Stella Aboderin relationship with Sammie Okposo
It has been over a year since you lost your husband. What are those things that have gone through your mind since you suffered your loss of Jaiye?
I've actually realized the most important things in life that we take advantage of everyday. I've realised that physical cash, your name, what you have, what people perceive you to be is not important. The most important thing is how you live, the end result, where everybody goes to when they die. And how you want your children to live, the kind of life, values you want them to have, knowing that nothing is permanent, its here today and the next day, its all gone. And then love for people around you, because that's when you begin to realise that it could be anybody's end, today, this minute. So when you realise that anybody can go at any given time, you give the love that you've not given before to those that are left behind.
How did Jaiye's death come to you?
I went for a meeting that Friday morning, because the previous night, he had some of his friends over, and he had said that we were going to take them out. So the plan was that, I was going to go for my meeting and then he was supposed to go and play squash with his friend, and then take our friends out.
I went for the meeting, and on my way, my car started giving problems, so I called him at about 2.15pm and I told him that my car had started giving me problems. He said when I come back, that the mechanic will come and take it that was the last time I spoke with him.
So sometimes around 6pm that day, I got a call from somebody who never calls me, one of his friends, and he said to me that my attention was needed on the Island, that Jaiye needs to see me immediately. And he now asked me that, “does Jaiye have any problem with his health that they didn't know about?” so I asked him that “what are you talking about?” and he told me that Jaiye had fainted and he needed me to come immediately.
At that point, I just felt that something funny was wrong; I was with my sister-in-law, Bena. So we now drove to the Island and as we were getting there, I got another call saying that I should come to the hospital they had taken him to, somewhere near Mega Plaza.
So I rushed there, and as I got there, I saw a lot of people there and I was wondering, what they were all doing there dressed in their sports wear. Then I'm wondering, “If this man only fainted, what were they all doing here?” I thought maybe he needed blood and they wanted me to come and identify something. Then I got there and saw people just running away from me. The only person that could come to me was my friend, Kate Henshaw-Nuttal.
She just grabbed my hand and said to me that I had to come and see the doctor. Then as we were going, she was whispering to Bena, my in-law, and that one just ran away and started screaming. So I asked, “what's going on?” so Kate took me upstairs to the Doctor's office. The doctor now asked me if I was Jaiye's wife, and I said yes.
And I looked around at all his friends that he was playing basketball with, and they were all crying around me. So I asked, “What is going on? Why are you all crying?” Then the doctor said to me that he was sorry, that they did all that they could, but that my husband was dead. I reacted by first laughing out loud. I said to him that he must be kidding; this was the kind of thing I get to hear in movies. I screamed that he couldn't tell me that.
I almost ripped his throat off when I jumped on him. Again he said that he was sorry. I looked at those around me and I was asking Kate “what are you people telling me? My husband is dead at my age, what are you telling me?” Then I saw my brother, my mother came and I just started seeing family members and I'm like “Jesus, what's really going on?”
At that point, I didn't really know what was happening, except that my brother in-law, my sister's husband, came and held my hand and said that I had to see my husband's body, that if I don't see it, I'll never believe to accept it. So they took me downstairs to one room, and there he was lying down as if he was sleeping. I tried to wake him up, I ran out of that place and felt it just had to be a dream. Then I thought, “Let me go back there, that I'm very sure it couldn't have been him. But lo and behold, I went back in there and it was him.
When that happened to you and all the events following his burial took place, what became of you?
Hmm…I was a total wreck, because I really didn't know who I was. People that knew my husband and I would tell you that we lived our lives around each other. So I really didn't know how to start life, I really didn't know what would become of me. I also didn't really think I would survive it. I just felt so lost and alone.
Even when you have family and friends, it's just never the same, because I just felt at that time that my life had ended. I was actually feeling sorry for my children, because I was saying to myself, “what would they do without their father around?” I felt that I don't have a life without this man. So what am I going to start doing now?
The music I was doing was with him, even my films; he directed 3 or 4 movies that I did for Amaka Igwe. The African dresses that I was making, he was my executive chairman. I was so lost, and I said to myself that the only way I would come out of this is to tell myself that I would survive it. I didn't know what to think anymore, I lost it totally. I know that there was a time I was talking to myself and didn't realise that I was doing that, I had thought my thoughts were inside, but it was people around me that were telling me that I was actually thinking aloud. I argued with them that it wasn't possible, that I was thinking inside my mind. So everything at the time was upside down.
How did you relay what happened to the kids?
Well, the kids were very young then, Isabel was 5 and Angelica was 2 years old. Angelica was not a problem because she was just a baby; she didn't understand what it meant. But with Isabel who was very close to her dad…I just looked at her one day…the day after Jaiye died, she came to my room and she told my sister that she saw her dad near her window, and my sister asked her, “what did he say to you?” and she said “he told me that I should take care of mummy that everything is fine”.
