What She Said: “I’m Living Life On My Own Terms.”

December 2, 2020

Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.

This week’s What She Said is Olusayo Ajet, an artist, academic, engineer, biochemist and researcher. She talks about how art was her tool of escape, her relationship with her family and how she experiences the world one day at a time.

Tell me about how you started making art.

I don’t necessarily have a moment when I realised I could draw. But when I was young, I used to just doodle, paint, mess around and copy magazine pictures and storybooks. I never thought it would become something like this. I was kind of a loner; I would read books and play on my own, so drawing was a good activity because I could focus only on what my hands were doing — I didn’t have to think too much.

Was there pushback from your parents or in school?

Not quite. I was a big nerd, so I was good at school and my teachers couldn’t complain. Science, maths and drawing were fun to me. When drawing became more meaningful to me, I became secretive about it because then taking it away would hurt. Initially, it wasn’t a big deal.

Your parents didn’t know at all? For how long?

I would say from JSS 2 to after university. At first, I was just a child interested in drawing like other children. When I was in secondary school, I was a few years younger than my mates in class. My mum owned a primary school that I would go to in the evenings. There, I did chalk drawings on the board in random classrooms — it was like a mini-graffiti big secret.

I came out of the creative closet in my NYSC year. That’s about seven years of hiding.

Wow. Are you a deadbeat dad?

Lol. When I kept it a secret, it was to protect my interests. I didn’t want feedback, I wanted to do my own thing, and I did for a long time. Now I’m grateful for this history because it’s helped me have a clear creative vision. I know what I like without external influences. I don’t do art to be liked, though it helps on the business side of things. I have a clear idea of what I’m into, so I go for my niche.

I’m happy for you. Tell me about your difficulties relating with people.

This is a bit heavy. I’ve suffered from mental illnesses since I was a young child. I didn’t know that was what it was; I just knew that I didn’t feel right and things didn’t feel right. I gravitated towards solo activities; reading, writing, drawing, stuff I was comfortable because I struggled to interact with others. I didn’t have a word for it then, but now I can tell that it was anxiety and depression. Talking to people and trying to make friends was extremely uncomfortable. It also didn’t help that my parents were extremely protective. We weren’t allowed to go out; we got picked up after school, so we couldn’t walk home with friends — now that I think about it, that was a really comfortable life and maybe being sheltered wasn’t so bad. But I could have used some of the social skills.

We also weren’t allowed to watch cable TV, and when my friends were in class talking about the shows they watched, I hadn’t the slightest clue what they were on about. My parents said watching TV, cartoons would make you fail — they didn’t care about social skills or life skills. Just read and pass. But cartoons were all kids talked about, and what they did after school. I was not around for any of that and was not cool enough to put myself in the conversations. I ended up in my head a lot. What else was there to do?

Why do you think your parents were so strict?

I can’t speak for them, but I think that in their time, education was the ticket out of poverty. Today, it doesn’t really matter what degree you have, what does is who you know.

Ah. 

Also, I was born and raised in Port Harcourt. It’s a huge melting pot where all the south-south ethnic groups mix together and speak their languages.

Do you think this affected you socially?

Not really. What affected me was the insecurity issue in PH, which was what made my parents overprotective.

Are you still in Port Harcourt?

I’m in Lagos for a residency now. I’ve moved around a lot in my life — with my family and by myself. My dad always travelled for work to all kinds of places and that’s something I wanted to do as well. As soon as I finished uni, I moved to Plateau state for NYSC, then London for my Masters. I came back to Nigeria by request of my parents — I didn’t want to, but I didn’t have a mind of my own, so I let them make the decisions for me.

Hot tears.

I went back to Port Harcourt, but then because they had made this decision for me and things did not go the way they expected it, I realised I should have done what I wanted. I decided to start figuring life for myself — who I am and what I really wanted — so I could make decisions for myself. My parents are just people like me: they don’t have all the info. I couldn’t keep waiting for them to tell me what to do.

My dad had an apartment in Sapele, Delta, and I moved there and got a pet. When my parents tried to get me back to Port Harcourt, I said, okay, I’m going to move farther. 

I came to Lagos for nine months. Technically, I ran away from home. There was a lot of friction between me and my parents at that time, and I was like, “Look, you have your ideas and I have mine. And I am going to do what I want to do. If it doesn’t work out, at least it was my decision.”

They thought I was being foolish and making a mistake. I thought they should have had some more faith in me. 

