[Interview] ‘I joined Twitter because it wasn’t Facebook’

This interview of mine was conducted in January 2012, and appeared in Issue 2 of the entertainment magazine Shakara International 


SI: When did you join twitter?

March 2009

SI: Why did you join Twitter?

Everyone was doing it. Actually, back then, not everyone. But it was becoming more prominent, and it didn’t have the clutter (wedding and baby albums and lengthy notes) of Facebook.  And it was just different from Facebook, and posed an interesting challenge: Be as interesting as possible in as few words as possible!

SI: Which is your preferred social media network and why?

Twitter. It’s a lot more focused and less cluttered than Facebook. If Facebook is a bonfire, Twitter is a powerful torchlight beam.

SI: How long do you spend on twitter daily?

Hard to tell. Hours sometimes. Once in a while I stay off for a whole day. But I have tweeted about 40,000 times in the last 3 years. Roughly 13,000 tweets per year, approximately 36 tweets per day. That’s a lot! 40,000 answers for when God asks me: “What did you do with your time on earth?”

SI: What is your most memorable campaign on twitter and why?

No idea. Everything becomes a blur after some time. The speed at which life happens on Twitter, whilst exhilarating, also diminishes its capacity for lasting significance.

SI: You recently won an award for being a ‘fighter’ on twitter; how did you receive the news and what is your reaction?

Actually, I didn’t win. I was nominated twice. Thankfully people didn’t think my thuggish credentials were strong enough.

SI: Who are your favourite personalities or handles and why?

Lots. Teju Cole (for ‘small fates’), Feyi Fawehinmi (for financial savvy), Miss Jayla (for her stories that touch the heart and other intimate places), Lumidizzle (for his ‘looling’), Andy Borowitz (for his wicked humour), Queen UK (for her stiff-upper-lipped-sarcastic-as-hell quips), and many more!

SI: Which is your favourite twitter application: Tweet deck, twitter for blackberry, twitter for iPad, mobile twitter?

Tweetdeck, followed by Twitter for web. I often use both in combination, because, like the four Gospels, they provide different perspectives of the same events. 

SI: What changes would you like to see in twitter?

An efficient way of archiving and searching through old/ancient tweets; A way to monetise tweets. 

SI: What feature do you enjoy using most on twitter: retweet, quote tweet, mentions etc

Retweet on Tweetdeck; Quote tweet on Twitter for Blackberry

SI: How many followers do you have?


SI: How many users do you follow?


SI: What informs your choice of people to follow?

Various things: humor, ‘crase’, a sense of the absurd, knowledge/insight, common interests, gender & geopolitical balance (kidding). And sometimes I get bullied into following.

SI: How many times, do you recall you have trended in Lagos and/or globally?

Lagos, maybe once, globally, never. As we say on Twitter, “who-are-my” to trend globally?

SI: What is your most memorable or favourite tweet-meet or conversation on twitter?

No single one. I’ve had lots of memorable ones. My exchanges with Nasir el-Rufai in 2011 will be somewhere near the top of that list.

SI: Which is your most trusted handle for confirmation of information, breaking news and updates?

@ntanewsnow. I’m kidding. It used to be @234next. Now I’m not so sure.

SI: What is the first thing and last thing you do when you sign into and sign out of twitter?

Check my mentions. Check my mentions.

SI: What is the most memorable fallacy about you on twitter?

Tolu Ogunlesi avatarIt has been said that I am a Twitter thug. It has also been said that I begged Mallam el-Rufai for a job. Only one of the above is true.

SI: Tell us more about your twitter profile picture…

It was a Christmas 2011 gift from a follower whom I’ve never met. 

SI: How many tweets have you made since joining twitter?

Not many. 39,375, only.


University of Birmingham reading – Tue Mar 1, 2011


University of Birmingham

2nd floor, Arts Building


Tuesday March 1st 2011

at 5.05pm in the Danford Room 

A reading by two distinguished Nigerian poets




FEMI OYEBODE is Professor of Psychiatry at the university of Birmingham. He has also published several books of poems, including a volume of Selected Poems published in the Kraftgriots series in 2003. He has been an Honorary Fellow in CWAS for many years. 

TOLU OGUNLESI is a highly regarded poet and cultural commentator. In 2009 he won the Arts & Culture Award at the CNN African Journalist of the Year Awards for his story, ‘What the Truck?’, which was chosen from among 836 entries from 38 nations across the African continent. He is currently enrolled on the MA in Creative Writing at University of East Anglia.

All are welcome

Tolu Ogunlesi wins 2009 CNN Multichoice Arts and Culture Journalism Award



Tolu Ogunlesi, from Nigeria, has been awarded the Arts and Culture Award, presented by Nkepile Mabuse of CNN International on behalf of Zain Group at this year’s CNN MultiChoice African Journalist 2009 Awards ceremony.

