Nollywood actress, Opeyemi Aiyeola, left the movie industry for about 10 years to focus on building her family and settling down in the United Kingdom. In this interview by FEMI OGUNTAYO, she shares her experience off-screen, her marriage among othe issues. Excerpts:
It is a global lockdown, businesses are shut down and events cancelled, how are you coping with the Coronavirus pandemic?
I count myself lucky. I was truly in Nigeria when all these lockdown and restrictions here and there started, but fortunately for me, that is why I said I count myself lucky, I hold dual citizenship. I was able to get a flight to come back to the United Kingdom to be with my family. I am sure so many people wished they had such opportunities, which is why I said I count myself lucky.
So, right now, I am where I should be and I am so grateful for that privilege. Right now I am with my family. So, we have been trying to stay safe, we do not go out, I don’t go out, my children and my husband don’t go out, except it is exceptionally compulsory for us to go out. Thank God we have a garden at the back of our house; the children can go out and play in the garden. On my business, unfortunately for somebody like me, business is on a stand still because all I do is act.
Even though you are in the UK, do you think the lockdown in Nigeria is effective enough, compared to the way it’s been done in other foreign countries?
Well, to be sincere, I am always on the news and social media, checking for updates on how our people are coping with this pandemic, I am afraid for Nigeria. I am currently in the United Kingdom and they are struggling, if the United Kingdom can struggle, sincerely I don’t know how Nigeria is going to survive this. It is going to take a miracle. I personally do not believe the numbers currently being declared in Nigeria are correct; I just feel they are not accurate. Citizens don’t have access to testing centres and kits, I have this feeling that a lot of people are infected already and some are sick already and the government does not know about them.
The government is trying their best obviously but I just believe there is an inadequacy somewhere. From what we see on social media, people are practicing social distancing as they should and I sincerely, from the bottom of my heart do not blame the masses, it is a tough one. When people are hungry, people are frustrated, people become angry, it will be difficult to give orders and you expect them to obey.
What are the plans you have made to support your community or even the government in tackling and managing the Coronavirus pandemic?
We owe it to one another to support each other. This has got nothing to do with your position or whatever. So, personally, I have formed a group called ‘Opeyemi Aiyeola and Fans COVID-19 relief package’, we have been moving around, I have got fans who have been sponsoring this, and of course my husband and family have been supporting me, mum, friends, cousins have also donated to this cause. It is strictly for the elderly, I started with Ikorodu, Idimu, Ijigbo, Sagamu which is my hometown, Agbado, Ibadan.
We have been going around and we will still continue, even though I have the challenge of trust. Three times, I have been disappointed because the people I sent to give people money played me; they played me for trying to help people, people I don’t even know. So, it has been very challenging to get people to trust, which has really slowed down what I really loved to do. I would have really loved to cover a lot of areas, but right now, I am only restricted to areas I am 100 per cent sure of whoever is leading the team. It is just sad. Though, I won’t be discouraged, like my husband told me, you can’t be discouraged, people have already given you their money and you just have to deliver, you can only do your best. So, the train is still moving on. I have decided to concentrate on monetary relief, rather than foodstuffs, just because it is easier to carry money around for my team to distribute instead of having to carry all the foodstuffs.
Let’s talk about your career now, can you recap your journey to stardom, how did it all start for you? Or did you just wake up one day and decided to go into acting?
I was in Ogun State Polytechnic at a time and I was at Wale Adenuga Production. Accidentally, as God would have it, as future will have it, I went visiting at a time when they were shooting their Papa Ajasco series. I am talking about 1999 or thereabouts. I was just there looking at them doing their thing, I was blown away by the way they were doing it; I had never seen that before in my life. And apparently, there was this role of a newscaster they had already cast a lady for, she didn’t turn up and they came up to me. It was Biki Adeoye, Uncle Wale Adenuga and I think it was late Yomi Ogunmola that was the director at that time.
