HIV/AIDS. The HIV-Positive Yinka Jegede-Ekpe, one of Nigeria’s leading AIDS activists, graced the cover with her HIV-Negative baby. An edition that many readers swear is their favourite issue ever. Jegede-Ekpe looked beautiful, holding her miracle baby. It was a major leap in women’s magazine publishing in Nigeria. On the one hand, the March issue celebrated a woman who fought against unspeakable odds and came out smiling; on the other, it dealt a blow to society’s stigmatisation of people living with HIV. An important move by Genevieve, one for which it should rightly have been proud.

Alas, with her massive AIDS goof in the June edition, not only has Betty Irabor undone the good work of the March cover, her sincerity is called to question. For how could someone have an HIV-Positive mother on the cover of her fashion magazine and still harbour the kind of intolerance displayed by Irabor? One may conclude that the March cover idea never emanated from a profound place. The kudos and goodwill garnered so far by Genevieve – and its reputation – are under threat. And Irabor has only herself to blame.

So, what exactly did she say in the June editorial to bring about this state of affairs? It is a tale of extreme vanity, in which the publisher discloses that she arrived “deliberately late” for the March cover’s photo session (Yinka Jegede-Ekpe was being photographed; the need to avoid prolonged contact, may explain the “deliberate” lateness). We are told Irabor ate “boli and epa” – perhaps to show that she is a simple, down-to-earth person. Sadly, what follows only demonstrates how out of touch with everyday reality she is.

Irabor asked the make-up artist to work her brows, though she is at pains to point out that they were not overgrown. The assistant handed a razor to her “madam” – the make-up artist. Soon after, Irabor convinced herself that they used the same razor for her and Jegede-Ekpe – and caused a scene. This, despite the make-up duo’s assurances that they used a fresh razor. In Irabor’s own words, both these people were “bewildered” by her display. People get sued for workplace harassment in America for less.

And where is all this leading? Irabor refused to believe that she had not been infected with HIV and even paraded her ignorance by confiding that she was going for an immediate AIDS test (note: HIV can only be detected three months after exposure to the virus). Then, having disclosed Jegede-Ekpe’s HIV status to her listeners (not that the activist was hiding the fact), Irabor continued to hyperventilate. Hear her: “Suddenly, images of my life as one of those ‘AIDS PEOPLE’ flashed before me. Oh God. No! How could I have been so careless… especially after all the education I got from interviewing Yinka Jegede-Ekpe a few weeks earlier?”

One would laugh at this point, if it were not so offensive. What exactly did Irabor mean by those AIDS PEOPLE? The capitals are hers. What did she mean? Are people living with HIV Untouchables? Are they Aliens? After reading this supreme folly of an editorial, I looked through two recent issues of Genevieve. Page after page, pictures and profiles of socialites trying their hardest to be acknowledged as trend setters. People with money; some with class and frankly, some without. Some with debauched, questionable lifestyles – and some whose sense of style leaves much to be desired. All held up on a pedestal. And Betty Irabor is their doyenne because she gives them visibility. But wait, I necessarily reminded myself: any one of these glamorous people could be HIV-Positive. So why should Irabor think that she can only be infected by those who, like Jegede-Ekpe, have the courage to reveal their status?

I didn’t laugh, but I did shake my head when I read about the “education” she supposedly got from her March cover-girl. No doubt there was education, but clearly, Irabor imbibed little of it. Yinka Jegede-Ekpe is truly an inspirational person. Diagnosed at the age of 19, she went against the norm and ‘came out’ about her status. Since then, she has worked tirelessly to raise AIDS awareness in Nigeria, and no doubt has suffered untold discrimination and stigma in the process. Now 29, Jegede-Ekpe heads the Nigerian Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS; and won the 2004 Reebok Human Rights Award for her advocacy on behalf of AIDS sufferers.

The Genevieve cover is a tiny honour in the face of all that this young lady has achieved. If they put her on the cover of TIME Magazine or Vogue, it would not be asking too much. The idea that this fighter, this survivor – could be treated like a leper, stigmatised all over again by the publisher of a fashion magazine – is deeply offensive.

