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Toyin Abraham-Ajeyemi of Spiritual Gifts, Strides and Stardom
The year 2022 was significant for the Nollywood filmmaker and actress Toyin Abraham-Ajeyemi in many ways. First, it was the year she released her movie ‘Ijakumo’ which ended up as the fourth highest-ranking Nollywood movie of 2022, raking in N136 million in 11 days at the box office. It was the year she landed many ambassadorial deals, both local and international. In this encounter with Vanessa Obioha, she reveals her rarely glimpsed spiritual gifts alongside other milestones.
Toyin Abraham-Ajeyemi started 2023 on a bright and busy note. Her movie ‘Ijakumo’ (The Born Again Stripper) arrived in cinemas last December, thus she was caught up in an array of promotional activities. Adored by her numerous fans, the actress was always in different cinemas for a meet-and-greet with her cast members. The initial plan was to have this interview in her abode but her crazy schedule impeded our plans regrettably.
In more ways than one, the actress and filmmaker had a remarkable 2022. ‘Ijakumo’ was one of the highlights of the previous year. The movie centres on the story of a vengeful woman who deployed the services of a stripper to deal with an ex-lover-cum-clergyman.
Like some of her movies, Abraham-Ajeyemi dreamt about ‘Ijakumo’. In fact, the movie was not in the works initially. She had another script ready and had begun pre-production when ‘Ijakumo’ was revealed to her.
This spiritual side of Abraham-Ajeyemi is not always glimpsed in the public space.
“I’m extremely spiritual. One of the problems I had back then was that I didn’t listen to myself. I would hear the voice of the Lord, and I would see it in my dreams, but I would still want to follow my flesh. But ever since I started following the lead of the Holy Spirit, things have drastically changed for me and I’m extremely happy about it,” she revealed.
The actress traced her spiritual gifts to her birth.
“I’m actually dada-those people that naturally have dreadlocks from birth. Since birth, I have been spiritual. My parents told me that I was stillborn so they had to throw me away. Then there was a clergyman from Ibadan who came to the hospital and asked about me and I was brought back to life. I was told that I never cried or did anything until the day of my naming ceremony. It was the moment they named me Oluwatoyin that I started crying as a baby.
“Again, when they wanted to shave off my locks they had to tell me it was the Holy Spirit because I didn’t want them to do it.”
Not a few thought that Abraham-Ajeyemi would end up as a pastor. Given the spiritual gifts she evinced from childhood, it was generally accepted that she would climb the pulpit. She even attended a Bible college to prepare her for the path. However, everything changed when she was discovered by Nollywood actress Bukky Wright in Ibadan. She starred in her first movie in 2003. Today, the actress is one of the richest in Nollywood given the number of movies credited to her and endorsements. According to her, she started acquiring wealth five years ago but became “fully rich between 2020 and 2021.”
Before ‘Ijakumo’ made it to the box office, Abraham-Ajeyemi posted on social media that the movie was going to be the biggest project she had embarked on. In retrospect, one would call her action audacious, a trait common in the showbiz industry. But the actress perhaps was merely being prescient. ‘Ijakumo’ ended up as the fourth highest-ranking Nollywood movie of 2022, taking in N136 million in 11 days at the box office, and is still making waves in cinemas. Although the movie received some criticisms for its storyline, the soundtrack and visual special effects fetched it a lot of applause.
“You know I was in the Yoruba film industry and we do not really get paid. So when I came as a cinema producer, I had to use the little I have to produce what my money is capable of. So now that I have money to produce big-budget movies, I have to be intentional about everything. I have to get the best and that requires you paying the best money to get what you want. My production, for now, is top-notch because there is money to shoot and money to pay for the best,” she explained.
It took the filmmaker seven weeks to shoot the movie with principal photography beginning on September 4, 2022. The movie cast includes Kunle Remi, Lilian Efegbai, Antar Laniyan and Bimbo Akintola among others.
There is a perception in the movie industry that Abraham-Ajeyemi and Nollywood actress and filmmaker cum politician Funke Akindele are always competing with each other by releasing films almost at the same time. For instance, Akindele’s ‘Battle on Buka Street’ was released on December 16, 2022. ‘Ijakumo’ went to the cinemas on December 23, 2022. The filmmaker found the comparison amusing and denied it.
“This is the first time ever and it was one week apart. I don’t know why people keep saying we release a film at the same time because it has never happened before.”
She however declined to comment on her relationship with Akindele.
Another misconception about the 42-year-old actress is her age.
“A lot of people do not believe my age. I will be 43 by September 5.”
Beyond ‘Ijakumo’, one of the significant steps Abraham-Ajeyemi took was to reduce her circle of friends.
“I decided to have a small circle because there was too much noise in my head,” she said. “There is always noise around me, both positive and negative. I am not a careful person. My heart is so free. I am someone you can trust with anything. You can do whatever you want to do in my presence. I’m someone you can tell anything to, you can be who you want to be in my presence. I won’t judge you. Anything you do in my presence, that’s where it ends.
“I feel I do the same to the people thinking they are like me but it has affected me in many ways so I decided to make my circle very tiny and I’m happy. These are people who genuinely love me even when I mess up… because I’m not perfect. Even Jesus drove out people who turned his father’s house into something else with a cane. Jesus was angry. So I’m not perfect, I will do things that will make you angry but you know a lot of people, once you are an actress, people hardly forgive your mistakes. Things that ordinarily they will take from others, when it gets to you, they will go on social media. Although one is expected to get a thick skin with these criticisms, when it happens too often, one needs to be careful enough.”
One of the news stories about Abraham-Ajeyemi last year was her revelation that she did not want to have a broken home. Where could that fear stem from? Could it be from her failed marriage with Adeniyi Johnson, a Nollywood actor whom she married in 2013? The actress filed for a divorce in 2015 on the grounds of infidelity. However, in 2019, she had her traditional wedding to her current husband Kolawole Ajeyemi — also an actor — and welcomed their son.
“I don’t want to have a broken home mainly because of my son. It wasn’t because of my first failed marriage. Of course, if circumstances warrant it, who are we to question God but I don’t want to have a broken home. I’m more scared now because of my son who is so attached to his Dad. I don’t want my son not to be with his parents. I didn’t grow up in a broken home. My parents were together till my Dad died five years ago.”
Attributing her success to God, hard work, consistency and her fans, Abraham-Ajeyemi is stepping into a new role: a kingmaker.
“The legacy I’m building now is to make a lot of stars. Yorubas will say ‘Afobaje’, meaning I want to be a kingmaker. I want to help people grow,” she emphasised confidently.