Eighty & Vibrant!
As a mark of respect to International Women’s Day, 8th of March and also International Women’s Month of March, we are featuring women who have made indelible marks in their chosen fields. Many of these women have not only excelled and are excelling in their chosen paths of success, they are shattering ceilings and breaking down shackles of tradition with no apologies!
Taiwo Ajai Lycett is a renowned actor, cosmetologist and journalist. She’s well grounded as an all-round artist and has taken up major roles as an actor both locally and internationally.
The multiple award winner actor who recently celebrated her 80th birthday, has definitely contributed her quarter when it comes to timeless movies and storytelling globally.
Ajai has featured in films like ‘Angels’, ‘Black and Blue’, ‘Oloibiri’ as well as plays such as ‘Life Everlasting’ and The ‘National Health’ among others.
Like most legends of their time, Ajai has had more than her fair share of highs and lows in her life. One of which was being raped at the age of 68, a most haunting experience. But being the fiery-spirited woman that she is, Ajai refused to be engulfed in such mental anguish and chose instead to pick up the pieces and surge forward emotionally and mentally. In this interview with AZUKA OGUJIUBA, Ajai delves into various issues taking about the early days of her career, the narrative amongst 21st century contemporary women, her 80th birthday celebration, valuable fashion items, what she would like to be remembered for and much more. It’s such an interesting read, enjoy.
How has the year 2021 been for you so far?
2021 promises to be a successful year. Yes we’ve had some rumblings but we shall overcome. I think it promises a rebirth, that’s how I feel. We are in February and we all did it together. I have high hopes, very high hopes for all of us this year. A little bit dicey but we will get through.
You recently celebrated your 80th birthday, how does it feel?
Yes, that’s why I said this year is my year. I’m happy and it’s going to be a good year. It’s elevating. I going to celebrate all year. So, for all the blessings and joy I’m having from the Almighty, I hope Nigeria will tune into the that.
Given the chance to relive your life, would you still choose the same career path of acting?
I don’t want to change anything about my life. Not a thing. The good, the bad, the ugly, nothing. Those are the things that transformed my life. The sum total of my life is the mishmash of my life. Now, what I take from that is that, we all are invincible and if we know we are divine and we are indestructible, then we are okay. If we don’t, then we are destroyed. How we react to what happens to us is the most important thing. If our reactions are negative then we are in deep nightmare but if you are optimistic then you would get around.
I’m quite happy how my life has turned out. So, I’m grateful and blessed.
What is your most treasured item at this point in your life?
Oh, I’ve got plenty! When I was robbed in my house, it was fascinating that some of the valuable things I had, the thieves didn’t recognize them as such. They took all the diamonds and gold but left out the Afrocentric and more valuable items I have. Like the one I have on my wrists right now. They are more than gold. A friend got them for me from Dakar, Senegal. Those of us who know our heritage, will recognize how precious and valuable this is. So, when they left these ones, I was glad they did because they were ignorant. People always go for what’s shiny, but not all that glitters is gold.
Even at 80, you exude so much radiance that reflects outwards making you still beautiful. What’s the secret of this?
Wow! Coming from a beautiful young lady, that’s great compliment. Thank you. Now, the secret of my beauty is just living! No whining, no whinging, no regrets but gratitude. I’m grateful for everything I have, my fortune, my profession, my friends, my lovers, (when I say my lovers please don’t take it the other way. Everyone here is my lover. Those who love me with passion, those are the ones that keep me afloat, so I love people). Life is not always about you so don’t take yourself too seriously. I don’t take myself too seriously. I always care about the collective. I haven’t gone through what people might call struggle. The struggles that have been in my life are just ordinary and normal struggles that you go through. And at times you go through these kinds of struggles out of other people’s ignorance and not yours. I’m in love with life and in love with love. It rejuvenates and renews you. I know it sounds unbelievable but it isn’t to me because that’s what I live on. Food you can eat but love, you can’t do without. Love is like water; you might not eat food for days but try not to drink water for a couple of days and you are finished. Do you know the percentage of water that we are? So, you have to replenish that and that’s how I feel about love.
Are there any leisurely activities you enjoyed in your younger days that you miss doing now because you are unable to?
No, because I continue to live, I don’t miss anything. I swim and I dance a great deal. And I believe that helps you. It also helps to rejuvenates you. It’s the greatest exercise ever because you shake off everything. It lubricates your joints and everything. So, I’m not worried about ageing thinking that I missed something, no. Actually, I wouldn’t want to be 25 again, I wouldn’t want to be 65 again or anything less because as you get older you should have peace of mind and a little bit of wisdom to go with that.
And of course, at 80, you already have the sheer freedom of being able to do what you want at your own pace, not being bothered about what other people think about you; whether they like you or not, which is fantastic. The wonderful knowledge that you are enough so you don’t worry about what anybody thinks anymore, in the sense that nobody influences you, you just do what’s right for you.
You are definitely a river of wisdom and we would like to learn more from you. What’s your take on the independence of today’s women who feel they don’t need men to complete them?
I think they got it all wrong and they are going to live to regret that line of thinking. It’s against nature and it’s against any sensible view of the society. I’m not saying anyone should be conformists but I’m saying the family of man is made up of family of man. It’s in this family you grow children to populate the world and give it structure to stabilize the world. I think it’s perversity for such women in particular.
Women have power but some of them don’t know the nature of the power that a woman possesses. We are the people who create the world. We are next to God. God is a woman. God wanted to populate the world and He came by himself and He came as a woman. All the Divine qualities that God has that we talk about; love, tolerance, forgiveness, overcoming, we associate all these with God. Now who is more loving than a mother? Who creates all the children in the world, tell me who wasn’t born by a woman? Nobody! That’s God at work and that’s how He decided to organize the world. Our women do not understand fully the power they have and their divinity. Because all that is ruling them is money. I’m here to tell you that money is a servant. Money is only important in the way it helps us buy food, clothes and all sorts. But if you measure your life on how rich you are, or that you have money, then your value system is upside down.
