Veteran Nigerian actress, Taiwo Ajai- Lycett, has opened up on why she is neither a Christian nor a Muslim. According to her, she is against organized religion because not only does it lobotomizes people, making them not to think straight, but it also creates fear in their minds.
The actress, who turned 80 recently, made this disclosure in an exclusive interview to mark her 80th birthday. Asked what she was since she was neither a Christian nor a Muslim, Ajai-Lycett said:
“I’m against organized religion, the kind of religion that are lobotomizing people; that are creating fear in their minds. They are making everybody become religious they can’t think straight.
“Everybody else is going to mars and the moon and everything, we are crying ‘Jesus Jesus.’ It’s bankrupt. Rubbish. That’s idleness. All the things we‘ve said, have you not seen the hand of God in my life?”
However, the actress said she believes there is a universal force behind creation not because she was told about it but because she had experienced the universal intelligence turned her life around. She narrated how though she was pregnant at 15 and rejected by her parents, she braced herself up and the universal force turned her misfortune into fortune. Not only did she relocated to the United Kingdom, she ended up building a career and becoming a famous actress there and in Nigeria.
“I know. It’s not maybe. I don’t think about it. I know. Because a 16 year old, a 20 year old couldn’t be making the kind of decision I was making. I was not a genius. I was not a particularly gifted child. Like being an actor now.
Ajai-Lycett, who became an actress via a chance encounter with the director of Wole Soyinka’s Lion and the Jewel –a play in which she debuted as an actress – while waiting to keep an appointment with a man who was “toasting” her in London, said the Universal Intelligence must have had a hand in her not just becoming an actor but also making a success of it.
“See how I became an actor. What’s that all about? And I end up here now. Who’s that clever? Who’s that kind of architect that can sort of build the kind of life that I have now? There has to be a force. I don’t think we can argue that there is a force because how do we all appear? Is it because of our sperm? And here we are talking.
The veteran actress also said she does need to go to church to believe that there is a universal intelligence.
”Oh yes. I don’t need to go to church to tell me that. I’m living it. It’s going on in my life. What religion teaches is fear. Go and listen to what they are saying: “Anybody who is in the way of my promotion, fire! God kill them!” Which God is it you are worshiping? The God who created you and me is going to hear me say that He should kill you. What kind of Father God is that? That’s what they do in churches,” she maintained.
Read the full interview below;
Actress Taiwo Ajai-Lycett’s story reads like a thriller. Pregnant at 15, abandoned by her family, she was able to turn her life around and become one of the most respected actresses in Nigeria today. Yet this thespian who was once a typist, cosmetologist, civil servant, journalist advertising and management consultant and a waitress in the United Kingdom was gang-raped in her Egbe, Lagos residence at 65. Still, she has moved on. In this interview with NEHRU ODEH (the shots were taken by AYO EFUNLA), Ajai-Lycett, who turned 80 recently, tells the story of her life, how she was able to turn it around, how she moved on after the gang-rape and the secret to her youthfulness and vibrancy..
How does it feel turning 80?
I’m yet to find out (laughs). In fact, I was telling somebody the other day it was like when I turned 70, 75. I don’t see any difference. I’m just going on. Only you guys can tell me what it looks like. I don’t know whether you can tell me what it feels like. It’s another day and progress in my life. But I don’t feel any different. I daresay it’s been 10 years since my 70th birthday. I had garnered and gathered some common sense, so to speak, and knowledge. So I like to say I am a little bit wiser than what I was all five, ten years ago. Other that, it’s not sensation you feel. Well, of course, other than all the aches and pains that you get (laughs). I like to say when you said how do I feel, without being facetious, if I was to say how do I feel. Well, I’m not as strong as I was 10 years ago. I think I’m kind of a bit slower than I was 10 years ago. But I’m combating that anyway because I do exercise, I keep active, and that’s what you expect me to do. Other than that, I just like to think am a little bit more sensible than I was 10 years ago. I don’t know whether that settles you (laughs).
You mean you don’t feel 80?
At 80 you are still looking young and vibrant. What’s the secret to that vibrancy, that youthfulness?