Tolu, who is a contributing editor for Glide Magazine, Nigeria, won for his story, ‘What the Truck?’, which was chosen from among 836 entries from 38 nations across the African continent. 

The Awards, which rotate location each year in tribute to their pan-African credentials, returned to South Africa in 2009 and were held at a Gala ceremony hosted by CNN and MultiChoice at The International Convention Centre, Durban this evening, Saturday 18th July.

Member of the judging panel, Ferial Haafajee, Editor-in-Chief, City Press, South Africa, said: “Always a delight to read, watch and listen to, this year’s arts and culture section was particularly competitive, said the judges. Ultimately, street art won as Tolu Ogunlesi writing in Glide magazine curated a moving exhibition. Nigeria’s Molues, Danfoes and Gwongoro’s are decorated by motor display artists. He found the art in the commonplace. The trucks, buses and taxis are decorated in a riot of colour, picture and inspirational message. Among them: no condition is permanent as well as a set of religious messages. “They symbolised,” said Tolu, “…the harshness of daily existence and the stubborn hope…that makes present harshness bearable.”  

Tony Maddox, Executive Vice-President and Managing Director of CNN International, said: “Tonight’s journalists join an ever-increasing number of professionals recognised by their peers over the last fourteen years. They have become part of a community of excellence, representing the very best in African journalism and maintaining the highest standards of journalistic integrity.”

Eben Greyling, President MultiChoice Africa, said: “MultiChoice’s partnership in these awards reflects our deep commitment to promoting and developing media skills and talent in Africa. We are delighted that every year these awards keep getting bigger and more competitive which signals the growing influence of the awards as the premier event in Africa’s media calendar. We congratulate the winners and all the finalists and honour their hard work and dedication while celebrating with them the telling of the African story.”

The CNN MultiChoice competition is now in its fourteenth year. Durban-based accommodation is provided by Southern Sun Elangeni. Other prestigious sponsors include: British Airways; Coca-Cola Africa; Ecobank, IPP Media, Tanzania; Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD); Safebond Africa Ltd; South African Tourism; Zain; Global Media Alliance; and A24 Media.

More Opportunities Than Ever Before to Watch the African Journalist Awards:

Viewers across the continent and across the world will this year be presented by more ways than ever before in the history of the African Journalist Awards:

  • The Highlights’ Programme of the Awards ceremony will be broadcast as follows:

     M-Net will broadcast the ‘Highlights Programme’ of the Award Ceremony:

     M-Net Domestic (IS7)            29th July at 2305 CAT

     M-Net EAST (W4 & IS10)     1st August at 2100 CAT

     M-Net WEST (W4 & IS10)      1st August at 2200 CAT

     AFRICA MAGIC (7)                22nd August at 1930 CAT  

  • Broadcasters in 44 countries on the African continent will be transmitting the ‘Highlights Programme’ during August and September.
  • Internationally, the ‘Highlights Programme’ will be shown on OBE TV in the UK, The Africa Channel in the United States and on RTP Africa.
  • CNN International’s longest-running feature programme, ‘Inside Africa’ will report on the Awards on Saturday 25th July at 1830 CAT.
  • For the first time ever, in its new feature programme ‘BackStory’, CNN International will provide viewers with a unique, behind-the-scenes insight into how the awards and competition are put together, which airs on Monday 20th July at 2300 CAT.
  • The Highlights Programme will be screened on CNN.com Live.

The overall CNN MultiChoice African Journalist 2009 wins a substantial cash prize, a visit to CNN Centre in Atlanta, to attend the three week CNN Journalism Fellowship, along with the prize awarded to all category winners, which consists of a laptop computer, printer and a cash prize.


About the award:

The CNN African Journalist of the Year Award was founded in 1995 by Edward Boateng (formerly African Regional Director for Turner Broadcasting System Inc., CNN’s parent company) and the late Mohamed Amin, to recognise and encourage excellence in journalism throughout Africa. 

2009 Judging Panel

The independent judging panel, chaired by Azubuike Ishiekwene, Executive Director, Punch Nigeria Limited, includes: Ferial Haffajee, Editor-in-Chief, City Press, South Africa; Joel Kibazo, journalist and media consultant; Arlindo Lopes, Secretary General of SABA – Southern African Broadcasting Association; Kim Norgaard, CNN’s Johannesburg Bureau Chief; Anna Umbima, journalist and broadcaster. Filipe Correia de Sá, Senior Producer at BBC World Service and Jean-Paul Gérouard, Deputy Editor-in-Chief at France 3 were brought in to help judge the Portuguese and French language categories.

