Is Nigeria’s fairy tale rags to riches girl being exploited for her sudden fame?

A model during Lagos Fashion and Design Week  2014.
A model during Lagos Fashion and Design Week 2014.
Image: Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye
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It is only February and the story of Olajumoke Orisaguna’s rise to prominence is already a shoe-in for feel-good story of the year. At the start of the month, the 27-year old mother of two eked out a living hawking bread in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial center, and making profits of only $1 a day. These days though, she is at the start of what already looks like a promising modelling career.

Her fortunes changed when she photobombed UK popstar Tinie Tempah during a shoot in Lagos TY Bello, one of the city’s leading photographers.

The photo went viral on social media and having photographed so well, TY Bello, sought Olajumoke out and offered her a route into the the limelight. The response was overwhelming as Olajumoke became an instant hit. Within a week she featured on the cover of a leading style magazine in Nigeria, got signed up on a professional modelling contract and was signed up as the face of local bank Stanbic IBTC and as a brand ambassador by PayPorte, an online retail store. She has also been offered a home and her two kids bagged educational scholarships from the bank. Her story has been featured on CNN, Buzzfeed and HuffPost.

With her story almost too good to be true, Olajumoke was Nigeria’s modern day Cinderella. But now, there are fears that her story might be snowballing out of control with brands seemingly eager to latch onto her remarkable story and gain traction. This sentiments have been triggered by an announcement by a youth politics forum that Olajumoke will be speaking at the event as a ‘motivational speaker’. The overriding response suggests that many feel Olajumoke’s story is being exploited.

Dami Elebe, a Lagos-based radio presenter and pop culture enthusiast, says stretching Olajumoke’s story so quickly could be dangerous for her new career. “People will be tired of Olajumoke as a model way before the career even starts,” Elebe told Quartz. “Every company is clinging to her to be seen, heard and talked about. It is not about her, it is about them.”

Despite her sudden fame, the buzz around Olajumoke will inevitably quieten at some point and then she will have to knuckle down on building a successful career as a model. “She must not believe in the hype because after the initial fame she will have to struggle for the spotlight like everyone else.”