Blessing Nkiruka Okoro is an online content creator, whose videos are mostly inspirational with messages about women empowerment and the scourge of domestic violence. She tells TIMILEYIN AKINKAHUNSI how her failed marriage brought out her passion
What is the story behind your platform – Break or makeup – on Instagram?
I experienced domestic violence in my previous marriage. I knew what it felt like to be emotionally worried but have no one to talk to. The platform was supposed to be for fun, so I started by telling my own story. After people read my story, they could relate to it. It is important for individuals to open up when they are facing any challenge. When people realise they are not alone in a particular situation, they feel better.
A lot of people get depressed or suicidal when they think they are the only ones in the world going through a particular challenge. I opened an Instagram page for ‘Break or makeup’ in 2016, but my personal page had been active before then.
My identity wasn’t known at the initial stage, it was a conscious decision because I wanted people to be comfortable and feel free to share their experiences for people to learn from. If I knew the platform was going to be this big, maybe I would have named it after my name.
Would you like to share your past experience?
It was basically about how I survived my early marriage where I experienced domestic violence. That is the major reason why I am always passionate about women on my page; particularly single women. I try to make women understand that they don’t have to hang on to a man to make it in life. When a man thinks a woman cannot do without him, he misbehaves.
Domestic violence is something women don’t want to talk about. But once one person speaks out, it gives other women the room to open up. After I shared my story, I got a lot of direct messages on my Instagram page, even women I least expected shared their experiences with me. Some of them were still willing to stay in their marriages despite the violence. The best way to curb domestic violence as a woman is to be independent.
You talked about early marriage, were you a teenager when you got married?
I started dating at the age of 15 and I got married at the age of 18. It was quite early because I didn’t know what I was going through and the man was 12 years older than I was. I call it early marriage because I was still innocent and vulnerable. Interestingly, my parents didn’t want me to marry him, but I insisted because I was in love. My father actually cried a night to my wedding, he was wondering what I was going to be doing in the marriage.
So how did they feel when they heard about what happened?
At the initial stage, I couldn’t tell them what I was going through because I was ashamed. I bore a lot until my family members came to witness it themselves. There was a time my younger siblings came to stay with us, and he beat me till I went into a coma in front of them.
A day to my white wedding, he beat me in front of my chief bridesmaid. He has beaten me in front of his mum before. He even beat me to the altar. I have my weaknesses; I’m quite stubborn, so most of the time when we had to argue over something, he ended up beating me.
After I was in my wedding dress, he was looking for the wedding ring. He came to meet me to look for the wedding ring, and the next thing I heard was a slap on my face, tears rolled down my cheeks. I had to go to the altar with tears in my eyes. When it was time to take our vows at the altar, I burst into tears but he kept apologising. The wedding guests actually thought I was shedding tears of joy. They were cheering me up; eventually I said ‘yes I do’ reluctantly.
How long did the marriage last?
We were married for one year and six months; I had to take a walk because it was getting worse. At some point, I started seeing beating as a natural phase in a relationship. He would tell me he was beating me to correct me. I used to think I deserved it because I was stubborn. I was vulnerable because I was so tiny and small in stature. I endured.
Apart from your platform, do you have a day job?
Yes, I do; I have people that manage my platform daily.
You attend to diverse emotional issues daily, do they weigh you down sometimes?
They used to weigh me down initially, but overtime I got used to it when I realised that people were passing through a lot of emotional issues. There are some stories people send to me that I don’t even believe myself. I have to be strong for them.
There was a guy that called me and told me he just stabbed his girlfriend, he asked me about the next step to take. I had to call the guy and advise him to take her to the hospital; he was already thinking of finding a place to bury her out of fear. I get to see and hear a lot of things.
How many years did it take for you to find love again?
After I let go of my ex-husband completely, I tried to work on my self-esteem and confidence. I tried to build something for myself. When I started building a career on my own, it made it easier for me to give another man a chance. I can’t compare the person I am with now with my ex because the person I was with my ex is not who I am now. Maybe If I was with my ex this way, he wouldn’t have treated me the way he did. I learnt from everything that happened; I took some blames and it has really helped. My previous marriage didn’t make me to be in a hurry to remarry because I already had a son. When I see single mothers who are in a hurry to remarry, it amazes me because I wonder why they are in a hurry when they already have children.
