The Transatlantic Love Story, Starring: Eniola & Jude Abaga

 

MI Abaga

 

Few things are more profound than when two people get on the same page to share the rest of their lives together. The constant rush of emotion that we feel around that one person, the optimism that comes with planning the future with them, the sensation we get from the inside jokes that absolutely no one else in the world understands; if you have ever felt these things, you would agree that it is a pretty good place to be in life.

The Onah Nwachukwuled DOWNTOWN team witnessed all of these emotions when we had a lengthy conversation with Social Entrepreneur, Eniola Mafe and leading Hip-hop Artist, Jude Abaga, widely known as M.I. Abaga.

Since news of their engagement broke on social media, Eniola and Jude have adorned their public appearances with so much charm. As the couple got ready for the enchanting photoshoot session, we spoke on their transatlantic love story that essentially themed Jude’s twelfth project, The Guy, and Eniola’s contributions to a new Nigeria upon her relocation influenced by

Let’s talk about how you met, we all know that it was through Audu Maikori, and you started dating sometime in 2020. What would you say it was like at the early stages? Considering you’re an entertainer and she’s more of a private citizen, how did you guys balance it out eventually?

Jude [I]: I think we have two different answers.

Eniola [E]: First, it was very technology-enabled because I was in Switzerland, and he was in Nigeria. I think that the barrier to entry would have been too high. We don’t come from the same industry, we hadn’t met at all, but I had obviously heard a lot about him as a person to some extent. Audu spoke very highly of him and honestly about him because they have been friends and brothers for a very long time, so he wasn’t giving him just glowing recommendations like ‘he’s the best thing that will ever happen to you.’ He was being really honest, and I thought that was good because that shows a person who lives authentically for people to be able to authentically describe them. So technology really helped; we had Clubhouse, our first meetings were on Instagram, and we commented on multiple platforms at the time. Secondly, it was friendship. I was very happy being single, he was very happy being newly single [Jude muttered something as they both laughed], and to be honest, I always thought dating a rapper was not ‘my ministry.’ I’ve been okay with being on my own, so I saw it as ‘I’m just going to get to know this guy; I’ll have some really cool story to say of how Jude and I became friends.’ And it became this long friendship where we would check on each other and look out for each other and all of that stuff. I put the stamp on us not dating, not because he’s not datable; he is very datable. I just wasn’t trying to push it in that direction.

J: At its core, Eniola is a star, and I’m the quiet person in real life. Outside of what we do, if we were to start again and reverse to childhood to see us grow up, you’d predict Eniola would be the one in the public eye. She just has a glow about her. When they heard that we were dating, people who know us were like, ‘okay, that makes sense,’ because she has star quality. And I was perhaps in the most ‘unstar’ phase of my life. I was in solitude, in a good way, just cleansing and I met someone I thought was the coolest person I’d ever met. She’s really cool, very smart. I pride myself on knowing hip-hop, so I was deeply offended when she told me that she knows hip-hop better than I do. At first, I laughed it off, then I was offended[laughs], but she was correct [laughs]. She knows hip-hop way better than I do. There are two ways to live life; there are people that try to make as few mistakes as possible, and there are people that go out and make many mistakes. I think both she and I, for different reasons, have lived full lives. In the true definition of the word, it was really seductive to meet someone who wasn’t trying to fit into a man’s life. She’s about her journey in life. And what happens is that person has a lot of experience and knowledge. Especially for me because I’m such an introvert, forget MI. So to meet someone that could teach me things, I learnt a lot every day.

MI Abaga

At what point did you know, hey, there’s something here, I think I’m falling in love?

J: Number one was when Audu told me about her; this is the phase of my life when I knew I needed to meet someone new. I went to her Instagram page and [made a gesture to suggest that he was in awe]. I think because, in the back of my mind, I had always thought, even as a child, that I’d love to marry a woman with an afro; I don’t know why; it was just this silly thing. So as soon as I saw her page, I was like, ‘get out of here’ [in excitement because she had an afro on]. That was my first thought. Then we followed each other and started talking. I think the first time we spoke, we spoke for like two hours on the phone. This was Christmas time, and I was at home with family—my cousins and everyone was around. They are the ones that started noticing that every day I was gisting with this person. Early on, because of the distance between us, she living in Geneva and I in Lagos, it allowed us to be very clear. If it wasn’t worth doing, there’s no point. To look at her from that perspective, I would say that our meeting was one of the most magical times of my life. Falling in love was magical because we spent hours talking about several things like stories, music, and so on.

