Wellness coach, Maje Ayida, speaks about his career and his estranged wife, Toke Makinwa
How was your childhood like?
I’m the youngest of five children and my siblings are much older than I am. However, I had a very wonderful childhood, and my parents often allowed me to have my friends over for visits so I wouldn’t feel left out for being the youngest. I also had the opportunity to travel and see different countries. Just like the average male child, I was naughty, and in retrospect, I realise that I could have taken school a little more seriously. I moved to England when I was eight years old and immediately I got to the United Kingdom, I was enrolled in boarding school.
What ambitions did you have as a child?
I didn’t really want to become anything. However, I liked dancing and I wanted to be like the Jackson 5 group because Michael Jackson was pretty much my hero. I was also into sports and I remember that I represented my school in sporting events like rugby, cricket, archery and horse riding though I excelled more in athletics. But in my teenage years, I began to think of banking and that’s because a lot of my family members were bankers, and I didn’t think I could be anything else.
Did you experience racism when you first moved to UK?
I think I was young enough not to be aware of anything. It was more about leaving my parents for the first time but I was not daunted about being in the minority as one of the few black people in my school then. However, racism was very open back then unlike now when it’s more subtle. People openly called you derogatory names to your face and even on television. But I wasn’t so bothered about it, though it could have been worse if I was in the US where racial tensions were a lot higher. In the UK, it was more about curiosity on the part of white people as they often wanted to know where I was from and what I came to do in their country. One incident that stood out was when I went with my mother to a restaurant, and a white couple asked for their seat to be changed because they didn’t want to sit down next to us. That was the first time I was made to feel lesser than I am.
How would you say the British educational system impacted on the man you have become?
While I was there, we were filled with the idea that we were among the top one per cent of society, so we came out with a sense of entitlement that everything would be handed to us. However, upon graduation we were confronted with the reality that we were not that special and would have to work hard for whatever we want like everybody else. While searching for a job, I discovered that it is important to have attended a good school, but it’s even more important to be able to get the job done.
Who were some of your earliest influences in life?
As a child, watching my father excel made me know that I had to work hard. The only problem was that I wasn’t passionate about school and banking, and that made me think I wasn’t good enough. But I now realise it meant I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Growing up in England also gave me the opportunity to experience different cultures and made me a more grounded person. I once met Muhammad Ali at the airport and I could literally feel greatness oozing out of him. That chance meeting gave me the resolve to become a person of significant impact.
Considering that you never loved banking, would you say you were forced to take it up as a profession?
Not really. When I got out of school, finding a job was quite difficult and since I had a little experience in banking, I decided to toe that line. That phase of my life gave me an insight into the business world and discipline to get up every day and show up at work. I started my banking career in England before moving to Abuja. I did it for ten years and I would say the experience helps me till now in terms of structure and discipline.
At what point did you decide to ditch banking and follow your passion?
After some years, I realised that I spent most of my time waiting for the day to end, and that’s no way to live. I made my move during the consolidation era in the banking industry.
What did you do immediately after that?
I didn’t really think it through so I was stuck for a while, so I’ll advise people who want to make that kind of move to have a plan B. After I left the bank, I worked with one of my brothers who had a factory, and that’s where I started to put my vision together. I carried out a lot of research during that period and I came up with many ideas which were geared towards making money. I got consumed with the money-making ventures and forgot about my passion which was wellness coaching. It wasn’t until some years later that the idea of starting a fitness brand came back to me, and that was as a result of talking to a life coach. The coach asked me about all my ideas, and when I did, she asked me to go for the fitness brand because that was the only thing that made my eyes light up and it is what I would truly enjoy doing.
What was the reaction of your family and loved ones at that point?
They knew that I wasn’t enjoying banking, but they also knew that I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do initially. That got them worried because I had come up with a lot of ideas and they weren’t sure which one I really wanted to pursue though they never stopped giving me their full support.
What was your experience during the early days of carrying out fitness training?
The terrain was very different back then as there weren’t a lot of fitness activities in the country. But together with a couple of people who also started fitness training at that time, we were able to get a bit of traction. It still isn’t where it is supposed to be, but there have been improvements.
A lot of people know you as a trainer, what exactly do you do?
I wouldn’t actually call myself a trainer; I am a wellness coach. I try to change the internal culture of individuals, groups and companies towards a healthier lifestyle.
What actually does it take to eat and live right?
I think it is about being mindful about what you put in your mouth. It’s about knowing when to eat the right food and what portion you should eat it in with the right amount of exercise.
From your experience, how healthy would you say Nigerians are?
I don’t think we’re a very healthy society as majority of people live very unhealthy lives. A lot of people don’t eat properly, rather they spend most of their day on the road. The average life expectancy of the average Nigerian is very low and that should tell you we’re making some poor choices.
What do you think needs to be done to ensure healthier lifestyles for Nigerians?
I think education on healthy living should start from the school level. There should be a curriculum that incorporates exercise for fitness and more control on what are sold in our markets.
Many people turn to slimming teas and other drugs to lose weight, is that the best way?
You can’t cheat the system. Yes, there are a lot of fancy ways of losing weight such as teas, pills and others, but the best way is still to engage in regular exercise.
What are the three most important things one has to do in order to live well?
Go for a medical check-up. Engage in regular exercise, and be mindful of what you eat.
How would you describe your personality?
I’m very down-to-earth and positive. I don’t have a quick temper and I like to solve problems. I also like to interact with people and I’m very expressive with words and adventurous.
Is it true you’re taking Toke Makinwa to court over her book, On Becoming which contains some derogatory material about you?
I’m not at liberty to discuss that. Since the case is already in court, it would be illegal for me to do so.
Has the book affected your brand?
People tend to form a perception of you from what they read or hear about you. Having those kinds of things written about me and circulating in the public domain has definitely hurt my brand, though it’s hard to quantify the kind of impact it has had. However, I concentrate my energy on doing good work and letting it speak for me.
Do you foresee any chance of reconciliation between the both of you?
I’m not at liberty to discuss that.
How do you unwind?
I relax by doing exercises, which is like therapy for me. I also stay at home watching TV or getting massages.