Brave Women: “A testament to what is possible when you have the guts to chase your greatness” | Arese Ugwu profiles Toke Makinwa

Toke Makinwa YNaija

by Arese Ugwu

The first time I met Toke was at my leaving do in London, I was moving back to Nigeria and it turned out we were in the same NYSC batch. We were fast friends, we went through the rigors of NYSC camp together, did driving school together and she was one of the bridesmaids at my wedding. When I look back on those experiences I can honestly tell you that Toke has always been brave. Toke was a calming influence through my fretting about the frustrations in Iyana Ipaja, my irrational fear of the road when we were learning to drive and one of my pillars of strength when my marriage eventually broke down. Even when she’s scared herself she always says “Arese I don’t know why you are such a chicken? God gat you’, faith over fear.

There is something magical about watching someone live the life they only once dreamed and prayed for. Omotoke dreams no small dreams and she dreams in faith. In fact if I’m honest her audacity scares me sometimes. During NYSC days Toke talked endlessly about wanting to be a media personality. She wanted her own talk show. She wanted to be her own version of Oprah or Wendy Williams. At the time I didn’t understand that kind of dream because the girl worked in a bank and I kept thinking this one wants to be hungry. How is radio or TV going to feed you? But I watched that girl work, I watched her go to countless auditions and hear n, I watched her eventually get the nighttime slot on radio and still get up in the morning to go to her banking job.  I watched her change the game in an industry where people thought you couldn’t become a millionaire being a media personality in Nigeria.  I watched her build a brand that commands millions of naira. I call it the Toke Model. People will be using social media to play Toke uses it to earn. And best of all I watched her develop thicker skin after every disappointment and every setback. People see the shine but they don’t see the hard work, discipline and focus that that level of success requires.  

One of my favorite tokeisms is ‘Temi to mi’ which is Yoruba for my own is enough for me. When someone comes to her with ‘this person said’, ‘that person did’ or did you read that comment that’s always her response.  ‘Arese, Temi to mi! I’m too busy working on my dreams to be bothered. I have too many goals I haven’t accomplished yet. I don’t have time’. And that’s the truth you can call Toke many things but you have to admit. The girl is relentless in the pursuit of her goals.

I have experienced Toke’s bravery in both the little things and the big things but for some reason it still surprises me every single time. Life has thrown her some monumental challenges and I’ve watched her handle it like a champion.  Her life is truly a reflection of God’s grace.

I’ll never forget that phone call.  I picked up the phone to cries and screams of ‘I am dead’, ‘ he has finally done the worst’. She was wailing, I was scared. Had someone died? She wasn’t making any sense. Then the phone cut off and I was in full panic mode. Luckily her sister called me straight after to explain and tell me to swing by Toke’s house. She was distraught and someone had to stay with her.  I wasn’t sure I was emotionally equipped to handle it but thankfully we all got there at the same time.

For hours we sat there watching and listening to what can only be described as a Nollywood movie, we were forced to witness the continuous lies and deception of a grown man before he finally confessed the inevitable truth.   As I watched her roll on the floor, screaming and asking God what she had done to deserve this, my heart hurt. I had seen her endure many unspeakable things in that relationship but I had never seen her so broken. We left her house in the early hours of the morning filled with sadness and dread for what was to come but the next day the most remarkable thing happened. Toke Makinwa went to work! She was on the radio at 5 .45 am.  I had a new level of respect for my friend that day. For me it spoke to her work ethic.

Let me explain! I have seen the many social media comments mostly by women saying ‘abeg is she the first?’ Yes unfortunately many Nigerian women have gone through similar experiences, myself included and I was a little too familiar with the crippling depression that can set in and cause one to struggle to get out of bed most mornings. The struggle with self is hard enough but at least I was allowed to grieve in private. Toke’s was 1000 times worse, she not only had to deal with her world falling apart she had to endure the public scrutiny of vicious strangers dissecting her life when she was at her lowest point. Everybody and their mamas talking about what she should have done and what she shouldn’t have done.

When I read negative comments about Toke, I often wonder. It must be an interesting experience to spend so much time spewing negativity about someone and then wake up every morning to find that they are on a new level. I often wonder what would happen if God decided to put them through the exact same obstacles Toke has faced, if they had to walk in her shoes, would they come out of it with more grace than her?  or  would they have excuses for why life hasn’t worked out the way they planned ?

Her world fell apart but instead of falling apart with it, she focused on God and work and eventually turned her pain into her message. Then monetized the hell out of it!!!! The fact is, that kind of resilience is hard to find.

I can only hope that every time I’m going through a hard time and life threatens to knock me down I can take a leaf from Toke’s book and have the courage to rise instead of fall.  I applaud her bravery. She is a testament to what is possible when you have the guts to chase your greatness and use the bricks others have thrown at you to build a successful life.

Brave Women is’s citizenship series for the month of March. Find more stories in the series here.

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