I smoke and drink, so what? - Ayo Mogaji

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You can’t shake it off. Before I became Igbanladogi, I was called Mojere, then I was called Iya Ojuju. As you grow, people begin to ascribe to you what you do that fascinates them. They have called me Abeni Onipangbe, Jemila, etc. It all depends. But I thank God for one thing: no matter what, I have always been known as Binta Ayo Mogaji. My career started with my real name because I started with stage plays. No matter what you call me, I am still Ayo Mogaji.

How do you manage stardom?
To me, as an African, it depends on the background you were brought up with. What is stardom? Anybody can become a star overnight. Clifford Orji became a star, Fryo who claimed to have killed Bola Ige became a star, I mean stardom with notoriety. It is the way you were brought up that will help you to manage stardom. I give glory to God that I have been there for some time.

It will never get into my head. I am like salt, I am where you put me. The Muslim thing in me does not allow me to be too loud. But when I get into the midst of my friends, you will see me in my elements. I am a very private person. If my destiny had been that I should be an eleha (woman in purdah), my afaa would have enjoyed me a lot.

How do you code-switch and cultivate some mannerisms so effortlessly?
When I am given a script, there is something they call director’s problem. There is another they call the actor’s problem. What makes you a good actor is your ability to interpret your role convincingly between your last character and the new one you are playing.

Which role did you enjoy most?
I have enjoyed all the roles I have played.

Some people say you are best as a gossip… I am one of the actresses who refused to allow the industry to stereotype them. When the directors see you in one character they like, next time when there is a role like that, they tend to call you for that. But I have not allowed that. And that is why I have been able to act different roles. I like challenges.

You recently joined politics...
I didn’t join politics, I did a road show for a politician.

How do you separate that?
Yes, what we call that in drama school is guerilla theatre, an outreach. We have been doing that for some time, like campaigning against female circumcision, AIDS, apatheid, etc. Why should doing it for someone I believe in, that is Jimi Agbaje, be called politics?

But how many people will understand that?
I am telling you the way I understand it.

Were you disappointed that he lost?
Well, you wouldn’t like to work for something that you believe would fail. I did what I did with a lot of conviction. Jimi Agbaje, I know, is someone I believe is better than most of the other candidates. I live in Ibadan and work in Lagos. I pay my taxes in Lagos, that’s why I did it. And I got paid because it was a road show, it was not as if we were campaigning, we were dancing all over the place. It pained me that he lost, and we all know why he lost anyway.

For quite a long time, you seemed not interested in settling down. But swiftly, after you decided to do that, you opted out of the relationship?
What do you mean by settling down? I only got married in December, last year.

But before that….
I had a baby before then. I was never married before this my marriage and I will never get married after it. I have only had one marriage, and I am married to Dr. Victor Ayodele Oduleye. But what about … I had a lover who came to live in my house and we had a baby together. He was my live-in lover.

But everybody thought that ….
I don’t care what everybody thought, I am telling you what it is.

Then, how has life been as a married woman?
It has been sweet, my husband just called from Britain.

Your husband lives in Britain and you are here?
My husband is a British citizen, he was born in England, he is a British – born psychoanalyst and he lives in his country. I am here because I need to finish up some jobs before I go and join him. He just left in February and he is coming back soon, that is if I don’t go on time.

What struck you in your husband?
What else would have stricken me if not love? I met him a long time ago. We met when I was in secondary school, but I don’t want to repeat the story again. He came to Nigeria to play in the Academicals.

He is a sports man?
Yeah, he used to play football. He came home for his secondary school education, and he played in the Academicals and so many club sides here; and then he went on to play for Portsmouth and Tottenham, before Arsenal ended his footballing career by breaking one of his legs.

But over that long time, what really sustained the relationship?
Well, you never can tell. Things go round and come round. We lost contact for some time, but we’d been in each other’s mind. He came back into my life and it was a good relief. And what he didn’t want to do way back in 1989, he decided he would not die if he didn’t do it first.

Are you the jealous type?
Well, I am not jealous, but I hate disrespect and insult. If you were a woman and you had somebody you called a live-in lover, somebody who lived in your house and started bringing in his other girlfriends into your home, you can be jealous because you would want to shake that off. Based on that, I can say I am jealous. But otherwise, I don’t’ care what you do because those who are mostly jealous put their happiness in someone. If my happiness does not depend on you, I can function as a single entity.

