Toni Payne, estranged wife of Nigerian artiste, 9ice spoke to ’Nonye Ben-Nwankwo about the many controversies surrounding her life.
I understand you now own a cosmetics line. Is it a new business?
No. I have had this line since 2005. I was in the United States then. I used to come to Nigeria often to try to push the line. It is not a mass produced brand, it is more of an exclusive brand. We have customers who buy it. It is just recently that I launched a line of eye lashes that I am trying to do mass market.
What made you get into this line of business?
I was a publicist for one brand abroad. Being its publicist, I was always in the office and I saw how the processes went. They introduced make-up and I was interested since I’m a woman. I felt it was an interesting thing and I wouldn’t mind doing something like that myself. So I started learning. I would sit in the laboratory with the technicians and I would write down formulas and look at how they did stuff. So I decided to bring what I learnt to Nigeria.
And how has it been?
Business has been good. I have no complaints. A lot of people felt I kept quiet about the make-up business but that wasn’t the case. It is just that it is not a mass market. It is not a mass produced range. I didn’t want to over- do things.
You dabble into so many things at the same time; one might see you as a restless person…
I agree. I am an Aries and we have this trait of doing everything. But I only do two things. I do PR, which has always been my background. But when I started doing PR in Nigeria, I noticed there wasn’t really a structure. You can’t just only be a publicist to an artiste. You might set out to be a publicist but you will end up doing managerial duties because there is nobody doing it. But now that more people are interested in that field, I have taken my hands off artiste management and I am sticking with PR.
You no longer manage artistes?
No. I don’t do that anymore. But I still do music promotion. It still looks like the same thing because of that lack of structure. But the duties are different. If an artiste comes to me now, I tell him straight up that promotion is different from management. I tell him his manager is supposed to do his business runs while his publicist is just to make his brand known and polish the brand.
What issues did you have with Olamide? We heard there was a misunderstanding before you parted ways with him…
I never had any problem with him. He had a label and I felt the label could handle the work for him. I had done my bit to a certain point and I felt I was satisfied. I didn’t want to be drawn into being an insider. I wanted to do Toni Payne Concept. I didn’t want to work for the label; I didn’t want to be too involved. When I felt it was time to let go, I had to go. And that is one good thing about me, I know how to let go. I don’t know if it is a good trait or a bad trait. There wasn’t a bitter quarrel. People do end amicably, not everybody has to fight. PR is easier than management. I have a child. With PR, you can do your job during office hours but with management, you are expected to work at odd hours.
You are into poetry too…
Yes. I just recently started sharing my poems. I have been writing poetry since I was 13. I never used to share it. I was on Twitter one day and I asked if anybody wanted to read my poems. The response was good and I decided to share it. So a lot of people downloaded it. I never knew there was a huge appreciation of poetry in Nigeria. Since then, I decided to use my brand to push mainstream poetry. Young people now email me to teach them how to write poetry.
Do you know music so much that you had to go on social media to criticise Tonto Dike’s song?
I didn’t do that.
But where did the story come from?
I know where it came from. I was at an event and somebody asked me what I thought of her song. I said she is a woman like me and she is trying. We are not all perfect. The next thing, I started reading online was that Tony Payne said this and that about Tonto Dike’s song. I was amazed. I never said anything negative about her songs. I have heard the song just once on the radio.
Did the story cause any kind of rift between you guys?
It didn’t because I’m sure she knew I didn’t say that. I think that was what the person who put up the story was hoping to gain. Even when people were criticising her about the song, I tweeted that people should not insult her and if they must criticise, they should do so constructively.
But what do you think of her music?
I haven’t really heard it. I don’t believe in abusive criticism. If I listen to the music, I might even end up liking it because of all the abuses she has got.
Why did you come back to Nigeria?
I got married. I just had to move back home. I felt I should have a close knit family. I got into working in Nigeria and I have been having fun.
Are you going to move back to the States?
I can’t say that. There is no guarantee. I have plans. It depends. We will find out in the next couple of years. I have lived in the US almost all my life. I used to come back home for visits.
Do you regret coming back home?
I don’t. I was even saying so this morning. If I didn’t, the curiosity would have been too much; I would have missed out on a lot of things. I’m glad I came back home. My feet are so well grounded. I know what I want and I know what I am capable of doing.