There’s more from the photo session. Betty Irabor stopped by the room where Jegede-Ekpe was being made up and managed to raise the subject of eyebrows yet again. Finally, reassured that the activist had shaped her brows from home, Irabor flashed a “saccharin sweet” smile – one of her “most disarming” – at Jegede-Ekpe. To put it plainly, Irabor was fake and superficial. And with an astonishing lack of self-awareness, she nailed herself in writing!

She ends the piece, titled “C’est la vie!” with “There goes I (sic), but for His grace!” Now one may ask, what was the point of Irabor’s editorial? There was no social import to speak of; no self-awareness as previously noted; no irony; no lesson imparted; no reflection. The pointlessness of it. Through the writing, editing and eventual publication, no one alerted the “madam” (note Irabor’s insistence on class distinctions, with the repeated use of words like “madam”) to the potential offence.

Worst of all, she displayed an appalling insensitivity to the feelings of the woman ‘honoured’ on the cover of her March issue. “If only she knew what had gone down,” Irabor wrote of Jegede-Ekpe. Well, she knows now. The activist fought the stigma of Nigerian society for years and triumphed, only to be stigmatised all over again on the pages of Genevieve. When Irabor screamed her horror at the prospect of becoming one of “those AIDS PEOPLE”, who did she assume her readers to be? Did it occur to her that some of those readers might be living with HIV? How then were they supposed to feel?

We are discussing this now, only because Irabor’s huge faux pas led to a furore on the Internet. And this controversy is a testament to the power of internet blogs as a new, unfettered voice in society. The Genevieve AIDS offence was first highlighted on Jeremy Weate’s popular “Naijablog” where reader after reader showed better sense – and better AIDS awareness – than the “enlightened” and “civilised” Betty Irabor. By the time this writer heard of the matter, it had spread to other blogs. The controversy rolled on to a Nigerian website eventually, where it generated pages of angry reactions. All the while, traditional Nigerian media was either silent or unaware. Irabor had a public relations disaster on her hands, thanks to the blogs, and had no choice but to mount a damage limitation exercise.

The Genevieve founder’s half-hearted apologies and explanations fall short, and show that she does not really appreciate the gravity of the offence caused. Her first ‘apology’ included this flippant line: “But like the title says, C’est la vie. That’s life.” There is almost no need to say more. When the outrage refused to quieten, Genevieve released a statement, in which Betty Irabor blamed her editorial on a “production mix-up”. She added: “I wrote the article to illuminate this issue and it ended up having the opposite effect because of an editorial slip.”

But the Genevieve editorial illuminated nothing. And it is insulting to pass the buck in this manner. It simply doesn’t wash. As Jeremy Weate noted, the statement “throws more darkness than light on the whole saga. There is a world of difference between a ‘production mix-up and an ‘editorial slip.” Irabor has not claimed that she did not write the editorial, neither does she blame it on sabotage. They were her words. She stood by them proudly, until readers voiced their objections.

Irabor says she has apologised to Yinka Jegede-Ekpe and the latter accepted. However, this does not prevent readers, patrons and advertisers reprimanding Genevieve in the strongest terms, to make the important point that we will not stand for this kind of thing. If this were Europe or America, advertisers would have boycotted the magazine; the owners’ pocket would have been hit where it hurts. They would be forced to apologise in full and make amends.

Betty Irabor (pix: TY Bello)

Betty Irabor is lucky that Nigeria is an apathetical society, but she is mistaken if she thinks her magazine can ride this storm without significant restitution. Vocal voices on the blogs have demanded full contrition in the form of an unreserved apology to people living with HIV in Nigeria. They have requested a full feature in Genevieve, aimed at “dispelling the myths of HIV and promoting a loving/caring attitude” to people living with the virus. For good measure, they want an article about alternative eyebrow sculpting methods. Personally, I’d rather have bushy eyebrows than irresponsible HIV attitudes on the pages of a trendy magazine.

And let our elites take note, about the new power of blogs to critique society. As the proverb goes: “If the king of the world does not catch you; the one in heaven is watching.” If you behave in an unacceptable manner, the blogs do not care who you are or who you party with; they will come for you.