I just think that the engine to our lives, to our soul, is our mind. I like to think so. I philosophize a bit. I like to think that the reason is that I am very active: I swim a lot. And I do a lot of exercises, not gym, not pulling weight. Nothing like that. I do exercises that are age-appropriate. I’m not going to be 16, so I am not worried about my shape, or figure, all that nonsense. I think because I’m not worried about age. I’m not oppressed by the fact that I don’t look 60. Or I’m not worried about being attractive to anybody (if you see what I mean) because women, and men too, are obsessed with that. One of the problems they have with aging is that they look different, they won’t be as attractive as they used to be. That’s just rubbish. I think you should just carry on living your life. And that’s what I think I do. But basically, I insist, from my experience, that what actually keeps you going is the functionality of your brain. That’s the major milestone that is propelling us. And if you keep that alive, and you keep the body alive by doing exercises, by being active, moving about and not worrying about yourself so much. If that’s what you do with your brain, the brain does this: it builds more neurons into your brain. We are supposed to be dying as we age, not when we have activity. So I’m learning more and more and the brain is getting more and more active and more and more alert and effective. Yeah, since it is the major engine for the body. It isn’t surprising really.
Aside from exercise, do you follow any dieting regime?
I eat anything – akpu, amala, eba. In moderation, of course. I eat everything. I am not worried about dieting. I don’t overeat. And apart from that, majorly I think, I don’t eat after seven or eight. And of course I drink my agbo (laughs). It’s pineapple, ginger and turmeric. I cook them and I put honey. That’s my tea but I call it agbo.
At 80 and having gone this far and still forging ahead, what has life taught you?
Humility. Calmness. Respect for other people. Civility. Love for other people. Concern for others. Patience. Perseverance.
You’ve learnt from your experiences. Could you speak about the bitterest experiences you have learnt from so far?
Oh I was thinking the other day about how I was attacked. You have probably heard about that. What I have learnt from that is that bad things happen to all of us. And bad things happen to good people. But whatever happens to you it is how you receive what happens to you, however bad, that is really important. It is not what happens to you. It is how you react. I have learnt that you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously if you are not self-obsessed. If you know that these happen to many people and things can happen to anybody, you don’t make a victim of yourself. It helps you to see what life is all about, what other people are going through. And you know that essentially you are not alone. So why make yourself so precious that you think things will never happen to you and then discourage yourself by that. So, as I said, the brain is the major engine. And as long as nobody gets into your brain, as long as you own your brain, you can take a decision about what happens to you so you don’t feel sorry for yourself. In fact, from that experience, I feel sorrier for the people who attacked me. I have never felt sorry for myself. I am not a victim. I think they are victims. I feel sorry for them because I still worry about which direction their lives had gone. I do. So it has taught me that don’t take yourself too seriously. Respect yourself and think about what is happening in the world.
So at this point what more do I say I want when I have got everything. I have got the regards of my people. I have got their respect. I have got their affection. I have made an impact with my life. I have worked very hard. And I have been rewarded by all these I am talking about. Yes I’m fulfilled. But that doesn’t mean it is finished. No I am still going on. I’m working. There is a feature film I’m doing, The Black Book. I’m working on that now. After that, there is a weekly series – it’s being negotiated, I think – that is coming up. Somebody called me from Paris the other day. He is writing a play. That’s also coming up. The major thing is that I’m still living. I’m still contributing and I’m still producing. It’s no big deal. People are still wanting to hear what I have to say. I have a film coming up – Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys. Have you seen it? The sequel is coming. That’s why I was looking at that word, fulfilled. Aluta Continua. The beat goes on. So I don’t even know how more fulfilled I will be when I finished all these things because all manner of wonderful things are still coming, are still challenging me.
How did you feel when you were honoured with Order of the Niger, OON, especially since it came just after you were attacked?