Well, maybe if I really have a soft spot for you, you can hurt me, but not to the point of going to fight the other woman or trailing you to the other girl’s place, no. I can even sit down with the other woman. If she greets me, I will greet her. I don’t have any business with her. The only thing I can do if I have a control over you is to say, Sweet, let’s go.

Has anybody broken your heart?
Broke my heart? It’s not in my dictionary. Life goes on.

How many hearts have you broken?
I have never broken anybody’s heart and I didn’t want anyone to break mine. You asked why it took me so long to settle down. It was until I was ready to do it and I felt okay, I could take **** from this guy for the rest of my life, that’s what has happened.

Even with what you would not call marriage now, stories abound that the guy felt that he couldn’t control you, that’s why things fell apart between you.

Nobody who is in love with each other would want to control the other. If you want to control, it becomes servitude; it becomes master-servant relationship. I am not a teenager, I have been on my own, you met me on my own. If you moved your bag and baggage and came over to my house and you think you can change me overnight after I had been on my own for that long time, it is not possible. Anyway, apart from the child, there was nothing binding between us. We both went our different ways after that. We are not fighting though. He still brought me some documents a few days ago. We are not fighting, he is the one who goes to newspapers to say things.

You see, I have not been reacting for certain reasons. If I need to react, nobody in life is perfect. He is the perfect man and I am imperfect because I drink and smoke. A lot of lies has gone into the pages of newspapers which I have told myself I will not react to; because if I have to do that, it will generate other reactions.

Not even because of that, it is just simply because of my son. You can never tell, my reaction may in the future affect the boy negatively.

You seem so excited about your son, tell me something about him.
Ah, I have a very wonderful three-year old. Ademide is great.

God has been very kind to me by giving me Ademide Do you wish to add to him?
Of course, I am married. I want to have kids for my husband.

How is your husband, who had lived abroad all along, taking the fact that you’d been involved with someone else before?
My husband too had been involved with other people. We are not young now, we are in our mid-40s. So, how would he be so stupid to think that I would not have been involved with another person since after he left me. We are not young, I will be 45 on my next birthday.

I read somewhere that you may find it difficult to stay married to one person for long.
Then I wish that person what he wished for me. I got married to this guy because I think whatever **** he wants to put to me, I am ready to take it because I love him that much. He is not like somebody who travelled to wherever and came back one day and started behaving as if he was everything. And after he got what he wanted to get from you, he started criticising you; even though he lived under your roof. My husband is not somebody who has come to use you as a springboard and thinks he has arrived.

How did you tell this other guy to leave your house?
Don’t ask me that, I won’t talk about that. Apart from Dr. Oduleye, I don’t want to talk about any other person. Anybody who bites the finger that feeds or has fed him stays to live with the wrath of God.

Would you want Ademide to become an actor?
I don’t know what he wants to become. For all I care, he may become an afaa, if that is the wish of his mind.

As a Muslim, do you practise Islam?
Yes, I do. Forget the fact that I smoke and drink. Even if I don’t say my prayers five times daily, I keep to other tenets.

Is it because you were born into the religion?
I love the religion, I pray the first prayer in the morning. Any day I drink, I forget about it until the middle of the night when I join all others together.

Have you had a scandal that really troubled you?
No, I have never had one except what the father of my baby is trying to make into a scandal.

How have you been able to stay out of scandal?
I don’t do scandalous things. The only thing that some people would say I have done is smoking and drinking, that is it.

But some of your colleagues are said to be bad wives and bad husbands… I don’t know, because I have never gone into their homes with them. But I know I am a good wife to my husband. And I was a good lover to the father of my child while the going lasted.

You have this penchant for people who live abroad, is it because you cannot cope with guys here?
No. I met my present husband here. I met the father of my baby here.

Is it because of dollars or what?
It is not that. None of them has ever sent me money. Ok, Ademide’s father sent me 100 dollars once, that’s after we had the child. He went abroad and wanted me to do something for him here and he sent the money through Western Union. I still keep the counterfoil. I have my relations who send me money.

Have you ever been embarrassed by your fans and how did it happen?
Yeah, I have been embarrassed. After I did Iya Ojuju, whenever area boys saw me, they said this woman is a gossip, let’s deal with her. They tore my cloth in Idumota. I was smuggled to a woman’s shop who gave me a cloth to wear. So, since then, any time I go to Idumota, I go in purdah. After they stopped embarrassing me, this was way back in 1996, people now began to understand that we were only acting, they come over to hail and demand for money. And even at that, I still go there in purdah.



Staff member
One of the finest actresses Nigerian theatre ever produced. She switches the thing on like say na electric...FIRE!
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