So I called her and now said to her that “daddy is in heaven, Jesus had taken him to heaven and you'll see him one day, but he's not coming back home” I kept reassuring her that everything will be fine and that I'd do my best to take care of her, but that her dad is always with her. That anytime someone offends her, that she should always remember that Daddy is somewhere around.
I always teach them this concept of God, having faith without evidence, without seeing, that she should see her father in that light as well. But once in a while, she'll still come to me and ask me “are you taking me to see daddy” and I will tell her that I can't take her to see daddy that only God can.
So sometimes they talk about him, but whenever they hear his voice when I play his music, they always know that its his voice, and they always see pictures of him around the house. That's one thing I know that I will always do for my children-make sure that hey remember what he looks and sounds like. I guess because of their age, it was easier for me to make them relax. Maybe when they get older, I would have to start explaining the concept of death to them.
All of these must be a very heavy burden for you at your age and when Jaiye died: how did you cope with responsibilities that used to be his to deal with?
Hmm! first of all, I wouldn't say I've coped, just that I'm surviving. But the thing is, it's God that has helped me because, by the time that my husband died, I remember that I clearly had N8,000 in my account. You see, prior to what happened, I'd travelled and Jaiye had also gone to South Africa to put finishing touches to his album. His album cost us a lot. Studios in South Africa are expensive, and because of his size, he could only fly first class, and then hotel and accommodation had to be taken care of. Before he left at that time, he had invested some money into one project he was supposed to be doing in Abuja. So we both had to put all our funds together for that last trip. So by the time I came back from London and he came back from south Africa, he was telling me that the business he had invested into in Abuja, that they would pay him back the following week, so that we'd have enough money to pay the bills we owed. It was whilst we were waiting for that money that he now died.
Did that money ever come?
Well, you know how Nigeria is, it never came, and I really don't know what happened to it. At that point, if not for people that really had human sympathy, I don't know what I would have done, God just sent people that I wasn't even close to, who gave me money, foodstuff and prayed with me. So I was able to eat, to feed my children, who were now able to go to the same school. The only thing is that I wasn't able to pay salaries. So I spoke to the staff that used to work for us before, when the band was still called SYNERGY, and the domestic staff, and I said to them, this is the situation, I don't have anything, so anybody that wants to leave now, I wouldn't be angry, because I know that I can't afford to keep you. But surprisingly they all stayed back, that they were not going anywhere, and that they want to see it through with me. They felt that the only thing that we could do to make Jaiye happy wherever he is was to prove that he didn't teach us all that he did in vain. And then little by little, people began to remember us and give us a chance.
How did you deal with all of the bad press that followed you after Jaiye's death, especially as you were mourning him at the time?
This is probably the first time that I'm going to say this. Then, I used to describe myself as a walking corpse, because I was so dead. I could not sleep for over 4 months. My room was upstairs, but I could not sleep there, I'd sleep in the living room. I'd take my bath, come to the living room, eat there and change there. I couldn't sleep or relax. It was so bad because I had to put up this face, so that the children don't get worried, because they are very sensitive. I had to act a lot, because when I even stopped people from coming to the house with all these magazines, the phone calls wouldn't stop. People will call and say, “Stella you are on the cover of this paper and they're saying this and that about you”. So after a while, I just stopped touching my phone because I was afraid, I didn't want to hear, “Stella, you have done this or that” as was reported. And I would wonder, “When did I do all these things they are saying about me, because I've been in this house”. During all of the mourning period, at that time, I didn't even know how people would see me if I come out. Widowhood is not something you train for or you go to school and they would tell you that after your period of mourning, this is how you should behave or this is what you should say. It is something that hits you. It's you, yourself and yourself. I didn't know when to come out, when to start working again. I didn't know how people would view me, because I knew that I was inside the house when all those bad stuff were being written about me. I nearly ran mad at that time. That was when I ran to the church, a place called Selab in Lekki. I was there everyday for one month praying, asking God to just deliver me. Because I said, it is not possible that I've just lost my husband and it's like the whole world is against me. I wondered what crime I had committed. Nobody prays to loose anybody, let alone the life partner that you've built a life with. The kind of things I was hearing about myself, I was thinking that maybe I'm the one who's mad. At a point, I began doubting myself, I would now ask those that were living with me at the time whether I went anywhere on the day I wasn't supposed to have, that they were not aware of. We were all together now, so where is all this coming from? At a point, my mother came and she just looked at me, knelt in front of me and said, if it takes her to die, she would make sure that I don't give up, that the devil is a liar and that the enemy will fall, that they cannot kill me. She said to me, “Repeat after me, you shall not die, but live to proclaim the goodness of God”. So I began to repeat after her. It was so much for my family to bear, because people actually forget that when you do something like that, it's just not me, I have a family. People don't know them because they don't talk, they don't want people to know their names, and they don't have time for publicity. So I began to think that a lot of people just think that I dropped from the sky, because I don't mention my family, but they don't like it. My father was very pained. He said to me that the thing that pained him the most was that he loved Jaiye so much. Jaiye was the only one that could tell my father to dress up, that he was taking him out tonight, and my father would agree. My father is in his 70s, and you want to take him out at night. And I wasn't even aware he did that. My father loved him so much, that's the only thing that is making him keep quiet, out of respect for him. He'd tell me, “Don't give up, we are behind you”. It got to a point that he said to me, “pack your things and come to Asaba, we'll take care of you and the children, until you get yourself back”. A lot of people offered to take me away from here.
