“All of you are standing for me?”
Seven simple words. But they were touching words that brought tears to the eyes of people in the hall applauding and millions watching on television. The night was in March of 2016. The event was the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards and the speaker was no other than the matriarch of Nigerian film, Bukky Ajayi.
At the advanced age of 82, she (along with Sadiq Daba who was absent) was the recipient of that year’s ‘ Industry Merit Award’ and that was part of her acceptance speech. It was a grand closing to a career that had spanned five decades. Starting as a newscaster at the Nigerian Television Authority in 1966, she became a regular feature in several soap operas and films. The Village Headmaster, perhaps Nigeria’s most iconic television drama series gave her the break that would stretch for fifty successful years.
She was beautiful, elegant and her elocution was second to none. Even younger fans who did not see the Village Headmaster and Checkmate would remember her roles in Tunde Kelani’s Thunderbolt and Amaka Igwe‘s Fuji House of Commotion.
By 2016, she had all but retired from public events. Old age had set in and her acting days were over. It wasn’t out of place that she was announced as the recipient of that year’s Merit Awards; nobody disagreed that it was well deserved.
She was brought on stage in a wheelchair and the hall stood up in applause- in respect to a woman whose work touched so many people. She said a few words after receiving the award. ‘I just want to say- to all my friends, and even my non-friends, I want to say thank you. You don’t know how much this means to me.’
She continued, ‘I want to say again: perhaps there are some of you that I might have offended, please forgive me. And there are some people who have offended me, I don’t have anything in mind [against them]. I’m grateful…’ Then her voice broke and she broke into tears.
Did she know that she was going to rest soon after? Who knows. She looked again at the audience and said ‘All you all standing for me? Ah… Thank you very very much.‘
It was a gripping moment and it was an honour she deserved.
Exactly four months later on July 6 2016, she passed away peacefully at her home in Surulere. The AMVCA thus became her last public outing, one in which she gave what would be her farewell speech to her industry colleagues, proteges and millions across the African continent.