Rumour mongers were at work recently with the purported death of juju music maestro, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey. But like every unfounded rumour, it ended up a ruse as the great musician himself came out to debunk it days after it trended on the internet. He told PAUL UKPABIO in an interview at his Ikeja, Lagos home that he has forgiven both the originator and the peddlers of the fake news. He also spoke on his plans to surprise everyone with a new wife and went as far as revealing the kind of woman he will likely marry.
“Only a foolish man would take young lady as wife at my age” — Ebenezer Obey
You were recently rumoured to have died. How did you receive the news?
I cannot understand it. I would not know why someone who has not confirmed a story would go on the internet and announce such an unconfirmed piece of news.
Maybe you were sick and some people saw you being taken in or out of hospital…
No, I have not been sick in recent times. I was here in Lagos when the rumour got to me. It was when people from all around the world stated bombarding my phone with calls to find out if the news was true that my children and I became alarmed. We had to start dispelling the rumour and telling people that I am alive.
What came to your mind when you first heard of your death?
Well, I knew that I was alive, I wondered and then I knew I had to correct the error and tell them that there is nothing wrong with me. But when I saw the reactions of people from all over the world, it also reassured me that I have fans and admirers all over the world, and that also impressed me. I realised once again that there are lots of people all over the world who love my music and love me too.
“I forgive the originators of the death rumour” — Ebenezer Obey
Of course, I knew that before. But the response in the past weeks has been beyond my expectation. And I said to myself that it is good to do what one knows how to do well and let people recognise you for that. It has also taught me that every good thing that one does matters. This has also taught me that I should continue to do good to humanity more than ever. But again, that is what I have been doing all along.
But how about those that started the false rumour?
Oh, I have forgiven the person that started the rumour. I did that immediately. I cannot hold a grudge against the person. After all, the truth has been revealed; just like Jesus Christ said that ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. People have rejoiced and they are still rejoicing with me.
It is said that the Covid-19 pandemic affects the elderly the most. In what ways are you protecting yourself against the virus?
The government has laid out preventive measures. We don’t know much about the disease except what we hear about it. So the government says we should cover our noses and mouths with masks and wash our hands as well as keep a social distance. I am keeping to these rules as much as I can.
In an interview you granted some years ago, you said you would never retire from music. Is that still your position?
Of course, it is. But since the outbreak of Covid-19, it has not been possible to perform in the public. But I still do my recordings. Singing and music is part of me. Once you are in it, you cannot leave it. But when the real old age comes and I can no longer do it, I will have to leave it and remain thankful for all that I have been able to do in the past and the opportunity that God gave me to serve humanity.
A lot of people at your age consider themselves to be old…
I thank God for His grace. I can still sing and perform. But then, age is certainly catching up on me. Still, there are certain things I still do conveniently, like singing. I thank God for keeping me till now.
Do you believe that you can still sing and perform at 100?
(Laughs) Let me tell you the truth: if I am able to open my mouth at that age, I will still be singing and performing, especially if my fans are still out there to dance.
Have you recorded any album in recent times?
Yes, I have. I have just completed the recording of a public enlightenment stuff on Covid-19. It is meant to support the enlightenment campaign, because till now, some people don’t even believe that Coronavirus exists. So, what I have done is to encourage people to believe and keep to the safety rules.
It is believed that the lockdown caused by the outbreak of Covid-19 has affected professional musicians financially. What is your experience?
That is true. Covid-19 has affected the finances of musicians because there are no gatherings for celebrations outside; only about 20 people are allowed at social events now, so it’s not really what we used to have. The entertainment industry has been worst hit and all musicians are affected.
So what can musicians do at this time to augment their finances and earnings?
We have been hearing that in foreign countries, arrangements are made for palliatives for the entertainment industry. In Germany for instance, they don’t miss the good times because their finances have been cushioned at this period by the government. If musicians are working, of course, they would be able to take care of themselves. It is unfortunate that we don’t have that kind of orientation in Nigeria, and Covid-19 has now become an eye-opener for all musicians.
I had been saying it in time past that musicians should have alternative means of livelihood. With the kind of money they make, they could go into agriculture; it is the in-thing. Agriculture provides me food. It is a sector that can admit everybody. There are several ways of being part of the sector. You can be in the farming aspect or in the processing part of agriculture. Oil is going out gradually and agriculture is the present and the future.
As regards my personal experience, I have been on this same matter with my musicians, but they see it as easier said than done. So it is not good for them to just wait on music alone. Something must be added to music so that in case a thing like Covid-19 happens, they can have another source of livelihood. At that point, music becomes an additional source of income. It is the wisdom of the wise. If musicians who read this follow my counsel, they will appreciate it later. You hear some of them say they cannot do something else, but the truth is that there is no job a man cannot do.
Are you not missing companionship?
Well, the companionship of a wife is a good thing. It is not against God’s rule. So, I am here, I can marry at any time; not just for the sake of marriage as it is, but for the sake of companionship, because what else do I want? I have children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren. So I have been blessed. It is not like I am looking for a wife that would conceive babies. As long as I still have life, you will hear when the time for marriage comes.
What has prevented you from marrying a young lady since you lost your wife?
Marry a young lady? It’s a foolish old man that will say he wants to marry a young lady. The young lady has just started her life and definitely is virile and strong. Someone like me should be thinking of a woman who is 60 or above. And when I do it soon, everyone will know.
Do you miss your late wife or see her in dreams?
Of course, I do. I miss her all the time and have seen her in dreams so many times.
Are there people you miss playing for?
Yes, a lot of people who have gone. I miss playing for a lot of those top socialites who are no longer with us on earth. But then, there’s nothing anybody can do about that. They have gone and they have gone.
What do you cherish the most now?
I cherish God. He is my number one. Then, of course, I have good people who are nice and kind to me.
How about the church?
That is what occupies my time now. It is from music to the ministry. I have enjoyed it so much because the word is God. I have had major challenges in life, and it was God that saw me through those stormy periods of life. When Jesus Christ left, he promised to send us a comforter, and He did.
What is your take on the opening of schools and churches?
Some people say that the government should not open schools and churches because the number of casualties from Covid-19 is high, and I say they are right. And some people are saying let’s open schools and churches so the economy can come alive again, and I say that they are equally right. Personally I think that if we look back, before Covid-19, people were dying all over the world. If the number of people that were dying then were also announced, we would equally be amazed at the number. But we don’t have a solution for Coronavirus.
In the bible, there were seven lepers who thought among themselves that where they were, if they waited, they would die of starvation, and if they left the place, they would be killed. So they decided that they should go and look for the much needed food, and behold, the Lord had prepared food for them by confusing the enemy that brought war tos that country with a noise that made them to abandon their camps. The lepers came and saw food and went to the city to make it known to the king and the people. And that was when the king knew that their enemies had been destroyed.
Covid-19 is our enemy. Let us take every necessary preventive step that government wants us to take in the churches, schools, mosques, and so on. There must be social distancing. Let us do all that, but also let us go out there because we don’t know when it is going to end. People cannot feed and the economy is going comatose gradually. We should go out but observe all precautions.