I wasn’t really excited, particularly because I wasn’t too excited about the political situation anyway. You see when you have criminality and all sorts of terrible things going on in the country, a lot of things go back to your leadership, to the political climate. And I wasn’t too excited about it. But my family said it’s not the politicians who gave you. It’s your people. Somebody recommended you, your people. Nigerians. They said they should honour you. I was persuaded. They got somebody to go with me to make sure that I went. Because it was about six months after I was attacked. It’s fascinating what life does for you. Here I was. I was attacked. It was a bad thing and everything. It’s the same year. I’m not a church goer. I’m not religious. But I know there is a force guiding our lives, ruling our lives. And I was compelled to watch the situation to get to the the position of those two incidents in my life. I concluded some interesting things are about to happen in my life, are going on in my life. That will enable you to accept the bad. So you see what I mean. The bad is moved by the ugly. You get everything. It’s a mix. So I relaxed, went to Abuja and I got it. But I still think it is the highlight of my career, for your nation to give you a national award. it is a big, big deal. If it came from the heart and if people deserved whatever it is, it is a very big deal. The other award that I appreciate almost more than this one is being a fellow of the Society of Nigerian Theatre Artistes. I would like to see any performing actress in this country who can boast. I think I have a bragging right on that. I think I am the only person who has that. Now that is a very special honour to me, to be invited as a fellow of the Society of Nigerian Theatre Artistes. It is an event they choose one person a year. If they don’t see anybody worthy, they don’t do it. And it is organized by the Faculty of Arts in 36 Nigerian universities. They scout around and see who in the country is worthy creatively and all that. Some of the people that have been so honoured include Professors Okeke and Adedeji ; I don’t know of any other people in the arts. It is an academic honour and I am very proud of that. I have had another fellowship. I’m a fellow of the University of the Third Age, awarded to people 70 and over who have made significant contributions or whatever it is. It is an institution in the United Kingdom. I’m also Leader Without Title, awarded by Pat Utomi’s Centre for Value in Leadership. The organization gives an award, Leaders Without Titles, to people who have made an impact but nobody is giving them title, they are not looking for titles. They are just doing their jobs. That is the kind of pride I have about what I have achieved. I’m greatly honoured by that.
I know. It’s not maybe. I don’t think about it. I know. Because a 16 year old, a 20 year old couldn’t be making the kind of decision I was making. I was not a genius. I was not a particularly gifted child. Like being an actor now. See how I became an actor. What’s that all about? And I end up here now. Who’s that clever? Who’s that kind of architect that can sort of build the kind of life that I have now? There has to be a force. I don’t think we can argue that there is a force because how do we all appear? Is it because of our sperm? And here we are talking.
You had a terrible experience in your first marriage in the UK, where you suffered domestic violence. Growing up did you ever imagine you would that kind of experience?
No. No. But then I was ready for it. When it happened, I wasn’t sitting around feeling sorry for myself. This is what I am saying. It is not what happens to you that matters, it is your reaction. That is what counts.
That means you don’t have any regrets in life?
I don’t have any regrets. Because you know why? I have learnt that whatever it is that happened, however bad, I can deal with it. So I don’t worry about anything coming from anywhere. I don’t know what is going to happen. But because I don’t know what is going to happen, I am excited to embrace what is happening, good or bad, because I know I now have the confidence that whatever happens I can take. Just as soon as I saw you, I don’t have any problems. I am relaxed. I see how you are doing it. I’m rejoicing. I don’t say this is a new person. Who is he? No. I’m at ease with the world, with my life. I know I can take anything. What is coming that I haven’t seen? God forgive my nonsense. I have looked death in the eye. So what is going to frighten me?
Since I have been taking decisions on my own since I was 14 years old, I think I grew into all that. I very rarely regret anything I am doing. Oh I shouldn’t have done that. No. so no regets about anything. No whining about you see what happened to me. No. No. All those things culminated in me sitting here in this beautiful garden with you, Nehru and Ayodele doing your work, informing, educating and entertaining people and showing them that this is life.
Growing up in Lagos (You are an Awori and born in Lagos), did you ever imagine you would reach this height?