What was it about staying in the home that you shared with Jaiye that made you still stay there?
It was something that we used to talk about, especially when we got married. He used to say that one of the things he loved about me was one, I was very stubborn and that I was very independent minded. Because when he met me I was already working. I was living in a boys quarters with 6 others. We would trek from Yaba to where I was working. But he said to me that he knows that I am a fighter. He used to always say to me that “Look, even if I travel for 6 months, and I don't leave 10 kobo for you, I know that you can run this house, so what is your problem?” because I would usually ask him that “Jaiye, I want to do my hair”, and he would say, “look at you, big girl like you, I know you have money and you can do it yourself”, and I would say “no, don't go and be saying things like that, that you are going away for 6 months, to and do what? anywhere you are going, we will follow you”. You know because he had so much confidence in me, and really, sometimes, he'll just say, “Stella, I know you can do it, I don't need to talk too much, I need to go to South Africa”. And I would do it and he would come back and say, “that's my girl, my Shorty!”, that's what he used to call me.
I know that wherever he is, he would not want me to run, because he always said to people, “don't run away from your problems, because they will follow you, face it and deal with it, if you can come out of it, then you are a strong person”. And I said, “Okay, I am not going anywhere”. When your grandmother tells you that the prayer that works is the one a person does when they go naked, we used to laugh about it, but I did it. I said “God, look at my hand. I don't deserve this kind of thing, if the way I'm being treated is right, let your will be done, but if it is not, father, I put it into your hand”. But one thing I will never do is to curse anybody, because once you do that, God will not answer your own. And with my Bible in the middle of the night, I would strip naked and cry unto God, that this is how he created me and he has given me children, so he should provide for me and let me not beg. And whatever thing anybody has against me, “if my hands are clean and I'm innocent, father deal with it the way you want to”, and I left it at that. I'm still trying. Now the company is coming back, we've registered a new name.
Why was there the need to change the name SYNERGY?
First of all, there was really bad publicity for Synergy, and then it was shut down. Jaiye shared the company with some people, and when he died, they came, took the document, chequebook, and the equipments. The idea was for them to come back to me and say “okay, you should run the place since you were running it with him”. After the first meeting we had, I didn't hear a word from them; I didn't know what was going on. All I know was all the things we were using was locked up, and they put a security guard there. We couldn't go in and all our investment, even before those people came and became part of the business, even my personal money, entered it, everything was locked up. At a point I said to myself, there were other owners and I don't have the right to say I'm continuing. So in order to avoid trouble, I just respected myself went and registered another company. We still do basically the same thing. I still have the same staff, so I started buying my own equipment little by little. We are doing well; we are doing shows here and there.
Why the name G-Factor?
When I got the name, it meant God's factor. When we went to CAC, we couldn't register it, and I now decided to make it Gig Factor. That's just the shortened form of the name of the band.
How did your in-laws help you to cope with your loss, in terms of rendering help?
In being honest, and diplomatic, I will say in the presence of God that everything I've done today, in terms of my mental state, my physical state, my financial state, everything I've done has been between God and myself. I think a lot of misconceptions had gone on, a lot of deceptions, lies, and I've just not been talking. I'm not about to start telling you who has done whatever, but I believe that when I say things, people will understand what I mean. Everything that I've been able to achieve, of course, my family did their best, but the reality of it is that, where I am now is between God and myself. Even my children, it's been between God and myself, and that is the honest to God truth.
How did you meet Jaiye and married him. There are those who are of the belief that you became who you are now after marrying Jaiye Aboderin.