E: We would talk for hours, and people would be like, ‘what are you guys doing?’ If there was a camera, people would be solely disappointed with us. Sometimes we’d have music playing, and I’ll often dance (on camera). He indulges me in just being me. With women, we can sometimes look like we have it all together; it’s very hard to decipher where they actually need someone. It requires an inquisitive person who knows themselves and feels pretty confident in themselves to ask questions that have nothing to do with satisfying their ego. Sometimes with these conversations when you first meet, you’re mining for information to tell you whether this person is worth your time or not. I knew I was in trouble; I don’t mean that in a bad way; I was like, ‘oh man, he got me.’

MI Abaga

 

J: A lot of times, as men, you’re also not sure as you go through life. ‘Have I met the person?’ In my experience, you meet someone that you’re like, ‘this is the chance, this is the opportunity I need. I am now ready to put all my eggs in one basket. This is the basket.’ I told her she’s the story I want to read more. I don’t know how the story is going to end, but I would like to read chapters 2, 3, or 4 and learn more about her.

E: Jude already talked about the opportunity to meet someone amazing. It kinda scared me a little bit, it scares anyone because you don’t want to mess it up, and I loved being friends with him. He was a fast friend in the sense that I wanted to tell him about my day and show him everything, and this is someone I met a couple of weeks ago. I was just wowed like I really want this person in my life and I hoped they would stay, not in any kind of romantic way, it was that I want to be around this person a lot, and I think he’s really great. Not him as M.I but as Jude was just such a joy. I liked myself around him, and this was over the phone. He’s helped me become a better daughter to my parents, a better sister, friend, and woman. You don’t know how this story ends, but that intentional incubation of a raising of love… You talk about meeting and falling in love; I don’t think I fell in love. I built love with this person. He’s also helped me to get to love myself. He mentioned ADHD, I also have ADHD, so we interact in ways that probably look a bit haphazard to other people, but it works for us.

With all of these happening virtually, when did you decide it was time to meet, and in what country?

E: We met in Lagos.

J: I think you had a trip planned.

E: It was during COVID, and my parents, who don’t live here, couldn’t get back to sort out their affairs in Nigeria like they usually do. So because I wanted them to be safe and not travel, it ended up becoming a reason for me to justify being in Lagos. So I was like, ‘I’ll meet this guy; if it doesn’t work out, I still have eight months to find somebody else. I’ll enjoy my life and move on; we’ll just be friends.’ But I remember being clear that I didn’t want our friendship to end.

Many men can’t handle that. Either you’re my girlfriend or a case of ‘it’s too painful for me to hang around you; I don’t want to be your friend.’ How did you manage that, Jude?

E: He started climbing the wall

[The room erupts in laughter]

MI Abaga

 

J: This is why I said we have two different experiences. My own experience of it was that I really enjoyed it because it allowed me to not fall in love with the things that would typically be at the top of my list at first. She’s not around, and even though she’s passed the beauty test at first glance, it’s not about physical desire. It was about talking, friendship and listening to this person talk about goals, red flags, and all sorts. So I enjoyed it. I knew early on that I was super attracted to her and wanted to be with her, and she told me, almost as soon as we met, virtually, that she was coming to Lagos. I think she told me because she didn’t want it to seem like she was coming because of me, as she already had a trip planned.

This was in January, a month after we met.

E: We talked about mindfulness of how our brains work and how they work in relationship to each other. And I think people don’t think about the significance of that; they are like if you have the same background, intellect, and perception in life, marriages could work. But they don’t realise that how his brain absorbs obstacles, for instance, is very different to how my brain absorbs obstacles. And I think we don’t talk about relationships of our mental state; we talk about relationships in terms of physical, emotional, and maybe spiritual. We don’t talk about how we engage and interact with each other to build a life together.