No idea. That’s what I’m saying. That’s what is so fascinating. I have no idea where I was going or where I would reach when I was younger. Which I think is a good thing. I have never had any kind of ambition. I’m just waiting to take a day at a time. I still do that. I take a moment at a time. Whatever moment I am in, I make sure I’m in that moment, to experience that moment. And when I was growing I sometimes thought about it, as I am looking back at my life. I see people as they are coming out. They want to have a job, they want to be famous, they want to have money. I never went through all that. And I am asking myself how ignorant was I or whatever. I never knew what it was. I never I was just doing my work. I just knew that if I worked a bit harder, I will get better. And I will get better .I’m just about perfection, about practising what is going on. There has never been a time in my life – that’s another thing I’m thinking about now – that I thought next year I want to have so many millions in the bank. I believe that when you what you have to do, you are never going to lack. When you give service, you get. What you give to the world will return to you. I learnt all that. So I never grew up – as I was growing up. I am still growing up, I stayed in tune. When I was making my life It never occurred to me I should chasing fame or fortune. What was paramount in my life was doing my job and doing it well. Period.
So you mean you are not carried away by fame, fortune or the celebrity status?
Please don’t call me a celebrity. I am not a celebrity. I am a professional actor. I am a professional advertising consultant. I am a professional educationist. I am multi-dimensional. I am a journalist. I’m a writer. I’m not chasing any fame. You can’t write a book for an audience and then read it and you say you are a celebrity. No. What you’re doing you are peddling ideas. You’re talking to people, it’s communication. And if they’re doing that, this is what I am saying. Talking about what I did or my approach is what is happening now. Did I call you? Did I invite you? But you thought that you should talk to me. You talked to me 10 years ago and I am still going and you said, “Let’s go and see her.” Have you seen any pictures in the papers that I am in this party and chasing money in Abuja or Lagos? Have you seen it? Let’s all do our work? And put our input in the sands of time. Finnish. That’s all we owe one another, not to be expecting as if the world owes us anything. Entitlement mentality. People say “I’m a celebrity.” What are you doing? What impact have you done, apart from having a pretty face and a backside? What sort of value is that? No, I have never bothered about it. But if you are appearing in people’s sitting room most of the time and people get to hear it, it goes with the territory, people would get to know you. What’s that to get a big head about? We know doctors. Are they celebrities? And they save lives. An actor should be a jobbing actor. And the quality of that work will pick them out from the masses and those who are eventually making conversations with people, offering ideas, rejecting ideas, enlightenment and all that. That’s what I do. But I am more than actor. I’m all sorts of things. I’m multidimensional. Artistes are essentially that.
Growing up as a young girl you had some terrible experiences – getting pregnant at 15 and rejected by your parents. And you turned those misfortunes into fortune. How did that come about?
Your mind. As I have always said it is how you react. If you are not self-obsessed, you get on with your life. It’s not the end of the world, something that happened. It’s happening every day to many people. So what is so special about it? Our job is to stop it happening to all the other people. Of course, it’s terrible. But you have to get over yourself. I have always believed that life is not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about everybody. So what happened to me is happening to everybody. I’m not being a saint or whatever. That’s what I believe. Therefore if something bad happens to me. It’s never going to be a kill-joy thing that I’m going to destroy myself about and break down. I get up and start doing other things. But if you start worrying about that, it becomes an illness. It means you are not stable emotionally. You are not stable psychologically. And if you are not stable emotionally and psychologically, you are an emotional cripple. That’s when you dive into depression because you make a victim of yourself. “See what life has done to me. Oh My God. What have I done to deserve this?” And if you are doing that, the answer you are getting is you make yourself a victim and you say “Well I don’t deserve this. Why should this happen to me?” Why should it not happen to you? Why should it happen to somebody else? If it is so bad why would I wish it to happen to somebody else. So we all learn by all these things. And as I said, whatever happens to us, they are not as important as how we react to them. How we react to them is the major part of life. That’s why somebody can insult you. You can decide to ignore him or you can decide to get into fisticuffs with that person. Which one is better?
Because that man who has hurt you, his problem is not your problem. He is the one that has an issue with his life, not you. So why do you want him to drag you into his emotional or psychological problem? Why do you want to be there? For people who are Christians, this is why Jesus said if somebody slaps you on this side, give the other one. Don’t prove you can box as well and you are into fisticuffs. Because it’s demeaning. Show some class. Show some intelligence. Show some maturity. So I don’t give credence to people insulting me or people harming me. I feel sorry for them because they must be going through something that they feel they should lash out at other people. So I am not going to give them oxygen. I’m gong to walk away. I learn what I have to earn from some of my problems and I walk away. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to get involved in having fights, animosity and discord.
