Journalist Azuka Ogujiuba has shared her side of the Tiwa Savage-Tee Billz story. Azuka famously conducted Tiwa’s famous tell-all interview in what has been described as the “scoop of the decade” as Tiwa went on to reveal intimate details about her relationship during the interview.
After mixed feedback on the interview, Azuka is now sharing her story via an article in ThisDay Newspaper.
So much has been rumoured, insinuated and judged by all who were touched by the no-holds-barred interview I had with one of Africa’s brightest singers, Tiwatope Savage-Balogun. If not all, some of the accounts here and there deserve to be answered. And this is my story.
How Our Paths Crossed
I met Tiwa on August 14, 2010 at Elohor and Owen Aisen’s wedding at the Landmark Hotel in London. She was one of the bridesmaids at the wedding. I remember her walking up to me and throwing sweet compliments at my daughter. That was enough to endear me to someone who was before then a total stranger. She thought my daughter was beautiful in her baby pink dress, shoes and stockings. People who are close to me enough know I have a strong presence of mind. Let me shock you and maybe Tiwa too. I recall quite vividly her exact words; “She is so gorgeous, her hair is beautiful, l can’t wait to have a girl and dress her up nicely like this.” And l replied her that she was definitely have one someday by the grace of God. Every mother knows how happy she gets when a stranger approaches her saying nice things about her child that simply means you are taking good care of your child.
Tiwa was so beautiful and attractive; we couldn’t but stare at this fine creature as she walked pass our tables. She glowed and oozed confidence in the fuchsia pink mini bridesmaid dress she wore with Lara Rawa, the CEO of Eventi Cocktails, who was part of the bridal train. Though impressively unassuming, Tiwa was still a spectacle at the wedding. She was a good dancer and a dyed-in-the-wool kind of songstress. Almost effortlessly, her dance and voice were more than entertaining. ‘Girl’ was a stunner! I had to tell her to try entertainment, ‘come back home to Nigeria, Tiwa, you’ve got an appeal that Nigerians will love.’ Down-to-earth, Tiwa’s British accent was huge and the ‘aje-butter’ behaviour was unmistakable. She laughed and joked a lot. She was friendly to everybody at the wedding and I could tell she was so happy her friend was getting married.
The Cecil Hammond Role
A few months after I met her, I got a call from Cecil Hammond who said he wanted me to meet and interview a new female act. I avoided Cecil for as long as I could, but he kept harassing me with phone calls and text messages because I always gave him an appointment I never honoured. I underestimated her in my thought; “which yeye hot female act be that? Which female act will be bigger than my girl, Omawumi?” What will she be singing differently? And besides, when they become big, they stop taking your calls or even say ‘hello’ when they see you” It might interest you to know that despite my nonchalance towards Cecil, he never gave up on me. It got to a point I had to ask him to call someone else to do the interview, but he insisted he wanted me to do it. Cecil believed so much in Tiwa, he praised her talents to high heavens. He shared with me a brief story about her life and career until I eventually succumbed. When I got to him, behold, it was the same lady who had said some of the nicest things about my daughter the other day in London. Then I remembered humans are like a river; we flow and meet again in a chain of events. Tiwa and I recognised each other, hugged and exchanged pleasantries. I felt so bad when I realised it was her. We all got chatting immediately and that was when Tiwa realised I was a journalist. We exchanged telephone numbers and BBM pins. Of course, I was excited to do her first ever interview then, if I’m not mistaken.
Later on, Cecil called me again and said, “I really need you to assist this lady, we have to push her out there; you just watch and see, she is going to be the biggest female act in this country.” So, Cecil kept sending promotional materials on Tiwa to me to publish in Thisday Newspaper. If memory serves me well, she released ‘Kele Kele’, ‘Love me Love me ’, ‘Ife Wa Gbona’, ‘Do as I do with P Square’. She started with Cecil Hammond’s Flytime Entertainment in 2010. She attended the BET awards in 2011 while she was still with Flytime and also shot ‘Love Me Love Me’ video. Her first shows with Cecil Hammond was the Silverbird 30th anniversary, then the Rhythm Unplugged show, AY live, Star Mega jam, among others. Tiwa was rising fast and gradually becoming a household name in the music industry.
