“It’s mum’s fault I’m in showbiz” …Elvina Ibru shares family secrets

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Elvina, the velvetone-voiced daughter of billionaire Michale Ibu, alongside some members of the family, played host to the editor,FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, mid last week. the trip was meant to chat up the beautiful on-air personality on her latest exploits in the showbiz scene, particularly her full time MC job, which she confessed has helped to soar her showbiz skills. The trip also turned out to be an auspicious one, as it offered the ample opportunity to appreciate the more the strength of the Ibru family’s mega wealth. Enjoy, please…
Let me start by asking how have you been enjoying your relationship with colleagues in showbiz, given your silverspoon background?
I don’t think there is any difference with me and anybody else in entertainment. Entertainment is a tough business whether you came for money or not, to break into it is just as hard.  At the end of the day, it does not really boil down to cash that make you popular. It boils down to raw talent; being at the right place at the right time, having the right backing and knowing the right people. And just destiny; when God said it’s for you. Then it’s for you.
How did you start with entertainment and what has the public gauge been like?
Recently, only last week, I realized that I have been in entertainment for thirty something years and I’m only 43 years old. It occurred to me when I was having a conversation with my friend that I was eight years old when I entered the first competition. It was not a school competition; it was a local area competition. It was a singing competition and I won. So, my first professional act, if I could say that, was when I was eight and now I am 43 years.  It’s something I have always been in.  I have my production company, Twice As Nice since the year 2000, and we have been going strong for almost sixteen years. There is my acting and being an on-air personality and so on. I think the last year or so I just decided I wanted to take it to another level. And so far it’s being good.
People know you as a complete showbiz person, but at a point you lost your voice and you stopped singing. Do you feel like you are missing a part of you; do you feel like going back to singing?
Whatever happens in my life, I put it down to the work of God. I don’t ever think evil. Even if it seems like a negative thing; I feel that God hand is always in it. When I was singing, I was concentrating so much on my singing that I forgot that I could do so many other things. So, when I lost my voice I had to sit down and go back to the books and asked myself, what I am going to do now. So, if I had not lost my voice my company would not have been opened, I would not have been in all the productions I had been in, I would not have done Idol West Africa, I probably  would not be an on-air personality right now. So, I don’t want to say I regret or I feel I’m missing out on something because God holds me in the direction He wanted me to go.  As God will have it, there is a voice there now. It’s just that I don’t use it, the voice that went has returned although it’s a different type of voice. I enjoy so much doing what I do now that I have no regret whatsoever. It’s just the direction God wanted me to go.
What is it that encouraged you into showbiz and who was it?
It’s my mother’s fault (laughter). She took me to the theater.  And I fell in love. The first show I went to see I was five years old then. It was when Epitome came to Nigeria. She took me to watch Epitome and that was it. There was no going back; I fell in love with the theater. My mum loved music, my father also loves music, and my mum was the practical one. She was the one that will say let’s go and watch this, let’s go and watch that. Even though, she was not a Nigerian, she was born and raised in Oron. Now it is Akwa Ibom, then it was Calabar. You know they are very musical people, very dramatic; they have all their different masquerades which you call egungun. She was very much part of the Calabar community. So, that was a big influence on me because we used to go to their festivals, where we watched the masquerades, regatta and all those kind of things. And all came down into this package that I fell in love with. If she was alive, she would have been 89 or 90 years old this year. She was in that school of old musicals, Jim Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Nat and co, and I was the baby. I was always with my mother, wherever she went I went. Most times, during the weekend when she was relaxing at home she will be watching these old musicals and naturally I would be watching them with her. So, it’s my mother’s fault I fell in love with showbiz. When I got to school in England I discovered that I have a talent in showbiz so everything just tied together.  I deceived myself a long time simply because I was a Nigerian child. I said I wanted to be a lawyer. I will still go and study that law one day. It has something that interests me; criminal law, but I grew up going to school thinking I was going to be a barrister one day. That was my ambition but I was doing the singing, the dancing and the theater outside school and within school and so on. It was when I was 17 years old that I realized that this is not for me again. This is something I really want to do.
Do you still wish to go back and study law?
It’s never too late to go to school. I already have a degree anyway. Apart from my Theater Arts degree I also have degree in International Relations and Economics. I don’t believe it’s ever too late to study. But, the hustle is too much, so until when one stops hustling.  You know when you are very comfortable, when you can retire. That is the way I see myself. Maybe in the next ten years I’m going to study PHD in African agical rites and culture. And study my law; I don’t see why not. If I’m not hustling then I can be in school just for the sake of gaining knowledge. They say knowledge is power. Just for my own comfort, or for my own self pleasure, whichever way you want to put it.