You’re a source of inspiration to many, considering how you got pregnant at that early age and were abandoned by your family. How did you feel at that very period and what advice do you have for young girls who are currently passing through the same experiences?
Well, you have to take control of your life. Even though I was that young, I knew if I had done that, that is not the usual way to go. I disappointed some people. I don’t want to go into the details about how it happened. But in spite of that you have to take responsibility for your life and decide what am I going to do from here. If you spend your time just thinking mummy and daddy can do everything for you and then if they don’t do everything for you, you give up, then you are a waste of space. You must have some kind of ambition of what to do with your own life. If that’s what you’ve done and everybody is telling you its not the way to go then be determined that well you’re going to make something out of it. With this lemon given you are going to make a lemonade out of it. This is what I did with mine. I didn’t know how I did it. But I did know that I ‘m not going to sit around while knowing that I have been disowned, dispossessed, ostracized. If I am living I am not going to live the life of an outsider and it is obvious nobody is going to help me, I am going to help myself. I just get up and go. You got to be self-motivating. A lot of us think that society and our parents owe us a living. They don’t owe us a living. It’s an entitlement mentality to say well they have got a living what am I going to do? Then they give you to a husband. Then you are not making any contribution to your own life let alone to society. I didn’t know any of these things. The only life I knew then was to go to school. And when I got pregnant and I felt I was finished educatively, what did I know? I didn’t know any other life. So I started going to night school. I started going to evening classes. I applied for a correspondence course- Rapid Results College. I don’t know if that is still going on. I still have my courses in my library here. Because that was all what I knew to do. Everybody else my age was going to school. So I said I must go to school. Nobody was paying for me I must find a way of quick learning. So I decide I would do my O’Levels. That’s why I registered for Rapid Results College. I just continued doing what I knew to do. At my age having a baby was not next on my agenda. But it happened. So the baby has come. After that what do I do? I’m not going to sit around just being a maid in my father’ house. I am going to do what everybody else is doing, which is going to school. I may not be going to orthodox schools but I registered for correspondence courses to prepare me for O’Levels. And then I was going to evening classes. I went to extramural classes, That’s where I first met Professor Ayo Okuseye (he is dead now). That was years ago. I met him later when I got back from London. He used to call my husband, The Consult (laughs). If I need to be a fighter then I must go to a night school. There was some school on our street. Extramural classes they called it then. What did I have to do? I had to finish my education regardless. And so I carried on. It was a great though or thinking I had to do. It was the obvious thing to do. So I carried on. I am still learning. I am a voracious reader, a voracious learner. I never got over the fact that I truncated my education psychologically I think. I had this need to just be educated. Because obviously I think I got into trouble for my curiosity.
Were you inspired by anybody at that age to get an education?
It’s just, as I said, it seemed to me to be the only thing to do. I didn’t have any other choice. I didn’t think there was any other choice except to just get an education. Whichever way, I got it. And the ways I got it I am very happy, thinking back now. That these things were around us. And that’s where I went. I didn’t sit around feeling sorry for myself. Again, this is what I found out about life. Life is a sum total of the choices we make. Having stumbled at an early age, I made a choice to continue with my education, whether anybody helps me or not. That is a fundamental choice and it’s a wonderful choice for a child to make at 15, 16. If there were not going to admit me that’s the way I was going to go. Because I wasn’t a bad girl as people thought I was. It has nothing to do with being bad or promiscuous. It has nothing to do with that. There were all manner of reasons why it happened. But it had nothing to do with my character. My character is a work horse, even as young as that. My character was straight forward, straight-arrowed and in that sense responsible. I have been a responsible, dedicated soul all my life; serious soul all my life. And so that’s the way I looked around. “Ah, they have evening classes there, I go and join. Oh, there are doing typing classes there, I go and join. Oh, I heard that there is Rapid Results College. Ah I am going to do my O’ Levels, I go and register.
