TV show host, Mercy Alexander, has gone through hell and back. Without dad and mom being there for her, she practically grew up in the streets.
But imbued with street wisdom, Lady Jagaban, as she’s fondly called, is today a successful broadcaster. She’s the popular anchor of The Gallery, a programme that celebrates great achievers and which airs on multiple platforms including NTA, DStv and StarTimes.
In this exclusive interview, Alexander narrates her grass to grace story. Enjoy it.
How did you come into broadcasting
I studied Theatre Arts at University of Bamako, Mali. While there, I dreamed of going into Nollywood. When I came back to Nigeria, I tried Nollywood but was shocked to find out what happens there. The producers and directors want to sleep with you, with lots of conditions. And you even pay; you spend money to be featured in a movie and they also want to sleep with you! I didn’t have time for that, so I said, ‘let me start looking elsewhere’. The only movie I featured in without any attempt to sexually harass me was a Yoruba movie. The English movies were not pleasant experiences. I was frustrated out of Nollywood.
Can you share your disappointments after discovering that these guys were not going to give you a chance unless they slept with you?
I developed thick skin over the years. I have gone through a lot. I have been on the streets since I was four-years-old. Nothing scares me. Even when I am heart broken, I cry in my closet to God, because some people will tell you fake sorry. So, I told myself that there would be a time I will produce and direct my own movie.
You said you’ve been on the streets since you were four. How come?
My life is a testimony. Some people feel that young people must have their parents for guidance as they grow up, but for me, I have been alone since I was four-years-old.
Were you an orphan?
No, my dad got married to another woman after his family forced him to dump my mom. That was how my problems started. He did not know how to tell my mom, so he took me away when I was one-year-old. Mom thought he had merely taken me out. She never knew that I was gone for good or that my dad’s family had married another wife for him. They brought her (the woman) to Lagos without my mom knowing.
What was it like living with her?
She showed her true colours and did not take care of me. When they took me to the village in Umutu, Delta State, I suffered but I never gave up. I was like a mother and father to myself even when my parents were alive. Dad kept me away from mom. Whenever mom asked after me, he was mute. If they knew she was coming to the village, they took me away, so she got tired of looking for me.
Did you finally get to meet your mom and could you share the experience with us?
Of course, I did. Though, they are both late now. I lost her some years back and lost my dad in 2017. But before then, I got my dad arrested in 2000!
That was because I wanted to meet my mother. It was becoming too much and people were telling me my mom was from a wealthy family in Port Harcourt. So, I went to the police station and reported my dad and they picked him up. That was how he gave me my mom’s home address in Port Harcourt. It was the policemen that gave me money for the trip. Initially, they were shocked I wanted my dad arrested, but when I told them I was frustrated because of the desire to meet my mother, they rallied round me. What pushed me into arresting my dad was that, on that very day, my stepmother used a ladle to hit me on the head and I bled profusely. When I got to the police station, I showed them the injury and said I really needed to know my mom.
So, how was the journey to Port Harcourt?
I was kidnapped in Port Harcourt! I got there and did not know anybody. I was roaming the streets and telling people I was going to Bakana. They said that when I get to Bakana, I should ask for Chief Braide, my grandfather, the man that brought light to the community, so he’s popular. I don’t remember how I ended up in GRA, Port Harcourt when a guy offered to help me, after I told him I was going to Bakana. He said I would travel by river but I did not know that he was a bad person. When I started sensing some strange movements, I said ‘no problem, I am a street kid, let us see how it goes’. I had gone through a lot for anybody to just kidnap me! He said ‘don’t worry, I am taking you there tonight’. So, I asked ‘is it possible to cross the river at night?’ He said ‘yes’. He said he was going to drop something, so he locked the gate of the compound and left. As soon as he did, I jumped the fence and fled! I started looking for a police station because I felt it was the only safe place for me. When later I told the policemen my experience, they said I was a child of grace to have escaped. That was how one of them asked me ‘are you Chief Braide’s grandchild?’ and I said ‘yes’. Who is your mother and I mentioned her name. He screamed and said ‘is Julie your mother? She is your grandfather’s first daughter. Your mother left after your dad abandoned her. Your dad left her without saying goodbye’. And then, he said ‘don’t worry; you are home. I will take you to Bakana in the morning’. That’s how I got to my grandfather’s house in Bakana the next day. Everybody was excited to see me; they started throwing parties. They called my mom but she didn’t believe it. She told them to interrogate me very well, because I could be an impostor who wanted to extort money from her dad.
How did you feel when you felt genuine love for the first time?
