Iyabo Ojo is a popular actress in the Yoruba film genre. An indigene of Abeokuta, in Ogun State, she is from a family of three where she is the youngest and only girl. She went to Great Children

Primary School, then to National College, Gbagada. She proceeded to the Lagos State Polytechnic, where she read Estate Management. She started acting in 1998, in an English film titled ‘Satanic’. She had a break and came back in 2001 to join the Odunfa caucus where she started acting in Yoruba movies. She acts, writes and produces. The mother of two has produced about 10 movies. In this interview with ESTHER IJALANA, Iyabo speaks on her life as a single mother, and a victim of love. She also opens up on the clashes going on in the Yoruba film industry and how dispute over seniority is tearing the practitioners apart.

You studied Estate Management in school. So, why did you go into acting?

Well, acting has always been a passion; it is something I have always wanted to do. Even in my secondary school, I was very popular because I got myself involved in a lot of social activities and clubs. Entertainment has always been in my blood. Though when I was looking for admission into school, I wanted to study Law, but I didn’t have my English. I eventually went for Estate Management because it was the only course I could do without English. I ventured into it but that didn’t stop my passion for acting. Actually, when I was young, I wanted to be a model when I grew up, unfortunately, I found out that I wasn’t tall. I did a bit of modeling when I was young but I later went into my first love, which is acting. When you do something you have a passion and drive for , you find inner fulfillment. Acting is a forever thing. At any age, there will always be a role for you to play.

Did you practise Estate Management at any point?

Yes, I did initially. Myself and two other of my friends, Kenny and Prince, we had an office then in Ikeja, but I was too busy going around shooting. Kenny is late now but the other person is still handling the business. I opted out because I didn’t have the time to put into it.

How did you get the opportunity to act?

In 1996, I worked in this gift stall in Opebi. Bimbo Akintola used to live at the back of that area and I had seen her several times. I later left but I had my friend still working there. So I usually went there to see her. I just told my friend one day that I would like to meet Bimbo because I would really love to act and I loved her way of interpreting her roles. I was given the address, so I just walked up to her and told her I wanted to be in the movie industry. And then, she embraced me and taught me a few tricks about acting and took me to Keppy Ekpeyong. Uncle Keppy and his wife were very accommodating. One day, Uncle Keppy gave me a note for an audition going on then for a movie titled Satanic. I went to Mathias and gave him the note; they wanted to give me a role for a nurse because there wasn’t much. Luckily for me, the girl who was supposed to play the role I eventually played didn’t interprete the role very well. They gave me the script to read. He liked my diction and he gave me the role. It was a great opportunity for me to work with people. That was my first experience before the camera. I did a couple of other ones but I later stopped because I got married and started having babies. When I came back, the faces I knew in the industry were not there, and there is a bit of tribalism in the industry; once you are not from their side it was difficult to get a role. That was how I joined the Yoruba industry. I met Ogogo who came from Ilaro, and that is where my children’s father came from too.

How many movies have you acted in so far?

I have lost count. My own movies are about 10 but for other movies, I have done over two hundred movies.

Which of your movies do you think is the most challenging?

All my movies are challenging because I play different characters in different movies. Each time you play a character that is not you, it is challenging but I am yet to find a character that I find difficult to play. I love every character I have done. But I have very few movies that I think I can not forget in a hurry. One is Oga. I played a very minor role in Oga but I love it because that was the first time ever to build my emotions.I actually for once felt I was acting, I felt the pain of the character that I was interpreting, and even when the cameraman said cut, I still found myself crying. Orolaripesije is another movie I love because I acted that movie with all my heart, strength and passion in me. For once also, I forgot I was acting. When you get into the character you are asked to act, you sink into it even forget you are acting. I also did one Mario. It’s my first comedy and it is a bit tough because I had to act funny and naturally I am not a funny person.

Have you thought about going back to the English film?

