The name Shaffy Bello conjures many images. There is the beautiful, fair-skinned lady who serenaded us with her tenor in ‘Love Me Jeje,’ a popular classic hit by musician Seyi Sodimu. Then there’s the actress who lit our screens with her peerless interpretations of roles including Adaora Bhadmus in the successful family drama series ‘Battleground.’ And, the fashion enthusiast whose colourful Instagram posts make many hearts drool in awe. At 50, Shaffy as a singer, actress, fashion enthusiast, and mother is still soaring, writes Vanessa Obioha

The name Shaffy Bello conjures many images. There is the beautiful, fair-skinned lady who serenaded us with her tenor in ‘Love Me Jeje,’ a popular classic hit by musician Seyi Sodimu. Then there’s the actress who lit our screens with her peerless interpretations of roles including Adaora Bhadmus in the successful family drama series ‘Battleground.’ And, the fashion enthusiast whose colourful Instagram posts make many hearts drool in awe.

The woman who opened the doors of her new home in a quiet neighbourhood in Lekki is a confident lady, gracefully sipping lemonade she had made out of life’s lemons. The interview was had in her backyard.
It’s a cold Thursday morning in January. It had rained the previous night, a sign that climate change is gradually taking its toll.

But the nipping air didn’t send Bello snuggling under her sheets. Rather, she’s up and about, supervising the renovation of her home. One minute, she’s on the phone giving specific details of the décor she wants. The next, she is directing the labourers where her pictures should be placed. The moment we sat down, Bello literally tuned out every other thing. Even when the workers stylishly strolled into the backyard to get her attention, she didn’t move a nerve.
“I’m a stoic. I never knew I was until someone special to me made me realise,” she explains.
“I commit myself to whatever I’m doing. When I am with someone, see the way I’m sitting with you now,” she demonstrates with her hands.

“All I can do is do this. I’m not thinking of anything else. Because here’s the thing. Tomorrow is not promised, the next minute is not promised. So, whatever it is you’re doing now, just do it well. Right now, that I’m sitting with you is the most important thing I have going on right now.”
That trait is sprinkled all over her career, making her one of the bankable actors in Nollywood.
“Shaffy is one of the most talented professionals I have ever worked with,” said Femi Odugbemi, the Executive Producer of ‘Battleground,’ the drama series where she portrayed the lovable character Adaora.
For Adaora, Bello stretched herself.

She explains, “Adaora was a taxing role because it was a journey for the character. She didn’t start that way. She just wanted a home and to love her children and husband. But things started to unravel, just like in our lives. We discover some secrets and it’s how you deal with them that matters.
“So Adaora dealt with her husband’s secrets. And the lemons that life threw at her, she decided to make lemonade with some of them and sometimes take the lemons and throw it back at whoever it is that threw it at her. I think everybody deals with things differently.

“I learned so much from her. It was a journey; she was unravelling little by little, and she became stronger, with everything she dealt with.”
From the way she described the character, one could feel a sense of connection. She didn’t deny this fact.
“Absolutely! There is a bit of Adaora in every woman,” she points out.

In her case, it’s how the divorced mother of two has evolved and discovered herself through the years.
At 18, Bello was whisked away from her home in Nigeria to the United States, following the meticulous plans of her parents who insisted that she get her tertiary education abroad. On getting there, she followed the footsteps of her sisters. She is the last of five girls. There was no time for love.
“I was eager to make money,” she laughs.

But she fell in love with one of the richest media icons in America, Oprah Winfrey.
“She is like a mother to me. I watched The Oprah Winfrey Show from inception till the end. She moulded my thinking, the way I live my life, the decisions that I made. From her book club to the therapists and guests she had on the show, it made me who I am today.”

Within a year, Bello saved $5,000. By 19, she was living on her own.
“I had a roommate and I had to struggle to do everything. I went to work and school, juggled everything to make a living.”
She wasn’t as privileged as some of her mates then whose parents funded their rent. Of course, her father sent money across to them occasionally “but the rest was up to you.” Even then, parents expected them to live a responsible lifestyle.

“You don’t want to bring disgrace to your family. We were guided by the Yoruba proverb that says: ‘Know the child of who you are and walk by that.’”
While in the US, she found her calling in singing after worshipping in a church, Jesus House DC. She spent 14 years in the church choir and toured parts of America as a gospel artiste.
Yet, there was a desire to be in the Nigerian entertainment industry. Being spiritually attuned, Bello didn’t jump on the idea the first time she had a brainwave. She waited to be guided by the spirit and with the help of her pastor, she knew when to spread her wings.

But it wasn’t an easy decision.
“I didn’t actually come to Nigeria with the intention of staying. I came to stay for a while, learning what it takes to be here. I knew I wanted to be here. But I didn’t know what direction yet. I knew it was entertainment. I didn’t know what God wanted me to do exactly.”

By then, she was married to a British Nigerian and had two children. At first, she shuttled between Nigeria and America but soon realised that it wasn’t a fool-proof plan.
“I always tell people living in the Diaspora that it is quite difficult to run a business in Nigeria when you are always going and coming. You almost have to stay in Nigeria.”

