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BN Exclusive: Media Maven Lola Ogunnaike Encourages Young Africans to “Pursue Their Passions”| Interviews Michelle Obama on BET – August 28 2011



Lola Ogunnaike is a Nigerian-American journalist who has interviewed everyone from Chinua Achebe to Oprah Winfrey and even 2face… Remember this? {HERE}Lola grew up in Northern Virginia and studied English Literature at the esteemed University of Virginia (UVA) before obtaining her Master’s in Journalism from New York University (NYU). A seasoned journalist, Lola has worked for the New York Times and CNN amongst others. Lola has also made appearances across the board on U.S. television programmes on VH1 to The View and more. She has also been published in magazines from Rolling Stone to Essence. Recently Lola accompanied the United States’ first African-American First Lady Michelle Obama on her first major solo tour in Africa for the ‘Young Africa Project’. Yes, we know that’s a lot of firsts! But rightly so, as Lola is a leading face in America’s media industry. On the tour, she got to interview Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States of America for a BET (Black Entertainment Television) News Special which will premiere on Sunday August 28 2011 – ‘Michelle Obama on a Mission: Impact Africa’

The day before the special airs, BellaNaija’s Nkechi Eze speaks to Lola about how she convinced her parents to become a journalist, her love for Jollof rice and moin-moin and why you should pursue your passion.

Hello Lola, it’s such a pleasure to talk to you today! We’ve been looking forward to this interview for a long time so let’s dive right in… You are type of woman any young BN reader like myself aspires to be. Eloquent, confident, driven and the list goes on. But growing up in a state like Virginia – a suburban majority white state – as a first generation American with Nigerian parents, did you face any issues of identity crisis, being picked on at school or any similar growing pains?

I wasn’t teased all that much growing up. I grew up in a very diverse community in Northern Virginia. Some of my classmates came from Madagascar, Vietnam, El Salvador etc. One of my best friends in elementary school was from Laos. After the  Karate Kid film came out, kids spent the following few months calling me Lola Okinawa (the Japanese town featured in the film). They added insult to injury by doing the crane kick every time they saw me. Quite annoying.

Do you think this helped you build character?

Every child should be teased a bit. It helps you develop a thicker skin and makes you more empathetic. It also helped me become more quick-witted. You learn to always have a comeback on the tip of your tongue.

Growing up, did your parents make sure you were rooted in the Yoruba culture? 

I can’t speak Yoruba, but I can understand a lot of the language (particularly all of the bad words and insults). I can’t cook much of anything, but I’m trying to master jollof rice. I eat far better than I cook. I’ve been craving moin-moin for nearly a week, so talking about this is only making me hungry. On to the next question.


You studied English Literature during your undergraduate years at University of Virginia. Coming from a Nigerian household, did your parents think you were going to study law after your first degree?

I was an avid reader as a child and I’ve always written. I was a reporter for my elementary school newspaper, The Tiger Times, and was literary editor of my high school yearbook. I also wrote for the school paper and yearbook at the University of Virginia. Still, my parents had already brainwashed me into believing that I wanted to be a lawyer and it wasn’t until my junior year at UVA that I decided I would pursue a career in journalism.

How did they react when they found out you wanted to be a journalist? Being the first child, did they expect you to set a different ‘example’ for your siblings? How were you able to convince them that this is what you really wanted to do?

When I told my parents that I 1) planned to major in English Literature and 2) would pursue a journalism career, they weren’t too pleased. Most immigrant parents want their children to enter fields that are stable and lucrative such as medicine, law, business, engineering etc.  Nigerians aren’t too big on having kids “pursue their passion.” Nevertheless, they quickly realized that I was resolute in my decision and were supportive. Of course, landing my job at the New York Times also helped. My younger sister is now an editor at In Style magazine, so my parents have completely embraced the media profession. My brother, however, is in banking and he went to MIT and Wharton. He’s the good son.

Which one do you prefer – broadcast journalism or print, and why?

I love both print and broadcast journalism. But I’m a bit of a control freak, so print probably suits my personality better.  In the print world it’s just you, your recording device and notebook.  In television, everyone else has to do their job before I can do mine. It’s much more collaborative. Cameraman, sound technician, lights, producer, hair and makeup…

Speaking of hair, makeup and all things glam, for those who don’t know, can you give us a brief roster of American celebrities and other high-profile people you have interviewed?