I remember one day at an event where she performed, she introduced Tunji Balogun, known as TeeBillz as her manager, to me. TeeBillz and I struck it off immediately, and he too was so interested in Tiwa’s success. He told me categorically to watch how Tiwa would become the biggest female act in Africa, and I had no reason to doubt his conviction; I was already a big fan. Then Efemena Tommy, former TV personality and creative director of www.uberstyle.org now based in Johannesburg, fell in love with Tiwa’s music and automatically became a big fan with his close friend, Dayo Dane, who was the face of HIP TV then; he is now based in New York. They both joined the train and were excited to interview her on any red carpet and event she attended. I know these young men adored Tiwa like a goddess. TeeBillz was cool and very friendly; he was full of humour, and I used to tease him about marrying Tiwa. I told him they looked so lovely as a couple, “TJ you no go rush marry Tiwa, na your very eyes another man go propose to her; dey drag leg for there, you hear?.” And we would laugh it off. TeeBillz would reply, “We can’t get into that now, her career is very important, she needs to make a mark.” What I remember now is a man who wanted Tiwa to succeed, protective of her, knew Tiwa was fragile and was not going to allow anybody cheat or talk down at her. He was Tiwa’s ‘Voltron’. Like Tiwa, even TeeBillz behaved so much like a rich kid who was feigning a street boy. He was emotional and very harmless, but I honestly don’t know what to believe from the recent drama. Everything’s now confounding. And a question that creeps to me, after that debacle, is ‘at what point did things get this bad for this beautiful pair?’No matter how pissed he was with her, why would he go to social media to rant about his wife? Now what is this trend of going to social media to air your private life? I still dont understand it. Now every Tom, Dick and Harry even ants and cockroaches feel they have an opinion over your life.
All l remember are two young sweet lovers that were so much in love with each other. I heard Tiwa’s ‘Kele Kele love’ video was sponsored by TeeBillz. Why didn’t Flytime shoot the video? I later heard there was an internal crisis. Honestly, I don’t know what it was about. Later, I also discovered that there was a deal between Cecil, Don Jazzy and Tiwa to move her to Mavin when it was to launch out. It sounded so good because we needed Tiwa to be churning out more hit songs and we were not in doubt of Don Jazzy’s competence. Tiwa was like a loan to Don Jazzy, who had a clandestine plot to storm the industry again with what would silence his friend-turned -rival, D’banj, who was busy narrating to the press how MoHits crumbled. We were super-excited when Don Jazzy introduced the Mavin Crew and Tiwa as its first lady.
I can also inform you authoritatively that Tiwa’s first Pepsi deal started with Cecil Hammond when he took her to meet Mr. Mazen, before they fell out and Paul Okoye took over and concluded the deal. We don’t see often again as we all get busy on different stuff, but TeeBillz kept in touch, we were even close and spoke more often than Tiwa and I.
The first time Tiwa and TeeBillz made their romance public was at Elohor Aisen’s Elite Model Search 2012 when and where TeeBillz kissed Tiwa on the red carpet to put paid to the romance tale peddled around for months.
The traditional engagement came, the traditional wedding and then the destination wedding in Dubai planned by Elohor Aisen. TeeBillz and Tiwa got nearly all their guests crying with their marital vows and exchange, it was a beautiful wedding, so inspiring and romantic. The surprise Prado SUV Tiwa got from Don Jazzy was another high point of the night. We all dance almost till dawn.
The Baloguns led a marital journey so enchanting until they started facing hitches in their home. Apart from when Tiwa fired him as her manager, a lot of people didn’t know what was going on, not even close friends to Tiwa like Elohor Aisen knew every detail until some recent revelations. Tiwa didn’t want her business out there I guess. Sometime, when I inquired about Teeblizz, she said he was fine with a calm smile.
TeeBillz’s Instagram Rants
Prior to his rants, I was talking with Tiwa earlier for an interview on Thisday Saturday Plus page, which I was supposed to conduct with Lucy Ezeliora. She kept telling me to hang on because TeeBillz and the ‘Pampers’ management had to approve the pictures I wanted to use for the interview publication.
Now, two days after, I called Tiwa to remind her about the interview, and it was Konye Nwabogor of Thisday Style who called my attention to what instablog9ja reposted from TeeBillz’s page, because she knows Tiwa is a friend. Immediately, I went to his Instagram page, and was shocked to confirm that it was true after all. I put a call across to Tiwa whose phone was busy for only God knows how long, when I finally reached her, we had not even said ‘hello’ before the bad network snatched our calls. I knew Elohor was with Tiwa, but her phone was equally busy. I got her by 11pm after trying all day. I made it clear to her that I needed to speak with Tiwa. She promised to pass my message across but I didn’t hear from anyone till I went to bed.
