By Yemisi Suleiman
After a successful outing with her first TV show, writer, film maker and TV presenter, Salma Philips, is out with yet another intriguing and inspirational talk show ‘Arewa Ta yau’. Created for northerners all over the country, ‘Arewa Ta yau’, which means ‘The North Today’ in Hausa, is a 30-minute indigenous talk show in the Hausa Language. The show profiles issues peculiar to northerners in general.
Among her other talk shows, Salma’s ‘Arewa Ta yau’ broadcast on DSTV Arewa 24, is of the more passionate and of the more sensational as issues like early marriage, non-education of the girl-child and the Almajiri, amongst others, are trashed by studio guests. Born to a Fulani Shuwa father and a Kalabari mother, Philips who is married and a mother of one holds a Law degree from the University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt, Rivers State and is currently living her childhood dream of being on television. Here, she shares with ‘Allure’, her journey into TV production, her life as northern showbiz personality, challenges, fashion and more.
What inspired your choice of career as a teenager?
Femi Oke was the first Nigerian I saw on television back then; I was nine years old. She used to report the weather for CNN. I told my mother that this is what I wanted but she didn’t want me to be in anything that has to do with entertainment. My mom was a Christian but my dad was Muslim; both of them are late now. They forced me to study Law.
When I moved to Lagos with my husband, he brought my television dream back. He asked if I still wanted to go after my dream of having a talk show and producing movies because I talk about it all the time, especially every time I watch Oprah’s show or Inside Out with Agatha. He encouraged me to go after my dream and I made up my mind to give it a shot. So, I sat down with a friend, Bayo; I told him how I wanted my show to be, the type of show that would touch people’s lives. We began with a docu-series talk show, which didn’t go well. I tried a few others as well and still didn’t get it.
So, how did The Salma Show come to life?
I wanted to be on DSTV. I had written series of talk shows and sent to them but the plots were all rejected for one reason or the other. It was so frustrating that, at a point, I told my husband that I had tried and won’t bother anymore. But he encouraged me to go and study Media Broadcast. I said there was no way I am going back to any university in this country! He recommended the BBC Academy; that “they might teach you how to do certain things – build your confidence. They will put you through what it is to be in front of a camera and then you will have an idea of what it is to be behind as well”. I thought about it. I registered for the course; it was a four months course on a major broadcast platform. I completed the course, thanks to Denrele. He helped through a lot of tests. When I came back, my husband said: “Maybe you should go back to DSTV and let them know that you have attended training”. I said no. I shot 13 episodes of The Salma Show; I called Bayo and Bayo called one or two other people. Denrele called Joy; we just got a crew.
Obviously, I was new but Denrele used his influence to book one or two people. I shot 13 episodes of the show and edited everything. In two months, everything was done and I called them at DSTV again. I was asked to come in the next day. I went the next day and I played it for them; about four of them. Biola Alabi was on the panel. She is such a wonderful woman. They just watched five minutes into it and they were like ‘oh my God!’.
Now, this is what we are talking about; it is different from anything that is on TV. You open with your language, Hausa, and close with Hausa. It was an English show but I say hello in Hausa and it is subtitled. They could see that I was myself and not trying to be Mo or Oprah. They accepted the script and said, “We will send you a contract”.
I didn’t believe it until the day I watched myself on television. That was how The Salma Show came into existence.
What is the show about?
It is a 30 minutes show. It is on lifestyle but it is also an informative, educative and inspirational show. You have different guests from different walks of life; like you have entertainers, pastors, regular normal people, everyday people that you see. The essence, for me, is to inspire, enlighten, educate and empower women through my talk show. I want women, especially from the northern part of Nigeria, because they are the ones that are not hungry when it comes to going after their dreams and ambitions; obviously, because of the religion and the culture, they are subdued. I felt like, if they see their fellow Fulani girl on TV, trying to inspire them, they will probably have the guts to come out of their shells and go after their dreams. Eighty percent of why I decided to do the show is to inspire women and girls.
Would you say that the purpose for which the show was set up has been achieved?
I think so because the feedback that I am getting from people, especially women, makes me feel good. You put your blood, sweat and tears into a project to inspire girls and they are reaching out to you. On my Instagram, I get direct messages every day; the same thing with Facebook – from people saying, oh I watched your show, I was inspired about being ambitious and going after my dream – the feedback received, so far, has been awesome.
Most of them are northern women, to be honest, and I get from other ethnic groups, the Igbo as well. But on Facebook, I have tons of messages from Hausa-Fulani women saying how they have been inspired, basically. I think the feedback has been okay although I want more. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Would you say the feedback was what inspired your new talk show, Arewa Ta yau?
When I started The Salma Show, a lot of northerners were confused; they did not understand if I am Hausa because of my dress sense. So a lot of them couldn’t connect with the talk show. But then I said to myself, I am not going to pretend that I am only a northerner, my mum is also South-South. So, there is no way anyone can put me in a box and say I should do a show for just northerners. Salma is a show for everybody – northerners, Yorubas, Hausas and Igbos. But then again, I had an idea to do a documentary on northern Nigeria but I decided to turn it into a talk show and talk about a lot of things that northerners are running from; issues they don’t want to face head-on. That was how Arewa Teyo came to be.
What are some of these issues?
Early marriage, girl-child education in the north and the issue of Almajiri. Even the two guys who came to the show to talk about early marriage, they were still trying to dodge the issue using the Qu’ran. I said to them: ‘This is not an Islamic show. It has nothing to do with religion. How do you give out your twelve-year-old daughter?”