I want us to go back to the era of watching movies, following mum around. How was it like being baby of the house, I mean the pampering and all that?
Well, everyone thinks the last born is always spoilt. On the contrary, I was never spoilt. My father has 17 children from six ladies. My mother was the first wife, so from my mother there are 7 of us but my eldest brother was Azikiwe. My mum had him and she met my father and had Oscar and the rest of us. I really was the baby. But I was never spoilt, I was a disciplined child. I was cheeky but it was only my people I knew I could be cheeky to. And I was extremely shy. And then unfortunately, when I got to the age when maybe the spoiling was to start in the way of having enough pocket money to go to school and buying designers glasses and the rest, my mum passed on. I was 17 then. When you start enjoying, if your parents have money, it is at that stage you really start to enjoy it.  You don’t have to worry in the university and so on. Unfortunately, my mum died. I grew up overnight. And you know polygamy is polygamy. You know what men are like. My father moved on and then I became an independent person overnight. But it’s good like I said; nothing happens to me that God’s hands are not there. If it had not happened that way then I won’t be the person that I am today. But I was never spoilt. In fact, I was the only one out of all my mother’s children that worked when I was in school.  Nobody else had to, but I was the only one that has to have a part time job and so on and so forth. Because by the time I got to that stage, my mum was gone.  So, it’s all good, everything is planned. Everybody has their own destiny.
Does that experience tell you something about polygamy?
Polygamy is the most evil, devastatingly messed up, and polygamy should be outlawed. It destroys life, it really does.  When the men are going about doing what they feel like doing, they don’t remember they will die by God grace. And leave their children behind and they don’t make plans, let me say emotional plans. I was lucky in the sense that I had a strong mother, who believed in unity. She made sure that my sisters and brothers were close; we were not allowed to stay divided, say this is my half-sister or step-sister. She would tell you, you are talking nonsense. She would say she is either your sister or your brother, there is nothing like half or step. She made sure even through all the challenges, that we were all united. She always used to say, we will die by God grace and leave you. You will bury us, we will not bury you. So, when we die and leave you, who do you have? Now, when you are a man and form a polygamous family and you do not make sure that your children are united, it is the most evil of things. Because, we find that the children will start fighting each other. It’s like civil war; it’s like creating lots and lots of little civil wars.  And if you are a creator of war, then you must be an agent, if you know what I mean. So, Polygamy is just out of it.  I will also say to all women that are thinking of becoming second wives; don’t do it! You are better than that; you deserve to be the first wife and only wife. Even if you don’t marry, it’s better than marrying somebody else’s husband. It’s a horrible practice. As far as I am concerned, polygamists should be jailed too, both the men and women. There are actually women out there looking for how to marry somebody else’s husband. If the men don’t have any women that are willing, then you would not have one. It’s not a one-way game.
When did you consider your happiest moment, with all the challenges?
That was the day I gave birth to my son.  There is no comparison, I have a son, and his name is Elisha. And the day I gave birth to him was my happiest day. That was the 20th of September, 2008, 9:30 am, to be precise.
Let’s talk about your showbiz career, at what stage are you now?
Showbiz is going very well. Presently, I am working as an on-air personality for Classic FM. For many years, people have been asking me to go into MC stuff because it comes to me naturally.  I had only been drawing my legs, the same way I was drawing my legs to do broadcasting. It seems the thing has hooked me, so I’m doing MC work now and I am enjoying it. I just finished producing a movie called Cajoling, which I also acted in. The film should be coming out in January 2016. I am about to produce another film, a short film, hopefully, it will be shot before the end of the year. Thus, by the time we finish editing, it should be coming out at the beginning of next year. I am also in a stage production called Hear Word, it’s a play. The full title is Naija Women, Hear Word. And it’s a play about the plight of women in this country, but it has actually grown so much bigger than even the director and writer expected, so we have been on stage several times. We were on stage last year twice; we have been on stage this year.  We are going back from 21st to 27th December and we will perform in Lagos. By God’s grace, next, we will be on tour. So, that is all part of what I am doing. I just finished a musical last October? It was a musical called The Magic Of The Musical. Also a stage play; I was in that as well.  So, the acting, the singing, the MCing, the radio broadcasting, the producing, everything is all coming together. And I hope to be extremely busy next year. I like being busy, even though I complain of being tired. I rather be busy than idle. So, I have quite a lot of things lined up.
