BY OPEOLUWANI OGUNJIMI
Even during a brief encounter, you can’t ignore the passion in her voice, especially when she’s defending the rights of the African child and women. Short version, Funmi Fiberesima is not just a media personality but also an actress, producer and human rights advocate. From Lagos back to Okrika, her home-town, she’s all set to assist humanity. Excerpt:
What do you do at the moment?
I’m doing a lot of things, but I just finished producing my first movie. At a point that will be a subject to talk about, but right now I have lots of humanitarian work that I’m into. I’m working with some NGOs, and I got working with them because during my years in the media, I did a lot of media relations for some of them. So I now work with Wafrika Development Coalition and M & G- A Funmi Foundation. I also sample charity decisions for a couple of individuals.
So what’s your movie all about?
Okay, I might just say the name. The title is Onikola. It’s a Yoruba movie about female genital mutilation. I chose to do the film because currently among the Yoruba tribe where it is mostly practised, it is done to female babies. I am still trying to get to a point where I don’t have to cry whenever I talk about it because we filmed a live circumcision of a child and it haunted me for days. It was terrible and everybody who watched it was haunted by it. Since then, I kept getting feedback and at a point, I felt I should just air it. Maybe if people saw the wickedness, it would change things.
Why choose to do your first movie on this topic. Were you a victim too?
No, I wasn’t a victim. I feel like my life is directed by a hand that is greater than my life. I saw a script, I liked it and it was talking about female circumcision. I later found out that in some areas, it was done to women without their knowledge. But what really gets to me is when it is done to a child. At least, a woman can take a decision to be circumcised but a child can’t.
So who were the cast?
I have Ronke Ojo, Ibrahim Shaka, Late Fatai Rolling Dollars. It was his last project and I’m just grateful for his support and advice.
What other movie did you shoot before this?
I started on stage with the Rivers State Council for Arts and Culture. Then I went into Nollywood and in 2002, I did a wakapass role in Oduduwa.
How do you combine journalism, acting and running a Foundation?
I don’t like to call myself a Journalist. I prefer to be referred to as a media person because I am still evolving. There was a time when I was really interested in acting. Then my attention shifted to wanting to be behind the screen so I started writing TV programmes. People like Sam Dede helped shape me and he introduced me to people into TV programmes. Then, there was this synopsis I wrote which a cable mission television in Port-Harcourt wanted to partner on with me, but there was no sponsor. So I came to Lagos to find a sponsor but got a job with TVC.
So when I started with TVC, I was taken to the radio department and learnt radio journalism under Niyi Ojemakinde. He was a lovable brother because he took time to teach me. He always locked me up in the studio all alone and it made me find my rhythm. Before long, I could handle a whole programme all by myself. While in TVC, I starred in Egberun Maili, a Dotun Tailor film. So I had to juggle media work with business because doing business is an intricate part of me. That’s why I said I like to see myself as a media entrepreneur.
So why did you leave TVC?
Leaving TVC is a decision I don’t want to talk about because it was forced on me. After TVC, I worked with OnTV, then left and started working with Search For Common Ground, an American NGO. It was during the Amnesty period and they needed me to go back home to do a radio programme for them with the Amnesty crew. So that took me out of Lagos to Rivers.
So you went back to your village?
Yes, I went back to my village. M & G Foundation saw some of the work I did with other NGOs and wanted me to go to Okrika to help do some video log. At the end of the video log which was about girls forced into womanhood as a result of having kids out of wedlock at younger ages, these girls can’t even take care of themselves let alone take care of a child and even their so-called boyfriends are either nowhere to be found or dead. So they are left alone to care for their children.
Funny enough, these girls have potentials. But even in their poverty, they still want to share what they have with you. So thinking about all that brought me to tears. When an uncle of mine saw what I’d done, he decided to help me put together the Foundation. So I moved to Okrika like three months ago. I also have another project which reaches out to children and women. Right now, I’m working with M & G Etomi Foundation because they are interested in the arts. But personally, I have people I’m training at the Training Institute in Okrika.
Don’t you feel bored in Okrika?
Oh yes, I feel bored. But a couple of weeks ago, I decided not to leave Lagos permanently because I’m already used to Lagos. So I’ll just shuttle between both states.
So when are you releasing the film?
It will be released next year on the day for Zero Tolerance For Female Circumcision.
What else will you be doing between now and then?
I will be working on a project in my village because we’ve been through a lot of violence of recent and are going through a healing process now. My village is called Wakrika so I’m working with Wakrika Development Coalition and we do a lot of things like skills acquisition and mentorship programmes.
Describe your passion in few words…
To be able to voice and show accurately to the world exactly who the Nigerian woman and African children are, their hopes and aspirations. In this country, we seem to be having trouble with our politics. But you would still see children carrying water and cleaning windscreens in traffic. So, even the street is helping to mould children because you see the spirit of survival in African children.
Don’t you think projecting just the challenges in Nigeria to the world makes them see us in a negative light?
Nigerians live in the negative things and we evolve despite that negativity. What we have here is different from what happens in the outside world because most countries have almost everything done for them by the government, but the same isn’t true here. You can watch the film and see just negativity, but I want to be able to say that there’s light shining through us despite the odds. Yes, you would see a kid who hustles all day and still struggles to send himself to school- that is our reality.
Go to MaryLand at night and you would see people sleeping on the streets, but you dare not steal any of their children because you think you saw a woman and her children sleeping under the bridge. The woman will go to any length to protect her children despite her negative circumstances. So I believe if we have more Nigerians trying to portray Nigeria positively, Nigeria will never be on any watch list or among terrorist nations because an average Nigerian doesn’t want to die. And I’ve discovered that no matter how poor a mother is in this country, she won’t abandon her responsibilities to her children.