In 2005, a Canada based, Nigerian woman called Uche Eze, feeling bored during a two weeks hiatus between graduation from university and taking on a new job, sought to keep occupied by documenting fashion and entertainment-related news stories originating from her home country Nigeria. Using the free Blogger platform, she started an online showbiz diary or blog, which she named Bellanaija. It quickly gained popularity mainly through word of mouth, becoming the go to place online for Nigeria related fashion and entertainment stories. About a year into its existence Bellanaija carried a story about an up and coming Nigerian model called Linda Ikeji. Ikeji, a University of Lagos, Nigeria, English graduate with an eye for good literature and anything trendy, wasn’t aware of Bellanaija or its story about her, but a friend who saw it referred her to Bellanaija. On visiting the blog, Ikeji liked the idea behind it, and the way it was able to capture not just her story, but other trendy showbiz developments in Nigeria. She connected with Bellanaija like honey to bread, becoming an avid reader who couldn’t let a day pass by without visiting the blog. Very soon her own creative instincts kicked in and she began to tell herself, “I can do something as good as this.” She started her own blog in 2007 called lindaikeji.blogspot.com and after five years of weathering the storm and digging in despite all the odds, her blog too began to gain its own crowd of admirers, receiving over 50,000 page-views per day and becoming the overnight darling of premium brand advertisers.
Amazing as it may seem these two women whose stories are intertwined have become the forerunners and benchmark for successful blogging in Nigeria. So successful have they become that, in 2009, four years after her blog first took off, Bellanaija had grown to the point where Eze quit her high-flying full-time job to focus on building the bellanaija.blogspot.com blog brand as a business. In about a year or so of doing this, Eze had been featured on Oprah and CNN, and she had won the Africa Fashion Award for Fashion Communicator of the Year 2010. She also saw her readership soar from 427,533 page-views in January 2010 to 1,793,346 page-views in November 2010.
Ikeji, on the other hand, went down the more tortuous path of zero to hero, with her blogging. For four years she blogged away tirelessly and passionately covering topics that were dear to her heart and relying many times on handouts from friends for her sustenance. But that all changed in a moment when she started getting queries for how much it would cost to place adverts on her blog. This August, Ikeji’s fame ascended to a whole new level. She was featured on the Forbes Africa magazine, and dubbed Nigeria’s highest paid blogger in an issue dedicated to celebrating African women. Ikeji laughs off attempts to pry from her how much her actual earnings from blogging amount to, but it is not surprising that this publicity embracing, former model is celebrated by Forbes in an article titled ‘Beauty, Brains and the Business of Blogging’. Her lifestyle as a blogger, after all, has inspired a whole new generation of Nigerian bloggers, as both the young and the bold key into the successes of this young talented lady who pursued a passion for five lean years and then found tremendous fame and fortune when everything looked really dim.
Elisa Camahort, co-founder of world leading women blog aggregator, BlogHer, it was who said “today’s women dominate social media, influencing the purchasing, voting, health care and lifestyle choices of (North American) women”. She could not have been more right about the successes of both Ikeji and Eze, women who have become in Nigeria, new voices influencing the fashion, entertainment and showbiz circuit. This duo have been able to utilise their platform and voices to open up debates and discussions in areas and ways previously untouched by mainstream media, but fundamental to the woman’s experience and way of viewing things. Such opportunities which were previously unavailable before the advent of blogging, have now become avenues for female expression and for giving perspective and balance to the very topical issues trending in the country.
Love her or hate her, there is no doubt that Ikeji is fast becoming the master of lending credence to any issue she sets her focus on. On several occasions she has successfully used her blog as a social ‘mobilizer’ for raising funds for severely ill persons with urgent medical needs, but no money to treat such severe ailments as 4th grade Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, malignant sarcoma, and kidney transplant. Her influence has been such that on one occasion, within two days of Ikeji putting out an appeal for a $25,000 cause she had raised three quarters of the patient’s medical bill.
Ikeji also has a section on her blog which she calls ‘Dear LIB readers’ (LIB means Linda Ikeji Blog), in which she regularly poses a ‘Question of the Day’ concerning a nagging relationship issue. Readers give their take on how to resolve issues such as: that of the man who wants to know what to do about his sex addict wife while he is away for two months on a trip, or the question, “How long is a 'long enough' courtship?” ‘Commenters’’ feedback and responses to the questions asked can be insightful for those in circumstances similar to the one painted by Ikeji.
Ikeji’s regular photo montage of two people wearing similar trendy clothing in which she asks “Who wore it better” is very participatory and often elicits over a hundred comments from her readers. Many times the comparison is between her reader and a celebrity and Ikeji also sometimes features herself in these comparisons.
Never so far away from altercation or confrontation with one celebrity or the other over one or another of her stories, Ikeji, has also come in for criticism for the way she handles the commentary on her blog. She chooses not to moderate responses to her posts, no matter how offensive. According to her, it makes for a lot more interesting read when comments are not moderated. She admits however that now and again some of those offended by reader commentary responding to her stories have asked that she yank such comments off. She has however maintained that doing so would hurt the openness she stands for and would be akin to shooting herself in the foot, an action she thinks might come back to haunt her.
From the tone of her writing, you can just detect that Ikeji is having fun blogging. She opens herself up to her readers and her readers open themselves up to her. She pokes fun at herself and in the process makes money doing what she would have gladly done for free. If ever there was a story for one to gain inspiration from, Ikeji’s is it. And the fact that her voice holds anchor for all the women out there who wondered if they had it within them but never dared to take up the challenge surely must be heart-warming encouragement for any discouraged woman out there to discard all doubts that she has and to stand up and be counted.
By Okechuku Kanu