One could tell that as a disciplined and accomplished international actor, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett appreciates the difference between call time and arrival time even on the occasion of the 75th birthday lecture in her honour.
There she stood at the Combo Hall, Lagos Television, Ikeja, radiant in her complete aso-oke gear before most of the guests arrived for the special event anchored by Tunji Sotimirin and ace comedian, Koffi. The tone was set by the Solar Band who treated the growing audience to their rendition of some classic vibes of the 60s, 70s and 80s. To take-off, Koffi informed the guests that he would make some efforts to sound very British as the celebrant had spent most of her years in the United Kingdom. He tried too hard and gave up on it; instead, he described Ajai-Lycett as “a mother by all ramifications, humble and is a legendary”. He recalled her role in the British sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, which ran for three seasons at a time when racism was endemic in the western world.
Koffi marvelled at the thought of leaving Nigerian shores for London at age 19. Ajai-Lycett, at the completion of her secondary school education at the Methodist Girls High School, Lagos, she proceeded to the UK in 1960. On her arrival, she worked as a waitress/washer-upper at Lyon’s Tea Shop and studied at night schools and Pitman’s College, London. She secured a job at the United Kingdom General Post Office and after eight years, she rose through the ranks and became Senior Personal Secretary to the Chairman, Lord Hall.
While working, she attended the Christine Shaw School of Beauty Science and Cosmetology, London; the North Staffordshire College of Technology (now Keele University) and graduated with the Higher National Diploma in Business Studies in 1969 at the Hendon College of Technology.
In 1975, Ajai-Lycett joined Africa Magazine, an Economic, Political, Social journal, based in London, as an associate editor. That same year, she became the editor and launched Africa Woman, a political, economic and social magazine for Black and African men and women in the Diaspora.
In 1975, Ajai-Lycett covered the inaugural Conference of the International Women’s Year in Mexico and the then German Democratic Republic’s East Berlin, as a photojournalist, for both Africa Magazine and Africa Woman.
If you think her profile is intimidating, you need to wait for this. After her stint with the print media, she was the presenter for the BBC’s magazine programme, “Calling Nigeria”. She was co-founder, joint artistic director, with Pat Amadu Maddy and Louis Mahoney of the Gbakanda Theatre. Ajai-Lycett attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, City Literary Institute, and the Dance Centre, Floral Street, Covent Garden, London to study acting, music, voice, singing, and ballet as well as modern and contemporary dance. She is professionally trained as a television producer-presenter at The London School of Television Production.
In his welcome address, Kehinde Oluwafunso, the Director, Twins Action Aid International, commended the celebrant for being a great model to others.
“She has taught us to be firm, disciplined and hardworking,” he said. “She has taught us to be fashionable. She is a rich blend of Europe and Africa. She has done the black race proud. I have visited the homes of many icons in Nigeria. When I get there, I always go to their libraries. She has a great forest of books. She is a great lover of books. She made us love reading. She loves people and she’s peace personified; a paragon of beauty. Above all, she is very humble.”
While speaking on the theme of corruption during the keynote address, the labour leader, Issa Aremu recalled that the Nigerian Railway Corporation in the 40s had workers that were promptly paid.
“Right now, people earn pay that is not good enough and is also irregular,’’ he began as he spoke largely on the abuse of office by public servants. He said the current budget makes little provision per capital, comparing it with what is obtained in China. Having commended the effort of the Nigerian President in the fight against corruption, he insisted that the fight is a one-man show.
“Buhari government is a one-man campaign against corruption. Imagine the case of budget padding right under his nose,” he said.
One of the discussants, Prof. Biola Awosika said corruption should be tackled at the root; that is, at the family level because every institution has failed.
“If your child comes home with a toy that does not belong to him, you should ask questions. We were raised to protect our family names,” she remarked. After reciting the popular Yoruba poetry, “Ise Ni Ogun Ise”, she read an English translation to the audience for them to appreciate the deep insight in those poetic lines.
“Our teachers must be qualified both intellectually and morally,’’ she added while ending with the quote that “our fingerprint never fails in the lives that we have touched.’’
Another discussant, Dr Ope Banwo also stated that if Nigeria is not rid of corruption, there will not be peace.
“There is impunity in Nigeria today because perpetrators know that our laws don’t work here. We have the responsibility to hold ourselves accountable,’’ he said.
The celebrant who is an Officer of the Order of Niger, has performed in many leading theatres in the UK, such as the Traverse Theatre at the Edinburgh International Festival; the Gaiety Theatre, at the Dublin International Theatre Festival; The Bristol Old Vic; The Hampstead Theatre Club; the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in Richard Wagner’s Tannhauser; The Royal Court Theatre; The Palace Theatre, Westcliffe; and The Mercury Theatre, Colchester.
She was in the movie, A Warm December, directed by Oscar winner, Sidney Poitier.
She appeared in 2007, at the Almeida Theatre in the Almeida Opera’s & Streetwise production, Critical Mass, directed by Emma Bernard and Composer Orlando Gough.
Her stage appearances in Nigerian theatre include J.P. Clark’s Song of a Goat; Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman and The Lion and the Jewel; Wale Ogunyemi’s The Divorce; Fred Agbeyegbe’s The King Must Dance Naked; Wole Oguntokun’s The Inheritors; Arnold Weskers’ Shylock; Laolu Ogunniyi’s television series, “Winds Against My Soul’’; Jab Adu’s The Young Ones; and Nigerian Television Authority’s The Honourable; For Better for Worse, Eyo Fancy and Rasheed Gbadamosi’s The Mansion.
In 1978, in Lagos, Nigeria, Ajai-Lycett and her late husband, Thomas Aldridge Lycett, a former Shell marketing communication executive, founded Partnership Advertising Limited and Taiwo Ajai Communications marketing communications consultancy outfits. After her husband’s death in 1993, she founded Talhouse Private Schools and Talhouse Worldwide Limited for the promotion of the arts as well as training and nurturing young artists.