Some of the hottest conversations in the Nigerian social space in recent times have revolved around revelations from media celebrity and On-Air Personality Toke Makinwa’s recently released tell-all book, On Becoming. The book chronicles her troubled relationship with her estranged husband, Made Ayida, revealing intimate details of their romance, with strong emphasis on her role as victim of his recklessness. While I have not read the book, there has been a surplus of information about the troubles in the relationship such that one has to have been living under a rock, away from the social gossip scene in Nigeria not to have heard it all. There have also been enough excerpts from the book as serialized on blog sites and the traditional media for one to form a solid enough picture for an opinion piece like this, which in no way pretends to be a literary review/critique of the book.
From available excerpts, On Becoming paints a picture of Toke as an unfortunate woman caught in what is essentially a love triangle in which Maje is a manipulative and recalcitrant partner who remorselessly leeched onto his affair with his long time mistress/girlfriend even after getting legally married to Toke. Maje allegedly drags Toke through emotional and psychological mud while she demonstrates a combination of strength, tenacity and even (by her subtle admission) naivety through it all, before the relationship packed up in 2015, ending nine years of topsy-turvy alliance in which they were married for 18 months.
In a similar romance-turn-sour episode in April 2016, details of dramatic events emerged culminating in singer Tiwa Savage and Tunji Balogun (Teebillz) separating from their two-year old marriage. Following the break-up of the respective relationships, there was understandable media frenzy around both events due to the celebrity standing of both couples, particularly the women. There was also the typical sanctimony of some Nigerians and the victim-blaming of both women that usually goes with the unrealistic expectation on women to be super-enduring, all-weather-conquering species in relationships. In the run-up to and aftermath of Toke’s book release which coincided with what would have been the 2nd wedding anniversary of Tiwa and Teebillz, some parallels and comparisons have been evoked in both affairs by the way some elements in the Nigerian gossip community have tried to appropriate both stories, inadvertently feeding the vulture-like appetite of society for lurid entertainment.
On 24 November, 2016, comedian Seyi Law posted a picture from the traditional wedding between Teebillz and Tiwa on social media. In the picture, Teebillz is seen kissing a smiling Tiwa on the forehead. The comedian accompanied the picture with the words: “I remember this day like yesterday. The beautiful memories linger. And I look forward to more celebrations for you. The hearts that hurt, can also heal. The pains of today might be the greatest joy of tomorrow. Happy anniversary to you. Fingers crossed.” Fingers crossed, of course, that the couple comes back together. A day after Law’s post which was met with praise and (rightly) condemnation, one of Africa’s most influential social media voices, Linda Ikeji posted a photo of Tiwa and Teebillz on her blog along with which she expressed similar sentiments as Law’s. One other celebrity, upon watching clips of the 2014 wedding on music television station Hip TV similarly took to social media to pine for the reunion of the estranged couple. It was Law’s post that, however, got social media buzzing more than the others.
Now, while such display of ‘goodwill’ may seem all good-intentioned, many people, including yours sincerely believe that these expressions of ‘love’ have a way of hurting the parties in struggling relationships. This sort of ‘overtly nice,’ unsolicited token of good neigbourliness does not necessarily help the healing of the vulnerable victim in such messy affairs. In a society like ours where marriage is deemed as the ultimate achievement in life and where socialization dictates to women especially, that to be unmarried (divorced, never-before-married, etc) at a certain age is to have failed gravely in life, such sentiments place additional undue pressure on women. It is a form of disservice that forces people to continue to live in patched-up relationships sometimes until such people end up in body bags. Frankly, such very common seemingly harmless gestures are nothing but misplaced pacific offerings that often highlight the voyeuristic tendencies of some of these ‘well-wishers’.
From their accounts, both Toke and Tiwa suffered one form of spousal (psychological/emotional) abuse or the other. One feels compelled, therefore, to empathise with them. One is also clearly tempted to believe that these anniversary celebrators are suggesting that whatever abuse Tiwa had to endure in her marriage was not severe enough to warrant her decision to break up with her husband. On the other hand, partly because she has written a book to whet people’s gossip buds, Toke may be seen as the epitome of strength who dealt with all that a monstrous spouse threw at her and has emerged from it and deserves to be happy. Of course, she deserves to be happy. Tiwa also deserves to be happy with or without Teebillz.
What would equally be interesting to know and also bring happiness to young, impressionable women especially, is whether, once the drama is slurped off the surface to sate the gossip pangs of the public and the money rolls in for Toke as a result, On Becoming at least leaves behind a sort of deliberate didactic device for her fans. While we can argue, with good reason, that she does not necessarily owe them that, it would be a great gift to extend all the same. In the final analysis, the truth is that every woman in similar situations as Toke and Tiwa has the right to elect what course of action to take especially considering that her sanity and safety may be at stake. As the legendary Bunmi Sofola once wrote in an opinion piece in a national newspaper, such women “can always pack and go home, if it doesn’t work out.” This, they should be able to do without society making them feel like they have wronged the gods grievously or putting undue pressure on them to remain in what they are convinced are toxic relationships.