In deciding to stay in Nigeria, Bello realised that some changes would be effected.
You will not make such huge moves and not sacrifice some things, and the first people who sacrificed were my family — my children, and of course my ex-husband. He sacrificed quite a lot. He stood by me. He’s a good man. But challenges in life will take you to different places.”
Not many people were aware that she was divorced. She deliberately kept that part of her life away from the prying eyes of the public. Her reason?

“I got to a comfortable place where I could talk about it and the comfort came when my children accepted it and were okay. They would still go through the turmoil of divorce, every child does. But I wasn’t comfortable talking about it until my family and children knew and were all okay with it. That’s when I let the public know because it’s nobody’s business. It doesn’t affect my job. It doesn’t affect what I do: you still watch me on TV. It makes no difference at all. But I wanted to be comfortable enough to talk about it. It happened way longer than that but I felt more comfortable after my children were okay.”

Despite her divorce, she still believes in the sanctity of marriage.
“There are couples who have been together for 60 years. That shows you it can be done,” she admits. She frowns at the thought that marriage clips a woman’s wings. For her, there is time for everything and if one is lucky to find a man who helps her to fly, she will certainly soar.

One thing was clear to Bello when she joined the movie industry: to be the best. She knew what she wanted and she worked hard to get it. She points out that she didn’t join the movie industry as a starving actor. Her popularity as a singer had already gone ahead of her, yet it didn’t make her lazy or complacent. She wanted to stamp integrity and class on her name.
Those have shown over the years in the various roles she had played: be it Adaora or Adesuwa in the Nigerian telenovela, ‘Taste of Love,’ and every role has required her to give in her best. In an upcoming production, she reveals her fans will be stunned seeing her play an Ologun.

Off-screen, the actress in her is still visible. It is in the dramatic way she conveys her thoughts. Sometimes, it’s in the smooth cadence of her voice, like a nightingale. Other times, it’s in the animated gestures.
However, one picture that her fans are unlikely to see is the one in front of me. She is dressed in black tights and a blouse. Her cornrows are covered in a blue scarf. A string of beads adorns one of her ankles. Her face is devoid of makeup, showing the freshness and the youthfulness of her looks. She recently turned 50. How will her fans feel seeing her in her natural state?

“Look at me now. This is who I am. Don’t think that Instagram is where life is. It is a facade. Now if I want to post something, I will dress up but if you think that’s how I look all the time, you must be kidding.”
Knowing how impressionable youths can fall for the superficial lifestyle on social media, Bello tries to strike a balance. She puts it this way: “I’m honest with my fans. Don’t go buying bags that you see me carry on Instagram. If you’re a 35-year-old lady and you can’t afford a Gucci bag, what are you doing trying to buy one? Don’t be like me, because you haven’t walked where I have walked.

“You haven’t sown that seed yet until you do. If you can’t afford an expensive weave, get an affordable one, and do it neatly. You can go to Lagos Island or Tejuosho market and get an ankara that is affordable.”
She adds, “For me, I will still bring you that N5000 dress that looks so great. And you can purchase it. You can still look good, without spending money. I think that’s what I bring to Instagram now. I will bring you the luxury but it’s not for everyone. I will also come dressed in affordability and I am a big fan of looking good without breaking the bank.”
Fashion to her is a mood. There are days she feels like being a tomboy and she puts on a jersey. Other days, she feels like being a lady, she wears a dress. At the moment, she is in a decorative mood, thus her simple look. She’s always been a fashion enthusiast.

“Abinibi kin se ability (it’s innate, not acquired),” she explains in Yoruba. “Back in the States when I went to choir practice, they were always marvelling at my looks.”
She gave a peek of her closet which is a generous array of clothes, shoes, and bags.
“My shoes and bags can be found in every room.”

Now at 50, there are certain rules that Bello lives by. First, she doesn’t live her life through her works.
“I’m being spirit-guided in the way that I live my life. Because if you make decisions based on the way you feel and the way things are going, you might just find yourself in a place where you don’t want to. Let’s not forget that there are some holes that I have fallen into in my 20s, 30s, and 40s that I can’t afford to do now,” she reveals.

“I’ve learned over the years from my experience, I’ve learned from my sisters. There are some things you do, some things you don’t do. These are the product of some decisions. And I’ve learned not to make such mistakes and be guided by God.”
Secondly, she keeps a small circle of friends whom she refers to as sisters.
“I roll with people I have known over the years. I don’t need new friends but I can make new acquaintances.”
She’s also learnt not to be the one-eyed individual in the midst of the blind.

“Because if you’re the one-eyed man, you feel like the king. And so, it makes you feel like you’ve achieved something. You have to walk among people who’ve got their heads on their shoulders, who know what they’re doing.”
Perhaps, the biggest lesson of them all is becoming more confident in her skin.

“I think 50 just gives you more confidence. You’re in a place where you just feel you are not living for anyone. Not that the fear is not there. But guess what, you can easily brush it aside and do you. As long as God is not ashamed of me at the end of the day because of what I’m doing, anybody else’s opinion doesn’t matter. I think it just puts you in that place…,” she searches for the right words to convey her thoughts.
“It just, it just feels right as a woman.”