By Chinelo Chikelu, Abuja
Women and men in the Nigerian arts and entertainment sector has rolled in accolades celebrating internationally recognised and acclaimed actress, journalist, and cosmetologist, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett who marked her 80th birthday recently.
The event organized by the Committee of Relevant Art (CORA) under the aegis of its ArtHouse Forum, is its effort to mark the International Women’s Day to celebrate the icon who shattered ceilings for many Nigerian women in the entertainment industry, and forms the first of its scheduled quarterly event in 2021 to celebrate Ajai-Lycett’s career and contribution to her sex and society.
In her keynote address at the event, President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry LCCI, Toki Mabogunje noted that to be an octogenarian is a country where the life expectancy for females was 56 years is worth celebrating. She said shattering glasses is still a work in progress, and urged that women remain committed to closing the gender gap in public and private sectors of the Nigerian economy. Nigeria, she said must empower the full potentials of women and deploy strategic decision-making processes to achieve that, noting it is the only way to creating greater opportunities for all.
Responding to the theme of the event, ‘Woman: Now That The Glass Ceiling Has Been Shattered, What Next,‘ Educator, Noma Sodipo tasked women to carry other women along with them past the shattered and build support bases for one another.
Describing the celebrant’s invaluable moral and career support in her creative, women empowering theatre project Hear Word, in which she starred, Theatre Director and Producer, Ifeoma Fafunwa narrated how her involvement in the project elevated its performance at the Edinburgh International Theatre Festival. She further noted how often Lycett’s cryptic words, “You don’t know what you have here, so calm down,” saw her through the tough days following the show’s success. She also commended Lycett’s and Joke Silva’s professionalism and punctuality, and how impacted positively on the younger female actors in show.
In lifting other women up, environmentalist Sola Alamutu urged women to see each other not as competitors but collaborators, and to support, mentor and open up spaces for one other.
Describing Ajai-Lycett as “a true patriot of the Act”, NANTAP’s representative Lara Akinshola commended her willingness to serve; while Entertainment and Theatre Producer, Bolanle Austin-Peters said, “her elegance, elocution, her carriage, her self-realization has been very encouraging for me. Thank you for being a role model.”
In her usual understated graciousness, Lycett thanked all participants who turned out for her 80th birthday online and at the Freedom Park, hailing them her family and the secret to her life. “You are my brothers and sisters. Not my blood brothers but deeper than that. I woke up on my 80th birthday and I had this group of my tribe, my clan, to wake me up. Your words (to me) are greater than the words of that of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This is the secret of my passion – all of you,” she said.
Born February 3, 1941 in Lagos, Ajai-Lycett left Lagos for the UK where she took certificate courses on Cosmetology and a acquired a Higher National Diploma in Business Studies. She debuted into acting in 1966 in Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel directed by William Gaskill at the Royal Court Theatre in London. In 1975, she joined the Africa Magazine and later pioneered the Africa Women magazine, a magazine for Africans in diaspora.