Lola with Supermodel and Cosmetics Guru Iman

Over the years, I’ve interviewed a number of high profile people. The list is quite long, so I’ll mention a few. Oprah Winfrey, Sting, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Paris Hilton, Ryan Seacrest, Kanye West, Chinua Achebe, Iman, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chris Rock, Will Smith…

Wow. Any fun moments you relive from your time with our fave celebs – like how did you find your interview with 2Face? That must have been fun!

Lola meets Nigeria's 2Face Idibia

2Face was quite charming and very easy on the eyes. He was a bit nervous at first, but eventually relaxed. Singing ‘African Queen’ to me was a very nice touch. Flattery will get you everywhere… just kidding!

About the Young Africa Project and Michelle Obama
In the Young Africa Project, Michelle Obama travelled to Botswana and South Africa, where she inspired young Africans and young women in particular, to follow their dreams. She spoke in churches, universities, and even gardened with young people at the Vhuthilo Community Centre in Soweto, just like she does at the White House. During the trip, Mrs. Obama visited historic monuments such as Johannesburg Apartheid Museum and Robben Island Prison Museum in Cape Town. She also met with African leaders we are proud of such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Lola followed the First Lady on her journey and we ask about Lola’s experience.

Was this your first time in southern Africa?

It was my first time in South Africa and Botswana. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of either country. We were working non-stop. Cape Town is gorgeous, reminds me of San Francisco. I’d love to visit both countries again.

As a journalist, you’ve gotten to interview everyone from our favourite celebs to politicians. On TV, we see Michelle Obama as the stylish outspoken wife of America’s first black president. We can relate with her because she looks like us and we admire her because she is self-made – from South Side Chicago to Ivy League educated lawyer – much more than just a first lady. 

In your time with Mrs. Obama, what struck you most about her?

I was struck by how down to earth and humble Mrs. Obama is. She’s also quite funny and charmingly self-deprecating.  Her husband has been accused of being aloof; she’s quite the opposite. Before our interview she gave me a hug instead of a formal handshake.  I was pleasantly surprised.

Watching her speak to a crowd of nearly 2000 at Regina Mundi, the largest Catholic Church in South Africa was one of the highlights of the trip. All in the room were hanging on her every word and she moved many to tears. I can’t wait for viewers to see that moment in the special.

Young Women who attended a speech by Mrs. Obama


Speaking of Michelle Obama, no interview of hers is complete without questions about her style. You got to hang out with one of the most chic First Ladies of the United States. You got to see her style up close. What was your take?

Mrs. Obama has great style and she definitely didn’t disappoint in Africa. The turquoise dress she wore at Regina Mundi was exquisite and the red pantsuit she wore to a luncheon in Botswana was a show stopper.

Talking about style, we are not going to let you get off that easy! We spotted your article on your love for trench coats in the September 2011 issue of Essence. Where’d you get your favourite trench coat? How does it look?

I am obsessed with trench coats.  They are so chic and timeless and you always looked pulled together when you’re wearing one.  My sister gave me a Gryphon trench a few months ago, so that’s now my favorite.  I have a vintage Burberry that’s also wonderful.

What other style staples do you have in your closet?
I am also obsessed with shoes and the higher the heel the better.  I’m 5’8 in flats, so I’m quite tall in stilettos.  I like having height.  It makes me feel confident and powerful.  It’s such a cliché, but I love Louboutins.  I just purchased another pair a few days ago.  That’s our little secret.  Please don’t tell my husband.

Trust me, you are not alone. Nigerian fashionistas love those too! Talking about Nigerian fashion, do you follow developments in the industry? Do you have a favourite Nigerian designer?
I love what’s happening in Nigerian/African fashion. Earlier this year, I was blown away by all of the amazingly talented designers at Arise’s Fashion Week. Arise did a wonderful job and they should be celebrated for giving designers from around the continent a much needed and much deserved platform. It’s impossible to choose one favorite, but I’m really feeling Tiffany Amber, Duro Olowu, Jewel By Lisa, KemKem Studio, Korto Momolu and Leke Sijuwade.

Looking Forward…

Looking back on your journey so far, would you encourage other young Africans to become journalists and why?

I would encourage young Nigerians to pursue their passions. If it’s music, fashion, writing, banking, brick-laying … go for it!  Life is too short to be stuck working a job that you hate. My parents sacrificed tremendously and worked jobs that they hated, so that I would have choices in life. I am forever grateful and indebted to them. I love journalism and would do my job for free. Luckily, I don’t have to.

You’ve worked for CNN, the New York Times, the pinnacle of America’s broadcast and print journalism platforms. What’s next for Lola Ogunnaike?

What’s next for me? Hopefully an interview with Barack Obama.

