Maria Chike Benjamin gained prominence after participating in the 2021 edition of the BBNaija show. She has since carved a niche for herself as an influencer in Nigerian entertainment. In this interview with TheCable’s VICTORY ORIMEMI, Maria discusses how reality TV changed her life, her departure from the management company Upfront, and her new show ‘Healing with Maria’.
TheCable Lifestyle: You rose to fame by being on a reality TV show, how has that experience changed your life?
Maria: Big Brother reality TV show is one of a kind. I am very thankful for the platform and, obviously, Big Brother in general. It has been amazing; it has created a lot more vision in terms of what I want to do myself. It has helped me gain more audience and respect in the industry that I am trying to enter. So yeah, more popularity and presence, obviously. I am quite appreciative of the platform.
TheCable Lifestyle: What led to your departure from Upfront, one of the biggest management companies? Are you currently on good terms with Paul O, the founder of Upfront?
Maria: Upfront and Personal is, as you stated, one of the biggest management companies in Africa, should I say? Paul O will always be a great friend to me and a big brother. He is always there to offer advice and support whenever I need him. The reason why we actually did not proceed with me being under their management was nothing personal. It was just that I had reservations about the terms and conditions in the contract that I wasn’t in agreement with. So we just kept it friendly and kept moving, but we actually never really signed. We were in talks of doing so, and obviously, we created work emails, and that had been reflected in my IG bio.
I think that’s where people thought I had actually signed up with them, but by the time we had gotten into all of that, it was one of those things that both of us, like their management and myself, were not in alignment with. So yes, we have moved on, but we are still in touch with Paul O. We help each other out, whether it’s an invitation to a party or something else. He will always be a father and a big brother to me.
TheCable Lifestyle: Was that what prompted your decision to start your own media production company?
Maria: Not at all, what he does is completely different from what my company MCB Entertainment is all about. Obviously, a remnant of my company is that we find talents and stuff like that, and they get to start yesterday. They have been in business for so many years, and with experience comes more growth and understanding. So I am just starting, but I am actually taking my time. You have to take it one step at a time. You don’t want to do more things and actually fail all at once. So I am taking things step by step. In the future, yes, talent management will be one of the things we will be doing at MCB Entertainment. But no, that’s not what prompted me to start my own. Because I am a lot more different, we do film production, we do documentary production, we rent production equipment, filming gadgets. We are a lot more different regarding what Paul O’s management company is all about.
TheCable Lifestyle: Congratulations on your new show, ‘Healing with Maria’, what inspired you to create the show?
Maria: On the bio of my company profile, I did speak about it briefly. It is just something personal, not my own experience, so it’s not in my place to actually speak about it. It is someone dear to me, and it is someone who has experienced most of the struggles that the show will be representing. It hurt me when it first started. I was very hurt that I wasn’t able to do anything about it or help the person in question, and it bothered me for so long. I started reaching out to various survivors that have been through various struggles to help them. And not just helping, it is also about talking about it more and creating awareness out there because a lot of people do not actually know what they are going through, be it rape, be it drug abuse. All of that, most people just think, let me smoke this weed, let me sniff this cocaine, it’s nothing, and with time, you get addicted, and you lose who you are. Some people have been molested and raped by their parents, who are supposed to help protect them. In reality, no one talks about everything; they equip people to actually believe that society is normal. Again, domestic violence, we see on social media blogs every day where people laugh about it, people joke about it, and it’s like a joke to the community. They don’t even know what signs to look out for, what the red flags are when it comes to domestic violence, and so many other struggles that we don’t talk about. So, I got the idea that I would love to create awareness, and here we are.
TheCable Lifestyle: Can you share some of your own personal experiences with healing and how they have informed your work?