So they came, begging me, cajoling me, talking me into helping out with the role, I didn’t know they were begging me into a part of my future. So, I took it, I did it and Uncle Wale started to encourage me to come around and at a time he created a character for me and I became part of the Papa Ajasco and Super Story family. From there, Muyideen Sasiliu, who was Yomi Ogunmola’s apprentice at that time and a continuity director for Wale Adenuga, came up to me and told me that Bayowa Films was planning to shoot a Yoruba Film and that he wanted me to have a meeting with him.
Now, prior to that time, Biki Adeoye had visited Odufa caucus, Ogogo, Yinka Quadri and Abbey Lanre’s caucus at that time, and honourable Rotimi Makinde was planning to shoot a movie at that time and he insisted he wanted an unknown face, a fresh face that was good, so Biki suggested I tried my luck. When I went to Odunifa, I could remember my first time there, seeing Ogogo, Uncle Yinka and Abbey Lanre and all that (Laughs), so I was given the opportunity. I played the role and everybody was impressed. I was so impressed also, because I didn’t know I could do it. That was how the journey started. So I did Aso Iyi, produced by Rotimi Makinde, then Ige Adubi. I think what actually helped my career is that when I started I was getting lead roles back to back. That was how it started, and I can only give God the glory.
It is a general belief that female celebrities don’t last in marriages, but you have been married since 2007, and blessed with lovely kids, what has been the secret for managing your marriage and family with acting?
For any marriage to work, it takes two to tango. It takes two people not the job of one person to make a marriage work. It is not the duty of the wife to make the marriage work, rather in my understanding, in my marriage, my husband is the head of this family and it is his duty to make sure that this union works. But it still takes the two of us to make it work. If one party is trying to make it work and the other person is pulling it apart, it would not work. People say, Opeyemi Aiyeola, you have been married since 2007 and you guys are still together, it has taken the two of us to make it work. Oh my God, you guys don’t want to know what we have both been through, what I have put my husband through and what he has put me through, but it has taken the two of us trying our best to work it out to make it work.
If I had been in an abusive relationship, my husband knows, everyone knows my stand, no matter what, I wouldn’t have been in this marriage, I would never stay in an abusive relationship and I believe my husband wouldn’t do that if I was the abuser in the relationship either. Sometimes he gets discouraged and wants to give up, sometimes I also get discouraged and want to give up too, but somehow, we have been able to build it together. I would not want to be in a marriage where I am just coping. I want to enjoy it, I want to be in it and be happy and vice versa. I am not one of those people who chastise anybody who had a broken marriage and all that, my parents separated when I was two, so I wouldn’t say, oh daddy or mommy was at fault. So, my husband and I are still here, we are trying to wax strong and we are happy..
In 2007 after you got married, you left the movie industry for several years to focus on your family. How does it feel like? What effect do you think this had on your acting career, both negatively and positively?
When I first got married, my concentration was not my job, anybody who knows me very well would know I am not money-driven, I am not really a 100 per cent career-driven, I am just a contented young woman who wants to have a home and have the basic things of life. If God grants me the grace to be super rich, I am going to grab it, but I am always trying to be contended.
So, career is not a do or die affair for me, my acting career is what I enjoy doing, what I would love to do for a very long time if God grants me the strength and resources to keep doing it but I won’t kill myself over it, I would not die or get myself depressed over it. Now, when I was building my family and the children started to come, I was not even thinking about career at all, I was concentrating on my children, everything about me was my family, and there was no room for career at all. On the effect the break had on my career, yes, it has had its negative effects, I would not lie about that, because when I got back to Nigeria, so many things have changed, so many things have changed, so many of my contacts have been lost, so I struggled to get them back, but by the grace of God I am going to get there.
Now I concentrate more on positivity, because to me, you can pick up your career anytime as long as you have money and as God will have it now, there are other ways asides acting that you can make a lot of money and be a success story and won’t affect your career. The positive side, I would never trade what God has given to me for the 10 years that I have been away for anything. I can never trade my dual citizenship for anything. Ah no, I cannot trade it. Look at me now, luckily for me, I was in Nigeria and I got a flight to come back to the United Kingdom and I did not really have to do too much, there are so many countries I can go to without necessarily having to get a visa, all I need to do is by myself a ticket and off I go, myself and my family. What more can I ask God for?
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