In case you missed the Toke Makinwa New York University controversy that brewed and spilled over mid to late last week, let’s revisit it and discuss the three key mistakes Makinwa made that created the mini-crisis.
The Background Facts
Toke Makinwa visited the United States last week for a book tour for her tell-all book titled ‘On Becoming.’ The book chronicles what is a 99.9% history about her dating and marriage relationship with her ex-husband Maje Ayida. In the book, Makinwa alleges that her ex-husband gave her and his mistress a sexually transmitted disease. The book launched late last year and went viral in Nigeria and among Nigerian diasporans. This year, Ayida sued Makinwa for defamation in Nigeria and U.K courts, according to the legal documents and press statements allegedly attributed to him. The lawsuits are now pending. Ayida’s lawyers have also sought to stop Makinwa from promoting her book.
Independent of the above, Makinwa has had a love-hate relationship with the public, most of it being people questioning her lack of authenticity, from skin bleaching (which she now admits) to misleading the public about her personal relationship with Ayida. Specifically, for years now, Makinwa has served as a relationship expert on You Tube dishing out advice primarily to women and encouraging them to leave relationships that were not even close to the terrible one she depicted and claimed she was in, for 12years, with Ayida. It turns out, based on her book, that Makinwa was doing everything but taking her own advice. This infuriated many fans. In addition, while many were quick to abuse and castigate Ayida after reading her book, the tide began to change when Ayida alleged that he filed for legal separation a year after his marriage to Makinwa even though they continued to live together. This significant fact was omitted in Makinwa’s book.
The U.S. Tour
Now that there is context, fast forward to last week. Makinwa came for a U.S. tour in two cities Houston, Texas and New York, New York to promote her book. Fashion designer and owner of House of Versatile Styles Bukola (Bukky) Are organized her events in both cities. The Houston event had a small turn out but Makinwa made up for it by enlisting the services of New York-based Nigerian fashion stylist Remi Fagbohun (a long-time Makinwa stylist) to help her brand and publicize her visit through fashion imagery. Fagbohun nailed all looks she chose for Makinwa and that, of course, resulted in Nigerian blogs talking about Makinwa’s fashion style as the main focus during her visit.
However, Makinwa came here for a book tour. So, what about the publicity for the book itself? Things took a different turn when Are solicited a few diverse Nigerian-American industry heads to help further amplify Makinwa’s visit and brand. One such solicitation was Lilian Ajayi-Ore who made it known, publicly, that she was invited to interview Makinwa. As a disclaimer, I do know and have worked with Ajayi-Ore. I also know and have supported Bukola Are’s work for almost a decade with publicity and media at Ladybrille Magazine.
Ajayi-Ore is an Adjunct (part-time) Professor at NYU teaching a few marketing and advertising courses. In addition to her interviewing Makinwa, she decided to extend an invitation to Makinwa to speak in one of the graduate classes she teaches at NYU. Ajayi-Ore, smartly, did not invite Makinwa to discuss the content of her controversial book. She asked Makinwa to speak on “Building a Successful Brand in the Digital Space,“ a topic Makinwa, in my view, is overqualified to speak on.
As we all know, NYU is an ivy league school with global prominence. So, it is understandable that Makinwa was very excited. Shortly after Makinwa accepted the invitation, she took to her Instagram page of 1.2million followers to share the news. She also called herself a “Professor” and had the hashtag “#GuestLecture.” This is where the issue began.
Upon seeing her Instagram message sharing her exciting news, many members of the public were very suspicious of Makinwa’s claim that she, per how they perceived it, was a “guest lecturer” as opposed to a “guest speaker” at NYU. One NYU student Richard Somade who is a law student at NYU School of Law and a licensed attorney in Nigeria stood out. He took it a step further than others. He first asked Makinwa, through social media, if he could attend the event.
“Hey Toke, let’s know which room the lecture is taking place and the time. Some of us here at NYU School of Law will like to listen to your lecture,” he wrote.
Makinwa referred him, online, to Ajayi-Ore’s social media handle for further details. Ajayi-Ore responded to Makinwa saying the event was a closed event.
“@tokemakinwa We are excited to have you on campus today. This is a closed event and not open to the public,” she responded.
This response fueled Somade and the rest of the public’s distrust of Makinwa’s statement that she was a “guest lecturer.” Many argued that to be a guest lecturer Makinwa needed to address an entire student body. Makinwa, again, does have a history where her credibility seemed questionable. So, it was no surprise that Nigerian blogs and social media users publicized Somade, Makinwa and Ajayi-Ore’s interactions, and questioned Makinwa’s credibility. It became a mini-crisis that Makinwa and Ajayi-Ore chose to ignore. Makinwa did eventually speak at Ajayi-Ore’s class (a small class), and Ajayi-Ore did finally share a post-event statement, addressing Makinwa’s performance.
There is an allegation that Somade engaged in harassing tactics towards Somade and Ajayi-Ore. I do not have any such evidence. If I do, I’ll update this post to include it.
Did Makinwa lie about being a “guest lecturer”?