Lagos wasn’t helping; it was tough on me. Plateau had been rough: there was no access to running water and I was living a humbler life than I was used to, and London was quite lonely. But none of that prepared me for Lagos. After four months in Lagos, I had decided I would leave, but I had work and projects tying me down. I started strategising, and once things I needed fell into place, I moved to Ibadan. I chose Ibadan because right after secondary school, I’d lived in Ibadan with my aunt. I think of that time as one of the best of my life, so It made sense to move there.

I spent a year and a half in Ibadan before moving back to Lagos for my research fellowship. It wasn’t all happy, but I needed the fresh air and the space to sort myself out — go inwards and figure out my issue. And I feel so much happier for it.

I’m glad. How is your relationship with your parents now?

Experiencing life — paying rent, bills, taking care of myself — helped me appreciate my parents a lot more. I matured augmentally. Everything brought me to a place of clarity — I can see them for who they are and appreciate them as flawed humans just like me. They aren’t mini-gods who can do no wrong or have no flaws. Now that I see them for who they are, I can love them as they are and not as I’d like them to be. And I think they feel the same way about me. I’m no longer an extension of them that will live out their dreams. They have come to understand that I’m an independent individual.

Our relationship hasn’t gone back to the way it used to be, I don’t think it ever will and I don’t want it to. 

Does this clarity extend to your siblings?

I love my siblings very much and I do all I can to support them. They understand me the most. And I’m just so stoked to be in their life. They are the light of my life. 

There’s a lot of things I used to take for granted and now I’m like, “Wow, this is so precious.” I think my family is one of those things. As rough as my relationship with my parents was, I think my parents did their best. My family — both nuclear and extended — is quite fantastic. The things I hear about other people’s family issues makes me realise I’m very lucky.

This is so wholesome. Does it extend to people outside your family?

Oh yes definitely. For me, it’s about coming to a place of wholesomeness and taking the time to release myself. It’s all intentional. I’ve been intentional about being loving and kind. I practice with my family to figure out the best way to be a good person to other people because I think if I mess up with my family, they will forgive me. They are the ones who would be most honest and give me feedback like, “Omo this thing you did e no make sha.”

I want a situation where I can take a genuine interest in the people in my life rather than project my ideas on them, and just experience them as they are. That’s the key to having good relationships.

As someone who’s been alone for a long time, I’ve obsessed over what makes good relationships and friendships. It sounds kind of sad to hear, but I think that process of being deliberate has helped my relationships.

What’s it like being an academic, scientist, artist etc.?

People are expected to fit into boxes and they are afraid to be too many “conflicting” things. It’s annoying because sometimes people try to categorise me. I tend to feel awkward when people ask me “Oh what did you do in school?” Because the next question is usually, “So why are you doing this?”

It’s so many things I’ve done that are seemingly unrelated, and I don’t mind. I just tell people I’m an artist even though I’m also an engineer, a researcher, a biochemist, and I have been good at all these things.

For artists and people who are interested in adventures, get as much as you can out of life and do not be afraid to reinvent yourself and become as many different things as you can be. Nobody is just one label, and that’s how I live. You can be one thing today, and something else the day after. When it comes down to it, what matters is that I’m a woman living her life on her own terms.

Zikoko Donation Banner

Help Zikoko keep making the content you love

More than ever, people are turning to Zikoko for stories that matter and content they love. But still, we, like many media organisations, are feeling the financial heat of these times. If you find us valuable, please make a contribution to help keep Zikoko zikoko-ing.

Thank you for your support.

We are also cool with Crypto.

Donation Close
Zikoko Logo

Complete Your Commitment

Donation confirm

Your Contribution is confirmed! Amount

Ruka

Join The Conversation

Bring a friend.

You'll like this

Zikoko What She Said
March 3, 2021

The subject of this week’s What She Said is a 31-year-old Nigerian Muslim woman who got married at 23. She talks about realising she should have waited, getting a job years later and finally settling into her marriage. How did it start? I’d just finished my master’s, and I’d met a guy. We had been […]

March 31, 2021

The subject of today’s What She Said is a Nigerian woman in her 50s. She talks about her difficult experience living with extended family, her relationship with her father and managing her mother’s mental health until she died.