I just shot one in Warri a month ago. It’s a pidgin-english film. I have tried once to go back but they keep telling you to go for audition at my stage. You know, those in English movies don’t respect us but we respect them. We invite them to work for us, we don’t tell them to come for audition because we already know they are good in what they do but they want us to go for audition to work for them. It’s ridiculous. It all boils down to the fact they don’t embrace us the way we embrace them and most times they think we in Yoruba movies don’t understand English or we can’t speak good English because we act our movies in our local dialect. But if they call me, I will be glad to work with them.

What is the best thing about being a celebrity?

The best thing is that it opens the doors for you. You get to meet a lot of people. You get to be celebrated and appreciated, so it’s a good thing because you are not just anybody but you are somebody people want to associate with. You get to be favoured and honoured.

What is the price you have paid being a celebrity?

Ahhh, a lot. Number one, people tend to judge you by your looks and the roles you play in movies. They also judge you by what is written and said about you. You know when I wasn’t a public figure, I used to think every rumour has an element of truth in it, but when I found myself in that shoe now, I understand better. Sometimes, I wonder where people get these stories from, because a lot of rumour does not even exist. The truth is that when you hear things like that, initially, you will break down and begin to be somebody else. People begin to see you as a snub because you become protective. It’s like you are not friendly, but you just don’t want people to get too close to you, because they can pick something and lie about you or speak about you wrongly. That can cause a lot of problems for you because at the end of the day, you are not who you are and become somebody else, you want to be perfect. I have grown past that stage, I don’t let things said about me bother me and change me. I have learnt to go on and I have learnt to accept everybody the way they are. I don’t look down on people because you don’t know where they can help you tomorrow. I believe nobody is nobody; everybody is somebody. If you look at it that way, then, you don’t hurt nobody and respect everybody. Like I tell my colleagues, ‘whatever is written about you is the price you have to pay’.

This takes us to some of the rumours that have circulated about you. It was said you were going out with Muka Ray and was even planning to get married?

But I’m not married to him. I don’t think the story about Muka and I will ever end. Me and the Rays are like family members. We are one crew, one caucus and we work together. I will say this again, Muka is my colleague, my brother, my friend and we have come a long way. We have an understanding when it comes to production. So, he is not my husband. I am not married to him.

But you guys dated?

I didn’t date him, he is my friend but I didn’t call him my boyfriend. He is a brother, maybe when people see two opposite sex working together, they tend to have this idea that they are dating. Muka is a happily married man. He is married with four kids. I am also here with my own family, I mean my two children. He is not my husband or boyfriend. He is just my colleague, friend and we work together.

What about this rumour that you and Liz Anjorin are fighting over a man?

I don’t want to talk about it. I have said I will not talk about that issue again.

What about this issue of seniority conflict in the Yoruba movie industry?

I don’t know how to explain this seniority issue but one thing I keep asking people is that, ‘are we in a Western world or we are in Africa, a place that has culture? We are all Nigerians and we come from a place where tradition and culture are meant to be respected. Why do we find it hard to respect our elders? Many of us behave like we are not from responsible backgrounds. Because I don’t care how many tattoos I have on my body; I don’t care how many Western world countries I have travelled to. I come from a home where culture really matters. I can not look anyone I know is older than me in the face and call her by name. I have never for once disrespected any of them because I didn’t come from a home where I was taught to disrespect. I came from a home where I was taught to respect my elderly ones. So, someone would just come up and think she can disrespect anybody because she drives a car, uses expensive things, lives in a flashy home and has little money to produce a film? If they keep disrespecting, then, the fight will not stop, the fight will go on. You can not disrespect me because we are colleagues. There are stages of colleagues, I and Aunty Joke Silva are colleagues but I can not look her in the face and call her Joke because she is my colleague. I will not look Bukky Wright in the face and call her Bukky because we are colleagues. We all need to understand that we need to love and respect people. I will not tolerate disrespect all in the name of being colleagues. I will tell you not to greet me any more and let me be. A lot of girls in the industry today are so rude, saucy and haughty. I have accommodated and respected people and I expect the same. I can not be friendly with everybody. I pray for those who detest me and those who love me. I use wisdom to deal with a lot of things. If I said I don’t want somebody to greet me, it doesn’t mean the person is not perfect in her own way. It simply means I don’t want problems between us. The issue of aunty, aunty will keep happening until everybody understands their place. When people say Igbo doesn’t have respect, I say its a lie because my granny is Kwale. I grew up with her and she instilled good morals and respect in me. I grew up with a solid Igbo background. People think I’m wicked. I am not wicked. I am strict, blunt and straight forward.

