From as far back as when she was in secondary school Ojinika Obiekwe knew she wanted to be a journalist. So being one of the top producers and a face at the WPIX TV station in New York City is definitely a dream come true. The second child of her parents, Oji was born and raised in Enugu but she moved to the US for her college education.
During her internship at WPIX, her boss was so impressed with her work that he promised to hire her without an interview if there was an opening. Oji boldly sent him an email saying: “John, remember how you said you would hire me if a position opens without interviewing me? Well, I heard Nicole left, so when do I start?’ He replied: ‘How does Tuesday sound?'”
And just like that, Oji was thrown into the world of media in New York City. She tells of how she got to be in front of the camera; noting that it wasn’t until she was awarded a fellowship and a trip to Senegal in 2007 – that she got her chance to be an “on- camera reporter”.
Having interviewed impressive list of celebrities, (Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston, Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy…to mention a few) we knew we had to catch up with this hard working, funny and inspiring Nigerian woman.
Ojinika is doing what she has always loved to do and she’s doing a fantastic job of it as well. We hope you are as inspired as we were when we had this interview with this witty, professional and dynamic young lady.
Who is Ojinika really?
I’m a lot of things. I never take myself seriously. And I would also say I’m a walking contradiction because I talk non-stop, I’m really loud, and can be the life of the party, but I’m also very shy. I don’t know how that’s even possible. It’s weird, I know, but that’s just the way it is. I knew I wanted to be a journalist, but I never dreamt farther than print journalism; I figured I’d graduate, and write for some paper, but luckily fate took its course and I ended up here and I honestly couldn’t think of anything I would rather be doing as a career, except being a Victoria’s Secret model (I hear they get free underwear). My parents are divorced and my siblings and I were raised by our mom.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Air Force Nursery and Primary School in Enugu. And then Holy Rosary College (HRC) for high school. My sisters and I all went to HRC because my mom said we would learn how to act like ladies there, blah blah blah…It worked on my sisters, they’re both pretty responsible, organized, and of course lady-like, not so sure about me though; I”m sure she’s considered asking for a refund of my school fees at some point 🙂
When did you leave Nigeria? What precipitated the move?
I left after high school. I graduated at 16, and I think I left for the States about a year later or less. Who made me move? My mama did.
What did you do when you got to the US?
I robbed banks for a while (kidding)…I did a lot of things; one of them was leaving New Jersey to attend a community college in Atlanta while living with my uncle and his family. I later moved back to NJ to complete college at Seton Hall University.
How did you get into broadcasting?
I had always wanted to be a journalist, print journalist though, because writing’s my thing. One of my college professors in Atlanta did suggest that I look into broadcast journalism. He said “TV would be a perfect match for you, you have the personality.” I just thought, sure, that’s going to happen (sarcastically ofcourse). I never really gave it much thought because first of all, where would I even begin? It just didn’t seem possible. I figured I’d graduate and write for some magazines or have my own column or something and call it a day, but life obviously had other plans; It totally proved me wrong and here I am today…
“The best part of my job, I think is the fact that I’m good at what I do, but I also realized that with this I can reach so many people and touch many lives, especially women; not just in Nigeria, but the entire continent of Africa and hopefully all over the world.“
So how did you end up on TV?
I think it’s one of those things that’s just meant to be, because like I said, it wasn’t planned. I’m still amazed to this day about how it all happened. And there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not thankful. So, here’s my short version: My friend at SHU forced me to go to a job fair with her. I didn’t want to go because my resume wasn’t updated. She helped me spiff it up but at the last minute, she couldn’t make it. I thought that was a sign I shouldn’t go but she still insisted that I go with her other friend who I never met.
Anyway, we got there, and I just wasn’t into it. I didn’t speak to anyone; I just walked around with the girl. She stopped at the WB table to ask about internships, I stood waiting for her so we could leave. The WB rep looked up at me and here’s what happened: WB Rep: Are you a Broadcast Journalism major? Me: Who? Me? (I looked behind me first to make sure he was talking to me though) WB Rep: Yes, you. Me: Umm, yes I am. WB Rep: Do you have a resume with you? Me: Umm, yes I do WB Rep: Can I see it (I handed it over). He said would you be interested in an internship? I said, yeah sure. He wrote something on my resume and said he’d give me a call. He did, about a week later, asking me to come in for an interview. When I got there, he just asked what my class schedule was, I told him and he asked me to come in on the days I had no classes. And that’s how it began.