J: Meeting for the first time was so exciting. My niece and I stayed together, she came to visit me, she’s the coolest, her name is Jade. I was going through a metamorphosis at the time, so I had gone through many changes: I sold my cars, gave my furniture away, and packed up all my awards; I was just ready for a new path. And so when she was coming to town, Jade and I swung to action to remodel my place. Then we went to the airport, [you guys saw a little bit of the video]. I was standing, waiting for her hair to show, and I saw the afro. We just continued talking.

MI Abaga

Naturally, in any relationship, we fight. And sometimes, it gets more aggressive with the people we love. How do you come to a place where you understand that ‘hey, we will not fight dirty?’

J: When I was asked to do this interview, I had hesitation. I hesitated because when you’re a celebrity and talk about love or whatever, people add a lot of expectations to it. I would say that the truth about doing it right is attempting to do it right. In terms of fighting dirty, there’s a childishness that you don’t go to at a certain point. I think one of the good things about this relationship is not having to worry about somebody doing something offside. No matter how upset we are with each other, there is an offside. No matter how bad it is, we ultimately are not looking for the other person’s downfall, which is very clear in our relationship.

E: I would say that I’ve had the most fun of a relationship with Jude than I’ve had with anyone in my entire life. I think many times, most of the relationships that last have been able to weather the high and the low and manage them to a standard deviation of being whelmed. I’m not overwhelmed or underwhelmed. I’m just whelmed; I feel at peace. When we have a turbulent time, I try as much to go to peace. It doesn’t always translate. You could get to peace in five, 10 minutes or an hour. You always have to manage what your expectations are.

When did you decide that it was time to propose? How did you know that you need her in your life forever?

J: In my experience, I think there are three steps. The first step is ‘I need to buy a ring.’ But even after that, it is ‘I’m paying for a ring.’ The final step is ‘I have a ring in my hand now; I’m proposing today.’

How did you get her ring size?

E: Fife came to my house trying to steal my ring (for Jude), and I caught her and collected it back because this is Cartier. J: Every way we tried to get the ring didn’t work. I got our friends to do a clubhouse show where people were supposed to put on the ring they wanted on the thing. I’m pretending I don’t know what’s happening, and in the middle of it, she stops and is like, ‘wait a minute, are you trying to propose to me?’ I knew I needed to buy a ring pretty early; it was four months in. I’ve thought about marriage in the past, but deciding to buy a ring happened between June and August. By September, I was trying to find the right ring. The ring arrived in December, and I proposed on the 7th of January. But we went through a tough time where I messed up, I dropped the ball in our relationship, and through that period, I got the chance to see her in an intense crisis, which is a thing that you need to see. Coming out of it, I was like, ‘this is the time.’ It was also her parents’ anniversary, and we had just come back from Jos, where we had a really profound conversation about the future (this year). So I called her dad, and invited a few friends over; no one knew what was going to happen except for a few friends. I tell her that I’ve generally been disappointed in my life about big moments. But one of the days that I was truly like, ‘today is better than I imagined it’d be,’ was the day we got engaged. I was very happy. It was perfect.

MI Abaga

What was the proposal like?

J: We used to have Friday dinners with friends coming over, and she was about to go back to Geneva, and friends were coming over, so I ordered plenty of Jamaican food because she loves Jamaican food. We had a camera crew come, so we have full footage of the whole thing.

E: He was just running around more than he needed to. I was like, ‘why do you care about our Friday drinks?’ He was just busy. And usually, he would be in the corner somewhere or telling a story, catching up with someone, doing the drinks run, or getting some ice. He was intensively working constantly.

J: We have a friend that came that day. She had a job offer and was talking about it and wanted to talk about it that day. So I told my other friend, “at a certain time, I need you to go round the room and ask everyone, ‘what are you thankful for?’ And then tease me a little bit and give me the moment.” This guy was trying for like 30 minutes, and there was a real conversation going on; the room was engaged, and I was sitting there the whole time. The camera team that I had called to do the behind-the-scenes footage walked in, and it was a great scene because Eniola turned around and was like, “oh, what are you guys doing here?” And they were like, “it’s for Chocolate City.” A friend of hers was about to leave, it was getting late, so I approached her and told her in secret that I was about to propose. She turned around, came back in, and I just got up. I had no clue what I was going to say. But Eniola had to leave for Geneva the next day.