Is that the problem between you and Liz Anjorin?

I have said I will not talk about her. I don’t have a problem with her and I will not have a problem with her. I don’t have a problem with that girl, I simply say don’t greet me. I didn’t ask her to call me aunty. I don’t know her age and I don’t want to know it. In all that have been said and written, I have not met her one-on-one. Our meeting is only when there is an award, film or event going on. We have not had any business outside the industry. She has not done anything to me and I have not done anything to her. I don’t know who she’s dating, and she doesn’t know who I’m dating. The story that we are fighting over a man is only a rumour. We don’t know each other’s man. Apart from the fact that I ask her not to greet me and she took it as an offence. Initially, I was very upset over everything she was saying in the papers, but I have got over it and laughed it off. We are different people and we are not friends. If you have read all the things written about this issue, I don’t think I have ever said any abusive word to her.

What is it like, being a single mother?

I won’t lie to you. It has not been easy. But I thank God because they are my joy. I’m so happy that I have them. If I don’t have them, I don’t know what would have happened to me now. They control me. I watch what I do because I always remember I have got kids. It’s not been easy doing it all alone but I allow their father to come in freely to see them. So, they don’t really miss him that much because he’s there. He calls me, encourages me and compliments my work. That makes me happy too. The truth is when you die, you go with nothing. You can not take your money, gold, land and property with you. All you have are memories spent with people you love. I appreciate my children more than any other thing because I see beyond the surface. I am not shaken as a single mother. The only thing is that as a woman who has lived with a man before, I sometimes feel lonely because I keep my relationship out of my home. I believe the home is meant for my children. I don’t want my kids having different ideas and confusion. So, I go out there to meet my man. I have my peace of mind and that is all that matters.

Are you considering going back to your ex-husband?

No, we have moved on because his way of life is so different from mine. He believes in walking, and I believe in moving very fast, keep going person. His way of life is different from mine and I don’t appreciate his way of life. I can not change his way of life because he enjoys it, and I can not change mine too because I enjoy it. When I was married then, I wasn’t too much into acting. I am a different person now. This is someone I have not been with for seven years. It will be so strange to come back to that person. He is a stranger now. We just lived together for two-three years after getting married, then we separated. It can’t work. And I can not go through stress because marriage is very stressful. I can not count how many weddings I have been to, and I can tell you 60 percent of the weddings I have been to are having problems. Men love to eat their cake and have it, and women just sit there to watch them eat their cake and have it, and I can not sit and watch that happen. I would rather be unmarried and happy than being married and unhappy, because when you are married and unhappy, you are in bondage. Many men will come to you with the impression that you are beautiful, sexy and all that because they judge you by your look. When they come close to you and find out that you are different, that is the problem. When they find out that you are different, they change because what they want is not what they’ve got. And the woman is stupidly carried away by the love they brought initially. We, celebrities go through a lot of problems with men, because people think we know but we don’t know. We are so much into our world of acting that we actually don’t know what is happening out there in the world. From location to location, we are so busy. People think we know because they see us go to social parties and gatherings, but we don’t know. And these men, some of them are married and have children but they would lie that they are single, and you are carried away by their fake stories because you don’t even have time to study and monitor the man. You humble yourself and hold on to the relationship because you don’t want people to say you can not hold on to a relationship or marriage. Men have problems with stardom. They want to show you that they are the man and you are nobody. They begin to cut you off from your dreams and career. Most African men do not understand the entertainment world we are living. They are so lost with what they see, and they forget that women have feelings; that blood runs in our veins. A lot of things happen. Very soon, I will start a talk show on women matters, because I have been through a lot and I have seen a lot. I have seen what some 50-year-old women have not seen. I think it’s time to deal with this situation. There is no woman who gets married and plans to have a failed marriage. Our enduring capacity is different. We all have a limit to where we can endure pain and a lot of women go through that pain. Apart from being a celebrity, a lot of women are suffering in their marriages. If you call 10 married women, they will all have stories to tell. Thank God for the church. Do you know most marriages that are being kept today is the effort of the church? If there was no Pentecostal, I’m telling you many marriages won’t stand the test of time. I hate it when I hear some women say, I have been married for 20 years and I know my husband so well. You don’t know him very well. No woman knows her husband because what men do behind your back is so terrible. If God wears a suit and has a tie on the day of judgment, I’m sure he will be pulling that tie and he will forget until the tie chokes him by the time he listens to the atrocities people have committed in this world.

