Last week, a moment involving a male guest giving a female guest a ₦100k gift at a wedding went viral. Millions of views later, the recipient of the gift, Sommie Maduagwu, spoke to the PiggyVest Blog.
In the interview below, the model, lawyer and former political consultant shares details of her very interesting life and career. She also supplies some context to the events captured (and edited) in the widely-seen video.
What was growing up like for Sommie Maduagwu?
It was pretty quiet. I’m the first of three children. My dad is from Anambra and my mum is from Delta, but I grew up in Port Harcourt. There were certain parties we couldn’t go to and the usual village thing — regular Nigerian parent paranoia.
Usually that kind of paranoia is for people with some kind of privilege…
Maybe. My parents are oil people, and I was born in London. So maybe.
Was it clear what you were going to become when you were young?
I think it was clear what I was heading towards. I am horrible with numbers, but they used to say I talk too much. I have many interests now, so I’m still becoming in some ways. I recall that as a child I wondered why there weren’t many women in power.
It bothered me, so I told my dad that I was going to become the governor of Anambra state. He would tell me to shut up. [Laughs] Sometimes, I’d read imaginary news to myself in the mirror; other times, I wanted to be an actress.
But what did your parents want you to be?
My mum wanted me to be a lawyer because her dad wanted her to be a lawyer. According to her, I had the qualities. My dad just wanted me to have a good job. In fact, he sent me out of Nigeria to do Business Economics. He’s an Igbo man and thought Law would be limiting.
Did you do Business Economics?
I did it for two weeks and didn’t understand a thing, so I called my mum. I told her that I would bring disgrace to the family if I continued.
What did she say?
She is my confidante, so she was fine with it. But I needed to tell my dad as well. We had a conference call, and he was like, “That’s okay, but I won’t pay an extra dime if you fail.” I didn’t fail.
Yes. But my pocket money was reducing small small, and my dad was insisting that I stay back. I had to put my foot down so that I could return to Nigeria. I then went to law school at the Abuja campus. By then, I was modelling on the side.
How did the modelling thing happen?
I was already being approached when I was younger, but my dad was very protective. In London, I met a photographer who said he wanted to take photos of me. It wasn’t paid, but I had a lot of fun.
So when I got back, I thought I could do more, but I was only getting jobs for ₦30k, ₦40k. I think my first paid shoot was at Millenium Park in Abuja. The job came from someone who had seen me on Instagram. This was in 2017.
Did you get into any entrepreneurial activity in school?
I tried to do a Nigerian Karen Millen and Marks & Spencer type of clothing for women in the corporate world, but I couldn’t get materials and tailors. It was obvious I wasn’t doing it properly so I closed it down after a year.
What happened next?
Bad news. My dad decided to cut me off after informing me that he would give me a final lump sum. By then I had finished law school and NYSC.
Wait. What did you do during NYSC?
I worked at a law firm.
How much was the pay?
But NYSC was paying ₦19,800?
Yes and my dad was still funding my life.
Not too bad. So your dad. What was the lump sum?
A couple of millions. I bought a ticket and went to the UK.
What did your dad think about that?
He was fine with it. It was always his plan to give his kids that option. My mother is a British citizen, and he said that was why she stood out to him before they got married. He wanted his kids to have the same thing.
Hmm. So what did you get up to in the UK?
I was in London and applying for jobs. Each time, they’d say I didn’t have experience because my two-year law experience wasn’t in the UK. I became aware I was black.
Must have been hard. What did you do to escape?
A friend told me she could get me a job as a care worker in Worcester, which is near Birmingham. The day after I arrived at her place, I was up at 6am, the crack of dawn, to begin.
I was following a white woman from house to house, taking care of people that were dying. I’d give them baths, give them medication, and clean their houses.
I realised I was in a fantasyland in London. I was getting taken care of by my aunty and getting benefits from the government. In this new place, I had to contribute to the household. But I was getting paid.
In a good month, £3,000. On the average, £2,000.
Was this okay for where you were?
You can imagine, Kelvin. It was fantastic. From ₦30k, ₦50k, which is what I was getting as an intern in Abuja. I was now sending money home and responsible for some people!
How long did you do it?
For about six months. Then covid hit and changed how I worked. I chose to stay with one client, which paid better because you are pretty much giving them your whole time. It paid about £4,000 a month.
But after a year and about eight months, I felt my life was slipping away. It was like a spiritual attack. I felt like I would waste my life doing care work in the UK. The money was okay, but I was willing to part with it.
I can imagine. Surely, you had saved some money?
I am not good with saving, I have to admit. I think I only saved a couple thousand pounds.