Maria: Thankfully not, but even having to hear people’s stories, I definitely can’t relate or imagine. All I can do is just imagine the pain or where in life they could have been. We experience all types of abuse every day, in our workspace, and all types of things, but personally, I haven’t experienced any sort of abuse in that sense. I am a very my way or no way persona, and in my relationships too, I’m very calm when it comes to love. I won’t necessarily shout at the person I am dating, and I also would never accept a high tone of voice whether or not they are correcting or advising me. But there are certain things I would not stand for. I have not experienced such, and I pray that I don’t. And I really do pray that other people out there can recognise where they are, or if they are not, and work towards achieving diverse life experiences.
TheCable Lifestyle: As an influencer, what message or values do you strive to promote through your content and actions?
Maria: I strive to promote equality because I believe we are all humans and we are all equal. Unfortunately, a lot of men don’t believe that. I try to encourage women that we are able to achieve what we put our minds and strength to do. I believe you’re not limited because you’re a female. Dreams do come true, hard work does pay off.
Sometimes when I interact with most of my supporters or fans through direct messages or Instagram messages, they talk about financial issues like I have no data or I cannot do this because I have no financial help. However, I believe that it’s hard to say that you can’t achieve something just because you’re not financially independent or can’t financially provide for it. Before Big Brother, I slaved myself working all the time for different companies. At age 16, I had my savings, and I know that economies are hard and every country is different when it comes to wages, but I don’t want to place it as luck. I advise people to keep going, whether they have finances or not. Ensure you have that zeal, be prayerful, be thankful, and if it’s meant to be, it is going to happen. You could just meet a helper out of nowhere or have an idea that doesn’t need a lot of finances and put it out there. It just takes talent to be recognised, and I also believe everyone’s timeline is completely different.
So, I try to encourage people that just because it is not happening now doesn’t mean it is not going to happen. Just hope and think of the best. But as human beings, we do tend to give up hope. I have tried so many things and said, this is not working, but I won’t give up. I do try to promote self-love and equality.
TheCable Lifestyle: Last year, you were accused of snatching someone’s husband. Would you mind setting the record straight?
Maria: I would never speak on this because I did not bring this rumour. I’ll forever label it as a rumor. I did not bring this online. It’s very personal and it is not in my place to state because there are other people’s personal lives involved. And no, I did not in any way snatch anyone. This is something I’ve said previously by tweet. And whatever has transpired between myself and the person I’m dating, it’s not in my place to publicly state or give the public an answer. First of all, I don’t owe anyone an answer. It’s my personal life, and that’s my private dating life that I will never speak about. Just to rephrase that, no, I’ve never had to break a family. I’ve never done that.
TheCable Lifestyle: So, you’ve talked about your fear of getting married in the past. Has that changed? Do you have plans to settle down really soon, or do you still have this fear?
Maria: Marriage is very important, it’s very dear to me. It’s something very confusing. I don’t like to fail in life. I believe once something is real, marriage or no marriage, that hard work, that bond will always be there. Marriage, in my opinion, tends to destroy a lot of stuff and yes, my opinion has changed slightly. Maybe when I start having kids very soon, I would love to respect my children’s philosophy, traditionally get married or by a court or something. I would not want a big wedding at all. That will be something very private that will just be in respect for my children and for my kids obviously to state so yeah this is your father, you have his last name. Marriage is so complicated, it’s an amazing union first of all and just the society and the day and age that we live in just made marriage a caricature. Or rather should I say, it’s always been like that even from the old age from the old days of our grandfathers and grandmothers. It’s just more publicised now because of social media that we get stories of partners cheating or kids not being biologically someone’s kid or stuff like that. It just makes you very scared.
TheCable Lifestyle: What prompted your decision to move back to Nigeria or join the show, considering the fact that you were doing well before then?
