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Akintola-Samuel: We Oftentimes place western culture above ours

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Oluremi

Passionate about raising and empowering women who will become significant in the traditional wedding compere industry, Oluremi Akintola-Samuel, the CEO of Strictly Weddings Academy has trained over 100 women within Nigeria and across the globe. She has also mentored and raised women in different industries through her annual programme, The Complete Woman Conference. With a background in filmmaking and alumni of the Pencil Film Institute (PEFTI), Oluremi has been able to take the business of hosting engagements to the next level.

In this interview with MARIA DIAMOND, the graduate of Mass Communication from Olabisi Onabanjo University, and the Thriving Enterprise Development Centre (TEDC), spoke about the pros and cons of the compere industry and the setbacks it encountered s a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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How did your career as a compere start?
MY career basically started while I was still in Secondary School in 2003 when I got my first event ever. We were at a traditional engagement event waiting for the compere ‘alaga iduro’ for the groom’s family. All the guests were seated and everybody was worried, as the event wouldn’t commence without the compere.

As at the time, there were no mobile phones, so we couldn’t reach her. We waited for a couple of hours, and suddenly, my mother stood up in the crowd and said, ‘I have my daughter here and I think she can anchor the event in the meantime, while we expect the ‘alaga iduro’ compere.’

I was alarmed, but I summoned courage and started the procedure for the engagement. The expected alaga iduro never showed up and I ended up doing her job, which turned out a success even to my surprise and everyone else’s. I wasn’t sure how I pulled it through, all the talking, procedures, and activities. But I did, and excellently too, because I got a lot of commendations after the event, and a number of attendees booked their forthcoming events with me. That was how I secured a job from that same event, which then kicked off my career in the industry.

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Tell us about Strictly Weddings Academy, what prompted the initiative?
My primary focus was to empower women. There are a lot of women who are passionate about comparing traditional weddings but don’t know how to go about it; even the well-educated ones. All that was needed was tutelage, which was how the Strictly Weddings Academy initiative started. So, as opposed to the presumption that it was an industry for older people, I decided to create a space for younger women in the industry. Also, I wanted to change the narrative of traditional weddings being perceived as boring by the younger generation. I wanted them to know that traditional weddings can be fun especially when anchored by fellow young MC.

A lot of people just believe that traditional wedding ceremonies are strictly between the families of the bride and groom and as such don’t carry the couples along. However, I realised that I couldn’t do it alone as I can’t be at every event, so I decided to start up the training by empowering five women, then we increase to 10 and the numbers continued to increase over time and now we have students locally and across the globe as the academy is also online and we have students outside Nigeria.

How did you feel as a young woman in an industry that used to be for older and more experienced people?
It was more about my passion for expressiveness and thorough anchoring of activities, which was what my mother saw in me even as a child. But basically, I got into the industry professionally because I saw that a lot of younger people were not so keen about the field. As a matter of fact, the whole idea of traditional marriage was taken with levity by the younger generation. They would rather focus on their white weddings as they presumed traditional marriage ceremonies boring, something to fulfill all righteousness for the elders of both families.

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But on the contrary, I found the varieties of traditional and cultural activities and expressiveness in the field quite interesting as a young person. So, I thought why not have young people in the industry? So, I decided to carve an image for younger people in the traditional marriage compere industry, and it has been an amazing journey. We now have younger people in the industry doing ‘alaga iduro’ (compere from the groom side) and ‘alaga ijoko’ (compere from the bride side).

Tell us about the women you train in the academy and what are the parameters for enrolment?
I am attracted to women who are educated and willing to learn. Since the inception of the academy, we have had students that were sent back to school. Although it is an empowerment programme for women who are skillful and talented but didn’t have the opportunity to be educated. However, because of the importance and necessity for formal education in the industry, we had to create an adult education centre to send our students who are not educated to gain verbal skills as we don’t just deal with only traditional speaking clients.

We have clients who are Professors, SANS, Doctors, Senators, and other high profile personalities. So, you can’t afford to be an illiterate doing this kind of job, which is why in enrolling any student, she must be versatile and educated. The students must also be computer literate, at least know the basics. She must be versed in the latest trends, social media management, etc. This is why some of our training is online so we don’t just reach out to people who are not educated.

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How long does it take for your trainees to master the art?
It depends on how much time you are able to commit. Some people come with the zeal and pour in all 24 hours for a whole year, after which they are good to go, while some others come once or twice in a month, and others once in a quarter. For these sets of people, it takes a longer time to master the art. I believe that when you do it consistently you become an expert, which is why I always advise a minimum of 2-3 years of training. I have been in this field for almost two decades, yet it’s been tasking and challenging, especially with the current happenings of the pandemics. It is not just about your talent, but how you are able to analyse your audience because you would be faced with different kinds of people and you are expected to understand them, fit in, and deliver with excellence.

What are the common challenges in the business of traditional wedding compere?
Time is a major challenge; a lot of people in this part of the world are not time conscious and in this business, time is key. But unfortunately, people don’t value our time. An event is billed to commence at 7.00 am, we get there even before the scheduled time, but nothing happens until 12 pm; that is five hours wasted with no pay.

One of the challenges we have, especially in Nigeria, is that we don’t value time. My protégées outside the country charge per hour, but here, time is almost of no value, which is why people don’t really give their best in terms of services. Unfortunately, after delaying the commencement of the event, clients start to hurry you, which is another major challenge because they don’t understand that traditional marriage is similar to the main wedding.

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Can you go into the church and put the pastor under time pressure asking him to hurry up? We don’t value time and we don’t value our culture. There is a place for religion and there is a place for culture, but oftentimes, we place the western culture above ours and it is really disheartening.

Another challenge sometimes is the client chosen venue. Also, family and sibling rivalry usually fall back on the compere who is compelled to make a major workable decision for the success of the event, as a wrong decision might crash the occasion.

Why did you restrict your trainees to just women?
It wasn’t really intentional, but I realised that most men prefer to be trained by a male alaga (compere) so they can put them through acceptance and all other things they need to learn about the industry. So, it’s not me restricting my trainees, but some men who are gender-biased would rather go to a male training academy.

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How are women in the industry surviving the COVID-19 downturn?
COVID19 really affected a whole lot of people. For someone like me who is in the field full time, not in my wildest dream, did I ever imagine that anything would hold me back for months without work. The last event I had before the lockdown was on March 1 and another event was billed for March 22, but the event was postponed and we didn’t have any other event all through the lockdown.

We started the intimate (smaller guest) wedding in May, but picking up wasn’t so easy because a lot of people were scared. It wasn’t even the coronavirus itself that scared people; they didn’t want to have hiccups with the government who would abruptly stop their ceremony halfway through. So, one of the things we did during the lockdown was to empower women in the industry who are single mothers and widows. However, we thank God that the economy is gradually picking up.

Tell us about the intimate wedding initiative, how does it work?
During the pandemic, we sat down with other event planning professionals and we decided that the best way forward was intimate and zoom weddings. At an intimate wedding, we can have 20 people while all other guests join on virtual. We are currently partnering with various agencies that share the event live on various social media platforms. We also built a website for events that enable you to send E-invites to guests and they come online to watch. Some guests will even tell you to put your account number while the music is playing so they pay into your account in equivalence to our tradition of money spraying at ceremonies. We really have been working hard to make sure that our sector is not overly affected after this whole pandemic situation.

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