We just had a rich man die recently. He had 10 Rolls Royces, was he able to take any? Did it help his breathing when it came to it? The most valuable thing we have is our lives and when you start thinking money, positions and status are everything, then we are lost. All I can say to that question is that it’s an ignorant way of looking at the world. It’s idiotic, stupid and infantile. It’s coming from people who have not used their brains to think about how the world is organized because when you know that, then you will know the responsibility a woman has, to keep the world stable. If we had women governing us, we will have a different perception of what our needs are in this country.
Most of the countries where women are leaders are stable and doing well. It doesn’t mean they don’t have problems but the sensitivity, passion and grace that women have, men don’t have them. So, if someone sees me cry and thinks I’m weak, that person is stupid. If I see such girls, I’ll tell them, ‘Don’t you see how God made men and women? Men are there to give us the sperm to fertilize and we carry on and God provided them so that when we are supposedly weak or in gestation period, they can come in and protect the home front but the person who keeps the home together is a woman’. As a woman, once you have a child, that child becomes your preoccupation and it doesn’t matter how many of them you have, you live for them unlike the fathers who live for their girlfriends. But a woman, even if she’s having lovers, her children are usually her top priority.
Then you want to deny yourself such power and responsibility of being a mother because you feel you are “liberated” and don’t need a man? That’s so irresponsible. What about the children you are likely to have, do you think it’s only money that raises children? Why deny them a father figure?
Do you know what happens to Nigerians abroad who take their children there thinking they want to start a new life with them? They go in there working all day and don’t have time for the children. These children go to plazas stabbing one another and becoming nuisance to others.
So, if you are a responsible woman you should know that the kids need both parents and more so, the influence of their mothers.
In the yester-years, was it a struggle for you to convince your parents to accept your career path?
Not my parents particularly, but my siblings who didn’t understand such a path. As a matter of fact, my mother in her days, was an actor in their Church so they had an idea of what that was. Then my paternal grandfather was a minister. Whenever he performed in any neighborhood, the place was shut down. So I got show business in my veins. My father told me that I was a throwback of his father. So I was quite relaxed in being an actor.
You became a rape victim at 65 and currently Nigeria has increasing cases of rape. What in your opinion should be the right punishment for rapists and what do you believe should be the way forward for the country in tackling this disturbing situation?
I have been talking about ‘quantum physics; cause and effect’ all along, we have a society that commodifies women. We are nothing in their eyes, we are just there to be used. A man would be arguing with you and tell you “I have one like you at home” but no, he doesn’t! We are special but he’s so ignorant that he doesn’t know. They don’t value women. We have a Legislature that contains pedophiles, some are married to 12, 13 or 14-year olds and some who aren’t married yet they are eyeing such minors. It’s a sick society. So that self-righteousness of regulating homosexuals is sad. If you have a society like that, and you have preponderance of men in the police force and the security system, many women are just there doing nothing. Even in the Legislature, what are the women doing there? They are just following the men around. As long as you keep having these kind of situations, the women don’t have any value in this society. Remember I told you earlier how powerful women are and how divine we are but see the contrast?
So, I report to the police station, do they do anything? “What’s the woman there for if not to be slept with, so what’s the big deal if your boyfriend rapes you. So what do you want me to do?” That’s how they think. They see you immediately and they start to have fantasies of sleeping with you. Are these the people you think will enact laws that will protect the women or look after anybody? They are too dumb to know that these women being raped could be their mothers, sisters or daughters, aunties. How sick can it be for a 74-year-old man to rape a 5-year-old and nobody is doing anything about it? In Saudi Arabia they would have chopped his head off.
If you run a government or society of impunity, you can get away with anything particularly if you have “long legs” or you know somebody who knows somebody. This is why I’m saying, it’s about time, women start grooming themselves and start supporting each other. This is not a gender role; I’m just saying it as it is. It’s not a question of whether I hate men, I love being heterosexual, I love men but they are useless. When it comes to fighting for you forget it, they won’t.
So, you women in communications and women generally, should start thinking of what’s important in your life instead of thinking that the men are going to do it. It’s women that are going to do it.
Put more women in power and in position of authority, train more women, support, one another and vote one another. Most women would rather vote for men than the women. You should change the perception and start thinking of the girl-child instead of staying around saying ‘I don’t need a man I’ve my own money’ and all that nonsense. There are bigger fishes to fry, bigger issues that women should concentrate on but they are not, which is why I call them idiots, because if you are not using your brain someone else will use it for you. That’s what men are doing.
Women concentrate on looking pretty in order for men to like them so they can give them houses in Lekki, take them to Dubai and then give them shops. Is that the sum total of your ambition? When you can have the world and contribute to it positively. All I can say to these girls is stop being parasites, make your own contributions! Don’t say the men won’t let us, no! Nobody gives you power, you take it, you earn it.
Did anyone stop me? Did racial discrimination stop me? Did it stop Ngozi Okonjo Iweala? Did it stop Oby Ezekwesili?
So enough of the excuses. You are lazy and you are saying someone is trying to stop you.
What would you like to be remembered for?
That I loved and was being loved. I’m not my look, not the clothes I wear, I’m not my house, I’m not my shoes, I’m not all these, I’m me. I’m Loved. That I have loved and I’m being loved passionately. That had genuine relationships. I like you to remember that I was real, that I was fierce and that we were together, that’s enough for me.
Outfits : QueenCess collection by @rubyandpink