Enchanting Supersports TV Presenter, Toyin Eleniyan is an interviewer’s delight any day, Quick-witted, inquisitive and focused , steel-willed Eleniyan has through dedication and hard work distinguished herself in a male dominated industry, becoming a role model for the young and aspiring. An Arsenal FC Aficionado with no apologies, it was an exhilarating experience when Manny Ita caught up with the ASO show host in Lagos. Enjoy it!
Tell a bit about yourself I was born and raised in London. A few years ago I decided that I no longer wanted to be coming to Lagos on holiday, but would rather be domiciled here. So I took the plunge and moved to Lagos permanently. Fast forward and, I am the newest addition in presenting talent on the SuperSport rosta, which is of course as you know the biggest Sports media platform in Africa. I present on two shows, which are both live broadcasts: Monday Night Football and Africa Sport On (ASO), which is Supersport’s flagship magazine show. Apart from interviewing major sports personalities and stakeholders. I also host artists on the ASO show, and interestingly, it is usually those excerpts that go viral. What influenced your venture into sports journalism? Broadcast media has particularly ignited my interest, and being the naturally inquisitive person that I am, I had to deconstruct the mystery surrounding the box that captivated me growing up. I got to understand the blueprint whilst studying Media and Communications in University, which further heightened my passion and desire to secure a career within broadcasting. Sports, and football in particular, attracted my attention at the age of ten. Being the only girl growing-up alongside two football-obsessed brothers, the tussle for viewership was, grudgingly, won by the majority, and fortified by my father’s support. I recall vividly the match that led to my capitulation: Arsenal v. Liverpool in May 1995. The era of Seaman, Bergkamp and Ian Wright. From that match through today, I remain a resolute Arsenal fan, despite the heartaches we’ve experienced over the last few (13!) seasons. Is there any other career dream you had? Growing up I was interested and open to a spectrum of careers. I will tickle you with one: I remember wanting to be an Astronaut so that I could put the Nigerian flag on the moon. I still don’t think Nigeria has sent any Man (or Woman) into space. So I could still make it happen. What do you love most about your job? I love that I have a profession that simply allows me to be myself, and earn my living by harnessing my personal strengths and natural characteristics. I am truly thankful that my profession makes allowance and provision for that. Naturally as a media person I meet a lot of people, and I like to meet new people. And from as early as I can remember I have always been an inquisitive person, that’s just me always asking questions (laughs). I believe it was the ancient Chinese sage Confuscious that famously said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Have you been at any time involved in sports competition? Funnily enough, I have encountered people that are of the idea or impression that I was an ex-player. And in instances I’ve found it so funny that I start fanning the flames of speculation, it gets humorous. In terms of professional sports competitions during my secondary school days, I participated in inter school sports competitions. I was (actually still am) verrrrrry fast! Although I’ve never professionally competed. Who knows maybe I would have made a mark! And contrary to popular thought, I would not have been a football player I would have been a track and field athlete; either 100m or 200m sprint. I’m often invited to play novelty matches, celebrity games or matches for a cause, such as Kick Against Rape. I will also have to honorably mention that I last played a celebrity beach soccer match during the annual COPA Lagos tournament. I captained my team, amongst my team mates were Asisat Oshoala, Ebi Onome and Ann Chijiene. That was the first time a female celebrity game was played in the COPA Lagos tournament since its inception in 2011. I managed to find the back of the net three times and needless to say, my team won! Eight professional teams participated in the COPA Lagos. These were Super Sand Eagles, Gidi Sharks, Arsenal Beach Soccer Club, Morocco, Pepsi Football Academy, Lebanon, Spain and Kebbi Beach Soccer Club which Spain won. So it’s a true statement to say my team lifted a trophy alongside the Spanish team at the same tournament. Are you a soccer fan? Where I grew up we (they) call it footy. It’s no secret that I am an aggrieved Arsenal fan. Arsenal has been my team from an early age, growing up in London. I’m also a die- hard staunch supporter of our Nigerian National team and in the domestic league NPFL a few teams (Sunshine