Bukky Ajayi as she’s fondly called by her admirers started her career in the 1960s. She has worked as announcer, presenter and newscaster at the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). She studied at the Stanislavsky Institute of Drama, London. Today, she is a grandmother and great grand mother.
Last February, she celebrated her birthday but as usual, she refused to disclose her age. Aramide Pius visited her Surulere home , where the actress caught in a very lively mood, relived fond memories of her childhood and her journey into the world of acting among other things. Excerpts;
What has been happening to you lately?
Not even in the movie industry?
Well, I have been pretty busy. I have been on set since the end of last year.
You have been in the make-believe industry for four decades now, can you recall precisely when your acting career started off?
Let’s just say I have been in the movie industry for a very, very long time. I really cannot remember precisely when I ventured into acting.
How would you describe the revolution that has taken place in industry over the years?
It depends on what you want to make out of it. I have found it interesting and I’m still interested in it. You see, life is what you make out of it and so is this industry. If you want it to be good, it will be good and if you want it to be bad, well, good luck to you. But as far as I am concerned, I want it to be good; it has been good for me and I hope it will continue to be good for everyone.
During your time the cinema culture was very in vogue, but with time, this culture went into extinction until recently. What do you think is the way forward for the industry?
The cinema was what motivated me into acting or what I will say gave me the idea that I would one day become an actress. My name will be written on the big screens of the cinema. When I was a very young girl, my father used to take me to the cinema, where I met with the yesteryears stars. People like Doris Dave, Clarke Gabel and so many of them that you would not know. I used to tell my father that one day, he would see my name written bold in the cinema but unfortunately, he did not live to see me become what I promised him I would become in life.
He died while you were very young?
Yes, my father died in 1958 and I travelled out of the country in 1959 so you can see what I mean.
What kind of a man was your dad and what was your relationship like?
He was a very patient man. I can remember vividly. Whenever I practised walking the way he did he would just look at me and say ‘well, God help you’. My father and I had a very good relationship, I loved him so, so much.
What about your mother?
My mother died in 1949.
What was the experience like growing up without your parents at such an early age?
It was very tough. I missed both of them, especially my father whom I loved very much. It was a very tough time for me. But just like I said earlier that life is what ever you make out of it. If you want it to be good, it will be good. I knew then that I had to struggle to get whatever I wanted in life, and I’m still struggling till date. I believe that whatever you want to do, you do it when you have the time.
I believed in hard-work; I believed in my own sweat. For everything that I have achieved in my life, I worked very hard for it. It is not a question of waiting on or for someone to do this or that. For me, I had to work for it and I am grateful to God for where I am today, I am indeed very grateful to God.
How did you go to school despite the fact that you lost your parent at a very tender age?
My grand parents took care of my education. But unfortunately, I never met with them because they died long before I returned to the country. They left something for me. While in England, I also worked. I first of all, worked in Pitman’s College in England with the intention of becoming a secretary but I knew that I was not cut out for a nine to five job so I quitted the job. I combined working with my education.
That is why I said earlier that whatever you want to do, you can do it. If you think that somebody would butter your bread and therefore decide not to engage yourself with something meaningful , then you are looking for trouble and that is what is happening today.
I believe in hard work, other wise, I would have been sitting down and calling on my servants to give me this or that but I am not cut out for that kind of life. As I am now, nobody cooks for me, I cook for myself and I love cooking till date. If you look in that direction there, you will find my coal pot; I love using coal pot to cook.
Is cooking one of your hobbies?
Honestly, I love cooking and also I love to eat a lot but what fascinate me most is when I see people enjoy eating my food. When I give things out to people and I see them using it, it gives me great joy that I don’t know how to explain. I’m a happy woman when I give and share with people.
Can you recall any of the pranks you must have played as a child that you perhaps find memorable?
(Laughs)… I was a very good child but I loved to fight…
Maybe because I grew up in the midst of boys, so I always behaved like a tom boy and I loved to fight. Whenever I fought with a boy, my older brother would come to my aid but when I’m fighting with a girl, he would say, ‘leave her alone, when she is done, she would come back home’. My father used to call me one name, ‘omo bi o te kii gbo’ meaning that ‘I loved to learn the hard way’ .
Whenever I was fighting anybody, you dared not beg me to stop because i wouldn’t listen. I just hope none of my grand children will take to that character… oh none of my children is like that, they are all very cultured. I also hope that my great grand children of which I have two now, will not emulate me.
You are a granny already?
Aren’t you blessed?
Yes I am. That I can still be alive and see my great grand children and actually talk about it, it is fantastic. Although I wanted girls but she gave me boys but I have accepted them and I am happy.
Going back to your fighting trait. do you still remember one of those fights?
There are too many fights, just too many that I can not count.
What was always prompting the fights?
I will never allow anybody to cheat me, as a matter of fact nobody can cheat me, I will never allow that. And I do not like people cheating any other person, I will fight for you.
Were you an activist?
Somehow. But not from the political point of view. I fight for people’s right though. I hate cheating, lying and stealing because I believe that as long as I can work, why should I steal? I don’t. And that is why most of my fights are other people’s fight. For instance, when some of my friends who lived in Ebute Meta as at then were troubled, they would come to my house in Lagos Island to call me. I would now go and fight for them in Ebute_ meta; that is how bad I was but it was all fun. I don’t do that any more; I am too old for that now.