The heroine of this saga is Yinka Jegede-Ekpe, and one can only imagine what she is going through right now; but hopefully the outpouring of public support will go some way to ease any hurt she might feel.

There is nothing worse in the fashion industry than to be outdated, and there’s nothing more so than AIDS ignorance in these times, by educated people who should know better. In fashion-speak, the Genevieve editorial was not only passé, it was ‘so last century’.

35 thoughts on “Genevieve, Betty Irabor and “AIDS PEOPLE”

  • Thanks Yinka Jegede-Ekpe for your effort and boldness. God’s grace in trying to move on because if Times magazine or Vogue calls you for interview, you deserve it and it so much compared to the interview the shallow Genevieve magazine granted you. Betty Irabor apologized, only because of criticism she has received, that is why she cannot reach were people with empathetic spirit(Princess Diana, Oprah, Jolie, Mother Theresa…..) have reached because of shallow mentality and her emphasis on the wanna bees in Nigeria.

    I admire your courage, resilience and determination Yinka. God bless you.

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  • I thoroughly enjoyed this empathetic and insightful piece. I am keen to learn more about and Yinka Jegede-Ekpe. Thank you for bringing her to our attention.

    Keep up the good work.

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  • Wood showed more insight and maturity in her response to that article. what baffles me is that an educated woman such as Betty, who also claimed to have been educated on HIV by Yinke during an interview can exhibit such ignorance. she also had the nerve to write a misleading article that totally contradicts the initial goal of the issue, that is to dispel stigmatism and all the misconceived mentality about individuals living with HIV. what does she mean by “AIDS PEOPLE?” It just shows how shallow and superficial she is. Yes! she apologised, only because of criticism she has received. It wasn’t out of gaining insight on the issue of HIV (she is still ignorant and there will be the same reaction if she finds herself in the same situation) and not out of the realization of the repercussion of her action and judgement. i do not believe she was genuine in her dealings with Yinke to began with.

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  • Molara, its is interesting to see how your article and the blogs on this issue have cause so much outrage, that have caused many responses even from Yinka Jegede-Ekpe herself responding to your article. While, i agree with your view about the level of ignorance on HIV/AIDS issues and the stigmatisation… which is still a big Nigerian problem, but for the works of the likes of Yinka and others. Nevertheless, i guess your article seemed a little too hard and one would think you've got some personal beef with Betty Irabor, which i believe you dont, but i can tell it was written from your heart… I love to see progressive interactions like these amongst our people and where the truth needs to be said, we shouldn't mince our words… Cheers

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  • I am really happy to see the level of knowledge displayed by so many nigerians on HIV/AIDS issues.

    Soo glad to see people recognize my little contribution and rise up to talk about this rather disheartnening situation.

    GEn. write up really hurt me and my family especially with my baby involved in this….

    I've decided to move on. I have respect for that bundle of Joy God has given to me. It is my responsibility to take the best decision for her.

    I do not blame people who refuse to be opened about their status right now!

    But still I do not regret being open from age 19, because so many lives have been saved as a result of that action.

    All I know now is that it is time to move on with my life….. there is an adage in Yoruba that 'Ti eniyan ba ti npe lori imi buburu, esinsin bururu maa ba nibe' meaning If one lingers so long on a bad shit, bad flies will meet the person there… (laughs) I hope I got that translation right….

    I am trying to put my life back together now…..enough of AIDS work for now……………..

    All I need from you all is your prayers..

    Thanks

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  • Thanks MW even though I stumbled on this article very late. I was not even aware of this very sickening, unfortunate and annoying issue generated by this Betty Irabor woman and her 'Gene' something magazine. Dont blame me, it is partly because of my aversion to reading junk magazine and certainly I dont buy them. And thank God my wife is too serious minded for the stuff they publish in there. So we dont have a copy. Who is Betty Irabor? Sorry for what will come next. But this Betty what woman, I have seen her face and I she not much to look at. Did you see the beautiful Jegede? Compare and contrast. My conclusion. Jegede has done her the favour of appearing on her cover. Its pity. Iam not sure she had the opportunity of a solid advice before she did that. Now she has been dragged in the mud by a wannabe socialite. I have her to blame. I love you Jegede.

