Long before Jaiye Aboderin, her late husband, the talented singer passed on suddenly in 2004, movie star actress, Stella Damasus-Aboderin had been a hot news item for the print media, especially the tabloids. She became the subject of gossips, some of which were very damaging. But through all of this, Stella maintained a silence almost as thick as a wall. Then came the death, Jaiye, in December 2004, following a heart attack during a basketball match. Events that unfolded after his demise were to spark off yet another round of controversies, all revolving around Stella, the young widow and mother of two girls. Prominent among these controversies was her sudden return to singing and attending events, her age long cold war with some members of her late husband’s family that reared its head all over again, and most recently, the rumoured talks about her relationship with gospel singer, Sammy Okposo, among several allegations levelled against her. Still Stella kept mute, fervently refusing to be forced into any form of reaction, even when friends pressured her to do so. That was the position she held until Friday, 27th of February 2006, when City People’s deputy Editor-In-Chief, Susan-Eyo-Honesty, met with Stella a second time, after a chance meeting a few days before that fateful meeting. This reporter once again, felt a strong desire to enter into the mind of this beautiful celebrity actress, who in her 20’s, has been in the eye of the storm ever since she came into the limelight, as well as being thrown into widowhood unexpectedly. Surprisingly, the City People team while discussing who would be the best face and personality for the City People Quarterly edition for this Valentine’s, Stella’s name was unanimously agreed would be the ideal personality to celebrate, but there was a problem. With all of the bad press that has been generated over time, the question was: would she be willing to break that silence, worse still to the press who’ve been on her case for as long as her career has fared. A combination of favour and mother luck was at work, when what was meant to be a normal chat with Stella, saw her agreeing to a request for a formal interview that same day. And from Cactus, a restaurant on ozumba Mbadiwe, V.I Lagos, it was off to Stella’s Lekki abode that we went, where for 3 hours, like never before, Stella opened up on her life, one year after Jaiye’s death. In this no holds barred interview, Stella spoke to SUSAN EYO-HONESTY about her many problems after Jaiye died, the many controversies that trailed her and how she’s survived it all. It’s very hot and revealing!
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.
Published on Nigerians in America courtesy City People