I have seen a lot of fake love, so I am not easily moved. All I was interested in was to see my mom. They told me she was in Agbara, Lagos. My grandfather cried. He blamed my dad for what he did to my mom; he said he had bigger plans for her. After a few months, I came to Lagos to look for my mom. When finally I saw mom driving into her home, I knew she was my mom, but she didn’t know me. She never remarried. I met the gateman and introduced myself, and he said ‘wow, you look like her-o’. So, I went inside and knocked. She opened the door and asked ‘who are you?’ I said ‘I am Mercy’. She said ‘Mercy? From where?’ I replied ‘Mercy, your daughter’. And she screamed ‘my daughter! My daughter!’ She started crying and lamenting what my dad did to her. However, I was closer to my dad than my mom, because the bitterness of what dad did to her was still lingering in her and it was impacting our relationship negatively. Even when she sold her house (in Lagos) and relocated to Port Harcourt, I stayed with her for like a month but we never connected. So, I came back to my dad’s place. She passed on in 2013.
Despite all the challenges, how did you come this far as a talk show host?
People call me Lady Jagaban, and I will tell you what, who gave me that name knew me very well (laughter). After I graduated, one day it struck me, since I can’t go into acting, let me go into broadcasting. There was this lady presenter at a popular TV station whom I approached and shared my plans for doing a TV programme with. She said it was good but I asked her to anchor the programme. She asked if I had a sponsor, and I said no. How about adverts? I said no. She said how do I hope to drive the programme without adverts and sponsors. And I said ‘don’t worry; I will handle that. All you have to do is anchor the programme, I will handle the rest’. She billed me N200,000 per week. I said the money was too much. What if I paid N100,000 monthly? She stopped picking my calls after the discussion. However, the publisher of Fabulous magazine, Madam Jane alongside Isaac of Classic magazine said I could do it. Madam Jane was like, ‘don’t you know that you are beautiful?’ But I said I couldn’t speak all the English. But she said ‘Mercy, you have that aura of grace. You can do it’. That was how I ventured into broadcasting. I started with MiTV. The programme was called The Gallery, and it celebrates great achievers in our society.
I found out that what we usually do is to castigate people. Government is bad, politicians are bad, rich men are bad and everybody is bad. Nobody is thanking them for what they have done so that they can do more. Luckily for me, it was getting close to the 2015 elections, so I started gatecrashing at events. For instance, I did a lot of interviews at The Sun Awards; I met top people and did follow up personality interviews with them on my programme. It has been up and down but God has been faithful.
How did you end up at NTA?
After a while, I decided it was time to move higher. Former Ekiti State governor, (Ayo) Fayose gave me the opportunity. I did all his documentaries and I covered his campaigns. There is one man I will never forget, Chief Olusola Oke, former PDP National Legal Adviser. He was the one that introduced me to Fayose. I started with NTA 10. I was on and off because sometimes I won’t have money to pay for airtime. One day, Aunty Helen, who is now retired, advised me. She said ‘Mercy, you know a lot of big people, try and meet the NTA DG in Abuja’. But before then, I had met Chief Odigie Oyegun, former APC National Chairman whom God also used to assist me. He was impressed with my work and called the NTA DG on my behalf that I was his ‘daughter’ and that he should do whatever he could to assist me, and that was how I got into NTA 2 and eventually DStv.
Let’s look at the romantic side of you…
There is no romantic side of me.
Who is the guy in your life?
The guy in my life is my son.
Tell us about him?
He is so cute and intelligent. He is 17-years-old. He is as hardworking as his mom. He is also a visual artist.
Why didn’t you marry his father?
I am very ambitious. I have not gotten to where God is taking me. The father of my son wanted to marry me, but he wanted me to be a full time housewife. So, after the engagement, he did everything a man could do for a woman. In fact, I lost my virginity to him and that was what resulted in my son. I was 20-years-old then. I had to leave him because I could not be a full time housewife. He even accepted me being an actress but would not let me go out. Is that possible for an actress? Right now, I am married to my career and my son means a lot to me, but I am very strict with him.
As a woman, there are times you desire male companionship…
That is why I said my son is my best friend. Some of my employees are men and they stay with me in my house. I see them as family. If I am not outside the state or country, I am always in the office with them.
Tell us about your ideal man?
He is that mature man, much older than me, maybe 45 or 50. He must be cute and understanding. He should be my best friend. I need someone I could say the truth to. And there are few people like that. That is all what I want in a man, not one who is insecure.
Would you give love another chance?
Yes, there is nothing like a right or wrong person, but that person who understands you and fears God.