The obvious question is, did Makinwa lie about being a guest lecturer? The short answer is, “no.” Makinwa’s invitation to speak to Ajayi-Ore’s class and share her expertise in digital branding makes her a guest lecturer which is also synonymous with a guest speaker.
What is the distinction between a guest lecturer vs. a guest speaker?
There is not much of a distinction. Both are invited speakers speaking about an area of expertise they have. However, typically “guest lecturer” is used in an academic setting, mostly universities, to refer to situations where a professor invites a fellow colleague from another university or the same university to present a lecture to his/her class. The guest professor can be referred to as a guest lecturer. Non-professors are also guest lecturers although the more common term is “guest speaker.”
Why didn’t Makinwa just use guest speaker which is more of the colloquial term?
First, if there is anything we know about Makinwa based strictly on her own admission and presentation, she is very image conscious (looks, style, status et. al matters). Second, Nigerians, in general, are very image conscious and status driven. Makinwa knows her audience well and knew, regardless of if she feigns innocence, or should have known that the use of “guest lecturer” would capture and stir the emotions of Nigerians. She enjoys creating and having the spotlight and this is no different. There is a reason why she was asked to speak about digital branding, and there is a reason why she has become an internet influencer.
Were Somade and the public wrong for questioning Makinwa?
Absolutely not and it is a preposterous idea to even say they are. Nigerian celebrities and influencers, you can’t eat your cake and have it too. First, Makinwa does have a history where her credibility has been questionable. So, there is nothing wrong with the public you have asked to buy your book, aggressively marketed to and invited to your book tour events, to question your credibility when you can’t provide information about an event, and now claim the event is “closed.”
What about the alleged harassment by Somade?
If Somade has harassed Makinwa, we are in the United States of America, Makinwa and Ajayi-Ore can use the many resources and tools available through law enforcement and NYU to prevent him from further harassment. However, let’s be clear. Harassment is not questioning the credibility of the event, asking for proof, and when not seeing one, saying or even thinking that Toke Makinwa may be lying.
Is Lilian Ajayi-Ore required to leave her event open to the public?
No. The students in her class have paid for the education. Professors, at most universities, have a right to invite guest lecturers/speakers to speak to their classes. It is a way to enhance and enrich the student experience in the classroom. Professors don’t know it all, and textbooks don’t teach it all. They are not required to open their class to everyone just because the speaker they invited has publicized the event.
Now on to the three mistakes I believe Makinwa made that created this mini-crisis.
The 3 Mistakes Toke Makinwa Made that Created the NYU “Guest Lecturer” Mini-crisis
- Acting on impulse: The problem began with Makinwa. She hired a publicist, Bukola Are. Are’s connections and relationship with Ajayi-Ore got Makinwa the invitation. Makinwa should not have impulsively shared the event on social media without first verifying all essential details with Are, her publicist.
- Referring the public to Lilian Ajayi-Ore: While Ajayi-Ore teaches marketing and advertising, she is not a publicist and was not there to act as Makinwa’s assistant. Once Makinwa shared a private event with her 1.2 million followers on Instagram, and they began to respond, she should have sent them to Are for further follow up. It is just plain rude to invite random strangers to a private event that someone has invited you to. It is also plain rude to publicize the event to the world without checking first with the person who invited you on whether they even want that kind of publicity. If she checked, she would have known it was a “closed event” and not have to place the Professor, the school, and the school’s image in the kind of light she ended up placing it.
- Not confirming the type of language that should be used to advertise the event: Before Makinwa shared the event that she was “guest lecturing,” and dubbed herself “professor,” she should have confirmed the language to be used. Makinwa is no novice to working with brands. She has signed enough brand ambassadorial contracts and knows or should know there are certain expectations as an influencer when you represent a brand.This is a school that has its brand to protect and is answerable to its alumni network, its board etc. Confirm before sharing information online on the specific marketing content. You are not the first they have invited or the last. Don’t create an unnecessary hailstorm.
Makinwa is not the only one who bears some responsibility here. On Lilian Ajayi-Ore’s part, it is important to have a specific protocol given to prospective speakers on her expectations specific to how they market and promote her invitations to speak to her class. In many of the leading institutions I have been invited to speak, there are press departments that manage the image of the university and its professors. So being sensitive to that and also protecting her job as an adjunct, Ajayi-Ore should set clear expectations.
For brands in general reading this, when I have drafted contracts or advised organizations using influencers like Toke Makinwa, one of the things I draft into my contracts is a clear expectation of conduct and content that is communicated in marketing, advertising, and promoting my clients’ events. What will the influencer say? When? How? How often? I also always have an approval clause making it clear my clients have to approve whatever that content is that the influencers are sharing where it directly involves my clients’ brands. When you are not clear of such expectations then you have easily avoidable problems like the one in this case.
I am happy Makinwa’s speaking engagement went well and for all involved, do better next time.
Meet Prof. Lilian Ajayi-Ore
UPDATE: Images showing Richard Somade harassed/became a nuisance with the Makinwa situation. As indicated above, Makinwa and Ajayi-Ore should enlist the help of the University police and local law enforcement to stop the harassment.
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