Too Real to Be PR
By 2 am, my phone suddenly rang and disrupted my sleep. I was livid with anger, cursing before I stretched my hand to pick the call. I was going to yell at the caller when l saw Tiwa’s name, then I was a bit scared and I looked at the time again, of course, it was not a dream. I picked the call; it was Thompson, her PA. And I was like, “Hope there is no problem.” He said everything was okay, but that Tiwa wanted to do the interview with me immediately. “I can’t drive alone on that Third Mainland Bridge; let’s it do it in the morning,” I retorted. But he offered to come and get me and I said, “that’s cool.”
Luckily for me, my younger brother was around. So I woke him up and pleaded with him to come with me to Lekki. He thought I was mad, but I explained to him what happened. In no time, Thompson was on my street and we were headed to Lekki. I recited my darling Psalm 23 and took some prayer points too. It was on the Third Mainland Bridge that I remembered to call my niece to go look after my daughter, who was in my room. The road was so free and before I could say Jack, we were in Tiwa’s house. I went straight to her bedroom, she had a scarf on, wore a black T-shirt and black trousers, she was broken and wept like a mourner. Thank God, Teeblizz was alive. She cried that morning like someone who has just lost something precious. I tried to console her, she looked dazed and confused, but she handed me her phone to read her chat with her husband. As I sat on her bed to read, I noticed Elohor’s eyes were swollen too; she was lying down on Tiwa’s bed but jerked up when I came in. It took us a while to console Tiwa, but hard as she tried to stop the tears, they continued streaming down her face. It was when I realized that our chat would be recorded that I had to remind her that she has to change her all-black outfit, because people read meanings to things. A friend suggested she changed to a wig because she is a star and she replied again with another round of wailing; “I don’t care about this star thing, I am not wearing any wig, I am doing my interview like this.” In the long run, we succeeded in making her change her black T-shirt.
For sure, I know Tiwa didn’t want the drama; she wanted a peaceful separation and was willing to assist TeeBillz with whatever he wanted to do from the tone of their text chats. Beloved, I marveled at Tiwa’s kind of heart! And my opinion about her speaking up? I don’t see anything wrong with that because we live in a society where people get disgusted about you when such accusations come up without even allowing you to tell your side of the story. It is worst when the accusation is from your partner.
This is the second fight between two entertainment couples that I remember now. The first was with the late singer, Kefee Don Momoh and her ex-husband, Godwin Alec, who accused each other of unfaithfulness and transfer of sexually transmitted infections. The lovers gave damaging interviews about each other, but then not many were on the social media, so it didn’t spread like wildfire. But it was quite messy; they remarried, but with no drama this time around from their new spouses until our Kefee passed on. Bless her soul.
The Pulse connection
I heard so many crappy stories of how Don Jazzy and his Marvin Company paid me N2million to do the interview. I also heard Pulse bought the rights of the interview from me and I kept on laughing in my Owerri dialect. How people idly sit down and fabricate stories should be a case study in schools soon.
I have not seen or spoken to Don Jazzy in ages neither have I spoken to Dr. Sid too. The last time I saw Don Jazzy was at Sen. Ben Bruce’s 60th birthday party but he was so far from me and the last time I saw Dr. Sid was at the UBA CEO Awards where he performed with Tiwa Savage.
And I remember that at Tiwa’s house, I saw some unknown faces, some relations and Elohor. And in Pulse, the only people I know are Osagie Alonge and Gbenga Bada, who worked with me on Thisday Saturday desk. The last time we exchanged pleasantries was on my birthday.
I am not a staff of Pulse TV, that interview was meant for Thisday newspapers. Before we started, the guys made it clear to me that they would also like to record the interview with their camera and I innocently agreed. They said they didn’t want Tiwa misquoted. I didn’t even think the interview would be televised. The next day I got a call asking me when I would publish the interview, so I said on Saturday which should be a week after.
That Friday evening, I was at the Jazz festival at the Freedom Park, Lagos to watch Orliam perform when my phone started ringing ceaselessly, “we just saw your interview with Tiwa Savage,” someone said. I didn’t understand it; I was angry and shocked and I wanted to hear from Tiwa first.
I was able to get across to her the next day, she explained to me that since I was not publishing soon the management decided to also share with a TV.
I took my time to explain to her how it works in the media- that since she has addressed the allegations leveled against her by TeeBillz, any medium that reports it first has broken a hell of a story. I told her that I could get into big trouble in my office because of that. She apologised sincerely and pleaded with me not to be angry.