Watch

Now on Zikoko

queer
May 7, 2021

As told to Mariam I put a call out for women to tell me the things that affect their mental health most. In Ada’s* message, she said her parents found out she is queer. I was curious about how that played out and I asked more questions. Here’s what she told me: I am the […]

May 6, 2021

Purity culture is usually a combination of religious and cultural beliefs that promote abstinence from sexual activities till marriage. These six Nigerian women share with us how they overcame purity culture. Yinka, 23 A lot of the guilt and shame I felt around sex and decency came from following Christianity. I was taught that I […]

Recommended Quizzes

November 22, 2019

It can be very stressful when you’re trying to find the love of your life, but you only keep meeting people that are exactly like your yeye ex. To help you be more aware of that problem, we’ve created a quiz that lets you know the kind of people you are attracting. Take it to […]

November 1, 2019

Twitter is buzzing right now, bringing a new conversation to the concept of cool vs not-so-cool, especially in relationships. If you’ve been thinking about how much of a red flag you are, why don’t you let this quiz help you decide once and for all?

November 7, 2019

These days, everyone is always talking about how much sex they’re getting, or how little sex they’re getting, or how disgusting sex is etc. There’s just so much talk about sex, it’s almost impossible to know who’s lying and who’s telling the truth. In anticipation of our new series about the sex lives of young […]

how much of an ajebutter
February 12, 2020

Are you an ajebutter or not? Well, if you’ve gone through life blissfully unaware of its harshness, then you probably are. Now, we want to know just how high you rank on that ajebutter scale, using your food preferences as a (very accurate) measure. Take to find out:

October 10, 2019

2019 is certainly Burna Boy’s year, but, if we are being honest, so was 2018. Since his transcendent mixtape, Outside, the afro-fusion star has refused to get his foot of our necks — dropping a string of fantastic singles and then capping it all off with his career-best album, African Giant.  So, in a bid […]

October 30, 2019

Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys movie got a lot of things right, especially casting, so yes, it was a monster hit. Now, we know you may not have put much thought to this, but the personalities of some of the characters closely match yours, and we would like to help you find the perfect match. […]

More from Her

queer
May 7, 2021

As told to Mariam I put a call out for women to tell me the things that affect their mental health most. In Ada’s* message, she said her parents found out she is queer. I was curious about how that played out and I asked more questions. Here’s what she told me: I am the […]

May 6, 2021

Purity culture is usually a combination of religious and cultural beliefs that promote abstinence from sexual activities till marriage. These six Nigerian women share with us how they overcame purity culture. Yinka, 23 A lot of the guilt and shame I felt around sex and decency came from following Christianity. I was taught that I […]

Hedge Witch
May 5, 2021

As told to Mariam I have known Wendy for about three years and during this time, I have watched her go from being irreligious to religious and back to being irreligious. As an irreligious person myself, I was curious about her journey so sometime in March I asked her. Here’s what she told me:   I […]

May 5, 2021

The subject of today’s What She Said is a 34-year-old Nigerian woman who grew up getting everything she asked for. She talks about constantly pursuing enjoyment, and how that led to her leaving her cheating husband and raising her two children independently.  What was it like growing up?  I had a pretty happy childhood. I […]

May 4, 2021

The culture of invalidating women and shutting down their experiences because people are uncomfortable with the conversation needs to die. The idea of tagging women-centred conversations as an agenda is a shallow and unfair attempt at creating a distraction. To counter this, we have compiled a list of things Nigerian women do not need a […]

Funniest Misconception Of Lesbians
April 29, 2021

Lesbian Visibility week started on April 26th. It is a week set aside to celebrate lesbians around the world. Being a lesbian in Nigeria sometimes involves listening to people volunteering their assumptions about lesbians. In this article, I asked 7 Nigerian lesbians the funniest misconception of lesbians they’ve heard. Here’s what they had to say: […]

April 28, 2021

The subject of this week’s What She Said is a 56-year-old woman whose parents sent her to live with her half-sister at the age of seven. She talks about going to Benin city, moving schools, and suffering from abuse at the hands of her half-sister and her family. What is your earliest memory of your childhood? […]

Watch

Trending Videos

Zikoko Originals

December 14, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
November 2, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
October 26, 2020
A collection of videos documenting some of the events of the EndSARS protests.
June 22, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
June 22, 2020
Hacked is an interesting new series by Zikoko made up of fictional but hilarious chat conversations.
June 4, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
June 2, 2020
Quickie is a video series where everyone featured gets only one minute to rant, review or do absolutely anything.
May 14, 2020
Isolation Diary is a Zikoko series that showcases what isolation is like for one young Nigerian working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
March 12, 2020
Life is already hard. Deciding where to eat and get the best lifestyle experiences, isn't something you should stress about. Let VRSUS do that for you.

Z! Stacks

Here's a rabbit hole of stories to lose yourself in:

Zikoko amplifies African youth culture by curating and creating smart and joyful content for young Africans and the world.
X