I met him at a place called Jazzville. I was living along the road the club was with a friend of mine. I'd gone to Jazzville with my colleague, then I used to work at Klinks Studio, and he was on stage with his sibling and her partner, and they were playing a particular song that I liked. Then I jumped on stage, grabbed his microphone and started singing. After the show, he called me and said that he liked my voice. We just got talking and we exchanged numbers. We never got to call each other, until almost a year later. We now met at a place in Surulere called NAG (Nigerian Actors Guild), where we used to have meetings. He told me that he was thinking of setting up his own band, but he wasn't sure if I would be interested, and I said I wasn't sure if I'm ready to do this band thing. Coincidentally, after a few weeks, somebody invited me to Jazzville for an audition of a band, and it turned out that he was the male singer of the band. So we started singing together, and then we started our own thing, and became very close friends. Then it started with me going to spend the weekends with him and he would take me out. We just found that we had a very good relationship, and I just noticed that if I don't see him in a day, I'm just very not all right. (Laughs)We were very close and so we started dating. In terms of fame, I don't come from a poor family; neither do I come from a very wealthy one. My parents were very comfortable, they were both bankers. My father was a manager with African Continental Bank and my mother was also a manager in another bank. When he left there, and went to Asaba, after he retired, he became a manager in community bank, he opened the bank, and my mother continued with her banking job. There was never an issue of; oh I didn't have enough when I was growing up. And then, at the time Jaiye and I started dating, I had already done my first major movie, Breaking Point. It wasn't big money, but then, the fame was there. Because in the course of our conversation, he was telling me that his girlfriend then had told him that I was a movie star, and then he wanted to see one of my movies. So he said, “ can you please bring some for me when we play at Jazzville” and I said no problem. So I brought the film to him, and he said he liked it. So the next audition that I was going to, he actually came with me, and saw how we were doing it, and he kept encouraging me. And at that time, if we are honest with each other, he was never the kind of person that will come and tell you that Oh; I'm this or that. I've never been a newspaper person, so sorry, but I didn't know who the Aboderins were, I didn't know what they were about, and I was new in Lagos. I was staying in my elder sister's house, before we now fought because I said I wanted to go into entertainment, while she wanted me to do Law. So I didn't know anything about them, I just saw them playing at a club like every other regular person. They were paying me N1000 after singing and they were paying him the same thing. And he had one blue Passat that we had to push and that was smoking a lot. Then he was going to French Village in Badagry. And he would say “Omo, how much did they pay us?” and we would count it and divide it for what we want to use the money for. And when he comes back he'd ask me” did you cook?”, and I'd say “Yes, I cook small.” That's how we were coping. And then when I went to his family house for the first time, I looked at him and I'm like, “what's wrong with you? How can you come from a house like this and be following me to collect N1000?, what are you doing this for?”. He said to me, because I need to pay my rent, I'm a man, I want to be on my own, I don't want anybody to say that its because of my fathers money that I'm made. That's why I'm working so hard”. He works so hard and I don't even see him. I often tell him, “don't kill yourself, you know that you're entitled to some things, calm down”. He'd say to me “No, that's not what I want to be known for, so that tomorrow, nobody would say to me that it's my fathers money that made me. I want to make myself.” That was one thing I really loved about him. So for me and him, it wasn't an issue of… You see, a lot of people used to come to me and tell me that hey, there are some big guys, some handsome guys dying for you o, he knew all these, and I would just tell them, “I beg, monkey no fine, but na so im mama like am.” That's the way I like him, I chose him. And they would go and meet him and tell him that “who is this girl, because she's a nobody”, and he'd tell them, “that's the one I want!”. So for us, it was never an issue of who was bigger than who, or who married who because of what, we just liked each other, and we found that we had the same interests, we do everything together. And because people don't live with you, they don't really know what's going on, they just hear things and they just build on it. If you know the amount of work that we were both doing, you would not even believe that he had anything to do with any estate, because we were both working round the clock. He was a workaholic. He was running 3 companies at the same time. He would say that by the time he turns 40, he doesn't want me to work, that he wants the children to be happy. So he really didn't bother what people said even then. He used to tell me, “Omo, na you get time to dey listen to things, like that person said this or that.”
So, when all those stories were reported about you, he wasn't bothered or threatened to leave you?
The most interesting one was when it was written that I was seen with Richard Mofe Damijo in a car in front of the Lagos Bar Beach, on the 5th of December. I can never forget that date. It was so amusing because I was shooting a movie for Charles Novia, and I was there with Bena. Coincidentally, that same day, Jaiye was on his way to Abuja, he missed his flight, called me and asked me where I was. I told him that I was in front of the beach shooting a movie, so he said he'd come over to look at us before he goes home. So he came to the beach with his personal assistant, Michael. That day we really had fun because when he came, he said “ah, no more big boy today, lets eat agege bread”, and we all did, chatting and all. When I finished shooting that film with Richard, he, (Richard) had to run to Ghana, because Ovation was having a party there, so he left us. Jaiye now asked the director to bring me home on his way. That's how Richard and my husband left, and the film director now dropped Bena and I at home. So when this magazine now came out with the story, I was driving when Richard called me and said “Stella, look o, they're writing about me and one particular actress, please read it and tell me who it was, because I don't know what's going on”. I don't normally do it, but as I was driving, I now called a vendor to buy this magazine, and they were telling me that it sold out. I finally got one at the end of Ozumba Mbadiwe road, bought it, opened it to read as I was driving, which was very bad, and I normally don't do it. But something kept pushing me. I read how they just kept describing this lady and it turned out to be me. I'm like it's just not possible. I couldn't even call Richard back, I just called my husband. I said “Jaiye, where are you?” I old him that I was coming back home now, but pray for me that I don't have an accident. He asked that “Stella, what is it?” I told him what I had just read. That day I was crying and shaking as I was driving like a mad woman. I got home, carried the magazine to him upstairs and asked him to read it. He read it and his first reaction as a human being was, he got up, went into the bathroom and locked the door behind him. I just knelt down on the floor and started crying. I said “ah!, these people have killed me o! My marriage is gone!” he came out after about 10 minutes and saw me, then he said, “what are you doing?” I cried out that these people have killed me! He said” look at the date properly, I looked at it, it was 11th December. He said “which date was published, wasn't it the day I missed my flight and came to meet you at the beach? Was I not there with you? When did you do what they said you have done? Doesn't that show that you shouldn't be listening to this kind of thing? I was with you and they are still writing this kind of thing. It only goes to show that all the other things they are writing about you are false, so why are you worried? Is your conscience not clear? So why are you crying? The thing that they are looking for is for us to have a fight, but when we show them that we really don't care what anybody says, we know ourselves, that's when it would hurt them the most.”