Thank you for telling our stories, Lola. We can’t wait to watch your latest interview!

Lola’s interview with Michelle Obama will appear in the documentary, ‘Michelle Obama on a Mission: Impact Africa’. The special will premiere on BET on August 28 2011 at 7 PM Eastern/6 PM Central. The documentary will air on BET International in Nigeria and other countries next week Wednesday and Thursday. Be sure to check your local BET station for accurate times.

Check out 2 short clips from the BET Special – ‘Michelle Obama on a Mission: Impact Africa’ (Courtesy – Golden Icons)

For more updates about Lola, you can follow her on Twitter here.

Photo Credits: Lola Ogunnaike via Twitter | Wayuu Taya | BET |
Nkechi Eze is an Editorial Assistant at You can visit Nkechi Eze’s photography website at

Ink Eze is the Founder of, a platform for sharing African traditional styles. She Modern Culture and Media at the Ivy League Brown University. She honed her skills in advertising and digital media at one of America’s leading tech companies in marketing. She became BellaNaija Weddings editor in 2013, and Assistant Editor of BellaNaija, heading the lifestyle section - Style, Beauty and Living until January 2017. Under her leadership, BN Weddings gained international prominence and became Africa’s foremost wedding media brand with millions of followers across several platforms and coverage on BuzzFeed, BBC & more. #AsoEbiBella became’s top feature, with over 1.8 million followers on Instagram. She conceived of BBN Wonderland, Nigeria’s top bridal event since 2015 with Baileys Nigeria. Now she spends her time on AsoEbiBella, and has executed marketing campaigns with local and international brands including HP Nigeria, Orijin and Sunlight Detergent. and sharing her insights with the world. For more Ink, join her on @Ink.Eze | @AsoEbiBella


  1. MissCJ

    August 27, 2011 at 10:54 am

    great 2 see someone doing what they love and excelling! 🙂

  2. FumzyO

    August 27, 2011 at 11:18 am

    When she mentioned her husband, as an interviewer it was an opportunity to dive into that question. Of course giving her privacy in the type of question you ask, then dive back into fashion questions. She is obviously opened to chat about him, if she mentioned him briefly. It gives a bigger picture as to her personal life and how she maneuvers it with being an A-list journalist.

    • goldfinch

      August 27, 2011 at 7:48 pm

      sweetheart i so agree with you. i expected nkechi eze to also dive a little to her marriage because i never knew she´s married not until she talked about her husband.
      i was itching to read about it but i was so disappointed

    • Toriola

      August 28, 2011 at 3:16 am

      i soooo agree! that would have made the interview more colorful. I was looking forward to learn more about her personal life. such inspiring stories about being a wife/mother and still be a world class journalist needs to be told more often as it is more than often presummed that we as women cant have it both ways.

    • Kristina

      August 31, 2011 at 5:46 pm

      My thoughts exactly, I was waiting for the interviewer to through in a question about her husband…

  3. SolaSol

    August 27, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Very inspiring, we need more educated ladies like Lola as role models! Keep Blessed Lola!

  4. Oge

    August 27, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    The sky is really the limit when you follow your passion, So proud of you Lola, may God continue to bless you and take you higher in your quest to follow your passion as you continue to make every Nigerian proud! we need more inspirational people like you, I never miss your reports.. I am such a huge fan!

  5. Aminu Adamu

    August 27, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Naija we re representing

  6. nich

    August 27, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    make nigeria proud ke……people born in the united states only see themselves as american citizens……so pls she is an american not nigerian even though she has nigerian project…

    she is an american and that is the reason the sky is her limit……..

  7. bebe

    August 27, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    pls oooo somebody should help us tell our parents that ooo!it is either they want us to be “a respected doctor” or “a professional economist” as if they will come and help us work in the that they will be “proud” to tell their friends that dey av “engineer” in d family.and i like the part where she says she can do journalism without getting money from it…thats true passion!i want 2 be able 2 say that too!shes a role model!

  8. [email protected] desinger handbags

    August 27, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Wow she also Interviewed Obama and many other leaders. that,s great and stunning lady.

  9. oluwatosin

    August 27, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Reading through the interview,I felt inspired…her dogginess is worth emulating.continue to do ur thing Lola

  10. nwando

    August 27, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    I’m soo consumed with Venus envy! Seeing young women doing their thing and excelling inspires and motivates one.
    Kudos Lola!

