“I like you to remember that I was real, that I was fierce and that we were together, that’s enough for me” – Those were the words of Taiwo Ajai Lycett who has seen it all, done it all and has her name inscribed on the sands of time as her unmatched works of art remain timeless.
She became a mother at the age of fifteen and dropped out of school but she never lost sight of her vision and drive in life.
With that resilience, focus, determination and most especially, discipline, Ajai conquered every field of her specialty; as an actor, journalist, cosmetologist and TV presenter.
Ajai was the first editor of Africa Woman Magazine in the 1970s. In 2006, decorated by former Nigeria’s president, Olusegun Obasanjo, she received a national award of Officer of the Order of the Niger.
Known for films such as, Dazzling Mirage, Crown Court, Angels, Black and Blue amongst many other accolades…the unstoppable Ajai Lycett lives forever.
Thus, it was an honour to have a chat with her where she talks about her chosen career, the feminist-narrative amongst twenty-first century contemporary women, being raped at sixty-five and the way forward for the girl child in Nigeria, what she would like to be remembered for and more.
It’s such an interesting read, enjoy.
Did you have any sort of racist issues during your early career days as black woman on mainstream media in London?
I have been blessed since I started my career. There has never been a time anybody undervalued me like that. If you know my works then you can tell. I have done works that were racially neutral. What they were looking for was whether you have the talent and the ability to do the job and they got that and nobody ever disrespected me. If you look at my works I started from the top and kept on going like that.
Racism is there and it’s systemic too but there’s a lot also we have to do if we are proud of ourselves and project ourselves as what we are; people of great heritage, I think the world accepts you for what you are. They never dared played that in front of me all my life, check my career history and see whether I’m lying. They would call my agents and book me I wasn’t running around looking for roles they looked for me and sort me out. I wasn’t looking for anybody. So it’s a big testimony the kind of effort I put in as an actor.
Would you attribute this to you being lucky not to have experienced it at all?
I wasn’t lucky, it was an individual thing. Nobdy does me a favour. There were many black actors there. You don’t go around begging or looking for acceptance or validation, I have never been like that. So it was more of an individual thing.
So yes, there was and there’s still racism but it never touched me. I suspect it’s because I did my homework. Be thorough in what you do and don’t give excuses so you don’t need favours from anyone. I don’t need anyone to do me favours, take me as as I am or leave. But I made sure that I value myself enough to put myself in a position where people don’t insult me or behave condescending towards me.
What’s your take on LGBT /Bobrisky and other cross dressers as well as the anti gay laws in Nigeria?
It’s not a question of whether I’m okay with it or not, I don’t want to know what you do in your private life. Do you know why Borisky and co are everywhere? The media gives them attention and promotes them so why are they blaming anyone? In Nigeria there has always been homosexuals and crossdressers. But I think our culture here is so sophisticated, tolerant and intelligent that we have everyone to his own. We don’t have rights to tell someone not to be who God made them to be or whoever they want to be. It’s not your business what anyone else does as long as they don’t rub my nose in it.
But you guys (the media) gave them publicity, oxygen and fresh air. They’ve always been there.
All that fourteen years imprisonment anti gay law is nonsense and colonial rubbish. I grew up with the tradition where you know people like that exist but you let them live. We say well, I don’t do it, but that’s how he is and that’s okay. Live and let live. It’s respecting another human being. You don’t stand in judgement over anyone.
Even in the Bible there were homosexuals, so what are we talking about. These things are scientific, people have certain chromosomes and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.
You can’t punish people for being born like that or put them all in jail? I think that’s the most gross thing in the world. So it’s not my business to like or dislike anyone, live and let live as long as they are not trying to steal my child and indoctrinate that child.
So making these laws especially in Nigeria is the most hypocritical law I’ve ever seen because there are young boys going around in Abuja with boyfriends from Ministers, Legislature and so on, so what the heck are we talking about?
I’m not saying there should be an advert telling people to be homosexuals but the reason why alot of people do it now it’s because it’s fashionable now. When you want to start something, you start by creating some sort of controversy about it and from there you keep building up and it becomes mainstream. And that’s what the media does, they (crossdressers) go to Dubai for instance, and take pictures and post them, the media picks them up and publish them, you make them popular thereby attracting impressionable souls to be like that.
So think about these things properly and stop prosecuting and demonizing people. It’s their business as long as they don’t trespass. And the people who are making the laws know that are like that themselves; they are paedophiles, homosexuals and then they are making such laws? That’s hypocritical.
So tolerance, if you have a society that’s not tolerant of one another then we can’t have peace. Who the heck are you to tell the next person what their sexual orientation should be? If you have no sin then be The first to cast a stone. Enough of all this self-righteousness.
I’m heterosexual, intensively so and if you are homosexual then that’s your business.
The Bible says don’t judge so you shall not be judged for the measure you give shall be measured unto you.
Do you think Nollywood is getting it right in term of good content and quality productions or we still have a long way to go, looking at your career journey as an actor?
What is missing right now is literacy. They are not literate enough. They don’t read so the scripts are not good. Most of the actors are wannabe actors, Instagram actors.
