It was Friday night. Her mellifluous voice wafts like a soulful serenade through the airwaves. She coos once in a while as she she calms work-weary listeners with choice songs. Her pupils light up as she sits behind the console mellowing down the accumulated stress of people. A woman of many parts, she’s one who is not afraid to be seen and heard even though she claims she has never been confident of herself. Unashamed of her tattoo-ridden body, she possesses a delicate mix of beauty and brain. An exciting compere, dramatic in style and one-of-a-kind in delivery, she has become a sought-after master of ceremony. A craftswoman, she’s an ingenious actor both on the screen and on the stage. Elvina Ibru is a compelling figure. Born with a silver spoon but grew up with a sense of humility and generosity. Down-to-earth and refreshingly humorous, Elvina in this interview with Adedayo Adejobi talks about who she really is – and she doesn’t care a hoot if seen as a mermaid –, why she’ll never get back with the father of her only son, ways she felt being touched by an angel, her jobs and how she juggles the various commitments. You get to know too, if you’re patient where she’s got the plenty tattoos on her body. Well prized as they are, she says her son occupies the best part of her body – her heart. She leaves nothing to your imagination as you read this interview
How did you spend Valentine’s Day?
Unfortunately, I was on stage on Valentine’s Day entertaining every other person enjoying their own Valentine. A day before, I had a date at the Federal Palace Hotel which was fantastic. Not just because of the turnout, but because of the cause. The concept of the event was called ‘small world’; it has been on for 21 years in Nigeria. It was organised by the expatriate group in the country. But they do very little publicity because of security. It’s a very simple idea which sees each country come with a store of their native food and drinks. This year hosted 32 countries, with African countries and Nigeria inclusive. Fortunately, Nigeria was the host and they had their own store too. With one ticket paid for, it allowed you to eat and drink from the stores.
Afterward, there was a show and the only people that were allowed in the show are the countries that participated in the store so each country came on stage to perform and it was something about their own culture and their background. Last year was all about carnival, but this year was about colours. So they showcased their culture through the colours of the world. They raised N60 million this year; the money would be divided between the 32 participating countries equally on which Nigerian charity they want to put the money. The Valentine’s show was also amazing, tagged ‘ribbons and roses’ and was purely for 150 lovers. The headliner was Cobhams Asuquo. The whole idea of the show was the concept of ‘seven virgins’ which was actually seven new artistes that we have never seen before. They stand for the seven virgins. It was done on purpose so that people’s attention would be caught when they see the word virgin. I was given a room to pass the night and after the show I had a swim and quietly went to my room to sleep like a baby till Monday morning. I was actually tired because I was out of the country and returned bombarded with shows.
Being a compere at events is a new side of you unknown to many. When and how did you discover that side of Elvina?
The story of me being a compere is just too funny because people have asked me why I have not been doing it before now. My sisters have been begging me for years to serve as master of ceremonies. The only place I used to compere was in church for our harvests and special programmes. I am Anglican and whenever I compere, it’s always awesome and they keep urging me to take up the MC job as a regular thing. In honesty, I have never been confident of myself. I used to feel being a compere is one of the most difficult jobs you can do in the business, because you have to be spontaneous. When you see people like Ali Baba on stage, it makes people feel anybody can be an MC, because they make it look so easy. And that is a sign of the good MC when you make people feel they can do it also. My last two events I have just spoken about were a nervous wreck. I am always like that before getting to the stage, and once I find my way to feeling comfortable, I relax to please my audience. The smile trick is to get control of my audience and once I do that, whatever I ask them to do, they do. Being an MC has always been there but I never practised. But now, I would like to get seriously involved in interesting shows.
What kinds of shows interest you?
Well, Nigerian shows, entertainment, businesses in way of films. I mean occasions like the film festival, weddings, movie premieres and all sort of nice events. All those kinds of occasions are the shows that interest me. Even wedding ceremonies in Nigeria are getting more elaborate and interesting. Although we have a lot of male MCs and few females, it’s not easy. Sometimes I sing and dance just to get the crowd on my side. When I go into my spontaneity, I don’t plan anything. I might see anybody that may inspire me to do something or just think of something and feels it will be nice at that point to do it.
What about stage plays – have you left it for being a compere?