E: I had to go back, but I remember saying, ‘of course.’ Normally people say yes, but I said “of course” because we’ve had really important conversations about our relationship. We were very quiet about our relationship yet open. So we would open up around friends and others who would know. We weren’t living in secret or anything. We just knew that providing the right environment for us to date, and getting to know each other; if it was ever going to win, lose or draw, it was going to be on our terms, not because someone has an opinion — whether, online, in-laws, or all sorts of things that can distract and burden a relationship. Even now, we still keep that same level of privacy in our lives. He had a whole camera team, but no one has seen the video except for that little clip because no one needs to.

MI Abaga

 

I have ADHD; I was diagnosed when I was 19. It affects relationships in ways that we are also discovering. It requires a deep amount of grace and an ability to accept flaws and inconsistencies, which is the opposite of what they tell you to find in a relationship, but it does breathe authenticity. It’s been really great to feel like you are seen because most people want to feel seen in their relationships, but they don’t always get seen. They usually need representatives, but because we both have ADHD, we don’t have the ability to filter. And I think that it’s a bit different trying to cultivate something like that in Nigeria, where you’re taught to hide your pain, don’t show your real self to someone else because you never know how it could be used against you. Be a wife, be a husband; here are the things you have to do when you’re a wife or husband, and you have to be a man, be a woman. There are all these things that tell you what to do and shouldn’t do, and people don’t have a lot of space to create their own.

How did your parents react when they first met him?

E: They love him. My parents are progressive in the sense that they understand that my happiness is number one. How I get that happiness, they want to understand. They do still see marriage as being a thing that they would like their daughters to have, which is having a partner. Some of this is stem from the fact that they won’t be here your entire life, so they want to feel like you are loved and safe. And marriage, in a sense, tells my mum someone is there to be there for her daughter. Jude did that by saying it and actively doing it from day one. And he and my mum have an amazing relationship that is separate from mine, I don’t know all the things they do and what they gist about, but I like that idea because fundamentally, when it comes to our wedding day, I look around and there are human beings who have helped us raise our relationship, who have talked to us, given us advice, let us be accountable, and just really being there. So my parents have been at the forefront, his parents have been phenomenal for me, his mum is hilarious, and I get to see sides of her. I think we both get to see sides of our parents through the relationship that has also helped us as a unit. My parents were really pleased to meet him, he met them on Zoom, and he was all dressed up. I remember looking confused [laughs].
He answered the questions and was ready to go. Then my dad turned to him with the last question, ‘will you be prepared to take me as a father?’

J: Her parents are the best; her family is just amazing. As I said, I’m very introverted, but I think that family can make it a lot easier when you know they are in your corner and they have your back. Also, the thing we spoke about with no offside. Any relationship will always have challenges, but you must know that it’s all on the field, even from a family sense. I know, from the bottom of my heart, that her parents are for both of us, it’s very clear, and I think it’s a gift.

Let’s talk about your wedding plans. How hectic has it been? You both want different things regarding the wedding plans. How have you been able to come to some kind of agreement?

E: No, this actually is where it’s different because we actually want the same things. Jude will be more than happy to get married on a beach with no shoes with maybe 20 people and go to a nice restaurant afterwards and hang out. There’s a part of me that’s very like that. There’s this other part that wants a big party. Also, we are the firstborn of both our parents, that’s a lot as our parents have been particularly keen and interested in each of us individually getting married. When I hear the stories about people wanting him to get married and people wanting me to get married, it’s always like, ‘you’re such a great person; you should have someone great too.’

J: It ties back to seeing someone that has a lot of tools as Enny has. So very early on, we did a quiz together, which took about two hours. I thought I would hate it, but it was very helpful.

E: They said the first thing you need to do when you’re about to plan a wedding is you guys align on what the vision of the wedding is because if you don’t have that vision, you don’t know what you’re working towards. So if I was going to have an ‘argument’ with him about the location, for instance, we could always have something to refer back to like, ‘well, we said we wanted something different that spoke to XYZ…’ and you can keep coming back to it.

J: Lagos is a difficult city to do things in, especially for couples getting married. Even simple ideas like getting married in a garden, in a place with parking and good security. Now, that should be a simple thing in a city like Lagos, with 20 million people, it shouldn’t be that difficult, but it is very difficult. I want to learn as much about the wedding process as possible.