Turner Broadcasting Corporate Social Responsibility:

In early 2009, twenty Turner staff fundraised $50,000 to build a school in Mali, which featured on CNN’s ‘BackStory’ programme and CNN Traveller magazine. The company donated funds to the project and several million dollars worth of airtime to Plan International, the NGO behind the scheme as well as funding the trip for the volunteers who helped build the school. Over the last three years the company and its staff have also provided houses in South Africa with Habitat for Humanity and schooling, food, drugs and transport for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Kenya with UNICEF. Using their paid volunteer time staff have also created advertisements and logos for African charities and CNN has donated airtime.  The company is now planning to build a school in Rwanda in 2010.

MultiChoice South Africa Corporate Social Responsibility:

MultiChoice South Africa’s Corporate Social Investment strategy is underpinned by the need to make a sustainable and lasting impact in the communities in which it operates.  Our focus areas include: media development, education and the orphaned and vulnerable children. Through direct technology investments and support, the company enables individuals and communities to help themselves.  It is about promoting independence and not dependence. The company also supports local communities, through encouraging employees to contribute their time and skills towards charity organisations and/or causes that they are most passionate about. The programme makes provision for team participation initiatives which go hand in hand with grants given to employees to implement their activities.

Guardian Orange First Words Competition…

Back from Hay, slowly trying to piece my thoughts and impressions together. Beautiful town, one of those small English towns where the most interesting thing that usually happens is the rain. [Hay is kinda different, in it you will find what is arguably the world’s greatest concentration of 2nd-hand bookshops). Lived out of a tent, hung out at an abandoned church that’s now become an ideas/music/dance club, met loads of interesting people, bought far more books than is healthy for a human being…

Will definitely do an essay/travelogue on my Hay Fever… perhaps a few poems as well…

A few days ago I got an email informing me that Kate Mosse selected my entry as the winner of the 2009 Guardian Orange First Words Competition. One of the prizes is a pair of tickets to attend the Awards Ceremony in London on Wednesday June 3, 2009…

Read about the competition, and Kate’s comments about my entry, here

Links to some of my poems available online…

Poems by Tolu Ogunlesi


I have just been named as one of the 25 finalists (from 12 countries) for the 2009 CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards. The shortlisting is for my article on Molue paintings (Molues are Lagos’ iconic ‘mammy wagons’), published in Glide Magazine, the in-flight magazine of Virgin Nigeria.

The full list of 2009 finalists:

Ayodeji Adeyemi, TELL Magazine, Nigeria
Biaou Daniel Valérien Adje, ORTB – Parakou, Benin
Anas Aremeyaw Anas, The Crusading Guide, Ghana
Rajen Bablee, Samedi Plus, Mauritius
Ernesto Bartolomeu, TPA, Angola
Nicola De Chaud, Backyard Productions for Carte Blanche, South Africa
Ethar El-Katatney, Business Today Egypt
Hazel Friedman, Special Assignment, SABC, South Africa
Halden Krog, The Times, South Africa
Anna-Maria Lombard, Health-e News Service for 3rd Degree e.tv, South Africa
Paul McNally, Men’s Health Magazine, South Africa
James Moturi Mogaka, KTN, Kenya
Fredrick Mugira, Freelance for Mail & Guardian online http://www.mg.co.za, Uganda
Sammy Muraya, Metro FM, Kenya
Boniface Mwangi, Expression Today, Kenya
John Benson Mwangi, KTN, Kenya
John-Allan Namu, KTN, Kenya
Elshadai Negash, Freelance for Fortune Newspaper, Ethiopia
Luís Nhachote, Zambeze, Mozambique
TOLU OGUNLESI, Contributing Editor for Glide Magazine, Nigeria
Violet Otindo, K24 Television, Kenya
Odette Schwegler, Backyard Productions for Carte Blanche, South Africa
Viviane Tiendrébéogo, Radiodiffusion Télévision du Burkina Faso
Beauregard Tromp, The Star, South Africa
Alain Zongo, L’Observateur Paalga, Burkina Faso

The winners will be announced in July 2009

Reading at the Birmingham Central Library

Christian Campbell (Bahamas), myself (Nigeria) and Oumar Farouk Sesay (Sierra Leone) – the three 2009 Cadbury Visiting Fellows at the Center of West African Studies (CWAS), University of Birmingham, read at the Birmingham Central Library yesterday evening, and answered a couple of interesting questions on poetry, the Black Experience (interprete as you wish) and Barack Obama.

It was interesting to note the divergencies – and occasional convergencies – in our themes and concerns and approaches, and the ways in which we applied / utilised our words (which are all we’ve got anyway, as poets).  As well as the ways in which our countries influenced – or did not influence – our work.

And then we were treated to a wonderful Chinese dinner afterwards by our hosts at CWAS, at Wagamama (near the Birmingham City center).

The Coventry International Festival of Literature is our next stop. Friday the 15th of May.