I’m still there and very much into it. I have been in the play called ‘Hear Word’ and by God’s grace, we are going on tour in April for about six weeks to the United States and will be performing at two of the prestigious universities including Harvard. Harvard University has created a curriculum around ‘Hear Word’ and they have attached it to African studies. So it’s a big deal. Although I am just an actress so I can’t talk more on it. I am equally working on my production called ‘Sister Act’; a partnership with someone who has got the rights for the stage play. It was a film and they started as stage play. With the rights for the stage play to be brought to Nigeria, auditions are coming up next week. Although the play will not be staged until November, we are having three directors coming from abroad because it’s a franchise. But all actors and crew will be Nigerians.
There are good directors in Nigeria, why expatriates?
This is because it’s the first time in Nigeria. When I did West African Idols, we had people from abroad to make sure that it was of international standard. I am not an advocate of expatriates coming to do stuff around here. What I am an advocate of is what they will come and teach us, and then we can thank them and say goodbye and we will continue doing our things ourselves. It is not the matter of whether we have talent or not. For everything that is new, you have to be taught. If we do it first, we teach them and if they do it first, they teach us.
With so many projects ahead of you, what’s going to happen to your late night show on radio?
Actually for the tour, I will take my leave for the year. So that should cover the tour. And when I come back, I will be going back to work. The good thing about Classic FM is the slot that I occupy is that it is in the evening from 9pm to 12midnight so that allows me to do other things. I have been acting in films and still going to work even though it’s a tight schedule. It is still workable. From morning to 8pm, I am free to do whatever I need to do. I have a production company as well and the big bonus is that I don’t work on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. When I was employed, my show was called ‘Mellow Magic’ which means I was supposed to play calm music. Friday night is considered as a going out night, so they prefer to have faster music on air. So I get away with not going to work on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It’s a perfect day job for me and my own lifestyle which is the reason why I agreed to take it.
You work at nights, what do you do at day?
I have a production company called Twice as Nice Limited with an office in Apapa. It’s been going strong since 1999. During the day, if I don’t have any meetings, I get my son off to school and then I go to my office in Apapa. And at 6pm I find my way to the Island. But when I have meetings, I tend to book them on the Island because people don’t like coming down to Apapa. The gaps in my day give me enough time to manoeuvre.
Being an Ibru girl, from prim and proper background how do you maintain the balance?
I am ashamed that I don’t speak my language. Every Nigerian should learn how to speak their language.
Can you tell us about your childhood?
My mother and father were down-to-earth and they taught us humility. My mom always tell us that no matter how high you raised your shoulders, it can never go above your head; because there is nothing you have that is more than the next person and nobody knows tomorrow. Obasanjo was once a poor farmer and a soldier but he became the Head of State twice. We were raised to be humble and be self-sufficient. Even though we were born into a billionaire’s house we were always thought to learn how to generate funds for ourselves because my parent worked for themselves. We were not even raised to get help from the house-helps. If any of us woke up in the morning and didn’t make his or her bed, that person would get a dirty warning slap from my mother and she would ask either of us whether we were the ones paying the staff. With a house full of stewards, we washed our clothes and our dishes after eating.
We had to do everything by ourselves and we were never spoilt. My parents came from a humble beginning so they knew what it was like if you don’t have and they have sympathy for those that don’t have. First, they were very generous. I keep saying so because my mom is late my dad is still very much alive but when I say were, I mean they are together like a couple. We were taught to be generous and kind to everybody. I always say that anyone that has a problem with me; it’s not me they are having problem with, but themselves because I don’t have a problem. I get on with everybody, but the only people I don’t get along with are the mean one. If you are mean to somebody else and then you turn to smile at me, I find that highly irritating because it means you are not a nice person but pretending because you are talking to me.
Which values have moulded you into who you are?
The first is to follow God let Him be your priority in life; humility and politeness in everything. We were taught to say ‘Please and thank you’; it won’t kill; being nice to people I meet. Generosity is also important. If I have, I give always and I don’t ever hold back on it because God will always meet me at my point of need. I learned to hold on to family friends.
How close are you to your siblings?
I have a lot of siblings and we are all close. My mother made sure of that because she used to say we will die and leave our children behind; not that the children will die and leave us. So when we go, what are you people going to do because we will only have each other? I have 16 siblings from my father and we are all close. Arguments and disagreements are normal, but despite that we watch our backs. We are always defensive of ourselves. The bond with my siblings is invincible. It’s very hard for people to pull us down.