Maria: You have to keep growing. I was doing very well. I had a great job, savings, and a life. I wanted more for myself as Maria. In the past, when I was much younger, I had been to Hollywood to try to get into acting and filming, but it only lasted for about six months. It never really happened due to the cost of living and not being American or British, so I had to get back to reality and move back to the UK to continue with the job I was working. I love acting, and I have tried different careers throughout my life, and Big Brother was just something that I thought would be the last stop. It wasn’t necessarily for the fame, as I actually dislike fame, but I like what it brings in terms of being given a voice. For example, when I was meeting with different NGOs across the country, they only gave me an audience because I was Maria Chike from Big Brother. If I were a flight attendant or someone from my past, I would never have been granted an audience as long as they don’t know me. So, I do like what fame comes with, but not everything that fame brings, like the public life where everyone is in your business. Giving Big Brother a shot was my last resort, the platform I wanted to use to fulfill myself as Maria. Hopefully, with time, people can see what I intend to do with my company and my brand, MCB Entertainment. So now, we have just launched our first project, which is Healing with Maria, and there are many more projects to come, God willing.
TheCable Lifestyle: You mentioned your passion for acting and I was impressed with your performance in the skit alongside Bimbo Ademoye. Could you share some insights into your collaboration with her and your overall experience working on that project?
Maria: Bimbo has actually become such a great friend. I love that girl, and she is naturally funny and down-to-earth. It was such a pleasure being on the skit. When she sent me the script, I was like, a dog? Throughout the shoot, I couldn’t help but laugh, and actually, she only sent a five-sentence script, so we had to improvise most of it. She only gave me a brief about needing therapy for my boy, and we just improvised everything, and it worked well.
TheCable Lifestyle: How do you stay motivated and focused in such a competitive industry?
Maria: Honestly, having support from great friends, loved ones, and family is crucial. The competition out there is real, and everyone has their own timeline. Looking at someone else’s success or progress is the beginning of failure. First of all, work at your own pace and shut your ears to what every other person is doing. It’s important to have great friends who advise you each day and help you get past challenges. Sometimes we don’t always believe in ourselves. If you start a journey and it’s not working or there are potholes along the way, it might be that you don’t have great people around you. That’s why I barely have any friends, I just have a few, and I’m very grateful and thankful for them. They pour love, encouraging words, and advice on me, and I take it while being prayerful as well. I grew up in a Christian home, we go to church on Sundays and stuff like that, but you know sometimes you backslide, and your faith gets tested. Since coming out of Big Brother, there have been a lot of spiritual struggles or challenges, and that just made me get closer to my faith and obviously to God. Having God by your side is also amazing, and I always encourage people no matter what they do, whether it’s good, bad, or evil in the eyes of other people, to always tell God first, and it helps you feel better.
TheCable Lifestyle: Do you have regrets? Anything you wish you hadn’t done in the past?
Maria: I can’t think of any regrets right now, but if I have ever regretted something, I would only imagine it’s trying to teach me something. I wouldn’t call that regret. I think when you look back, you just say, “I should have done that, I probably could have done better,” and sometimes those feelings of regret are great because it either sharpens you or makes you realise that this is something to never do ever again. Yeah, I really don’t have any regrets, maybe moving back to Nigeria earlier. I should have done that a long time ago.
TheCable Lifestyle: What exciting projects or collaborations do you have coming up?
Maria: You guys would just have to find out. We have some exciting projects, but I don’t want to speak on them yet because they are still being boomed. Hopefully, we’ll have something to announce soon.
TheCable Lifestyle: What advice would you give to young people looking to break into the entertainment industry?
Maria: Be resilient, just keep going. Hard work does pay off. I’ve heard certain things about the industry like you have to mess around a little bit or sleep with certain people. However, I don’t know whether or not that is true or whether that is actually how things are.
Like I said, again, on the platform, there’s a production that hopefully will be coming out this year. And you know what, I actually never auditioned. It’s just, “Oh, Maria on Big Brother, we want you on this,” and you don’t even audition. You just show up for the shoot and start filming. That’s an advantage on my end, that I have this platform where people know me. But for people out there who don’t have the platform that I was given, just keep going. The industry is extremely hard. There are so many amazing talents out there. I will give you a certain example, like Sharon Ooja. She is not just beautiful, she is so talented. And you’re there thinking, “Oh my God, Sharon!” There are so many of them, so the competition is real. But don’t compare yourself with others. Always stay in your lane, keep up the hard work, and keep pushing yourself.
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