  11. AJCiti

    August 28, 2011 at 2:05 am

    This interview was very inspirational, thank you for sharing! I love seeing successful black women like Lola, especially Nigerians of course. I’m an aspiring writer/ personality, whatever also so seeing her success is totally motivating. I will definitely tune in to the BET special.

  12. anon

    August 28, 2011 at 3:20 am

    Wow, three beautiful African women!!! Michelle is such an inspiration. Lola, keep representing us naijas. Iman, keep representing Africa. I’m so proud to be a Black woman.

  13. oludare baloye

    August 28, 2011 at 3:41 am

    I still remembered Lola ogunnaike NTA news lol………

  14. obee

    August 28, 2011 at 3:47 am

    Wanst she wearing the same dress in both interviews with Iman and Mrs. Obama?! Still respect her though.

  15. Kenny

    August 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    I love my African Queens. Lola is fine, and Michelle is beautiful.

  16. tatafo

    August 29, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    This was a great interview! Well done Nkechi, if you aim to pursue a career in journalism, I hope you make the effort to stay connected to Lola Ogunnaike, she will make a great mentor to you.

    LOL, why are people always downing our parent’s for wanting us to be in stable careers? Personally speaking, I’m glad my parents pushed me since I’m not as talented and will not thrive in a creative industry. I don’t know how I’d survive without my stable job.

    Also, in the 60’s and 70’s there were a lot of Nigerians that studied Art majors in the U.S and U.K (philosophy, literature etc) and went back to Nigeria and could not find jobs in their fields especially during the periods of Military dictatorships in the 80’s, so your parents don’t want you to make the same mistakes they made.

  17. Disbabe

    August 29, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    well done Lola

  18. NNENNE

    August 29, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Hi Lola, keep the flag flying!!! Wish the “same old, same old” politicians in Nigeria will give their illustrious sons and daughters in diaspora and in Nigeria, the chance to MANAGE that country. Nice interview.

  19. Nneka

    August 29, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    @ tatafo… I have to agree with you.

    I still remember the day my dad TOLD ME what I was going to (and did) study in the university. When the time came to gain admission and I was offered another course-IRPM. Yes, offered. Not wanting to completelyloose out on getting into school that year, I wanted to accept the offer. I remember the still look on my father’s face when i broke the news to him. His response was firm: “You are not going to waste your time in the university. You will retake JAMB and will study banking and finance next year… I work with a huge company that has only one IRP Manager, the saaame person in many years.” I almost passed out from grief.

    Anyway I ended up in my father’s desired profession for me and I have absolutely no regrets. Truth is my father knew my strengths long before I had a clear idea of how I could channel them into a fulfilling career. Afterall, I spent elementary school holidays reading and sumarizing literature books, rading the many critical thinking quiz book lined on our bookshelf, practicing for the next spelling test or math quiz at 8pm, all assigned and invigilated by my dad on his return from a long tiring work day.

    Our parents might not all accurately identify our strengths but let’s understand that their sometimes- overbearing insistance on things is just a show of love and concern.

    Follow your dreams…and know that if your dream falls along old-fashioned professions…doctors, lawyers, bankers et al… it’s ok to follow them too. Afterall we can’t all be musicians right? Infact, even musicians need doctors, lawyers and bankers.

    Good job Nkechi!

  20. Ron

    August 30, 2011 at 8:31 am

    I’m so inspired by this.

  21. foolish talk

    August 31, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    her husband is hotttttttttttttt hmmmmmmmmmmmm

  22. :)

    September 1, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    I don’t think Taju’s hot, he’s okay. She on the other hand is very inspiring and I have nothing but great respect and admiration for her. Once again inspired by a fab black woman this morning alone. xxx

  23. Pingback: Lola Ogunnaike Dishes on Everything From Her Family to Her Favorite Designers - Adirée

  24. BNC

    September 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    This is so inspiring !! God bless you.

  25. Claudia Orozco-Tupper

    September 27, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    I grew up with Lola, we went to school together from fifth grade until we graduated from JEB Stuart HS in Falls Church, VA. She was always very goal oriented and very serious about school. We lost touch in middle school as all kids do but she never changed as a person. Very smart and caring. I was home on leave from the Air Force about sixteen years ago and I ran into her mom at Springfield Mall. I asked her how Lola was doing and she told me that Lola was at NYU at that time…….I just knew she would always do something big with herself. Approximately eleven years ago I was watching VH1 and I saw Lola on there, I almost flipped, I started jumping and yelling for my son to come watch my childhood friend…………..that was one proud moment. I am very proud of the woman she has become and very happy as well. God bless you and your family………..the sky is the limit!


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