So from that day, he just said to me that “let people talk about you, that's how you'll know how important you are.” But the only thing that's paining me now is that he's no longer here to hold my hand and tell me it is okay, because right now, for me, its not okay, its not. You know, because of all the things we'd talked about, and all that I've learnt from him, I just decided that for me, the most important thing right now is to work hard, and take care of my children, that's the driving force for me. I just look at it and say to God, “see me through this week, after this week, it will be stories about somebody else”
Why was there a need for you to go back to work, a decision that sparked the talk that you didn't observe your mourning period fully?
Anybody who said I didn't complete my 40 days of mourning before I started working, that person lied. My mum and my aunties took it upon themselves to ask everybody, from elderly people and from his family that knew about the culture. They asked them how many days, what I was supposed to do, the dress code, even something that was against my tradition like frying puff-puff and sharing it to beggars, we really don't do that where I come from, but it was expected of me and I did it, and waited until after the 40 days before I went to do a job that had been paid for the previous year, long before Jaiye died. And after the death of my husband, nothing was coming, it was only from people, good hearted people that felt that I deserved a life and I deserved to feed my children that help came from and I didn't expect that to come everyday. Because even after some days, people would have to move on with their life, not have me as an added responsibility, because they all have theirs as well. They could only try but after a while, they expected that at least, there's somewhere else that help is coming from. But between God, and myself there was nowhere else that help was coming from. My children had to go to school, I had to feed. My husband and I were owing my landlord rent before he died and that was a million naira. There were so many things that we had done, repair maintenance we had not paid for before he died, and nothing was coming, everybody just took off. Nobody called me to say, take, this is half bag of rice. People that you would expect that even if Stella is not in their agenda, at least, my children, Jaiye's children……I didn't care what anybody was going to say, but you see these girls, they would never lack for one day, and they would continue to go to school. I didn't care if I'm living under the bridge, I was ready to leave it all. Infact I'd even said if anybody had come and said give me this or that owned by Jaiye, I was ready to give it up. The most important thing was that, that thing which the enemy was looking for they would not get, my kids would never be hungry because they've said that “ah the reason I married him was his big money, now that Jaiye is no longer around, lets see how she'll survive”, but they will see, I will survive. I started working, I had to, because my mother looked at me and said to me “if you like, stop your life, sit in your room and lock yourself up and cry all day, whether he'll come back, but what I will never let you do is to let those children go hungry, or to let somebody laugh at you and come and be feeding you at your young age. What if this happened to you at 40 something, and you didn't have the strength to build your life, how can you make your husband proud?” She kept reminding me every time that if there was anything Jaiye used to say, it was that if there's anything that he was living for, it was for his family, “to take care of my wife and my children. If I like I will wear rag, so long as my wife and children are looking fine”. That's what he lived for. And the only thing I can do is to make sure that these children are fine. All those who were saying “Stella you know, I think you should sit down, you cannot be running around looking for work”, I say those people that are misconstruing all these things, have they ever offered me one naira. I should sit at home, fold my hands and let hunger catch me and my children. You that is talking, what have you offered me?
What pained me most was that everyone was concentrating on what people would say about me. I said people would always say one thing or the other about you. “My husband don die, them dey talk, your husband no die, them go still talk”, but at the end of the day, what is important to me are my girls. So I'm ready to go through what anybody wants to do to me, but those children, I will never joke with them. Many people even said” Oh! Its too early to start work”, no problem, who doesn't like to stretch leg, but bring the money now! To make matters worse, I was banned for acting, so what was I supposed to do? It wasn't easy o, I won't lie. I don't know why they were saying it but people kept saying during the burial, elderly people who came to my house said to me “ better stop crying, cry all you can and clear your eyes because things are going to start happening!” next thing I knew, people were making demands, asking for this and that, and I'm like “e never even reach how long, what's going on?” and then I understood. At a point if people came to give me things, I was now afraid to accept them, as I didn't know who was against me or who was for me. That's how I read that I was dating somebody even during the burial period; I wondered what was going on. Even when Gbenga Obasanjo tried to help me, the next thing I read, was that I was dating him. It was like anyone who extended a hand of help to me was attacked and scared away. I wonder how with people always around me, I could be indulging in such a thing. I said to myself, “do these people think im mad? I just lost my husband, and they were already accusing me of dating somebody, what sort of person do they think I am?”