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  • Molara Wood, many thanks for your indepth analysis of the incident. I'm not too shocked about the whole incident cos it's a way of life in Nigeria. I totally agree that as compensation to the "AIDS PEOPLE", Genevieve should research and educate people more on Aids. Also, Genevieve should donate a certain percentage of sale proceeds to a charity.

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  • one of Genevieve writers mrs ifeoma idigbe did something similar not too long ago in one of their past editions, totally insulted naijas in the UK living in 'small huts'/low class council flats unlike them rich people living in mansions back in nigeria. i was completed miffed. molara wood, i salute your courage – thanks for calling a spade a space.

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  • Wonderful write up i must say,it was very wrong of betty to have passed such uncomplimentary write up like that. let forgive and forget this her wrong doing.

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  • some of these criticisms sound so self righteous and haughty. I am almost sure they would do much worse were they in the same shoes, if only in the privacy of their rooms.

    Mrs Irabors comments were definitelly in bad taste although I believe she meant no harm. This is also a strong lesson to her to be 150% sure of what she writes before she publishes. However, I am sure Mrs Irabor can be told the truth of the matter without such attack on her person or the magazine in general which has just as well been inspirational and helpful on other issues. (read similar viewer's comments)

    Throw out the water but must it be with the baby as well???

    HE WHO IS GUILTLESS, LET HIM/HER THROUGH THE FIRST STONE!!

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  • let me start by commending Molara, the writer of this piece. its well written and i agree with you.

    yes Betty has apologised and should be forgiven but should be sanctioned to serve as a deterent for others who may want to be careless with words and feel they can get away with half hearted apologies.

    i agree with the BCGM movement (Boycott Genevieve Mag).

    After this saga, Genevieve and others will learn to be more sensitive.

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  • Molara, your piece is wonderful! I couldn't have said it better myself even if I tried.

    You know, I honestly believe that there is hope for Nigeria – with more and more people standing up and speaking out.

    Ms. Betty and the likes of her should look out! We are tired of fake and rather shallow individuals……Will the REAL women please STAND UP!

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  • Read about the messup when it first brewed and commented on several blogs…my only concern here is how a couple people assume that the first poster-dave-'lacks consciousness' or i's on the mag's payroll 'simply because he holds a contrary veiw! why not say -i dont agree with the first person who posted -and move on to your comment ? And we say Nigerians talk carelessly-geez!I dont know dave/mrs irabor-just stating what i noticed

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  • Thank you Molara for this honest piece. I have to say that i was deeply appalled by such insensitivity from one so supposedly "educated" and "enlightened". Im sure the local media were simply unaware and not silent.

    I really dont have issues with her acting the way she did in the privacy of her room or studio or wherever else, but the nerve to have it on print with such arrogance and blatant ignorance, is simply unacceptable.Like Molara said, there were no lessons to be learnt it was just POINTLESS! She should be made to pay, maybe a sanction of some sort that would prevent her from selling the crappy mag for about 3-6 months would make her loose enough money to be humble.

    And to people like Dave(post 1), i just feel really sorry for you if you think that sorry "cuts" it.

    Well done, Molara!!!

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  • Thank you very much for this piece (and to my friend Pam for the link). I saw the June issue of Genevieve at the newstand, but bought another magazine instead, so i missed Betty Irabor's 'editorial'.

    This episode highlights the dangers of superficial living… you lose touch with reality. Clearly Betty Irabor lives in a world of her own, a world that educated and down-to-earth people had many years ago vacated.

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  • Well said Molara! Here's inviting the rest of the world to join our BCGM movement (Boycott Genevieve Mag) and boycott the rest of them as well. They're feeding us such dog s**t in this country. Molara won't you consider writing for a new well focused mag with substance? Maybe like Farafina. I like their latest edition. True love has totally lost the plot. We're in need of good reading material!!!

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  • Thank you this Molara. A million times…. thank you. You are just an awesomely talented and fearless straight from the hip writer. Now I dont have to keep explaining this whole Bettygate fiasco to my friends I can just point them to your blog.