They don’t talk about our conditions in an intelligent way for the world to see. Good films talk about your condition, what’s happening around you.
Show the bad guys and the good guys, then take the bad guys off the table and let the world know that if you do wrong, this is how you will end up.
We have corrupt Policemen in Nigeria, how many films do we see addressing some of these issues? It’s what I call dealing with quantum physics; cause and effect. I went to college of education where the Policemen were recruiting, what sort pay are you giving them? What living conditions do they have? When you have people working in these kind of situations and they are paying for their uniforms it means you don’t have a system. You don’t have a security system. And when you do that, you then unleash them on the population, with no supervision, no body to oversee what they really do.
So in this case, scripts shouldn’t only be about the corrupt Policemen but also the fact that they are hungry. Because if they are hungry and not being taken care of properly, they will be shooting people on the street for no reason.
So we promote a corrupt society then we mourn and groan? That’s self-righteousness, like the homosexual business, you don’t do anything about what you should be doing then you start condemning some people. I understand the Policemen situation, I’m not defending them but I’m saying you have to know the cause before you start worrying about the effects. When you know the cause, you deal with it.
What’s your take on the #OccupyLekkiToolGate protest following the decision of the Lagos State government to reopen the Toll Gate without proper investigation and justice into the massacre that claimed lives of peaceful protesters on that spot few months ago?
There should be a dialogue. First of all, the government is wrong. You can’t just say go and open the Toll Gate . You have to treat what your children are talking about. It’s not enough to say you have a panel of inquiry without properly communicating to the community what the results of the panel are and the way forward. It’s not a question of appeasement, though you have to appease your children if they are not happy with you. If your children are not happy it’s your responsibility to look after them. There’s no going on high horse that our government goes on this issue, you are still a part of the population and these are your children. We need to get out of this , “I myself and I” if it doesn’t affect you then it’s not your business.
Every child is your child. Now, the tribunal reached a conclusion then the first thing they should do is create public awareness, not just to that target audience but to the whole population because we were all hit by this scourge, by this war because it was an internal war. We lost lives, we unleashed on ourselves a horror. Then the people in power should recognize that and this business of “might is right” is stupid. It’s not wise. Don’t because you have power over somebody then you treat them like that, it’s not fair. So, obviously they are asking for it if they gave the order for the gate to be opened just like that without telling them, okay this is it, how do we agree on something and how to we go about this. But if you take it that you don’t owe anyone an explanation, I don’t think that’s wise. Always treating the citzen as though they don’t exist, as if we don’t matter. Being indifferent to us is what’s going to generate that kind of uprising. I think we should communicate more. Our leaders should get off their high horses and address the issue. These are difficult times and I expect them to be a little bit more anti-tyranny.
You are definitely a river of wisdom and we would like to learn more from you. What’s your take on the trend among young women who constantly say they are okay by themselves and they don’t need men to complete them?
A river of wisdom…aww… what a clever girl!
Well, 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 and it’s in the family that you grow children to populate the world and give it structure and to stabilize the world. I think it’s perversity for such women in particular.
Women have power and these ones are like that because they 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 in a woman. All the Divine qualities that God has that we talk about; love, tolerance, forgiveness, overcoming, etc, 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 ten Rolls Royces, was he able to take any? Did it help his breathing when he 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. If our women who are our mothers, who are God’s lieutenants start to think like that then I don’t believe in the devil, maybe the devil is alive because women are divine, we are God. God is a woman. 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 then you will know the responsibility that 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 they are more 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, 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 raise children? Why deny them a father figure?
Do you know what happens to Nigerians abroad who take their children their 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 for 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.
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’s 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 there 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 minus. It’s a sick society. So that self-righteousness of regulating homosexuals is sad. So, if you have a society like that, and you have preponderous of men in the police force and the security system and 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? Or they say , so what’s the big deal if your boyfriend rapes yo? So what do you want me to do?” That’s how they think. They see you immediately and they start to have fancies of sleeping with you. These are 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 , daughters or 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 yourselves 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 like 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 they 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 nothing 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 Likki, 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.
We know about your love for music. How central is music to your art first, then to you as a person?
I couldn’t live without music. I don’t mean noise, I mean music that speaks to the soul. Whether classical or jazz, I couldn’t do anything, I look up to music. I go to bed with music, I like to be in a certain zone.
I feel bereaved if I don’t listen to music that’s actually addressing my soul and my life is around love. I don’t think there’s anything going on that comes close to that.
Good music talks to us and God has given us just that. That’s why he gave us voices and sounds which we make into music that appeals to us.
So, when I’m working I have to play the right music, I’m studying a script I have to play music to get me back from where I came from so I can hear what the spirits are saying to me. So enjoy yourself and listen to good music. It will inspire you, it will transform your life; whether it’s about your work, relationship or someone you love. It will give you a purpose and a way to view life.
That’s enough for me. Everything else perishes but love is forever.
Y’all here are looking at me with great passion, what beats that? The clothes that I’m wearing that we can put fire on it and it’s finished? But you will remember me and that’s enough for me. Nothing else, not money but relationships; deep, good and meaningful relationships.
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 I 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.