After Jaiye died, I found it hard to sleep and I couldn't switch off the light, even up till now, though I now sleep, but the television has to be on. I still don't switch off everything, because I'm still not myself. I'm coming out now and working and stabilising, but then, I'm still not Stella, how I used to be.
There were equally talks about you stepping out, that you were always seen in the company of Sammie Okposo, which became hot gist. So Stella, what is the truth about your relationship with Sammie?
First of all, Sammie was the first person I met when I came to Lagos. He was the first person to give me a job. I've known Sammie for 10 years and we've been very good friends. All through the time he's had his relationship, I've always been there as his friend, and all through the time I was married, he's always been there as a friend. When all those press stories were coming out, especially when Jaiye died, that's when you'd know who your friends are. A lot of people took off, lots of people that made promises. I will never forget Kate Henshaw in my life, because she's one of those people that, no matter what people say…even the first show that I did that a lot of people started writing that I didn't observe my 40 days, I told her that “everything was going to get controversial” but I had to keep working. Kate held my hand, walked with me into the venue, waited for me, and when I finished doing my 4 songs, she took me to my house before she left for her own house. Everything I was always doing, she was always with me, while all my other friends ran away. At that time, Sammie wasn't around, but when he came back, he heard a lot of things that was going on. And I told him everything, I poured out my heart. And he said to me, “ you see, I'm the most controversial person.” He used to tell me that “when it comes to press, I don give 10 women belle at the same time, so when it comes to controversy, I know it but if you need anything, let me know, I will not run away from you.”
There are 4 people apart from my family that stood by me, Kate, Sammie, Bena and Rosco, they never left me. At that time, which guy did I have to beg to come along with me when I have to go for a job? There was no one. Even all the shows where they saw Sammie and I, we didn't go together. I would always call him and tell him “oh I'm going to this show to perform and he too would also be attending, and I was always with Bena. So they probably saw us together and boom!! I've never had any relationship with him apart from our friendship. And people forget that I'm not a child.
If I decide today that I want to have a boyfriend, they will talk as usual, but nobody will kill me because it is my life. If I had a, so to speak, sexual relationship with a man, even if I don't come out to spread it, its not something I would be running away from. By the way, Sammie is an adult, and he's not a bad-looking guy. I see women who run and chase after him everyday. He even tells me of those chasing him, there's nothing wrong with dating a person like that. So sometimes when I hear this thing about us, I just say its okay. In fact I hear they said we're going to get married, they even gave us a date. There was a day he came to my house and my elder sister said to him “Sammie, I hear that you are going to get married and you didn't tell me?” we were all laughing, that the reception must be at TBS (more laughter) I don't have any funny relationship with Sammie. He's just one guy I feel very comfortable with, and he knows all the things I've been through.
So how do you feel about being banned and not acting right now?
Well, I love acting, but I've also used that one-year ban period to find myself again. Now I know the other things that I can do very well. There are two magazines that have approached me now that I should be writing a column for them and I'm like “what do I write?” The ban also gave me time to spend with my kids as well. Now I'm so used to them. We have this bond, and I'm able to check their homework every day unlike when I did it just twice a week. I've been able to take them on a trip, which we could not do for a long time. It came at the right time, because when it all happened when my husband died, I said to myself, “maybe God is trying to tell me something, that I should just think relax, and ask myself who I want to be and where I want to go and how I am going to get there” and to concentrate on the children because they need me the most. So it's been a blessing in disguise. Its not that I wont go back if the opportunity comes, but this time, its not going to be as regular as before. I'd probably be doing like 2 or 3 movies in a year and that's it, so that I can have time for my family.
What was the reason for your being banned, were you one of those demanding high fees?
The funny thing is that when this ban happened, it was the day I travelled out and when I came back and had a meeting with the president of the Actor's Guild at the time, I asked a specific question, that speaking for me now and not for everybody, “what did I do?” Because I know that they were complaining that some people were charging N1 million, that some will collect money from different people and will not finish the job. And what they told me was that I was just unfortunate, that they just decided to wipe out all the people that were called the G5. Who gave us the name G5, I don't know. They simply decided to phase out all the G5 men and women because they were becoming too heady etc. And I am like if there was a particular person that I had offended, I'd really like to know, because I've never collected N1 million and the highest amount that I have ever received, before I could get it, it was trouble. And so when I heard the story saying that if you want to be unbanned, come to Awka, I said I wasn't going, because they really need to tell me what I've done. It's really not been something that has bothered me, because God has blessed me in various other ways and I'm able to do different things.
