While this may not be earth-shattering breaking news, as most of us already know or at least probably have an idea about, it is still heart-warming to know that a regular Nigerian girl (yes, she is quite regular) can drag herself from virtually nothing to reach the apex of the blogosphere. It is a truly inspiring tale of rags to riches.
It is also not news that a lot of people dislike Linda Ikeji. They read her blog, they swear by the Gospel of Linda Ikeji Blog, but they dislike her. They dislike her under the usual banner of “there is nothing this person is doing that should make her better than I am.” But she is better than most people because she is different from most people. Linda Ikeji is not some air-headed young lady that leisurely eavesdrops on conversations of the celebrities and the upper class and then shares it with the internet. Linda Ikeji takes blogging more seriously than some medical doctors take medical study. From what I observed when I met her, Linda Ikeji obsesses over her blog like it were piece of art. She dedicates herself so passionately to it that it may seem the blog is a child she nurtures. In a sense, that blog is a child that has grown into a very handsome man.
She told me a story of how Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had left where she sat and came to her, as a fan, to greet her. “I love what you are doing. I love your blog. My name is Chimamanda Adichie,” she had said to Linda. Linda told me she screamed. She had also nurtured ambitions of meeting Adichie. Now they met, and she didn’t have to jump through any hoops for it to happen.
“Linda Ikeji is a snub.” “Linda Ikeji is this.” “Linda Ikeji is that.” We all have our opinions and perspectives of her. “Linda Ikeji loves money.” Some of us think that, too.
I met Linda Ikeji for the first time at the then Club 10. I was introduced to her by a friend, Ifeanyi Dike. She didn’t snub me. Years later, she could not remember that we met.
Second time, we had agreed to meet at Eko Hotel. We chatted for over 2 hours and went home. She offered to buy me food. I was there when her two smashing sisters – Laura and Sandra – came. I left with a different understanding. It is not her fault that you don’t like her. Some of us can’t deal!
Nigerian writers don’t like Linda Ikeji. Why? Are they disgruntled? What is their problem? Can I safely say I was part of the group that secretly despised her for no reason? We were angry, because we didn’t understand how she could be doing almost same work as us and then, had effrontery to buy a Range Rover. Some would have said ‘men’ give Miss Ikeji money. I had heard different things about how she makes money.
In Paris, I came closer. I saw. I shook my head. I wept for the world that will never ever meet Linda and continue to judge her from afar. Life is not fair.
One particular evening, in her hotel room, at Hilton, one of the most expensive hotels in Paris, Linda almost grabbed my hair in uncontrolled anxiety, because a post she had made on her blog had disappeared. I didn’t quite understand what the fuss was about, but I picked something: this lady is obsessed with her work and she knows what she is doing. She never plays with her source of income. Linda loves her readers! She claims she doesn’t care – Linda cares too much! She cares too much for everything! Looking back now, in that room, I could say, Linda may not have a very social life, but she has a beautiful life – she has the greatest sisters. They support her. They help her. They share in her joy. And sadness too.
Do I have her permission to share this story? I am not sure. But she shares a lot of things she is not supposed to, and that is part of her appeal. I’m borrowing a leaf from her playbook.
As she told me, on a certain evening, after returning from one of her numerous shopping sprees, she said: “On my 30th birthday, I had N800 left in my account. I spoke to God.”
Linda’s story is like a fairy tale, I tell you. It is like, but it is not. She has had her fair share of turmoil, troubles and hustles. She has faced crushing rejection. She went round Lagos looking for sponsors. Some of those she sought for sponsorships in their offices can’t have access to her anymore. Somehow, she disagrees with my assertions that this is vendetta. She is driven by the will to pay back many people, to succeed.
I kept asking myself questions about Linda as we went to the mall to shop. I followed her everywhere. I wanted to understand her very well. Would there be a room to ask her questions? Linda is this, Linda is that! Sorry, Linda is not all these things we have cooked up in our heads because the Linda Ikeji I spent enough time with in Paris is: hardworking, gentle, reserved, careful with words, pays attention to details and doesn’t eat much. She likes chocolate!
I had seen her jump from beneath her duvet and run straight to her blog in the middle of the night. Just to blog! She is disciplined and hardworking!
Linda is the richest African woman I have met under 40. I have seen! But they are for my eyes, only. I could not stop myself from writing that line!
Now, let me get back to the writers. Linda Ikeji did not just appear from nowhere. Like the rest of us, she had been struggling in the dark city of Lagos, until her wheel of samsara turned. Her tough days prepared her for this glory.
When I started chatting with her via WhatsApp, her profile status said and still says: “I’d Rather Be Self Made.” This will sound funny, but she doesn’t allow people do anything for her. I mustered the courage and asked her to attend the Nollywood Week Paris; saying we would pay for her flight and before I could even add another thing, she asked for the date and said she would love to come, but she would not want us to pay for her. Her honesty and modesty could make you fall in love with her. She said: “Hey. Would love to come. Never been to Paris. Me and my sisters. I’ll take care of the expenses. Flight, hotel, etc.” I paused. This doesn’t happen. She continued, “I don’t travel alone. I hate it. I will take care of myself. I kinda like luxury living when I travel. So, 5 star!”
She booked her First Class flight ticket. She booked herself into Hilton. Linda and her sisters, Laura and Sandra came to Paris!
She shared intimate stories with me and encouraged me to find that one thing that makes me happy, that will also give me money. It is impossible to hang out with Linda and leave without feeling something has been added to your life.
While Sandra and Laura were shying away from eating Nigerian food, Linda wanted it. The last one, I goofed, I got back late with the food and she was not happy, but she ate little and said: “Onyeka, are you not going to eat?” I was going to say no, but then I remembered she had eaten from the plate with those magical fingers, so I said, “I want to eat.”
I took the food and I ate from the same plate where Linda ate from and now, I’m hoping some mystery has been added to my life, too!
Thank you, Linda, for not being what they told me and what I had thought. Thank you, for your realness.
Onyeka Nwelue is Assistant Professor of Literature at the University of Manipur, Imphal and Visiting Lecturer of African Studies at the University of Hong Kong. His latest book is Hip-Hop is Only for Children.