We tackled it and the guy got agitated. I asked him, if he has a daughter, will he give her out at twelve? He said well yes, but she will be in his house till she is 16 years old! It is quite a serious talk show. Education is another problem that we are facing in northern Nigeria. It is horrible; you just have to go there (to see for yourself). It is quite recently that some Hausa parents began to allow their kids to go to school, secondary school and further their education!
Don’t you face some criticisms on the show, especially from northerners?
Yes, I do. Earlier this year, I was in England. The BBC invited me for an interview on BBC Hausa and they wanted to know about Arewa Teyo because they saw I was recording a Hausa talk show. I interviewed (some people) for The Salma Show last year so when I started Arewa Teyo, I was putting some clips on my Instagram and they reached out to me.
They said: “If you are in England, we would love to talk about Arewa Teyo. I went there. I was talking about The Salma Show and that I will love to see more northern women have talk shows and act in mainstream Nollywood, not in Kannywood and for Arewa Teyo, we talked about so many things that are affecting Northern Nigeria. The BBC put it on their Facebook live but at a point, they had to disable the comments because of the insults received. Men insulted me: Oh, look at this Igbo woman claiming to be Hausa. Oh, you probably lived in Kano all your life and you just understand Hausa. You are not really from the North. If you are really from the North, you are not going to be talking about any stupid girl-child education. Leave our women the way they are. Nobody is complaining.
They were raining insults on me. My husband was scared and asked that I drop the girl-child education (issue) because they started sending me Facebook messages: Are you Nkechi or Ngozi? It was terrible!
The reason they are behaving like this is that they know the truth! The problem with northerners is if you look a certain way, they will think you are either a slut; you are not a real northerner. I don’t believe in the veil. I have said it before. I don’t care what anybody thinks. I do not believe in covering my hair. I will do it only if I want to do it. It is not even in the Qu’ran to cover your hair. What is in the Qu’ran is modest dressing. Make sure your arms are covered. Do not wear anything that reveals your legs. It is Arabian culture to cover your hair and use the hijab.
I don’t believe that is what is going to take me to heaven. God is going to judge me based on my intentions and the way I lived on earth and treated people. It was horrible! I didn’t go on Facebook for five months. So I got a northern Christian and a Muslim girl to come on the show as co-host because I didn’t want it to become a Muslim kind of show.
Being an Hausa and having a talk show, does it influence your dress sense in any way?
I am Fulani. Well, honestly, I am not a fashion girl at all. I just wear my jeans and my t-shirt; that is all. I will say my style is effortless to the point where people around me, my friends, are like you need to spice up your style; you are in the media industry. I am not also the hijab type like they will say the hijab Muslima. I am Salma. It depends on my mood; my dressing or what I put on depends on how I feel. Some days, I wake up and I have a hijab on because that is how I want to be.
Talking about fashion bags or shoes, what would you splurge on?
Oh, my God! I am such a shoe freak! Honestly, I love bags. My top can be H&M and my pants can be Zara. I love shoes and bags. The most expensive bag I have bought is a Birkin and I have only two; it is costly when it comes to bags. That is the most expensive item I have bought in my life. For shoes, I love Christian Dior and I also love Prada. The most expensive shoes I have bought is a Tom Ford; it was for my birthday.
I do not believe in replica designer items even though I see a lot of it around, especially the Birkin bags; one person has 10, even in colours that the manufacturers haven’t produced.
When it comes to sleep and beauty routine, what do you do?
Yes, I do have a beauty routine. One thing that works for me is coconut oil. I mean the pure, raw oil form of it. I get it from a lady in Badagry. What people don’t know is that coconut oil tones you. If you steam your face, using your towel and a hot towel to open your pores, rub coconut oil on your face afterwards. If you do that straight for three months, I promise you that you won’t need to buy any bleaching (cream). I also use Clarence; the whole range – toner, scrub, face cream, day and night cream.
Do you exercise?
No. I do not exercise. I am lazy when it comes to exercising and I know I need to hit the gym because (during) the holidays, I put on 6kg from partying and eating. If I have to exercise, I’ll prefer to dance Samba and some of the dance routines Kaffy does.
You also run a project on cerebral malaria. Tell us about it.
One of the projects I’m also doing is to raise awareness for a disease that almost killed me. Last August, I passed out and was rushed to Reddington Hospital. I was in the hospital for ten days, diagnosed with malaria but not regular malaria; it was a severe and deadly disease. I couldn’t remember my house help or my daughter and that is what cerebral malaria does. It attacks your organs and goes straight to your brain and if not tackled immediately, it will eventually kill you. They gave me 60 doses of Quinine injection to clear the virus that was going straight to my head. I just picked interest in it and spoke to the doctor at length to know what kind of malaria it is.
I couldn’t walk properly; nurses had to hold me to urinate and I couldn’t even eat. It was traumatic for me. I never knew anything like that existed. Unfortunately, this is malaria that kills a lot of children and people think it is common malaria. Ordinary malaria cannot kill you; it is cerebral malaria that kills people. So I partnered with UNICEF to raise awareness for cerebral malaria and we intend to hold a charity ball to raise awareness about the disease and its symptoms.
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about film and television. I am currently working on a drama series that will be out in March. I am also passionate about family and friends, from the ones in Kaduna to Abuja, my husband and daughter.
I’m also passionate about empowerment and, to be honest, Nigeria is not a country for women. When you look at the Divorce Law in the Europe, UK and even some countries in Africa, they protect women and girls but Nigeria does not do that. So, I’ll say to every single woman out there to ensure she is empowered and know who she is before she gets married.
Love your husband. Enjoy the money if he happens to be rich but make sure you get your own and when things go wrong, you can walk away without being held down because you want security for your kids and yourself.
How do you take time off to rest when you’re not working?
I spend time with my family; watch a movie and just like a real aboki, I drink tea. I just chill with my husband and we watch movies or we travel.