This was in the fall of 2001 and I’ve been here at WPIX since then. Really, this is the short version But to answer your question, I don’t know why or how this TV thing happened, I just know it did; for reasons known to a higher power and forces beyond little old me, and that’s why I can’t ever take any of this for granted. Never ever ever! So help me God. 🙂
Can you share some of the challenges at the start of your professional life with us?
Honestly, I would say that I was always my biggest challenge, because I knew what I wanted and what I needed to do to get there, so the only real challenges were the ones I created for myself. I’m sure people would expect stories about difficulties and having to prove myself, but that’s just life, it happens to everyone. Trust me; I had my share of the usual drama you’d expect especially in an industry like this one. For me, I chose back then, and still choose not to acknowledge any of that. When you have your eye on the prize, challenges don’t really exist.
What does your work entail?
I get to wear many hats, you kinda have to, especially in this industry…so I report, write, produce, book guests, dance if and when I have to, everything. 🙂 And although I do mostly entertainment interviews, I’ve done politics, health, lifestyle, fashion, etc…and will do those as they come up.
“Looks can be deceiving, and with the makeup and the clothes, everything seems perfect, like you’ve lived the fairy tale life and had no disappointments, but I think that’s my purpose in life, that maybe after someone hears my story, they will know that anything’s possible and that if I can do this, anyone can.“
Who would you say inspired you/ mentors
Aside from my mom and sisters, who have been supportive from day one; there are certain people I’ve worked with throughout my career that have just been my biggest cheerleaders and have continued to encourage me and push me to go further. I appreciate that more than they’ll ever know, because it’s very rare to get that kind of support, and to find people who genuinely want you to succeed, but I’ve been lucky to have a lot of those people in my life; and they know who they are.
What would you say has been the highest point of your career thus far?
The highest? So far? It keeps changing as the years go by…At some point, it was Eddie Murphy, then Harrison Ford, then Jim Carrey, and I switched to Morgan Freeman. It later became Denzel Washington and Jennifer Aniston; but now I can easily say interviewing Oprah Winfrey is my highest point so far. Hands down. How could it not be? It’s that feeling where I’m thinking how in the world did I get to here? So surreal. Not sure how I’m going to top that, but I’ll see what I can do.
Describe a typical day in your life to us
Oh my! Okay, it really depends on the day. I work a lot and sleep very little (except on the weekends). But on a normal day, I’d wake up around 3am, yes, 3am, early in the morning, sometimes earlier. Our show usually goes on from 4am to 9am, so my work load depends on how many guests we have on the show, news of the day, and if I have a piece airing. After the show, I start working on the next day’s scripts, or go to shoots if I have any scheduled. So my work day can easily start before 6am and end around 6pm. Sometimes later. I need to get a life, for real.
Do you think that being a black woman in the international media industry has had any impact on your career thus far?
I think being an African has more to do with it than being black. I don’t think I would say it’s had an impact though because I don’t know for sure, but it definitely has made me stand out and in an odd way, made me more interesting. Why? Well for some reason, people are surprised when I tell them I was born and raised in Nigeria. They usually say, I don’t “look” African, or “sound” African. I think they expect me to act like that dude from “The gods must be crazy” or something. That’s been the case as far back as my days in school in Atlanta. I realized people have this perception of what an African should look and sound like; so I figured I now have the power to change that way of thinking. I’m obligated to do that and I gladly do so, every single day. I’m pretty much the unofficial African ambassador to the world.
Have you ever been in any particularly dangerous situation in the course of your career?
Dangerous situation? Me? For where? Nah. Never that. At least none that I can think of. I think my coworkers would say they’re always in danger around me. They don’t call me the “Nigerian Nightmare” for nothing.
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
The most exciting part is that I’m friggin’ incredible at what I do. I’m not bragging, but it is what it is. The job in general is exciting, but some days it’s the coworkers; other days it’s the behind the scenes craziness we have to deal with, and a lot of times it’s the people I get to meet – not just because they’re celebrities, but because I’m still in awe of this journey I’m on. Because really? What are the chances that this shy/weird/talkative Nigerian kid would end up doing this for a living? I don’t know, but I can say I never saw this coming back then, and that makes everyday exciting because I know this was no mistake. It was meant to be and if that’s not exciting to me, I don’t know what else could possibly be
What is one thing you have learnt in the last year that you wish you’d have known a lot earlier
In the last year? Geez! I have to think about that a little more…Ummm, still thinking.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
In the next 5 years, I see myself hopefully still moving on up in whatever I do, and continue to make the best of this journey professionally, personally and otherwise
What do you think about the media industry in Nigeria and Africa as a whole?