Most of your videos are always about women empowerment; has anyone accused you of being a feminist?
Yes, some people ask if I’m a perfectionist, some people attack me that I don’t like men. Some men come to my message box to blast me when I advise women. I love to reply them. There was a time I replied a guy that attacked me by calling him a poor man, and he had to send me a screen shot of his account balance to prove to me that he was not poor. He even sent me N200, 000 just to prove his financial status.
What was childhood like for you?
I have always being a stubborn and intelligent child. I had an interesting childhood.
When you started BOM, how big did you think it would get?
I never expected it to be big at all. When Instagram started, it was all about pictures; that was why I used attractive pictures to tell people’s stories. I also noticed that Nigerians don’t like to read, so that’s another reason why I use pictures to tell stories. My strategy worked. The day I got 25 e-mails, I popped champagne. I didn’t know I could even make money from it; I used to wonder how I could make money from relationship stories.
There was a time a woman called me and we talked for over six hours, and she told me how her husband used (hot) iron on her back and beat her mercilessly. After we spoke and I advised her, she told me she only called me to unburden herself to me as she still loved her husband and didn’t want to lose her marriage. It thought me a lesson, so I don’t talk to people for a long time because I have realised that some people just want to waste my time. I know of a girl whose boyfriend beat her till she died.
When you started y our platform, did your parents know about it?
They know that I run a relationship platform but they are not really social media savvy. I share some stories with my mum as well.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced since you started building your brand?
When I first started posting people’s stories, some people just called them fake. It was painful because I knew they were real. However, when people began to fall victim to situations similar to some of the stories on my platform, they started believing the stories.
Is it right to assume that you make money from your platform?
Yes, I do. I started making money from it two years ago, from adverts. A lot of things happen behind the scenes, some people have been nice to me because the platform has helped their marriage and relationship. The amount I make from it is unbelievable because I don’t put in so much effort.
What has been the most memorable story on your platform?
There are so many memorable stories, but there is one I will always remember. A guy sent me an e-mail that he only enjoyed S3x with a girl when he inflicted injury on her with a knife or blade. Before he sent the mail, he called me to tell me about it and I was shocked. He told me not to be scared and that he was not a demon. This guy is very handsome; he is the kind of guy any lady would want to be with. He told me he had got a lot of ladies to experiment his fetish on; I guess they were at his disposal because he had money. At that point, he was looking for a girl, but he wanted her to know about his fetish, he said he would lick the blood when he cut the lady’s body.
You have over 400,000 followers on your relationship page, how have you been able to sustain them?
I would say it is because of my content. When I had over 150,000 followers, I was even shocked. Relationship drama sells like magic. These days, I have noticed that people find it difficult to follow people; some individuals that send stories to me don’t even follow me.
Have you ever been tempted to buy followers?
When I started my platform, someone actually suggested it to me, but I didn’t even have the money to buy followers. Buying followers doesn’t work because they are not real human beings, so why would I just gather robots on my page? The reason why people buy followers is because they know Nigerians are used to numbers. If an individual wants to buy followers, they must have built a brand first before doing so. So that eventually when they buy, nobody will even notice that some of the followers were bought.
How do you deal with negative comments?
I used to take it personal initially, but overtime I realised some of these people were not at same level with me, so I stopped getting angry. Some people just say it out of repulse, for example, when I talk about domestic violence, someone that just fell in love may not understand what I am trying to say. A lot of people that hated me in the past are now my friends. I am very blunt but I am realistic. However, when it gets so bad, I give it back to them. When it comes to negative comments, if you ignore them, they may attract others.
Was there any time you felt like quitting?
Yes, when I started the platform, there were some people I brought close to me, but they betrayed me. When this happened, I felt like shutting down the page. Even the people I thought were my friends left me. They went to form another relationship page and they moved most of my followers to their page. I was able to pull through, they came back to apologise but it made me more careful of people on Instagram.
Have you had any reason to block anyone on your platform?
Yes, at the initial stage but later I stopped blocking them.
Do you get funny requests from your male followers?
Yes, I do, but I manage them with caution.