Every once in a while, a star rises like the comet, thrusting itself out of the pack and galaxy of stars. Funmi Wakama, a name synonymous with the Nigerian Television Authority for close to three decades, waltzed into the world and shall celebrate her golden Jubilee as she turns 50 gracefully today.
Over the years, the screen goddess enlivened many with her sonorous and angelic voice on the popular NTA Network news. That was until she served as the first female Chief Press Secretary to the Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, during his first tenure and indeed the only female to have served in that capacity to a state governor.
Prior her appointment as the Senior Special Assistant on Media to the governor, she was also the first Media Manager, Programme and Outreach, of the International Republican Institute (IRI), an Agency under the United States Government (USG) USAID, programme in Nigeria. In a recent interview, she described her experiences at the IRI and OGSG as most fulfilling, adding that what she learnt from the two institutions could not have been taught within the walls of any institution, “not even Harvard”. These lessons seem to have prepared her for another half of a century.
As a broadcaster, Funmi is success driven and assertive, knowing what she wants and finds ways to get it without compromising her dignity and integrity. A very rare quality in this morally depraved world. Indeed, Funmi is a bubbly personality, effervescent, whose essence cannot be misinterpreted. Presently an Assistant Director of News at the Abuja Headquarters of the NTA, she has, at various times in her career, being a presenter, reporter, news editor and trainer. She is also the News Producer of news segment of Sunday Sunday tonic, Newsline. This piece cannot document her story and life as fluidly or chronologically as she deserves.
Born in Lagos fifty years ago, as Olufunmilayo Coker, she began her foray into a career in broadcasting in 1985 at the then Lagos Television, LTV 8. She later joined the services of the NTA in 1988 after the mandatory one year Industrial Training. She once recounted one of her experiences while on Industrial training at the LTV8. “It was a chance meeting with one of the greatest musicians of our times, ‘the Abami Eda’, as he was fondly called; Fela Anikulapo Kuti”. He had gone to pay his condolences at the Newswatch office over the death of Dele Giwa and suddenly the betacam tape they were recording on ran out and she was asked to rush downstairs to pick up another tape. Low and behold, Fela was descending the stairs, and better still, he had his hand outstretched for a handshake with her. He held on to her hand and refused to let go. There were whistles and catcalls. She said she almost died of fright. There she was barely out of her teens with the great Fela Anikulapo Kuti. According to her, not even the producer, Mr. Tunde Okeowo could save her as people teased her, asking her not to wash the hand as a mark of respect for Music maestro.
Funmi, a graduate of Mass Communication from Ogun State Polytechnic, now Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration; (MPA) from the University of Abuja, a Post Graduate Diploma from the Nigeria Institute of Journalism and also in Public Relations from the Business Education Examination Council, Lagos.
There is a deep side to Funmi. She might not be your flash-in-the-pan society lady who you see at every societal function but her carriage, sense of style, glamour and simplicity cannot be ignored. Very choosy about the function she attends. Style for her means different things at different times, depending on the occasion. Sometimes she keeps it simple and at other times, it could be glamorous. She pays attention to every detail in her choice of what to wear and how to mix and match fabrics yet remaining resplendent.
Married to a Civil Engineer from Rivers State, the mother of two, describes her husband as a God fearing, kind, loving husband and wonderful father, whose only ‘vice’ or ‘passion’, depending on how you look at it, is his love for football. He has been a big fan of Manchester United since 1973. Her husband, who she sometimes refers to as her best friend and biggest critic, has been a very strong pillar of support, encouraging her, thus enabling her to flourish.
When she chose a career in the media world, there was no cyrstal ball to show what the future held, whether she would succeed or not and whether the terrain will be slippery, thorny, mine-filled or rewarding. All she had was her passion for the screen, hard work, an innate desire to succeed and to carve a niche for herself.
Funmi is a likeable person. She is uniquely humble, a total package of brains, brawn and gumption. She also has a rare zest for life, a natural affinity for good taste and the good things of life. A few of her colleges say she can actually be talkative if in good company, though they say she has very few friends. For someone so well known and a public figure in her own right you can count her friends on the fingers of one hand. She loves her own company and that of family members.
Another aspect of Funmi is her kindness and benevolence. She is generous and she feels the pulse of the common man. As part of events lined up for her 50th birthday, is the distribution of items to some internally displaced persons at their camp in Abuja where she intends to show them love and care. “I wish I could do more for the needy in our society”. Apart from the Thanksgiving service, to return all glory to God, for having kept me, the other important aspect for me, is putting smiles on the faces of the less privileged”. She does this quietly from time to time, having learnt this act of charity under the tutelage of her former boss, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, who would usually mark his birthday visiting Prisons and feeding the aged.
At 50, Funmi doesn’t just look good but fabulous, showing no trace of the calendar years.