Well, PiggyVest is here to help with that because a couple thousand pounds doesn’t seem like a lot.
It really wasn’t to be honest. But I still decided to return to Nigeria. I was coming for a wedding and thought to myself, “If I find a job I like, I’d take it and remain in Nigeria.” This was in 2021.
But wait, we skipped something. You were the Face of Zaron in 2020. How did that happen?
My mum has been a fan of the brand for years. She was always telling their people that her daughter is prettier than their models. I decided to apply in 2020 after years of thinking about it. I was still in London at the time.
I found that I was in the leading position after applying and I was comfortable being there, so I told my mum and my late uncle. They took it personally. I even wrote an exam in the UK, but I was so focused on the campaign that I missed the pass mark by a few points.
I don’t know if it was a good sacrifice, but I’ll take the exams again at some point.
Interesting that you did all of that from the UK.
God just said it was my time. I had to come back to Nigeria for the photo shoot. In London, I saw people posting the billboards and luckily I returned just in time to see the billboards myself.
Must have been nice. You must have had other opportunities from being on those billboards.
Yes. I got a call from a mutual with a family friend. I was in London at the time, but he wasn’t aware. Weeks later, he called me and said he was coming to Abuja and wanted to see me. I was back in Nigeria by then, but I was miserable.
I had gone for an interview and waited hours only to be told that the law firm would pay me ₦50k and I had to work on Saturdays. I burst into tears right in front of the staff.
I felt so sick, which was why I was still in Abuja when this mutual friend came. He said he couldn’t quite employ me, but he knew someone. That was how I started working in Benin. The person he introduced me to wanted to fill a political consultancy role. I started the day after I arrived.
Starting immediately seems to be a pattern.
[Laughs] You know me now!
Nice. What else was bringing in money?
I was earning dollars with a friend based abroad. I also have an agent that sends me legal briefs in the modelling space. That brought in some money. I was also doing modelling and some Instagram promo deals. I was also renting private jets…
What? How does a person get into that kind of business?
[Laughs] I got the contact through a friend who once flew a private jet.
I am super-impressed! What were you earning in a good month?
[Laughs] Some thousands in dollars. And a few hundred thousands of naira. But the dollar arrangement ended after a bit.
A political consultancy role seems to be a great avenue to network…
It was. I met a few important women and once attended an event with a governor.
Are you still in the role?
No. I left in April.
What has changed since?
I think my mindset has changed. I was telling my best friend that since we graduated, I have always had money on my mind. I am not going to be quantifying my worth based on how much money I have.
After I left my job, I took part in the Miss Tourism pageant; I had applied last year. I was the first runner-up and I will be representing Nigeria in China in November.
So, where does the video-seen-around-the-Internet fit into your story?
That happened in May at a colleague’s wedding in Benin. At the time, I had already quit the job, but I promised the bride that I was going to come. Most of what happened occurred because it was a comfortable setting for me since I was around my former colleagues.
What exactly happened at the wedding?
It was a best dressed contest. I was sitting down before people started to say I should go to the stage. In the end, they picked me as the winner. I was waiting for my gift when the MC asked that all the ladies on the stage should go pick the most luxurious man they could find in the audience.
You can imagine. But I know who my former boss is so I went to pick him. He had no problem with that.
What about the other ladies?
I didn’t know any of them. The people I really knew were the people my boss asked what I should do when the MC asked him to make a demand. That’s why they were so excited in the video. They like to see me dancing because they had seen me dance at the office’s social events.
None of this context was in the video.
It was edited.
I had told my boss that I would ask him to dance, but he said I should stick with the money theme. That isn’t in the video. You also don’t see that I was the one who told the girl who read out states and capitals to Google it because the demand wasn’t that she had to recite from memory.
Looks like there was a lot of time on that stage. The video lasted only a few minutes.
Yes, we had time. There was another lady who asked the man she picked to pray or something. She raised ₦500k because people in the audience said she was a woman of God.
It was quite an interesting wedding.
I guess. But it was stiff before all of that happened.
How has it been since the video went viral?
It has received mixed reactions. For me, I see it as a test. I have an interest in politics, so I should be open to things like this. I have also tried to direct some of the attention to my fashion designer.
What would you say is responsible for your interesting trajectory?
My beauty, my grace and my doggedness. I don’t give up, and I laugh at some of the comments the video has gotten on Twitter because none of the people behind those remarks can outwork me.
So what’s next for Somtochukwu “Sommie” Maduagwu?
There’s the usual trajectory from political consulting to political appointment. I am considering that. I am also considering news reporting. I believe I am in a season of redirection, which is why that video went viral, I think.
But yes, at the moment, I am in Abuja, watching and waiting to see what happens.