Nigerian theatre matriarch, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, recently talked to OLUMIDE IYANDA about surviving a robbery, work, love, sex and why she is unmarried 23 years after her husband died.
How did you survive the robbery at your former house in Egbe, Lagos?
The robbers had a pillow to my face and a machete to my head, but it occurred to me that if people want to do you harm, the worst thing you could do is to let them get into your head. I was not going to go out with fear. I brought all the discipline and training in me out there on that occasion; concentrated on keeping sane, alive and calm. I kept talking to my attackers and asking “are you doing this to your mother?” That’s when they taped my mouth. I stayed fearless all through the attack and kept praying. I knew I was going to live because that is what God promises me.
You left Egbe after the attack
I was comfortable there but I decided that maybe that’s not where I was meant to be. Maybe I should reinvent myself and start all over again. I stayed for a year after the event. I had to calm and heal myself physically more than mentally. I didn’t leave immediately because I was quite strong up there. I knew what it was for what it was. These things happen to so many people, so many women. Bad things happen to good people. That it happened to me was not extraordinary. I also believe that if things happen to you and you curse your environment and your condition, it is an indication of your state of mind. At that period I was very worried and afraid of the people around me because they were ripping me off right, left and centre. They were openly hostile and had taken over my business. If I came in, my assistance would look at me as if I didn’t own the place. I had suspected they were going to harm me someday, so when the robbery happened I decided to leave after some time.
Do you think they took advantage of you because you were alone?
Undoubtedly. I was alone; there was no big man or boyfriend around me. They knew I was alone and that is unconscionable really. It may be naïve of me, but I thought since I looked after them they would look after me. If they had seen a man around me, they wouldn’t treat me or the business the way they did. But all is well because I was able to retain a measure of calmness. It was clear to me that that wasn’t the place for me being alone. I could do it abroad but a woman alone here in Nigeria is dangerous. But it is a choice I have made to be alone.
Why did you make that choice?
Relationships are very complex and very important. Finding the right person for you is a luxury. Having lived through a very happy marriage, I didn’t have the courage to start looking because I didn’t think I could find what I had before. I am not a social person and don’t go on the social round where I could meet people. The only thing I am sure you know about me since we’ve known each other is my work. Emotional and intimate relationships are a different kettle of fish. I have not put myself in the way of a relationship because I don’t go out much. Where am I going to meet the kind of man for me? People my age are married. Having affairs is not an option for me. If you’ve had caviar, why waste your time with fish eggs? If I surrender myself body and soul to someone who is half invested in the relationship it’s going to break me. Having lived my life to the time when my husband died, what else am I looking for?
You were 52 when he died
Exactly. What else do I want? To have babies? People talk about companionship; do you know how rich my life is? I get to talk to young bright people like you, so how am I losing not having companionship? I can’t settle for being somebody’s concubine. That does not appeal to me.
What you say to me is different from the things I read about you talking of having sex at old age
That’s a philosophical point which the people who wrote those things miss. Why do we assume that old people are not sexual? And if they are sexual you demonise them. I was posting a question because people are always asking me why I am not married and everything. Somebody was saying if you don’t have sex you will dry up or something. Do I look like a prude to you?
Are you sexual?
Yes. Just because you don’t have sex doesn’t mean you’re not sexual. What’s so difficult to understand about that? To be celibate doesn’t mean you are asexual. It’s a choice. Why it is that people don’t understand that here? When I talk to people that I think are intelligent they think I am running around. And I do get proposed to by young men.
I am not surprised
That’s life. Does that mean I’m looking for them? No. In life, people have different predilections. Some people like fat women while others may prefer slender women. That’s their choice. For emotional and psychological reasons, some people fall in love with older people. I guess nobody thinks it’s odd that young girls marry older men. But when an old woman is interested in a younger man then she’s called a cougar. That’s sexism. People mock me and ask why am I still talking about sex. They say I should go to church instead. I talk about sex because it is very important. I’m a seeker of love. Without love what is sex? Sex is just an appetite. Even dogs have appetites. There isn’t anything better than real sexual love. I always tell people that sex is not in your loin but in your head. And that is where I live. Look at me; I’m blooming. I am drunk on love. The point I am making which I will always come back to is that it doesn’t have to be sexual love. I am talking about the love that lasts longer than five, 15 minutes or whatever time it is you guys go for. I have old and young people who get obsessed about me but I like the love that lasts longer than the other one. That is why I don’t have affairs.
Even after your husband’s death
Never! 23 years on and I can’t wake up in the morning without thinking about him.
You probably never gave yourself a chance to be loved again
That’s what I would say. I just was never available. I guess men are frightened of me. I talk too much and I’m opinionated. Men don’t like that.
But your late husband didn’t mind
That’s what he liked about me. He felt I had ideas. He loved that. He loved that fact that my head is going 1,000 miles an hour. He just loved me. And he was a quiet man. I think I must’ve been his alter ego. When I met my husband, I had just come out of a marriage to a Nigerian and didn’t want a relationship at all. He insisted on a relationship and I told him I didn’t want a jealous man because of the nature of my job. In this show business I am working with someone or kissing someone. If you are going to be questioning everything I do then we can’t have a relationship. You have to trust me because that is my job. And if you can’t trust me you can’t think I am a responsible person, so there is no basis for a relationship. He trusted me till he died.
Having married a Nigerian and an Englishman did Nigerian men become no-no for you?
That’s a difficult question. How can Nigerian men become no-no? Love is love.
Then why didn’t you give love a chance again?
Because I didn’t see the love to give a chance to. When you are a widow, people are on you like a bee to a honey. You’re a target. For somebody like me, they feel they’ve got to achieve it. And that’s the reason why you’ve got to be very careful about your life. Everybody wants to have a taste of you so to speak. People want to take advantage of you and why would let I myself be taken advantage of? I could not become a second wife because that to me is not love. It is expediency and you become a trophy to be put on a mantle.
Rounding off, do new generation Nollywood fans know you now that you are in Tinsel?
Most people knew me with Frank Spencer actually. Don’t forget that we have power problem and not everybody watches Television. Those who know me knew me from way back. If you walk down the road, you are not going to count more than two people who have seen me in Tinsel. Maybe I should ask you if people really know me.
The media does
The media has always done incredible things for me even before Tinsel. You can hardly find the media write anything negative about me. The media protects me. I find it fascinating and I am very proud of it. They take me as one of their own and have always been on my side. They are fascinated about what I do, it’s incredible. I am always free to talk to the media even if some don’t understand what I am saying. And I know why some of them don’t understand. You have a woman my age still talking naughty, risqué and everything. The way I talk is not the normal way old people talk. Some people are bound to put two and two together and get five. They are fascinated about me and think I am still “toastable”. That’s how it starts. And because I am who I am, I pick up that banter and say why not. Of course, I am “toastable”. I am not dead yet. You and I know how we talk, but a lot of people don’t know that. There are no airs about me and that is never going to change.