Are you going to put the play on home video for family entertainment?
The creator and the director will be in a better position to answer that question. You know, we, theater people are quite snobbish. We believe theater is theater, if you want to watch come to the theater and watch it.  What is the point of us putting it on DVD, if it is film, then let us do film. You know the theater experience is an experience, which is why Oyinbo people call it the theater experience. It’s an experience, the theater is not like anything you do, it’s not like watching a movie, and it’s not like watching a musical concert. It’s a whole different world, so apart from the fact that we were doing a play that has a message we also want a revival of the theater. We want people to want to go to the theater. Instead of saying let’s go to Silverbird to watch James Bond, why not say let’s go and watch Aunty Joke Silva at the Muson, which is just as entertaining if not more?
You used to be very sociable, but it seems these entertainment things have taken away your attention. Is that correct?
Well, man must work. You have to work to eat, that was how I was raised. And I have a son to feed. But the joy of what I do is that I love doing what I do.  So, half of the time, it doesn’t seem like work. You get fatigued; because you are human you get physically tired. There is no way you can work from nine o’clock in the morning to midnight everyday and you will not get tired. While you are working you don’t feel it, because I so love what I do. And I am still sociable, but entertainment is social now. So, if you try to run away from it, you are still amidst people, you are still mixing, you are still blending. It’s just that when one gets an opportunity to rest rather than go and groove, you rather go and sleep and rest your head and your body a little bit.  
So, you don’t have much time to relax as it used to be?
Not as much as I will like, but I am not complaining. The only time I sometimes feel I need more time on my hand is when I feel I have not spent enough time with my son.  You know sometimes, I feel guilty that I need to spend more time with him, but he is such a cool dude. The guy is so independent and so understanding of what mum does. I really don’t have any issue with him, plus we are a close knit family. He is constantly surrounded by love. Even when I am not there, my sisters, sisters-in-law and my brothers will be there, so he was completely surrounded by love. He is a well rounded kid. He is okay.
You seem to be more into God now?
I have always being into God. That is never changed, but as you grow older you just learn more. You pray to be closer to God; you see things happening around you that give you cause to realize that it is very important to be very close to God. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a pastor, as far back as when I was eleven. The first thing I wanted to do was to be a pastor, at that time the Anglican Church did not allow female pastors. Otherwise, I would have gone to theology school and may be by now I will be called Reverend Elvina Ibru. I am no angel, trust me, but I do love God. I realize He is number one in my life. Above everything, God is first.
Despite knowing you have a kid, do men still make love passes at you?
Do men ever seize calling women? Una dey gree women rest? (general laughter). The way other women run away is the same way I run away; I am no different to the next woman on the street. The truth is that I don’t even have time. Sometime, it sounds funny to find time for me to go on a date. I work till midnight every day, so, when will I have time? But, I’m just like every other person. If a nice man comes along that is cool and loving, I will go out on date with him when I get the chance. And if he is not my type, I will tell him, no vex you are not the one for me. So that is it, nothing unusual.
Does it even occur to you that you are a daughter of a billionaire, does it reflect the way you relate to people?
The way I was raised, there is an African proverb that says, no matter how high you raise your shoulder it can never be above your head. That is how I was raised. In short, humility is the key to life. Realizing that just because you come from a background of wealth, that it does not make you any special or any better than anybody else, is a very big lesson in life. That is how we were raised; we were raised to always look at others as equals, never to look down on anybody. Although, one is reminded everyday that we are blessed in the sense that we live well, we have nice houses, nice cars with AC, we have generating sets, we are reminded everyday that you are blessed and you come from a background of substance. But at the same time, it is not something that you dwell on, because we don’t discriminate, we don’t look down on anybody, and we don’t feel as if we are better than anyone. So, in that sense my father being a billionaire has never affected us and he himself is the most humble. He is humble to a fault and he married a woman- my mother – that feels the same way. So, we are not affected by that but the respect and regard I had for my father is beyond any other man I can think of in this world. I am yet to meet a man I have more respect for than my father.
When your mother was alive, were you closer to him than her?
No o, I was my mother’s hand bag. But I have always being a loving child, a very loving person; I show my love and tell you I love you. And I’m not ashamed to tell you. When everybody else was a little bit scared, I don’t want to use that word, maybe out of respect for him, they wouldn’t go too near him. Me I dey enter im armpit, whether he likes it or not. Anytime I was around I was always all over him, sitting on his leg, laughing with him and bringing his food. I will say I was close to my father as much as i could. But me and my mama, I be my mama’s two-eyes.