For someone who's had her life entwined with her husband, how d'you relax now that he's no longer with you?
The honest truth? The only time I've relaxed is like 3 weeks ago when I left Lagos with my children. I went on a short break. You will not believe how happy and lifted I was. When my friend, Bena saw me, she cried and I wondered why. She told me that the last time she saw me this happy was the week before Jaiye died, when we were planning a big party.
That for the whole one year that she was with me, I wasn't myself. During this rip to Ghana, I would walk around the house in my nightdress, behaving like a child that has just been released from a cage. I took my kids out there, something I hardly do here because I don't want undue attention on them. This is the first time I'm leaving the country since Jaiye dies, and I couldn't believe that I could be that happy and actually laugh loud and gist with people.
Do you see yourself remarrying?
(Laugh) I don't know. The risk about that is that I know myself. I don't want to put any man under that thing of having to compare him with my late husband, because when you say a man, a complete man, that was Jaiye. I don't know if I'm going to meet somebody later and say okay, I can live the rest of my life with him, it's going to be difficult. That's why I'm not even thinking about it. Sometimes I'm sitting down and thinking that one day, somebody will now come and say “I want to marry you” and I will now start all this from the beginning again. Can I start all over? I don't know, because there's no way that I would not compare. Even now when I go out and people come and toast, because they are toasting me! (laughs) I'm sorry to say. I look at them, they talk one or two lines and I begin to find faults that aren't there. I really don't think that remarrying will happen in some years to come. I know that I'm young; I just want to stabilise and take care of my kids for now, be my own person and stand on my feet. I really don't want to get involved with somebody else for the wrong reasons.
How do you want to move forward from this point, its been a year since Jaiye died?
There are so many things that I've always wanted to do, like the African shop he's always wanted me to set up. I've already started that. I've already started GIG FACTOR again, and there are two or more businesses that I'm looking at right now, we're just putting finishing touches to them. And I'm also going to be having my own T.V talk show.
Would you tell us about it?
That would be letting the cat out of the bag! Right now, the band is doing well and that's where the bulk of my income is coming from right now. And then the equipment has been going out on rentals. Also about 3 and 4 people called me to manage their event last year, so I've turned into an event manager (laughs). My sister and I just registered Angels and Bells, a wedding planning outfit. I'm just investing and making sure that I'm busy and small money is coming in.
Does Jaiye's family get to see his kids?
Hmm, they don't really get to see them much or as often as one would want, but I guess that is so because I've been trying to accept a lot of things in my head. The fact about this whole thing is that I feel that deep down inside, that if both parties sit down, without all the people, noise, media interference, and lay the cards on the table, we'd both probably realise that we've just been feeling like this towards each other for nothing. That there's probably been a misconception about something somewhere that we are both missing and for so many years, we've just stayed away. Because I really respect them for whom they are, especially Wunmi. I really respect her a lot because to me, she's very a very hardworking person and she's very talented. I'm not saying this because I'm talking to you, I always say to people that are around me, I always watch her perform and see how she does a thousand and one businesses, as well as take care of her family and I'm like “that is a woman!” I believe that if there are sorrys that should be said, if we sit together to talk about it, we will say them. Because I know that this thing will affect our children. Once, when we went for an event and Jaiye's brother's kids were there, hen the kids saw them, come and see the hugging and the loving they showed towards each other, and I was ashamed! I'm like, “we are the ones that are adults and we are the ones that should be setting good examples. Look at our kids, they really didn't care who was there”. The children don't have any problem and probably don't know what's going on.
Did the fact that you have a strained relationship with Jaiye's family bother him while he was alive?
Oh, it did. No man will be happy because he loved his family very much, he could do anything for them, he loved them and the same love he gave to me and the children. I've never seen that kind of love before because my husband loved! He had more than enough to go round. He kept telling me that “Omo, e be like say this thing na woman issue, because me I no have problem, my elder brother no have problem, what's wrong with you women? You people should sort yourselves out because this thing is not funny anymore”. Because I know that when there are family gatherings, he's always asking, “shey you will go o?”. So I would say, “if you are going, I will go now.” Deep down, I just wish something will come up and we will just settle things once and for all, if nothing else, but for the fact that both family share something now, the children. You need to see Jaiye with my family, you will not believe that my father didn't give birth to him. He and my mum were hot about each other. There is this Owerri soup my mother cooks for him that he loved, so he always wanted to know when my mum would be coming to Lagos to cook the soup for him. The same with my sisters, they loved him.
What do you miss about not having him around?
His laughter. He loved people around him, he would cook and we would all sit down to eat. He'd buy champagne and we would all drink. Every weekend, we were always doing one thing or the other in the house. He used to know when I'm vexed and would say, “Shorty, somebody vexed you, come, come and hug, lets hug each other”. Without him, I just feel that I'm working on automatic. I've been strong by the grace of God, since I have to go on and survive because of my children.