For somebody who is into PR, how come negative publicity has followed you in the short while you’ve been in Nigeria?
I will not let negative publicity control my life. It can’t make me not to live the kind of life I want to live. That means the people behind it have won. Some other persons would have run back to the States, but I didn’t and I will not. It is a little bit harder to manage yourself in terms of PR. I managed it well. I did as much as possible to reverse the notion about me. The terrain was even new to me. I kept wondering why people would want to say bad stuff about me. But now I have learnt, once I read or hear anything bad about me, I write my defence on Twitter.
What has kept you going?
I’ve been busy. A lot of people would have suffered from acute depression. I got angry at times but I was determined not to be broken. People ended up liking me. They found out I was the opposite of what was said about me.
Do you have any issues with K Solo?
I don’t have any issues with him. We are not friends. We’ve never sat down to have a 10-minute conversation. The issue with him came up because I follow him on Twitter and I saw the comment he made concerning his son. The mother in me couldn’t take it. I was angry about why he could say such concerning an innocent child on social media. That was it.
How are you coping as a single mother?
My son still has a father who is alive. It is not hard. He is well taken care of. I’m doing very well. It is not a big deal. Things happen, I will not be the first and I will not be the last.
Have you ruled out marriage?
Everything is in God’s hands. I will not rule out that aspect.
What if 9ice comes back to you?
(laughs) No comment. I will not answer that. I cannot predict the future.
What is this story that he snubbed you at an event?
I don’t know where that story came from. How could he have snubbed me? We are not enemies. He didn’t snub me at any event. I got to the event quite early. At that point, I was about leaving. And because there were too many eyes on me, I just had to stay awhile. It was even later that he asked me if I was at the event.
Do you still talk?
Oh yes we talk. We have a child together. We are friends.
During the brouhaha, you were outspoken, why?
There will be a time in the future when my son will be able to browse the Internet and read up all the stuff that happened. I didn’t want him to ask me why I didn’t defend myself. That was what inspired my own decision. I didn’t care whatever consequences that came out from my defending myself. I had to defend myself.
Why did you marry 9ice? So many people were of the view you were taken by his fame…
When I met him, he wasn’t that popular. I met him before the stardom. He was somebody whose personality I liked. It didn’t have anything to do with his being a celebrity. I saw a person I liked. I didn’t look at his status. I would say he was the first guy I was ever really in love with
Was he your first boyfriend?
No. he wasn’t. But he was the first guy I had genuine love for.
Who was your first boyfriend?
It was one guy. We still talk. I’m not going to mention his name. He is still my friend.
How did you feel when you heard that another lady now has kids for 9ice?
No comment. I am not going to say anything concerning that. I don’t even know about it. I read about it in the papers. But then, I have read so many things about me that weren’t true in the papers. However, true or not, I will not talk about it.
It is more than two years since you separated. Are you now officially divorced?
I’ll not say anything about that. I’m sure 9ice will not tell you either.
We learnt you went back to beg him to take you back?
Me? Never. I did not. I know where the story came out from. Somebody close to him was feeding the press with the story. For some reasons known to him, he never liked me. He was the one that was always talking about me and coming up with such stories.
I guess you mean his former manager, Deinde?
Yes. And since he left him, no story has been said about me. I didn’t go to beg 9ice to take me back. Why would I do that?
Did you actually sleep with Ruggedman?
Of course I did not. I can categorically tell you I did not. Ruggedman has been my friend. But even before then, we didn’t see. And even after the whole incident, we have hardly seen. The last time I saw Rugged was during Occupy Nigeria. I have not seen him again since then.
Would you want Ruggedman and 9ice to be friends again?
They are adults so they should make their own decisions. But then again, I want peace between them. The fight was not warranted. There shouldn’t have been any fight in the first place. The song that caused the problem wasn’t about me. I was there when the song was recorded. I can still remember what I cooked that day. I cooked jollof rice and I diced the meat I used in cooking the rice. The lady referred to in the song was not me. All the attributes didn’t have anything to do with me. I don’t have tattoos. The last time I checked, I wasn’t bisexual as the lady referred to in the song. It was just a song but people just chose to believe whatever would suit them.