You will not believe that when I see people fighting now, I just become withdrawn. I hate violence now and I can not watch two people fight. Sometimes I sit down and say to myself, ‘is this me or somebody else’. That is how God wants it.
Age they say mellows one. How were you able to cope with the fighting habit when you got married?
Let me put it this way; everything was dropped when I went to England, I became sober because there was no one there who will stand for me if I went to fight. It is a no man’s land. Then you know; having a husband, having children, going to work, keeping the home, going to school and all that sort of sobered me down but not before I fought in England…
You did, so what was the cause of the fight this time?
Oh yes, I did. I was still in Pitman’s College then and the norm in the cafeteria then was to drop your bag on your seat, go and collect your food, and walk back to your seat. There were these white girls who believed that they were superior to others and for me, I have never seen the difference between the white and the black girls. We are all human beings. I told this girl that ‘please, you are occupyingmy seat’ and they looked at themselves and they laughed.
Ah, the spirit of my father possessed me immediately and there was this Yoruba girl who was in the same school with me, Sister Yinka Ojomo of blessed memory. She appealed to me in the name of God and for the sake of peace to look for another seat to avoid trouble. She knew me and knew what I was capable of doing. She was beckoning on me not to fight with them that they don’t fight here.
I did not even listen to her because I was already upset. I told the girl that after the count of three and she did not vacate from my seat, then they should not blame me for whatever happened. I started the count; one, then the Nigerians who were around started disappearing from the scene, and carrying their food to another place. Sister Yinka kept pleading with me, I did not even look at her face.
On the count of three, I just pulled the chair off her and she fell down and I took it to another table, where I did justice to my food.
So what happened thereafter?
The principal called on me to caution me but I refused to accept the blame. I was like, ‘excuse me sir, ask her what she did first. Don’t blame me, that was my seat. I did what every other person did, I put my bag on the chair, went to get my food and came back to find her on my seat and on asking for my seat back, she laughed at me and you are now blaming me?’ She said ‘no but you don’t have to pull the chair off her’ and I said ‘but I told her.
I warned her that I was going to count three and on the last count if she did not get up, she should not blame me for whatever happens’. I think that was the last time I went to the school (laughs)…
They stopped you?
Nobody stopped me, I stopped myself because I would continue to fight.
So you came back home?
No I was in England for about six years. I just decided that I should concentrate on my drama but even thereafter, I still fought. I remembered one day, when I just got to England and I was having cold and I carried this tissue box and I was sneezing. I think that was my first week there or something like that, I cannot remember now. This boy just passed by me and looked at me and said ‘Hi Nigger!’ and I looked at myself and I said ‘me? Nigger?’
I became mad. I just tapped him and as he turned to look I gave him a slap ‘gbosa!’ And you see the funny thing was that after I gave him the slap, he wanted to slap me back, but somebody held his hand and it was a white man and he said that is not the way to treat a lady and I started crying.
Why were you crying now?
I don’t know, I just started crying. It was that day that I knew that everybody is darling to a white man . The man was like ‘it is alright darling, you don’t need to cry…’ and when I got home and told my friends what happened, they were like, ‘why are you now crying?’.
That was one great experience. Now old age has crept on me and has taken all that away from me. Old age and religion have taken all that from me now and I am surprised I can be cool now.
What was your married life like?
No, no, no, that is a no go area. It is a no go area, let us just forget about it.
Where do you see this industry in the next three years?
If we plan it well, this industry is going to go places. At the moment, we are making waves but there are some obstacles that we need to overcome ; I will not say jump over but we have to by pass it. One, in this industry, there is no discipline. Two, there is no truth.
The marketer wants to cheat the producer, the producer wants to cheat the artistes, and the artistes want to cheat the producer, so where are we going from there? Then, the government is not even helping. We are all shouting about Hollywood without remembering teh fact that they started from somewhere.
Hollywood is a great name today. I have said it before, let two or three, even four producers come together and produce a big block buster. Let them join their money together may be 10 or 15 million naira, let them do a good film.
Pay the artistes well and you will see results. People are always asking me why I have not produced my own film yet, but the truth is that I do not have that kind of money now and so it is better for me not to even go there now. With the help of the government, believe me, we can go places. If we also put the right pegs in the right holes, things will surely go well with us.
If an actor is not good for a particular job, don’t put him or her on set because you know her or him. For instance, if a script is given to you and you know you cannot interprete it, after reading and going through it well, why not tell the producer so. The producer will never allow you to meet the marketer. We don’t sit down to discuss. You don’t even rehearse, we rehearse on set which is wrong.
You decide what costumes you are going to use but we don’t. We don’t even match colours, everybody is just doing what they like which is very wrong.
How much are you worthin the industry?
Whatever they pay me, I take. At least, it puts a roof over my head and puts food on my table. We thank God.
In terms of stories, what is your opinion about the industry in Nigeria?
I tell you we have good stories here but I think the scripts are not good enough. We have good stories and we have good artistes. Sometimes we have a good story and a good script but the actors are bad. Another thing with our stories is that we don’t have suspense. Once I start to watch a movie, I can tell you where it will end which is not good enough.