April 28, 2016, Tunji Balogun aka Teebillz, Tiwa Savage’s ex-manager and husband, gave the entire African entertainment industry and its fans a major shock when he went on an Instagram rant about his pop star wife accusing her of sleeping with industry veterans, and abusing and accusing her mother of committing all kinds of crazy atrocities against him. He also made suicidal threats and attempted to follow through. Less than 24 hours after his suicidal attempt and in an attempt to control the crisis, Savage gave a tell-all interview to ThisDay journalist Azuka Ogujiuba where she confirmed that her husband had a history of mental health issues, had been receiving treatment but did not seem committed to treatment because he always quit halfway through, and had, in fact, attempted suicide. She also informed the public of his history with substance abuse (cocaine), among other statements she made, most of which were very damning to him and his public image.
Thankfully, Teebillz did not kill himself. He was rescued by industry friends. Shortly after what was nothing short of a very traumatic event for all (fans, media, the African public etc.), Teebillz went silent on and offline leaving a cold trail. It’s been a little over a year and TeeBillz has now emerged on the social scene again. He has also since reconciled with his wife and apparently, has been receiving intense and extensive counseling, and psychotherapy. Since Billz’s emergence, his focus is now to bring awareness to mental health issues, specifically depression. About a month ago, he spoke at an event and recently spoke at yet another event on the topic.
Carrying on with his mission, in a just released interview with Linda Ikeji, he opens up about depression and the importance of creating mental health awareness in Nigeria. He also shares that he has or is counseling people who reach out to him about depression, has saved lives and plans to open a non-profit addressing this specific mental health issue.
First, Teebillz should be highly commended for the guts it takes to address his challenge with depression publicly. Discussing any mental health issue is an incredibly tough thing to do, especially in a society where it holds such great stigma, and many don’t seem to understand the distinction between sadness and depression.
I have also said, on this blog, that we need not be so quick to condemn African countries that lag in mental health awareness and have so much stigma around the issue. This is because the United States and Western countries are no better for all the education and awareness we have. Sadly, the dominant narrative in Western culture is to be afraid of someone with a mental issue, especially if that person is male. There is great fear and stigma that is ingrained in the psyche of the American public, as it is that of the Nigerian public, that we too on this side of the pond have deep stereotypes that are hard to break when we hear about people with mental health issues: depression, bipolar, seasonal affective disorder, schizophrenia etc. So, again, Teebillz should be highly commended.
Having said the above, I do think the following:
1. It is slightly premature for Teebillz to begin doing the media rounds to discuss this issue. I think the prematureness is underscored by his unwillingness to open up or even address “the incident” of April 28, 2016. He calls it “the incident” but that is the extent of it. In fact, he takes on a defensive stance from tone to body language when any reference is made in the interview to that incident. He also seems to contradict himself in certain instances in the interview and comes off confusing in certain instances on whether this mental illness is one he had no control of or could control with just his “determination” prior to seeking help. The prematureness is also underscored by the fact that his wife has said he has a history of mental illness, has received help but never consistently follows through. Therefore, it is way too premature, in less than a year to be doing the media appearances.
2. In his media appearance with Ikeji, Teebillz tells us about his symptoms in the interview: his feelings, thoughts, some of the physical manifestation of his feelings and thoughts, and also his attempt to harm himself prior to the incident. But, he ignores the big elephant in the room. Per his wife’s account, one of the key behaviors that led to his mental health demise was substance abuse and a crazy lifestyle of wanting to fit in and be a part of the in-crowd, so much so he allegedly stole from their business, 323 Entertainment. He needs to be prepared, in my view, especially as a public figure using his platform to create awareness, to be transparent about his substance abuse and the impact it had on getting him to what we all witnessed, and then clearly denouncing the use of it. Given he shares that he is counseling others, I think addressing and denouncing substance abuse which is now highly prevalent in the industry, since he is positioning himself as one who helps others, is very critical as part of creating that awareness.
3. His reaction and body language are normal but again shows he is not ready to talk to the media. He has to reach a stage where he is not ashamed of his story and fully owns it if he purports to want to rope the Nigerian media, fans, and the public, to help create awareness.
4. I do believe that based on the prematureness of his media and public rounds, he could end up in the same place we all witnessed, again. This is not wishing bad luck. This is just a fact and very likely reality. The fact and reality are that it is highly demanding to be in the limelight regardless of what service or product you are offering to the public, and the altruistic-ness of it all, and not have it take a toll on you. You constantly have to remember to unplug and have those that love you pour into you to keep on keeping on. When you add celebrity to the mix, it creates a whole different dimension. When you further add a celebrity whose image has been dragged through the mud by him and his wife’s doing, then it is particularly hard because whether it is spoken or not, such a celebrity has a point to prove in his ability to be independent and successful for himself and his family.
While economically it may seem great to jump right into it i.e. potential increase and demand for his speaking services, endorsements et al. leading to income of his own, it will and can have a wear and tear on an already fragile mental state. So, to me, one year is not enough to go through the kind of public trauma he went through, get therapy, heal, and be ready to now be an evangelist or coach for others. By the way, don’t you need some sort of certification to coach others through depression in Nigeria?
Folks, the point is that Teebillz can be an evangelist off camera, and work some more on self and fortify his mental health, and marriage before he begins making his media appearances et. al. Obviously, it is not easy and it takes some time to do so. That is why I think Teebillz may want to perhaps continue to build confidence in his new role, away from the media, but in smaller groups/audiences, under the direction of his coaches and therapists, until he gets to where he can have that candid conversation, raw and uncut, about his specific mental health and the specific incident that put the world on notice that there was something really off, something that needed medical action and major divine intervention.
I do think his coach Lanre Olusola, who is a popular media personality in his own right, did a great job in spelling out how to spot symptoms of depression etc. I do slightly warn of a potential conflict of interest in bringing, even more, attention to Olusola’s work while trying to help Teebillz heal. It is a cautious and careful balance Olusola has to strike and one where the interest of his client, Teebillz, trumps any other brand expansion and awareness needs.
My 50 Kobo for all its worth.
Linda Ikeji Interview
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