You were into some many things but later ended up as an actor. Why did you decide to be an actor?
I didn’t decide to be an actor. That’s another thing, if I may say. I didn’t. One man was toasting me. I was a civil servant then. I qualified as a typist for the post office. The British civil service recruited and trained us. Anyway, I now grew high in my job in the civil service. And I noticed a man. It was in a play, the premiere of Wole Soyinka’s Lion and the Jewel. And he was toasting me and he said they were doing rehearsals and I sad fine. Then he said “When can I meet you,” and all that. I said, “Well when I finish work I would come down around and we would go have coffee.” And I was sitting in the foyer and this man walked past and came back and said, was I an actor. I said no I wasn’t an actor. The way I was dressed. I had to dress properly at the level I was working in the civil service – corporate, elegant. It turned out he was the director of the play. And he would think I was sitting in the foyer because maybe I wanted to join them. So he asked. Then I said no I was just waiting for a man to take me for coffee. And he asked if I would like to join. In those days I told you how obsessed I was about knowledge, acquiring knowledge. Every holiday I had I would go and do one course, like cosmetology, modelling, company secretaryship, accountancy and all sorts of things like that. All manner of skills I was collecting I would go and do short courses for my holidays. Six weeks, three weeks, I would do that. When this man asked me if I wanted to join the production, I thought well, why not? Maybe that year this would be my project for my holiday. So I went back to the office the following morning and I asked my boss whether somebody could take my place and I could take my holiday. And he said fine. I had very good bosses. Very fantastic. I was very well liked and respected. So they got a temporary replacement and went on holiday and joined the rehearsal. I joined and then when we opened, everything happened. People came to address me. They wanted to know who my agents were. I was just one of the new actors. That’s how I became an actor. It’s magical. Isn’t it.
Was that how everything started?
Well actually I started but I was still working as a civil servant and doing one stuff and the other. That is how it happened. But I did not take acting seriously initially. But when people were giving me work I started thinking that “shouldn’t I go and study this thing? I’m afraid. They thought I am an actor. But I’m not an actor.” I was afraid. “They are going to find me out” (laughs). Because everybody was making such a fuss of me. It was embarrassing. That was how I went to acting school and started training as an actor. I was training like mad – voice, dance, you name it to make me a proper actor. I got an acting teacher. As a matter of fact, my acting coach was my bridesmaid when I got married to my husband, Lycett. Because I was so deep into it, learning everything, I was coming from a theatre when I got married to him. I got married and I went to the play in the evening. Nobody knew I just got married. So I was still doing this stuff or the other. Then my husband came to see me in a show and he said, “Ah. You know what when I came on stage everybody kept quiet. You could hear a pin drop.” He said, “You better take this. Acting is what you should do. Forget about accountancy. Forget about this or that. Concentrate on acting.” That was how I concentrated on acting.
You were so many things, you were a typist, an accountant, a cosmetologist, to mention a few. What inspired you to do those things?
Curiosity. I‘m a generalist. I’m not a specialist. I like to know about the world I am in. I suppose if it falls into my way of acting, I like to know what you are talking about. Or you are a scientist and you want to talk to me about quantum physics, I like to be able to discuss it with you. So I will go and study that. I will go and look into that. So I can hold my own in conversation with you. I was such a curious child and grew into a curious woman (laughs). I’m a knowledge junkie. I like knowledge. I don’t think there is anything more liberating than knowledge. Ignorance is a disease. Knowledge is power. Although I don’t make a big deal of it, I would rather have knowledge. I would rather have that power, not power of muscles. The biggest muscle that I had, that we all had, that I nurture, is my brain. That’s the major muscle that you need If you have a brain that is well-trained, that you own, you don’t need anything else. You don’t have to be afraid of anything. There is nothing that is coming that you can’t work out. But having said that, it is acquiring knowledge that dazzles me. It is better to have knowledge and be an expert in what you are talking about.
There was a time you wanted to be a lawyer and you ended up not becoming one. What happened? Any regrets?