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  • Living in America, AIDS is still a hot button issue. I'm disappointed that someone as "educated" as Betty Irabor could sound so ignorant. I applaud Ms. Yinka Jegede-Ekpe for her bravery for putting herself out there as a symbol that life does still go on and for keeping her head above water. Shame on you "madam" irabor. Take a good look in the mirror and see yourself for who you really are.

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  • its amazing how shallow people are once you bother to scratch the surface.

    you know it is all a sham yinka was a way to sell magazines i dont think betty irabor gives 2 fs about any thing but her shallow elegant but ugly self

    talk of a prize pig

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  • Betty Irabors' mistake is inexcusable because she belomgs to the class society thinks should know better. She not only thought it out, but she had the effontry to write it and take it to print! Doesn't she have editors? Or has she got the final say? Lord knows the mistake people like Oprah would have made had they not listened to their managers… It's forgivable though even though she apologised with more tom-foolery. That just goes to show how shallow some people can be.. I pray Nigerians rise up and take a stand for the right thing without necessarily having to kiss a$$.

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  • Very well written piece. Highly trenchant and incisive, without seeming hatchet-like. If the truth be told, the apathy to social and human issues in Nigeria has not helped the society in any way. In Nigeria today, what makes the news is politics, PDP, politics, and PDP; and this truly a big shame. Little wonder that only those in politics or who have political links grace the covers of glossy crap like Genevieve. You are nobody if you do not have a friend or two in government circles. Therefore, the social rights of people living with HIV/AIDS would be of little consequence to Ms. Irabor and her ilk, who are noted to hobnob with only the rich and mighty in politics. Isn't she lucky to be plying her wares in Nigeria?

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  • I think that Dave must have been paid by Irahbor herself to try to douse things and I totally agree with Lolade. Things are the way they are in Nigeria because no body takes a stand on issues! Betty obviously does not deserve to occupy the lofty height that she has engineered herself into occupying (by default) Her magazine, 'Genevive' should be boycotted by anyone who is discerning! Yes, boycott it!

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  • Omolara thank you for calling it like it really is. We all need to be TRULY educated on the things that really matter. As Nigerians , some of us tend to speak carelessly to each other and of each other…albeit sometimes out of sheer ignorance/ inadequate education on an issue. Perhaps when we call each other out more often on matters of significance more of us will truly check ourselves and our attitudes…and hopefully seek to learn more about issues before we react verbally or otherwise.

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  • To Dave 1st post – If somehow you belive a cock-up of such magnititude should be diffused or even worst still swept under the carpet because of some insubstantial apology by the protagonist, then am afraid you simply lack conciousness, just liike Ms Irabor.

    Molara, i love the article. I believe, this is exactly the sort of journalism that's deperately and urgently lacking in Nigerian media. We need brave and concciencious people like you. We need writers who are willing to put their head above the parapit and question what has become a status quo of ignorance.

    That Betty Irabor apologised is not the point here. The point as stated in your article is the ghastly, irresponsible, reckless term "AIDS PEOPLE" used by the editor of a top selling aspirational magazine such as Genevieve. However, the real idiocy of the woman, is her failure to appreciate that fashion is perhaps one of the biggest industry leading the fight against HIV/AIDS and promoting AIDS awareness in the world….goes to show how little she really knows about her industry.

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  • I don't know if people know this but today 1st July the Diana concert is ongoing in Wembley stadium. Diana was famous for touching and holding AIDS sufferers, when it was still taboo. Over 10 years ago that was. I think that says a lot about how terrible and outdated Betty Irabor's behaviour is. Frankly its disgusting.

    And to Dave and others like him who say we should shut up because Genevieve has 'apologised', clearly you have your priorities upside-down. This is why rich & famous people get away with murder in Nigeria, because nobody takes a stand on anything. No it's not enough. Genevieve must pay penance for this atrocity. We can't emphasize this enough.

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  • Molara, that was an incisive piece.You wrote straight from the heart.And who says the issue is belaboured.Not as long as these pretenders keep smiling to the bank for mostly stolen ideas, and phoney apologies to go with f*ck*ps.

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  • Well said Molara! That was my first intro to Irabor and Genevieve magazine and frankly I was appalled. Is she supposed to be some kind of Nigerian Oprah? If so, she still needs a lot of polish.

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