You have almost everything at your beck and call, how do you give back to the society?
In any which way one can always. It is not something I make a song and dance about, I don’t believe in all of these opening NGOs and foundations. Do your thing, the one you can do quietly. You don’t have to make a song and dance about it. People who know you know. My interest is in youths, children and women empowerment. I believe if you empower the youths and the women, the face of this country will change. Let the old people go, they have tried their best. We have seen what they can do. They fact that they don’t help the youths disturb me a lot, because the youths are blamed for a lot of things but when you think about it, you ask yourself, have they been enhanced in any way? Back in the days, when our father went to school it was almost guaranteed that if you have a degree or  school certificate, which was like a first degree in those days, when you come out, a job is waiting for you. Youth service was organized; it wasn’t a camp with cesspit of diseases you are forced into.  It was a reason for you to meet people from different tribes and so on and so forth. That was the original idea, I may be wrong.  It’s not now that they are just putting people’s children, just to suffer them. If I were the president of this country, the first thing I would do is to eradicate youth corps. What are they suffering them for? It should be scrapped. Number one, before a child graduates, wahala don dey; strike, lecturer want to press my yansh, cult guys want me to join, this one is raping and that one is doing drugs, armed robber, no light on campus, teachers are doing anyhow, lecturers are not complete. For somebody to graduate, you need to give the person a mega award to say you have tried. That one never finish, you now tell me to leave my home- if I live in Lagos, I should go to Minna, where I don’t know anybody, to go to one dirty camp and I am expected to look after myself, expected to pay for boarding, my uniform and at the end of it, where is the job. So, every day you are saying youths, youths are this, youths are that. What are you doing to empower the youth, so that they are moving in the right direction? This is the future. Our presidents are too old, how old is Obama? Give the youths a chance, let them prove to us what they can do. You were once a youth, Buhari was once a youth. Obasanjo was once a youth. Nobody came out of the stomach at the age of 73. We were all youth, but they had opportunity, whether they want to admit it or not that the Nigeria of then is not the Nigeria of today. Things are difficult. In those days, if you graduated from Igbobi College, you didn’t need to go to the university, you just get a job. Now even if you have a master’s degree, you are at home. I know graduates that are waiters, waitresses, doormen, so what am I going to the school for. I told my son, Elisha the other day, we were gisting and I told him he should not come and tell me he wants to be a doctor or a lawyer. I told him he should go find a ball to kick or carry microphone and go do hip-hop because that is where the money is. Everybody now wants to be in entertainment, because if you look at it, it is almost a sure banker in this country now.  Football and music is where the money is, whether the dollar went up or down, it is none of our business, just pay us. If I’m performing at your party for five million, give me my five million or find another Whizkid or Davido. Now everybody wants to be actor, singer or a model, but that is not how it was in those days. They encourage you now to become an engineer, now you are an engineer and you are still at home. You are an engineer doing what; being a waiter? It’s ridiculous.  A whole doctor cannot pay house rent, but you are saving people’s life. So, the government needs to do something.
Let discuss the state of Nigerian women, do you think Nigeria women are getting their real worth in the scheme of things i.e. politics?
Let me say there is hope; after all we have a female governor, don’t we? It has been confirmed and if the man is in court, he will remain there, in Jesus name. Ordinarily, I will say no, although we have had a few notable women; Aunty Dora, who has passed on, Diezani, Aunty Ndidi Okereke. There have been a few notable ones but in comparison with the men that is not a lot. The ratio is not healthy, in my opinion. But, I wouldn’t put down Nigeria to the point of saying we are so backward that we are not giving women a fair chance. I think we are coming up; the area in which women are not being giving a fair chance to me is not in the business or political world, it is in the home front. You see too many double standards as far as the home front is concerned. Right for women when their husband dies, the fact that if you don’t have a male child, is a problem. The double standard of, if a man cheats on his wife, it’s alright but when the woman cheats on her husband, she is a Jezebel. For me, we are not treated fairly more in those areas. If you are a powerful woman, nobody can try you anyway. To me, those are the real issues, where women are not being equally treated. What happen if a man dies, the family come and kick her out of the house that this is their brother’s property. What protection does she have for herself and her children? What kind of pensions plan is available to her? What kind of widow support is available? Because there are women who depend solely on their husbands and once they are gone everything is gone. What kind of right do we have for women that are suffering domestic violence and their children being abused? Why are we marrying 12 year old children? Those are the kind of issues that I feel are not being addressed fully. IVF, why is there IVF in Nigeria. It’s because men are sleeping with babies. How are these girls being protected, why is it not illegal? Why are we talking two consenting male adults that want to be with each other that they will go to jail, but we are not jailing people that are marrying 12 years old girls? How does that work? It doesn’t make sense to me. In entertainment I know how it was for me, but now it’s getting better. There are lots of powerful women. Look at Mo Abudu and the late Aunty Amaka Igwe. She was powerful in showbiz. There are a few of us coming up. I think it’s revolving but we really need to face the social issues.
