A riveting personality; unflinching in her conviction and unapologetic in her decision; she is not afraid to swim against any tide. Young, gorgeous and graceful, Stella Damasus is one of the best actresses in Nigeria. Also a gifted singer, Stella is no stranger to the klieg light. Mesmerising in movie roles, aura and intelligence, she exudes humility tempered with straightforwardness. Young, rich and popular, she wanted to live life to the full; to get married young and grow up with her family. At 21, that wish was fulfilled; though she married a man she truly loved, the marriage did not last long. Another shot at marriage was short-lived. Once a widow, later a divorcee but now in a third marriage, Stella is unapologetic about marrying the ex (Daniel Ademinokan) of a fellow actress, Doris Simeon. In this interview with Oge Ezeliora, Stella, a mother of two, talks about her short-lived marital bliss with Jaiye Aboderin, an eight-month marital flop with another man and her newfound love with Ademinokan. The actress also bares her mind on why celebrities endure abusive marriage
What is your real name?
Stella Damasus (Stella Ojukwu).
What is your state of origin?
I was born in Asaba, Delta State.
Take us through your background.
I grew up in Benin City (Edo State) where I completed most of my primary education. I was born into a family of six (five girls and one boy; he is now late). I also attended Greater Tomorrow Primary School and Idia College, both in Benin. I had my tertiary education at the University of Lagos where I studied Creative Arts and graduated in 2002.
Where did you meet your first husband?
I met my first husband Jaiye (now late), who was one of the children of late Chief Olu Aboderin – founder of The Punch Newspapers – at Jazzville Onike, Yaba, Lagos State. And our (marital) union lasted for seven years which left me a widow for four years, before I decided to remarry.
How did you feel the first time you appeared in front of the camera?
My first Nigerian film was titled ‘Abused’ in 1992. So far I have done over 300 movies and have lost count of some of them. In 2009, I was nominated for Best Actress in a leading role at the African Movie Academy Awards. So I have received so many awards that I can’t remember and I know more will still come.
At what point in your career did you divert to music?
Music to me happens to be an inborn thing. As a child I sang in church. So I just decided to bring out another talent that God has given me. And the songs did successfully well in the market.
How did you cope getting married to your first husband, Jaiye Aboderin, at the age of 21?
I always wanted to start (married life) early. I always wanted to have children early. I wanted to have an early marriage; I wanted to grow with a family. I wanted to learn the inside of it. I didn’t want to wait and grow, and mature, and become big and famous then start to wonder ‘oh, will anyone marry me now’. I didn’t want that to happen because at 16 I was already popular. I was making money; I was travelling. So at that point looking at my life, I said, if I do this for another five, six, seven years and I don’t start a family, it will become more difficult for me later on. So, I decided if I find somebody who I love, who will love me back, we will go together. We will fight all the fight and make up; we will do whatever but we will grow old together. And that’s what happened.
But did you regret that decision?
I am happy I made that decision; because today I have a 17-year-old. I grew up with my children. When you see the three of us, and you see my daughters, you will think we are sisters. And we talk as friends. So it was an important thing for me to have a family (early). We have a tendency to be crazy and do whatever we like because we could get away with anything. We could travel all over the world. We could get people to like us like this (snaps finger); we had money to throw around. If I didn’t have that family unit to check me, I don’t know what I would have become and I won’t lie about that.
How did you recover from losing your husband then?
They say time heals. I say, I have a different definition. I say time numbs. It is not something that heals, and then that’s it, it’s gone; no. This is someone you planned to spend the rest of your life with, and grow with. Then, we made plans like every other couple. And when that happened…he died when I was 26 with two children. I just felt that my life had ended. So, but with time, this year, December 3rd will be 10 years, one full decade. So it is not healing, I won’t call it healing but I will say it numbs and once in a while, the pain is as fresh like yesterday. But it is how you deal with it that matters. And that’s what I have had to do for the past 10 years. I am very grateful for the family I have.
How true is your relationship with Daniel Ademinokan?
Let me put it this way; let me help you hit the nail on the head. One of the comments I have seen consistently, over and over again is, ‘Stella snatches somebody’s husband’; ‘Stella the husband snatcher’; which is what has been going on. And I had sworn that I would never talk about it or even listen or stress myself about the issue. But I have decided to talk about it now, so that I end it once and for all. First of all, let me paint a picture for you and you let me know what makes sense to you. Let’s go to the dictionary, when I looked up the word snatch or steal –it means forcefully taking something away from its original position or forcefully from its original position to another position; something that does not belong to you – that’s what I gathered from the word snatch or steal. So I looked at myself, Stella, and I wondered, how is it possible to go to somebody’s home, and take a man, and take his son, away from his home and say follow me. (Let’s assume) You are a man, and according to their story, he is happily married inside his home. With his family complete and I walk into that home, to forcefully take a man, able-bodied man, and a kid, away from somebody’s hand and you are there looking at me. How does that work?