Dealing with Torrential Insults
Now, when the barrage of insults, cyber bullying and attacks erupted after my interview with Tiwa Savage, the teachings by Dr. Daniel Olukoya kept me going. Some of the attacks were very objective, but from some, you can sip jealousy in the taste of the wine, others were just losers with a deep hole of frustration in their souls. You also have those you could tell the Lagos heat had fried their brains and they needed just anything to cool off. Different tongues wagged… but what do tongues do really? They wag of course. These people turned themselves to social media jurists, English teachers, journalists, PR experts and jobless critics with heavy logs in their eyes but willing to remove the speck in yours first.
I’d long realised that everyone in life has a shortcoming. No matter how gifted or intelligent you are, there may be a particular area where you are not exceptional. Your hands might be skillful; you might even be a genius in science but your capacity for the arts might be nowhere near impressive. You might be a great thinker, but your power for analysis might be poor. The truth is that there are a lot of things you cannot do. Those who claim that they are able to do virtually everything will soon discover that they are at best jacks of all trades and masters of none.
If you focus your attention on what you cannot do, it might be difficult to detect and maximize your talents and areas of competence. A lot of people have remained under achievers because they have allowed themselves to be intimidated by obvious shortcomings and inadequacies. Concentrating on the talents or the skills which you lack may blind you to the explosive resources that are locked up within you. One of the greatest secrets of achieving greatness lies in discovering areas in which you have the best advantage, exploring those areas and maximizing the latent energy within them, according to Dr. Daniel Olukoya, “Nobody is asking you to live a carbon copy of another person. No matter who you are, there is something you can do that others cannot do. Remove your focus from what you cannot do. Put your energy on what you can do.” Therefore, I’m putting my energy on writing (print journalism) which is what I can do and not TV for which I was never trained. You see why it‘s unfair to compare me with your TV idols?
Can a Bully Be Bullied?
For all those cyber bullies hauling jibes at me, I saw all the messages and, guess what? They made me even stronger because the good criticism, I took to heart, the hate comments and insults out of jealousy, I have packaged and sent back to the senders. Like Julius Agwu said on his previous interviews, I feel like mentioning names. Maybe not yet. My friends told me to delete the hateful comments on my Instagram and Facebook pages. I was advised to block the jobless cyber bullies, I didn’t bother doing it because I honestly don’t care about jobless social media trolls, faceless and anonymous characters can’t cow me. I was even advised to go on private, I refused because I didn’t think these critics had a say in how I live my life or practise my profession. Cyber bullying has no space in my territory, so they should stop wasting their data. These ‘yeye dey smell for jankara’ market mobile bullies are busy hating while I’m busy snooping for my next scoop. I’m not a celebrity, not a singer or an actress but a fun loving journalist. Yes, I’m on the social media because I enjoy social media, I love taking pictures of myself and capturing the moments of my fun-filled journalistic activities. I’m from the traditional media where we don’t see ourselves or portray ourselves as celebrities. We are only interested in breaking news or getting scoops unlike the OAPs and some TV hosts who have used social media to turn themselves to overnight celebrities. Life is all about choice and they’ve made theirs.
Even after explaining in the Genevieve online interview that I was not a TV journalist, the next point of attack was that I’m an irresponsible mother for leaving my daughter at that time of the day to go and interview Tiwa. And I was like ‘why do I have to bother myself over some people who don’t understand journalism’ One person compared me Christiane Amanpour who is one of the biggest risk takers in journalism, breaking news and covering war zones before she started the interview programme in the CNN studios. I love her of course, she is a role model, but comparing me to her is far-fetched. And Oprah Winfrey’s name was mentioned; I’m not a fan and l don’t want to be like her or anybody, I’m not a copy-cat.The genuine and objective criticism will make me work on myself next time before those intimidating cameras.
And for my attitude during Tiwa Savage’s interview, even the way they complained I stared at her and my emotional detachment are matters I have no regrets about. It was a face I deliberately put up to hide and deal with anxiety and my emotions. I wonder what they would have said if they’d televised when tears trickled down my face, so the world will come down on me or what? What if I had grilled her emotionlessly like I would do on a good day? Will they protest against me on the streets of Lagos? The fact that I know Tiwa and Teeblizz personally made it a tough one for me to conduct that interview, but I had to do my job. And I did it to the best of my ability at that time. Tiwa even had to console me at a point, “Sis, don’t let all the comments bother you a bit, you have done your best and I think you need to address this and let people know we are friends.”