We are not seeing much of the Ibrus in politics?
Are we really a political family? Although, there is Uncle Felix, who of course was the first civilian governor of Delta state, there is Uncle Alex, God rest his soul, who was minister of finance during the Abacha regime. Oscar wanted to go into it, he went for governorship, I think in Delta. Apart from that, I will not say the Ibrus are big political family. We are business family, na business dey our body. We like to make money, business flows in the family, even the little ones. I think in every family, everybody has his calling. So, when you have Uncle Felix of this world, who is still a senator.  Obviously, he is called into politics. But, I wouldn’t state the Ibrus have are big political followers.
How will you define style and fashion?
Fashion and style is, comfort and simplicity. I don’t believe in big shine. You can see me wearing my Jalamia. I bought one from an aboki on the road for 1,500. I see a nice dress, if it Christian Dior, Nina Richey and if it’s 2000 dollars and its beautiful, if I like and I have the money, I will buy it. The day I don’t have the money, I comot my eyes.  Adire fabrics full market, tie and dye full market. Jalamia full road. I love dressing in Nigerian fabrics, when I do the red carpet I tend to use Nigerian fabrics or designs. I just believe that we should be comfortable; you should understand that your body is not somebody else’s body. For instance, I have a certain shape and size; I will not wear what Geneveive Nnaji is wearing. She is petite. And I will not wear what Agbani Darego is wearing. I will wear what is good for my own shape and size. So, at the end of the day, it is comfort and simplicity.
How often do you change your wardrobe and who does it?
When I see what I like I buy it. If the wardrobe is getting too full I do a spring cleaning. I don’t wear this, I don’t wear that, I give them out. But I don’t say it is every three months that I have to change my wardrobe; what for? I get wetin I dey take my money do, not to buy cloth!
What is idea of an average Nigeria man?
Nigerian men are nice o. It’s just that most of us have been brain washed since we were children.  Even, the way we raised our boys is different from the way we raised our girls also as women. If a Nigerian man grows up in a certain way, you can blame him. The same way you cannot blame the woman. Generally, I always defend Nigerian men. I have always dated black men. I have never dated an Oyinbo before, so I don’t know what they are like. I think out of all the black people in the world, Nigerian men are the most generous and most responsible in the way that 80% of Nigerians men will kill themselves to go to school even if they don’t come from a wealthy background. They want to go to school, an average Nigeria man wants to work. He doesn’t want to lazy around. Nigerian men have pride; they believe that they should be the bread winners. Even, when it comes to look they are very handsome. They are the most handsome black men in the world. They are generous; most Nigeria men that have money will look after their wife. They will look after their family. Even if their wife is working, they still feel their responsibility is to provide for the family. I always stand up for Nigeria men, I think Nigerian men are great.
How will you advice women who see Elvina Ibru and want to be as lucky as she is?
Oh! She can never be Ibru’s daughter; she should just forget that one.
She cannot even be like. The first thing is, never to want to be like anybody. I have never wanted to be like anybody. I idolized people but have always wanted to be like myself, which I think is the first key to success. Michael Ibru was himself; he never wanted to be like anybody. I believe in hard work. You know you keep going back to the Ibrus but I need to make it very clear that no one comeS to drop Ghana-must-go full of cash every Wednesday for me or any member of the Ibru family as the case maybe. And nobody ever did the same for my father. We all grew up believing in handwork, education, and humility and we address people properly and with respect. So now, I was boosted in life in the sense that I have a very good educational background. So, for me, that is the start of everything. And that is the secret of the Ibru’s wealth, if you like. If there is a woman out there, a young girl who wish to grow, I will say to her, education is the key and don’t ever compromise your body because you think it’s going to get you somewhere. Don’t ever think that your body is more powerful than your brain. It is not. Use your brain first, if you use your brain you will know how to get into certain corners. Use your brain not your breasts. One day the boby must fall but the brain is always ticking.