When you marked Jaiye's one-year anniversary, why didn't you do it with his family, though it was said that you started all the arrangement before it became jointly planned?
Let me clear something, it was never a joint thing. I didn't hear anything from anybody, and I'd already said that I was going to do something for his anniversary, because on his birthday, we went to the cemetery to pray for him before going to church. So for his anniversary, I'd already started making plans because nobody told me that anybody was doing anything. I'd even gotten digi-print to do the banners and they did it for free. I'd done T-shirts and called those that would supply light, and I'd got the venue ready, The Vault, on the Island. So I had started sending out text messages that I was just doing something small on Saturday, and on Sunday, my family and I would be going to church. It was like a few days to the event that a message was sent to me that they were doing something on the Island as well. The person…I don't know if they way he told me was the way they put it o, but that was the way it came across to me, that I cannot have my event, that it would confuse a lot of people and on that day, people would rather not go for anyone than to be seen as taking sides with anybody. It was very painful, as I had fixed my own day, done everything. It was just for people to attend, because I had sent messages out informing people of the date and venue. So when that message came to me, I thought about it, because it was very painful. I know how much had gone into getting the event planned. I'd already gone on to do a documentary, a tribute song; we'd shot a video, and was already editing it to show on that day. I talked about it with my family and they said to me “don't let anybody come to say or think that you're being stubborn. If they say they want to do something on that day on the Island, leave that day for them and just respect it, let them do what they want to do”. So I sent messages out again to people saying that “I'm sorry, I can't do it anymore for reasons best known to me, but I'd make it up to them” and I thanked them, and we left it at that. Then 2 days before the event, this same person that was sent to me called me and said to me that I should come or send somebody to come pick invitation cards for me or for whoever is coming with me. And I'm like; “I am to pick up IVs to attend my own husband's anniversary?” I actually sent the person and the person brought the IVs and I didn't say anything. They even told me that they had set up a committee, and that I should come to a meeting. I thought to myself, they are expecting me to call and tell them what I want them to add, how I want them to put my name in the programme. So I told the person they sent that they've already concluded at their committee, so what am I coming to add? After a while, I said look, all this show that they are putting up for people is not necessary. If there's a problem, there's a problem, its not outsiders that will come and sort it out for us. All is not well between us, I am a Christian, and so I have to be honest with myself. So after that day, I didn't hear anything from them. Then the night before the event, one of them now called me and said she hoped that I'm coming and that I'm bringing the children and I told her that I was not bringing the children. She now said that she heard I'd done banners, that can I send it to them and the other things I'd made and I said, no problem, I'll send them. But I still went with my plans to wear the T-shirts that I'd made with those who wanted to come with me to the cemetery to pray and we went. That was when they now called Rosco, and asked him whether I was coming, that I should say now o, because they'd gone ahead to put me on the programme and that they'd put my name that I was singing at the event with Synergy. And I said to myself, what is Synergy? I don't know any band called Synergy. If they are using that to clean up whatever, I'm not part of it. And nobody should say that I should bring my kids, because they wouldn't be put through that. If this thing was meant to unite the two families, they would have told me from day one. Even if they don't want to see my face, at least, what about the children, or don't my family deserve a little respect?
My parents actually came to town because of the anniversary. So I said if I'm coming with my father, I will now give him IV, and he will show his IV at the gate to attend my late husband's anniversary. I spoke with them before that show that same day, and I made it clear that I'm not coming, neither were my kids and we know why. We know it would look bad, people will not understand, but God knows that one day, they will understand that I'm tired of all this press war, deception, of making people think that all is well. If they know deep in their hearts that they don't have anything against me and want us to settle this rift, let us meet and sort it out. But after I had that conversation with them, they held the event, and I was told that my name was mentioned that, “oh, we're still expecting Stella.” Giving people the impression that I had given them my word that I was coming, but that I messed up. I even read in the papers that Stella bluffed their show. So I said, if that's what they think, its okay. The next day, I went to church with my family and some friends, and my sister had a small reception, that was it. And since then, I didn't want to say anything because I didn't want it to seem like we're fighting. I don't like it; it's not necessary because we are all adults. If you have anything against me, tell me, if I'd done it, I'll say I'm sorry if there's really a good reason for us to come together and mend fences, but I'm not begging for anything, nobody is feeding me and nobody is giving me anything.
Has there always been this cold war between you and his family even before you got married, and have you tried to understand what it is about?
So many times. There have been a lot of talks, a lot of meetings. Even Jaiye had told me on 2 or 3 occasions that he went to have meetings with them. If you ask me even until now what the problem is or why they don't like me, I still don't know. And I was hoping that with all the press talk, maybe at some point, one of them would say, “Stella did this or that”, because I really don't have anything against them. Before Jaiye died, it wasn't as if we were close, but they really never went out of their way to do anything bad to me. So left to me, everybody was just minding their own business.