I think the media industry in Nigeria/Africa is very promising. I do pay attention to what’s going on and I’m impressed with some of the stuff I’ve seen and the rest, ummm, needs quite a bit of work. The ones that are good are really good, but the bad ones are just plain bad. But that’s where I come in. I realize that the point of being given the opportunities that I’ve gotten isn’t just for the heck of it, it gives me the chance to bring all that I know and have learned in the 12 years I’ve been doing this and help make the industry at home better and up to par with the rest of the world.
Do you think that you see yourself back in Nigeria in the future?
That’s always been the plan. I remember when I had just started working here at PIX11, people would talk to me about moving back or working back home and I would tell them i wasn’t ready.
Someone even made a comment about how I’m abandoning Nigeria for not wanting to go back. I never saw it as that. It was the opposite, at that point, I was still learning, I had nothing to offer. The student can’t be the teacher. I think of Nigeria/Africa too highly not to bring them the best of me. Now I can do that, it may have taken longer than a decade but its well worth it. I have a few things in the works at the moment both in front and behind the camera and I’m beyond excited about getting to work at home and share my knowledge and talent with my peeps.
Do you have any words of inspiration for anybody reading this who’s looking towards a career in news journalism
This applies to anyone who wants to have a great career in general, not just for journalists. First, you definitely have to love what you do and go into it for the right reasons because there are times it gets so tough that only true passion can get you through it.
Also, I would say, don’t try to be the best at what you do, trying to be the best means you have competition. Instead try to be the only one that does what you do. Get it?
And lastly be patient, success may not come as quickly as you hope, but it’s for a reason, so just relax, don’t compare yourself to others, don’t wish you were them, don’t worry about their path, worry about yours, maintain a good attitude and learn the heck out of your craft, because at the end of the day, that’s all you got, and you need yours to speak volumes. Oooh and one more thing, be kind to people, no matter what.
How would you describe your sense of style?
My sense of style is pretty simple; at least that’s what I think. I’m a dress girl…I almost never wear pants or skirts..and by pants, I mean trousers, not underwear biko. I’ll do leggings here and there, but 95 percent of my wardrobe consists of dresses. Dresses are just easy. I don’t have to find a top or bottom to match. It’s one and done. Effortless. And I don’t usually spend so much money on fashion. I love a good sale and if I’m bargain hunting was an Olympic sport, I would have more medals than Michael Phelps. Like my mom always says, it’s not about what you wear, but how you wear it.
What do you when you’re not working?
I’m usually doing what I do best, sleep. No, seriously. I try to catch up on sleep or on myTV shows. I’m a homebody and I do like being by myself. I know, weird. I actually do spend quite a bit of time at my sister’s house hanging with my niece or sleeping. So exciting, right? I know I’m living the life.
Favourite African/Nigerian designer?
I know of quite a number of designers and I pretty much love their work, some more than others… but i can only speak of the only one whose design I’ve actually ever worn which is ModChic Couture. I wore one of her dresses to interview the cast of the new movie “Baggage Claim” and everyone LOVED it. From the cut, to the fit, to the style…It just worked
What would you NOT leave home without
Red lips 🙂
If you won a million dollars in the lottery what’s the first thing you would do?
Give it to my mom or sister to manage because they’re more organized than I am. Also, I don’t like stress. That would be a lot of stress to deal with. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Which celebrity would you raid her wardrobe
I would say Tyra Banks because I know her clothes and shoes would fit pretty well. There are other celebs I would also pick but I’m taller than a whooole lotta them so it wouldn’t make sense to raid the closet of someone whose dress would look like a shirt on me.
What super power would you like to have
I would say the ability to read minds but I already have that…So I would like to have the power to be invisible.
If you had a genie’s lamp, tell us your three wishes (No, a million wishes is not one of them)
One, to be happy; Two to be happy; and Three to be happy…If I’m happy, it means all my wishes are coming true so it”ll be all good in my hood. But if I get a 4th wish, It’ll be to be a backup dancer…I know, crazy, but true.
Thank you so much for sharing YOU with us at BellaNaija. We wish you the very best in all your endeavours.
Check out the video of Oji’s interview of the media mogul, Oprah Winfrey
Watch Oji on the job interviewing David Oyelowo and Yaya Alafia on their movie “The Butler” PIX11 News
Photo Credit: JP Teutonico Photography (Professional shots of Oji) | Instagram/@theOjinika