Stars, MFM and Eyimba) court my interest. Most women in Nigeria don’t take interest in sports, why is it so? That’s a very good question! One I’ve in fact been asking. But I think think this question needs to be a little fairer to Nigerian women, because it’s not just Nigerian women, I think it’s women in general. I think women don’t take as much interest in sports as men, because of traditional gender roles. From an early age boys are conditioned and encouraged to take up sport and while with girls it’s generally the opposite. If we are talking about sports in Nigeria, women suffer discrimination in their access and practice of sport, which usually starts from home. It’s not encouraged because it’s not seen as a high yielding career. There is a lack of adequate support and infrastructure for girls who show promise and talent in sport. It’s on the Government and stakeholders to actively encourage girls from an earlier age. Promoting gender mainstreaming in sports policies is a step in the right direction. Sports should be encouraged to all, and encouraged at every level. On a personal level it’s great for health and does the body good, and also on a professional level has the capability of bringing pride to the nation, when a good account is given in international competitions. Purposeful action must be taken to promote women in sport and supporting women’s participation in top level sports. Looking at the Super Falcons and Falconets as compared to the Super Eagles and Eaglets, there needs to also be equality in terms of prizes and bonuses in professional sport irrespective of the gender of participants. But with players like Asisat Oshoala and Ebi Onome garnering awards and headlines, that’s a narrative that I believe will change, I just feel it needs to be happening faster and more frequently. I remember I lived in London at the time but I was constantly reading about Blessing Ogbare the Nigerian athlete and Olympic medalist who made Nigerians proud courting international sport headlines, for her attainments in international athletic competitions. I firmly believe we have women that can compete head to head and toe to toe with any of the best athletes in the world, if provided adequate resources. I think it is essential that talent and ability are spotted and nurtured early. Tell us some of the challenges about your work Obviously being a young woman holding the microphone, I stand out in the sea of male counterparts. There are men that see me and say “who is this young girl, and what does she know?” It’s of course no secret that it’s a male dominated industry. And particularly here in Nigeria not only male dominated, but senior men. Being in a highly patriarchal society I often encounter a higher level of scrutiny than my male counter parts. To survive this unique terrain I have had to develop a certain type of robustness to survive the slings, arrows and stone catapults. I remember being told off about my hair, which I felt was fine but I was ordered to change it, on my own expense. I felt it was unfair. But it has given my liver an exoskeleton. I’m quite tough (laughs) but still very much human. As woman, I constantly have to prove myself, which means that I make extra preparations just to prove myself. The working hours and pattern can also be quite unsociable, while most people are unwinding, I can find myself in the thickness of work. This comes with the terrain, and I see it as a labour of love. I just see it as the sacrifice I have to make, for doing what I enjoy and love doing. Who is your kind of man? You see! These are the kind of questions that a professional woman like me, gets thrown. (Sighs). Jesus is the model of what a man should be; full of love, forgiveness, compassion, wisdom and humility all characteristics and traits of the ideal man. What puts you off? Ignorance is something I detest highly. We are born as blank canvases, and the adult we grow into is a cumulation of the things that we learn in life. I tend to avoid engaging people who think they know too much. You’re never too old or too wise to learn. I also detest a dishonest or deceitful person. The concept of not being able to trust and believe what you say to me is infuriating. Just the thought of knowing I’m being intentionally lied to is extremely off- putting. Sexual abuse of the girl child and rape are social evils on the rise, how do you think this can be curbed? I have to thank God that growing up, this was never an evil I was ever personally exposed to. But the deeply saddening truth is, for many young girls, it happens. I am aware of an organization with a scheme in schools that educates both young boys and girls on how to identify sexually inappropriate behavior, the girls are taught self defense, while the young boys are encouraged to identify inappropriate behavior against