" I am not the stereotypical 'rags to riches African story' but I have taken advantage of the privileges I was blessed with and remained totally driven...."
I remember a very different Nigeria growing up, but I also remember when things started to go wrong. In a way, I blame my father's generation for letting the rot set in. They had the education and the money to change the course of the country and they chose not to. When the power cuts started, they bought generators. When water became scarce, they got trucks to deliver water to their door steps.
And when the education system began to degenerate, they sent us abroad.
That is how I found myself in a British boarding school, age nine. Jumoke was anglicised and quickly became 'jew-mo-key' and after a couple of years, simply Moky . I assimilated pretty quickly and got on well with everyone in spite of being the only black girl in the junior school. I only became conscious of my colour when a white South African girl joined the school and for some inexplicable reason, we were put in the same dormitory. Coming from an apartheid South Africa dictated how she saw me, and being the proud Nigerian I was, I refused to be defined that way. The resulting situation split my year down the middle – you were either for me or for her. It was my first real exposure to the power of ignorance.
Afterwards, I went to the University of Buckingham where I studied Politics, Economics and Law. It was a great general degree but it gave me little career direction. My first job taught me perhaps the most valuable skill of my career - the ability to sell. I sold advertising space for a business magazine. I credit that time for teaching me how to close, how not to take no for an answer and how not to take things like rejection personally. I truly believe that everyone should learn how to sell because at some stage in our lives, we will be selling something to someone.
I later worked for one of London's top public relations (PR) firms. I really enjoyed it but soon realised that I would never run that company because of something that I couldn't help or change- being black. I decided that it was time for me to go back home as I wanted to be somewhere where I was judged solely on my abilities. I was fortunate to get an offer to start a PR division for an advertising agency in Lagos. I chose to 'test' it out before I resigned from my job.
It was a culture shock for me. I was put in an office next to a lady who seemed to do nothing but read the Bible all day and when I asked to make a phone call I was told to lodge my call with the operator who would put me in a queue. The process could take up to three hours! Nigeria was a tough place under the era of its worst dictator Sani Abacha and I realised that I wasn't ready for it.
But I was still frustrated with the UK and determined to leave. I came across an article in a magazine on black South African women in the new South Africa who were doing great things and thought 'There is a place for women like me'. It took me well over a year to get here but I eventually got a job and moved to Johannesburg in 1998. This is where I met my Zimbabwean husband Stewart Makura to whom I got married a couple of years later.
When I turned 31, I decided it was time to start my own PR Company which is now called Redline. It had a pan African focus and one of my first projects was working with a company that brought the first lot of South African companies to Nigeria. I approached Draft FCB for a strategic partnership and they decided to buy my company outright. I stayed on for three years and left to pursue what I now call my media passions. I try not to have regrets but I wish I had retained a stake in Redline but it wasn't really an option at the time.
While still at Redline, I had auditioned and secured a part-time position as a presenter and field reporter on MNET's Carte Blanche Africa. I loved covering stories on Africa but sadly the Africa budget was very limited and I didn't get to do as many stories as I would have liked. I also realise now, that the Carte Blanche audience were not really that interested in the positive stories on Africa that I wanted to do which didn't involve wildlife!
That's when I realised that I had a passion for telling positive stories about Africa. It was clear that if we Africans didn't tell our own stories and shape our own past and present, no one was going to do it for us. My email signature bears a very profound African saying: "Until lions learn to write, hunters will tell their stories for them".
Before being cast in the MNET drama series Jacobs Cross (my first ever acting role), I had been pitching a lifestyle series to show "the other side of Africa" called Living It. I was tired of seeing Africans on TV with flies on their faces and other images of abject poverty and starvation. It finally got underway on DSTV years later featuring the lifestyles of Africa's wealthy elite in an attempt to present a positive side of the African story. I had wonderful feedback on the series which proves that Africans really wanted to see themselves reflected in the media they consume.
It was the same reason I wrote Africa's Greatest Entrepreneurs. I have always seen myself as an entrepreneur. Prior to my PR company I had started a breakfast club at a restaurant in the UK and an African fashion business. They both did not last long but gave me lessons I have used in my other businesses. I battled to find a book on the many highly successful African entrepreneurs we have that would inspire me and give me insights, so I decided to write one.
I approached Penguin Books with the idea and got a publishing contract. Writing the book was one of the toughest things I have done but sheer stubbornness and persistence got me through. There were many challenges including taking almost two years for one of the entrepreneurs to agree to an interview Africa's Greatest Entrepreneurs was the impetus for me to start my own publishing business MME Media. South Africa's Greatest Entrepreneurs, which was published in September 2010 was our first book, done in partnership with the Gordon Institute of Business Studies (GIBS). It made it on to the Exclusive Books' best seller list and I am working on releasing Nigeria's Greatest Entrepreneurs.
But my real passion has been Nollybooks, our low cost books written by South Africans and aimed at a young black South African audience that was recently featured on CNN's Inside Africa. They are currently in Shoprite Checkers and C N A and retail for approximately R35 each. Like Nigeria's movie industry Nollywood, the books are about telling modern urban African stories.
And that is my story. I was born in Nigeria and that defined me. I was educated in England and it equipped me. I now live in South Africa and this country has given me so many opportunities. I am not the stereotypical 'rags to riches African story' but I have taken advantage of the privileges I was blessed with and remained totally driven.