You said most actresses don’t know what is happening out there, but you write those stories and act them?

We write stories by what we see, hear and experience. But often times, the best teacher might not be the right teacher for himself. A teacher who teaches very well might not know how to teach his own life well. We write a lot of stories and preach a lot of messages – yes, but sometimes those who write those stories are victims of our own stories. Even the men of God who preach, do you know how many men of God drink, smoke and womanize? There’s quite a lot of them, yet they preach you shouldn’t do those things.

Are you saying you are not reconsidering marriage?

If it comes, beautiful. I am not ready to jump. I am a young lady and I have a lot of men that come to me. If I wanted to rush into marriage a second time, I would have done that a long time ago. I want to take my time because I have been through a lot. I am a victim of love just as many women are. I have cried, I have held my pains. I have been disappointed, I have broken down. Most times, people tell me: “You look tough.” But they don’t understand. It gets to a point in your life where you now develop a very thick skin because you are a victim of life and everybody wants to take advantage of you. Every actress is a victim of life because whatever you do or say is an issue, forgetting that we are all human. So also it is in a relationship. Many men want to have a piece of you, and it hurts because I’m not a meat in the market. That is why I am taking my time. I can not rush again as long as I am happy. I want to work well and take care of my kids. They are all I have. I am not saying all men are bad. So if a man comes and he’s very ready, but when he comes, he should be ready for me because I will screen, observe, check, balance, divide, subtract that person. I will put that person to a through test. When I’m talking about screening, I mean a very long courtship so that when you marry me, you will know you are marrying your sister. I am not ready to go into marriage a second time and leave. I am ready to wait longer until the right man comes. Do you know eighty per cent of women who have mental problem today is because of men? This is the kind of story the press should write about. I can not jump into marriage because the whole world is expecting Iyabo to get married. I can not sacrifice a single pin of mine for a man who will not appreciate me. If I find a man who will love me, love my kids, adore me and treat me like a jewel, then I will get married because if I get married again, it is me and that man till we die. We will rather kill ourselves than separate.

You sound very religious. Are you a religious person?

Yes I am and I believe in God because God is love. One thing I still hold on to is that there is love. The moment you stop to love, you begin to depreciate and hate yourself. Don’t ever throw away love. You are a victim of it. So you keep holding on to it. God is love and he told you in his first commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. The day you throw away love, you are inviting the devil, I know I have been a victim many times but I still believe in love. I have God who is loving me, and I have my kids too, and God will soon put the love in the heart of the man that will love me. It might take time, and you might have to go through a lot of pains. Still hold on and that is what they call hope. Life is short. So live it in love and not in hate. I have also taught my children to love people. It’s good to love everyone.

Is there any role you can not act?

I can act any role apart from nude roles. You know, we are in Africa and besides I’m a mother. I can not act nude for a billion naira.

What else do you do apart from acting?

I buy and sell

What is your favourite meal?

I love dodo and egg but if rice comes in I don’t mind. For native food, I love pounded yam and egusi soup.

Your favourite colour?

I love brown as you can see.

Your hobbies?

I love dancing. I love reading and watching film.

Words for your fan

I love them, everything I have said goes to them. They should believe in God, anybody that says there is no God has come to live wasted life. Believe in yourself. Whether you are short, tall, beautiful or ugly, believe you are beautifully made.