the girls and protect them. I believe if such values are instilled from a tender age, the boys grow up to become men that denounce sexually inappropriate behavior against women. I also believe the full weight of the law should come down on perpetrators of such heinous crimes, punishments that the prescription is so severe that it acts as a deterrent. Like perhaps castration. Who is your role model? I draw a lot of my inspiration from various women. I can’t just give you one name (laughs). Women of substance that have excelled in their professions or have made an impact on humanity: I have an immense admiration for women who have overcome hardships and blazed trails, these are some aspirational and inspirational women to me: Oprah Winfrey, Christine Lagarde, Susan Wojcicki, Sojourner Truth, Wangari Maathai and Benazir Bhutto Celebrities don’t seem to have stable marriages or relationships, what could be the problem? The first thing I would say is I’m inclined to believe that these questions were assembled for me on the basis of my gender, which makes me frown a little. “Celebrities” are people. And (some) people as you’ve said “seem” not to have stable marriages or relationships. I believe there isn’t a single blanket cause or reason that I can give. That would be unfair of me. Each relationship consists of a pair of individuals with their own individual personality, identity and characteristics all of which affect how they interact with their significant other. I must point out that collapsed marriages are not the preserve of celebrities only, even regular people’s marriages collapse. I guess in the world of the celebrity reasons varying from: lack of time together due to busy schedules, clashing egos, constant opportunities to stray, public scrutiny and inability to separate real life from what is make- believe. I’ve heard people even lay blame on social media. Being seen as role models and appointed shades of ambassadors, what does this trend portend? For me that is very simple. It’s simply alignment. When the values and ideas of a brand, movement or organization align with those of an individual, it births an ambassador. Of course subject to formal and sometimes informal agreement. Why are you called Toyin of life? The obvious and immediate answer is my social media handles are @ToyinOfLife so I have found that when people meet me, they say “hi ToyinOfLife” Or “OfLife” My name is Toyin and when I wanted to register for the “Toyin” handle it was taken. So I just added “OfLife” its one of my nicknames, my childhood friend would say I’m the coolest Toyin ever, hence “Of Life”. So it’s a nickname that became my handle.
. How do you wind down? My mind is highly active and I’m a very creative person, I love to paint, mainly with acrylics on canvas while listening to music. I find it highly therapeutic. Not to mention I’ve created some beautiful pieces. Maybe one day I will have an exhibition of my works. I also enjoy dancing; it’s a fun way to keep fit. I’m full of surprises. Do you have a favorite food? Since moving to Nigeria my palette has changed. Right now I have a major weakness for amala and ewedu with gbegiri. I think that is what I particularly love about the Lagos Polo Club, they make impressive amala. What words have you for aspiring female broadcasters? I subscribe to the notion that legacy is not leaving something for people; it’s leaving something in people. My social media accounts are always receiving messages from young girls and ladies asking how I got my big break, and how they can achieve the same. It’s easy for the allure of the glamour to make it look like my job just entails having fun and being glamorous. But the truth is that it requires a lot of mental work, which is the background work. Preparation is always key and as a young broadcaster I must always be on my A game, because there is no mercy when I am being pitted against my male counterparts. I would advise any young female to make sure she has a firm grasp on the basic fundamentals of journalism, that’s just a basic mandatory starting point. It is important to understand and master the under underlying principles of what constitutes a good journalist/broadcaster. It is by mastering this that you demonstrate a genuine respect for your craft. You must love what you do and have a specialized interest, this is what sets you aside in the sea of talent. Having respect for your craft is key. Being prepared and on time are important also. No presenter is bigger than the job, so showing respect to your crew is always advisable. Self belief and confidence are also ingredients required. Always be willing to learn and honestly evaluate yourself. I’m working on a boot camp for aspiring TV presenters and there will definitely be more to learn! It’s been quite an interesting session talking with you.