No. I still think I might register to be a lawyer. But I don’t have the grace because I think being an actor is like a lawyer. It’s like being in court, you are projecting an idea, you are defending an idea, you are articulating issues. That’s what an actor does. So to that extent I don’t worry too much about that. Because in my studies as a business graduate we studied commercial law. I know enough about what a lawyer does and about the law. Just as I am not a pastor but I know the Bible because it informs our life. So you have to know all these things. You don’t have to be that specialist. But you have to respect yourself enough to learn about all these things because they impinge on your life and if any ideas is coming into your life, it’s your responsibility to find out about that so that you can be at home with your world, you can be at peace with your soul.
You have fond memories of your late husband, Lycett. Could you speak more about him? How did you meet?
He was the love of my life. But then we are talking about a force that is creating something that is magical. I was an actress, famous in England and looking for an apartment. And this agent, Night Frank and Ratley sent me to another agent in Highbury, London. It was a condominium, a huge apartment. And I didn’t know at that time that as an actress I was famous and I took it. And my neighbours – the other people living in that building, (they knew me, I didn’t know them) – decided to give me a house warming and they invited our neighbours. He –my husband- was one of our neighbours and they came to the meeting. He was talking to me.
Why did you relocate to Nigeria?
I was recruited from England. I was a management consultant. Mobolaji Johnson’s elder brother, Babatunde was running a conglomerate. He wanted somebody. And somebody recommended me. He recruited me to come to Nigeria, to come and help him look at his companies, which one to close, which one to build up, whatever it is. So I came on holiday to see my son and I joined. Then I told my husband that he should stay. We have just got newly married and he said he wasn’t going to be staying in England and I will be staying in Nigeria. “Look for a job for me and I will come.” This man was an executive with Shell International.
You mean he relocated with you here?
He relocated with me here. His place is not in England. His place is here. He is buried in Atan here. He’s come home. So my place is not in England. His place is here, and my place is here. He’s come home, he said. He’s home. So I am here with him.
Could you remember some pleasant times you had with him?
He dedicated his life to me. I had known love. I wish that for people, that they will be loved. And he believed that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. He thought I could be the president of Nigeria. He thought I was clever. He had great faith in me. He said there wasn’t anywhere I couldn’t go, there was no height I couldn’t reach. He was the one who came to see me in a play and said, “Forget about being an accountant. Be an actor. You are an actor, Because when you are on stage, nobody can see anybody else but you. I know you are multidimensional. But you are an actor. That’s what you are meant to be. That’s what you should be doing. If because you are earning money and everything and you want to keep what you are doing, I will endow you. I will put 20 pounds in your account every month so that you can concentrate on acting.” And he did that.
Was that why you didn’t remarry after his transition?
If you’ve had caviar, who needs ordinary fish head? You have had that and then you want to buy a tilapia and eat the egg and say you have eaten something (laughs). I am a romantic. And I think marriage is not about having somebody to have sex with. It is somebody who makes your heart sing. And he did. I did for him and he did for me. Where am I going to find such a man? Again, lightning doesn’t strike twice on the same spot. So I would rather live with my fond memories than spoil everything. Because of what? Because of hunger of the body? I am married because I want sex? Who needs that kind of nonsense? I’m a person who loves passionately, and it takes two to tango. I don’t waste time looking for things that are not sent to me. If it was meant for me I would find a husband. He will seek me. He sought me out, just as acting sought me out. The most important things in my life knocked at my door. It will never pass you. What is yours will look you in the eye. If it is yours, you will get it. I am 80. If I see the love of my life out there in the world, he will seek me and will find me.
Why didn’t you seek justice after you were attacked and gang-raped at Egbe area of Lagos?
I did. I reported it to the police. I cannot be judge, jury and executioner. That‘s not how the world is organized. Report it, it is the duty of the police to do their work.
What became of the case?
Nothing. Because as you said, you said I did not seek justice. I will be rallying them to do their work? They will be saying bring money, we don’t have car. Is that justice? Whereas, knowing what I know, I will get on with my life. And I will leave them to the Great Policeman in the sky who will sort everybody out. Do you have an idea of what become of the people who attacked me? You don’t know. But here I am now. You see their mark on me, on my body or my head? So what’s my own?
And you knew them. They were your staff. What actually led to that?