With your funky life and trendy nature, what key experiences shaped your spiritual inclination?
My parents are Christians and we were born into it. But then as one grows, the experiences I have had in life is very obvious that there is higher spiritual power looking after us. I don’t say Jesus came down and miracle happened. Miracles happen every day. Many years ago, when Lagos was very unsafe before Fashola’s regime, everywhere was full of robbers. I went to see my aunt in Isolo. Although we went there in daylight and stayed till about 7pm, we left for home in the car and had a flat tyre. In those days, no tubeless tyres and we were on the Isolo highway at 8pm. Being all girls in the car except for the driver, he quickly got down to fix the spare tyre and discovered that he didn’t have a jack, so he couldn’t change the tyre. We had to wave down cars to borrow a jack – we were scared. Then one white Mercedes drove past and had to reverse. The car was white, when the guy came out of the car he was in an all-white outfit. I could have sworn that the white was actually glowing. I don’t know if I was the only one that saw it, maybe it was just my eyes in the dark. He helped the driver and we fixed the tyre and we left. Before I turned around to look for his car, there was nothing there. So I thought he was an angel. To me God is not in heaven looking down at us; He is amidst us.
With such an experience, have you ever been touched by an angel?
I don’t know but I have felt a slap off my shoulder many times when I am being led to do something but dragging my foot. I once went to the hairdresser in my area and had about N50, 000 in my account. I told my boy to go to the bank to withdraw N40, 000 while doing my hair. At the salon, they were discussing about a poor woman whose son had an accident and could not afford the hospital bill and his leg was practically rotting away. I felt somehow. Then my boy came with the money I asked him to withdraw for me. I felt a physical slap on my back and was staring at the lady making my hair why she slapped me but I discovered it wasn’t her. I was ashamed to ask if anybody slapped me and the next voice I heard was what I was going to do about the woman whose son needs help. I gently respected myself and took N35, 000 out of the money and told them to give it to the woman. The woman came and wanted to kneel down for me but I couldn’t take it. I knelt down and she prayed for me. So, maybe I have been slapped by an angel I didn’t know. It has happened several times. The next day somebody that had owed me for two years called me to pay me.
You have a spark for tattoos and body adornments, why?
I have plenty of tattoos on my body: hand, feet, leg and back. I have the one of Eli, that’s for my son Elisha. The one on my feet is the first one I had many years ago. It was Jesus, the only man I trust. I have rose at my back. I love roses. And here is another one which is flower. It’s a Chinese flower but I have forgotten the name. And this one is called the tulip; it the latest member of the family. I wouldn’t cover myself from head to toe with tattoos, but I do love tattoos. I love body adornments. I believe there is beauty in tribal marks; not that I will mark my son’s face, but I admire tribal marks. I also love piercing. I remember when I did my first piercing, somebody was saying because I schooled abroad I am behaving like the Whites. I told the person to go and read his history books; that the Whites never started piercing, but Africans did and was stolen by the Whites. Even tattoos! Therefore, I am only following my tradition.
In Africa, very light-skinned women are looked upon as mermaids. Has anyone ever told you that you look like a mermaid?
Severally and it makes me feel good because I believe mermaids were created by God. When Lucifer came down, he turned the heart of what God had created to black. As there are good and evil men, so I believe that there are also evil and good mermaids. Sometimes, I wonder where this perception of mermaids came from. I ask if anyone has ever seen one. And it is always about women. What about the men?
How close are you to your son?
My son is everything to me and more. God understands the kind of person I am so he hand-picked Elisha for me to be His guardian because his true father is God not me. He is so trouble-free and that is unbelievable. He is just seven years and so mature. He is still a kid. He is mischievous but not naughty. He is full of life and he is extremely clever; not only in education but in everything. Sometimes, he will sit me down and start telling me about politics. He is very intelligent and very understanding of what I do. He is not a cry baby. I love my son. Everywhere he goes, people become his friends and it is a nice thing.
Are you looking forward to reunite with his dad someday?
No. We are best of friends. He is remarried and his wife and I are friends. He has a son. And so his wife and I are trying to make sure that Elisha and his son get to know each other and get close. But to reunite with him cannot be possible. That’s bygone.