E: I’ve heard horror stories about grooms who literally turn up to the wedding, and that’s the first thing they’ve had to do as far as planning the wedding goes. But Jude has been there for everything, he went to see the venue, and he’s just been an active groom. He’s involved in a lot. He’s in five or six different WhatsApp groups actively while also managing an entire business, being an entrepreneur, being M.I, going to do photoshoots, and creating a whole album literally in the midst of it. He’s been a real sport.

About raising a family, have you guys thought about that? What are your thoughts on kids?

E: I always wanted to have a family, but I think family is created as I go through life. One of the things I love about Jude’s family is that it also encompasses family members who may not be ‘blood family’ in a way, and there’s no difference. We have the same thing with us but just watching his family. Some cousins or nephews are maybe not even related; still, they see people as father and mother figures, so I really like the idea of being raised by a community of people and not having the burden on the parental unit. I really enjoy my life with Jude, and it is very complete in that sense. I never thought I would be in a situation where I would be like, if it didn’t happen, I think I would actually be okay. We may talk about maybe adopting or whatever. But the pressure that women put on their bodies, or society puts on couples as the only reason you succeed in your marriage is to have a child? In my opinion, success is when we live a peaceful life, enjoy each other’s company, and feel understood by each other. I think success is the legacy you build; one of those legacies could be children. It could also be developing kidney dialysis centres across Nigeria, or we build a whole new community of creatives and tech, to socially impact people who want to build Nigeria. I think that is as valuable as our contribution in terms of real adoption.

J: Before I met Eniola, I had a very interesting stance on children, and I think it made many people uncomfortable. It wasn’t really about my own personal family. In Nigeria, we all celebrate kids as this amazing thing, but there are so many starving children in Nigeria. If you drive through Lekki, there are actually children on the side of the road that are starving. If you go up north, there are malnourished children. As a country, culturally, we need to deemphasise children because you are actually not taking care of all your children as a country. And culturally, it’s just the thing, you get married and have kids. So this was my stance before I met Enny. My stance today, which she has already said, is that children are not a metric of success for our marriage. However, I hope that we have the most successful marriage we can have, and I will be honoured to be a father of children within that marriage. Not a metric of success, but if it happens, everyone who knows me closely knows that I am completely in love with children and would love to be a parent as well. The world is different for men around this topic than it is for women. Even before I met Eniola, I’ve always said that I didn’t like the idea that there’s so much prominence on women having kids. I grew up in a world where a woman’s place, even in marriage, was to provide kids. This is the way it’s been since I was a child. They will tell you, ‘you never born pikin; your husband go soon chase you?’ I think that’s a language we have to be careful with.

Jude and Eniola’s love story not only cuts across different facets of the lovebirds’ individual lives but also has the potential to impact lives. Eniola’s vision for a new neurofocused Nigeria couldn’t have gotten a much stronger support system as a foundation to build upon. As the interview came to a close, the entire premise was filled with so much optimism about what the future holds for them that everyone present couldn’t help but wish the swoon-worthy couple a beautiful journey to forever.

Intro and closing remarks by Kehinde Fagbule

About Author /

A lawyer by training, Onah packs over a decade of experience in both editorial and managerial capacities. Nwachukwu began her career at THISDAY Style before her appointment as Editor of HELLO! NIGERIA, the sole African franchise of the international magazine, HELLO! Thereafter, she served as Group Editor-in-Chief at TrueTales Publications, publishers of Complete Fashion, HINTS, HELLO! NIGERIA and Beauty Box. Onah has interviewed among others, Forbes’ richest black woman in the world, Folorunso Alakija, seven-time grand slam tennis champion, Roger Federer, singer Miley Cyrus, Ex Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio while coordinating interviews with Nigerian football legend, Jayjay Okocha, and many more. In the past, she organised a few publicity projects for the Italian Consulate, Lagos, Nigeria under one time Consul General, Stefano De Leo. Some other brands under her portfolio during her time as a Publicity Consultant include international brands in Nigeria such as Grey Goose, Martini, Escudo Rojo, Chivas, Martell Absolut Elix, and Absolut Vodka. Onah currently works as the Editor of TheWill DOWNTOWN.

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