What made people who were working for this female air force pilot to kill her? She treated them well. They killed that woman and threw her in a cesspit. What did she do to them? She didn’t do anything to them. People who attacked you are those closest to you. It doesn’t have to be any reason. That you are successful, they think you are close to them and they think they could take advantage of that. When you start having this sense of entitlement, this sense of injustice or whatever it is or just sheer wickedness. You are successful, you are running a business, they start thinking they are the one making her rich. They don’t even know it is to their advantage to keep the business going and then make a living. It is a Nigerian nonsense that thinks you are not paying me well. That’s how they think. You have a car, you have two cars and I don’t have a car. They don’t know the journey you made to get there. They start having a sense of entitlement and then a sense of grievance. And then they hurt you.
What advice do you have for the youths of today, especially young girls?
Don’t be a parasite. Work your own life out, your own destiny and find yourself. And let’s face it. There is no point saying I don’t have help. When you are doing something, whatever help you need will come to you. From all the things I have been saying to you, Can you see the magic of life? I never really had to struggle. I just had to do the work. Any additional help it is you need to get what you should get, somebody will come out from nowhere and give you that help.
Are you a feminist?
I’m a feminist. I’m a confirmed feminist. What do you think I have been saying to you? I’m a confirmed feminist. I’m unapologetic. Not the brand that you guys know about, that always says get rid of all the men. I think that’s nonsense. That’s illiterate. It’s irresponsible. It’s uneducated. A feminist is a woman who wants to enjoy her man. See how I have been talking about my husband. I don’t think men should be banished. We need men. I think they are wonderful. But we need to enjoy them for long. I’m against having a girl child and before anything you have put a burden on him. He has to educate your children, and the extended family and this one and the other, and look after the mother and look after father and look after the whole thing. Is it any wonder our men die young. And as a woman if I earn my money, my money is my own but your own is ours. You see the injustice of it? And I don’t agree with the women who say “I won’t marry again, I don’t need a husband. I can look after my children.” That’s stupid. A child needs two parents. Children needs a man’s influence and then you say you don’t need to remarry. But every so often men keep coming and going in your life – uncle John, uncle Frank, uncle this, uncle that. That is too terrible.You don’t see men coming at home. But you think you are independent, you can do what you like. I think it is irresponsible. If you’re going to be like that, then don’t have children. Because you are a curse on these children. Because you’re not giving them a good future. They must have a male influence in their lives. They must have a mother and father. Because you are earning your own money, it doesn’t mean you don’t need a husband. That’s not the kind of feminism I practice. That’s stupid. Those are the people who get an idea, they understand it less than half and they think they’ve got the idea. That’s not what feminists are talking about. Feminists are saying, “You yourself don’t be a parasite. Don’t put too much burden on your husband. Men, respect your women and encourage them to make their contribution.” More than 50 per cent of the population in this country are women. Where are they? Where do you see them? Not in government, not in industry. Why? And women’s sensibilities are what you need to rule a country. Google the most peaceful and most responsible and most settled country in the world. They are run by women. Look at what Angela Merkel did in Germany. New Zealand, Taiwan. They are all run by women. And they are steady. Those are the qualities that women have that they are using to govern their countries. Especially in this pandemic you don’t hear of any problem with these women. They are about 10 or 12 of them ruling their countries. No problem. They are not dealing with egos as the other countries are.
You said you were irreligious. You are neither a Christian nor a Muslim. What then are you?
I’m against organized religion, the kind of religion that are lobotomizing people; that are creating fear in their minds. They are making everybody become religious they cant think straight. Everybody else is going to mars and the moon and everything, we are crying Jesus Jesus. It’s bankrupt. Rubbish. That’s idleness. All the things we‘ve said, have you not seen the hand of God in my life?
You believe in a universal force behind creation?
Oh yes. I don’t need to go to church to tell me that. I’m living it. It’s going on in my life. What religion teaches is fear. Go and listen to what they are saying: “Anybody who is in the way of my promotion, fire! God kill them!” Which God is it you are worshiping? The God who created you and me is going to hear me say that He should kill you. What kind of Father God is that? That’s what they do in churches.
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