So logically, if people actually sit down and think about it intelligently, how do you snatch somebody from somebody and the person is there looking at you? So when you see a man who has settled ties with a woman and decides to move on with his life and you feel that there is something in this man that you like and he likes you, is there a problem there?. I am not a kid. I am 36 years old. I am not about to start hiding myself. I was waiting for somebody to actually ask me this question, because all I have heard for the past two to three years are rumours. They said, blogs said, this said. Nobody has been bold enough to confront me and ask me. So I say, if I steal something from somebody, and the person is really the owner of the thing, you come and ask me, ‘You took something from me, give me back’. But nobody was able to do that. And I am like, if I meet an able-bodied man that has left (his family) and moved on; that is not even in the same house with whoever and is not doing anything with whoever, and both parties had decided this thing (marriage) is not going anywhere, and they have gone their separate ways, why is it easier for the world to blame the woman that the man has decided to end up with? Why is it that it is always that woman that broke that home? The two people that did things that nobody was there; nobody said something must have happened between the two people. It is always somebody else that is the problem. And I always say I do not tolerate blaming anybody for your own problems. I have had problems. After my late husband’s death, I got married again and the marriage didn’t work.
After eight months, it crashed. People didn’t hear much about it; why? We were both mature to understand that we came together; we knew that the thing was not working and instead of us to become enemies we will remain friends; let’s just let it go quietly. And we let it go quietly. I didn’t blame anybody else for doing it (for not making my second marriage work). He didn’t blame anybody else for doing it. So I am wondering, two people come together and they later go their separate ways; this one meets somebody, all of a sudden, it is that somebody that is the problem. Did anybody ever ask, what went wrong? Why would a man pick up his son and walk away from his marriage? Was there any time another woman was the problem until the man moved on with another woman? Nobody brought up Stella’s name. Then, all of a sudden, ‘oh he’s moved on with somebody else (snaps fingers); it must be her’. How? I am still waiting for somebody to come with proof to say ‘oh when they were still in marriage, when they were still in a house, you came and did this.’ So the reason why I don’t like talking about it is that, there are some things I would say to you and you would look at me like ‘oh wow!’ but I don’t want to be derogatory. I don’t want to toe the line that other people have toed by saying bad things about people. I would never do that but the stories started coming.
At first I ignored the stories. I just kept quiet and then it was all over the place, Google, blogs, and I am like, one day, one day, I would tell my story. There’s a reason why I am respecting certain people, respecting certain legal issues that are going on. So there might be some things I may not hammer on, but whenever you hear this person snatched this person’s, you will ask the person, the person that they said was the original owner, what was the person doing when they were snatching the person from him or her? I don’t get it. Do you understand? So I look at it, I am not ugly, I am not dumb. Of all the men in the world, I will now go and look for somebody else’s own and say this is the one I want. If he didn’t come out of it and say I want to be with you and you want to be with me, how? Why would I come and grab…? Am I that bad-looking? Am I that old? If I have 50 husbands, how does that affect you? Does it change my work? I do my work, you enjoy it.
It’s not about what I do in my bedroom that is your issue because you don’t really know what happens in people’s bedrooms. You don’t know what happens in marriages. You don’t know why people like us are very weary of people knowing (about) our business. You don’t know how many marriages are suffering in silence. The issue of domestic violence that I am fighting for, it is part of it. There are marriages that they will tell themselves, especially celebrities we suffer from that. You are in a marriage and because you are worried about the press, the media, you stay in. You just stay in; you act, you play for the camera; you act like everything is okay. Then you get home and everything is hell because you know the moment you take that bold step and walk away, the backlash will be so bad. But you now ask yourself, to stay in and become a monster or to just quietly leave and preserve my sanity. When you leave to preserve your sanity, then the world wants to make you crazy. You understand. So, it’s a matter of choice. People make choices every day. They’ve made theirs, I have made mine; if you can’t deal with it, no problem. It is my life. Live yours and I will live mine. And I am Happy. I am not ashamed; never a moment of regret.
On Daniel Ademinokan’s relationship with his ex-wife, Doris, what is your view?
Whatever issues a man has with his wife, when they deal with it, they deal with it. I don’t come into it. And once you are done with it, and ready to move on, and you want to move on with me, and I want a life with you, it’s me and you. I don’t care what anybody else is thinking or saying. People have said this; it hurts because of the impression people tried to create but I looked at myself and asked myself, ‘Stella in your heart do you believe you did anything bad?’ If my answer is no, then my dear, there is no looking back. Because I am not a kid for me to make a decision and say I want to be with this person.
What is your view about marriage and choosing a partner?
Ladies need to be careful when choosing a life partner. Women should strive to keep their homes; stop feeling too relaxed in any relationship because it could be dangerous. Before a lady should profess her love for a guy, she should first investigate the man’s goals in life and weigh them against hers. It is not a must for a lady to get married to the wealthiest man. A lady should date a guy who has something meaningful doing for himself. One thing that I find that is the most prevalent among women is saying the man has potential. The truth is, we think that we just meet a man, we fall in love and we want to marry potential. We cannot marry potential; that is why we fall into the issues that we face every day in marriages. One thing that I have learnt through experience to people around me is that when you meet a guy, you start to date, you start to fall in love even before you get to that point where he decides to pop the question way before then. Your dating period should be a time where you get to know each other; not what he likes or who his friends are but who he is as a man in terms of his goals in life. If his goals in life do not work with your own, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.