Evangelist Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi today joins the class of octogenarians. Obey, as he is fondly called, has dominated the juju music scene for over six decades with exceptional lyrics and philosophical works. In this exclusive interview, Obey speaks about how he expects to live life after attaining age 80 and the secret behind his unique music style.
How do you feel about clocking 80?
Clocking 80, I believe, is the best thing that can happen to me now due to so many things. Looking back from day one on how God brought me into this world till last year when I celebrated my 79th birthday and now, clocking 80, it has been by the grace and mercy of God. God has been fully on my side; He has made everything possible for me to witness my 80th birthday celebration in sound health. So, it is a time of excitement for me. I am so excited about what the Lord has done in my life and I will continue to thank Him. Of course, He alone deserves all glory and honour.
Would you say that your mother’s marital challenge influenced your life and career?
My father was not my mother’s first husband. Her first marriage lasted 20 years without her having a child. For me, I would say that the grace I have enjoyed so far in life as a successful musician is a testament to what my mother experienced in marriage.
It was a forceful separation. The family of that man called a family meeting of my mother’s parents and her husband’s parents. My mother, not knowing what was going to be the basis of that meeting, went into the meeting and she was shocked when the family of that man said, ‘well, since they both have tried for 20 years and there had not been any fruit of the womb, they thought it better for their son to try elsewhere and for my mother to try elsewhere.’
So, they dropped that information in the laps of my mother and her family, a very unpalatable and bitter message to swallow. So, my mother went into shock and that was how the forceful separation came. My mother could not take that and when my mother’s family saw that it was too much for their daughter, they advised my mother thus: ‘Oyindamola Abeke, the mercy of the Lord never ceases. Forget about having a child. They have condemned you, but God will take care of you. Just go and hide your head with your brothers in Idogo, (Ogun State.)’ That was what took my mother to Idogo.
You know, my mother was from Owu, Abeokuta, and my father was from Kesi, Abeokuta. She went to Idogo to cool off and my father had left Abeokuta to Idogo in company with his uncle, Late Pa Daniel Shogbeyin. He was my father’s elder brother. Our family business is carpentry and they master it very well. Late Pa Daniel Shogbeyin, was the father of the former Minister of Works and Transport in the old Western region, Chief S. O. Shogbeyin, who was also the parliamentary secretary to the then Premier. So, they were all in Idogo, my father happened to be the friend of my mother’s elder brothers and my dad just cracked the joke, setting himself up with my mother, saying: ‘I would be the one to marry your sister.’ She will give birth to both female and male children for me.’ My mother told me that she looked at my father and said she can’t marry a carpenter. But before they knew it, my mother became pregnant and that was how God answered my mother’s prayers. They named my sister Grace because my mother loves God and her pastor in Lagos told her to pray that God’s grace would be sufficient for her.
She said: ‘They have written me off that I cannot give birth to a child, but God show me your kindness and mercy.’
My mother prayed exactly as the pastor said, and it happened. After my sister, the boy who is celebrating 80 today, Ebenezer, came. My mother specifically told my father to let both of them name me Ebenezer, meaning; ‘this is how far God has helped me. Someone who was written off as a barren woman has been divinely blessed with a female and male child. There is no third gender. My father christened me Oluwaremilekun because my elder brother was 17 years older than me and 14 years older than my elder sister. This means, if my brother were to be alive today, he would have been 97 years old. My full name is Ebenezer Oluwaremilekun Olasupo Aremu Fabiyi.
Looking back to your mother’s experience in marriage, would you say the world might not have been blessed with the music legend if she had not had a second marriage?
Only God can determine that. I wouldn’t know; but God has ordained it that I must come through my father and my mother. My mother became pregnant in Idogo and she was coming for her clinical examinations at Massey Street Children’s Hospital, in Lagos. That was where my sister and I were delivered. So, that is how God turned my mother’s case into joy. Finally, when my father decided to move back to Lagos, my mother said she told my father that she was not going back to Lagos where she was ridiculed and mocked, but that she would stay back in Idogo where God vindicated her. She told him to go to Lagos and come back from time to time to look after the rest of the family. But the funny part of it was that my father left Idogo and he never looked back for a day to come and see the two children. My father had three wives; maybe that was what was responsible for that. I was seven years-old before I knew my father. I had to pressurise my mother to let me know about my father.
There is a notion that one of your popular lyrics Aimasiko was centered on you. How true is this?
That song spoke to many people. You never can tell what tomorrow will bring; so we should all be careful about how we handle today because no one knows tomorrow. The person you are looking down on today can become the president of a country or a successful person tomorrow. So, let’s be careful about today because we don’t know what will happen in the future. That is the meaning of the song. As for me, I have placed everything in the hands of the Almighty God. He can treat it better than any man could. It is very difficult to place your life in the hands of men because they can toy with your future. Man can never be dependable; but when you depend on God, He will direct a dependable man that will be like an angel to help you in life. Or men like angels that will help you.
When I look back at everything that has happened in my life, I see that God has ordained my steps. Every step or time that I needed help, God provided someone there to assist me and up till now, that is what my God is doing. Some people treat me as if, ‘what can he do without us?’ That is their attitude. And for me, I am like water, I don’t have enemies. If I see someone behaving somehow, I won’t be annoyed with you. I would just speak to God about everything, and He always answers. Even when I don’t know where help will come from, God will supernaturally, miraculously, prove that He is my father and will never let me down, especially in the time of need. When I have nothing and all hope is lost, my God always does something. That is why I don’t get annoyed with anyone who takes me as an enemy. I am a neutral person. I love everybody because God is love. The Bible says: ‘For God so loves the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.’
Following your great influence in the entertainment industry, how will you compare the industry from when you started your career to the present day? Would you say you are satisfied with the state of the music industry so far?
Let us thank God for God. Many times, man will want to play God, but it can never happen. No man can ever be like God. No man can equate himself with God. He is the ‘I am that I am.’ So, let all of us be very careful; no matter all the influence or affluence. The owner of the source of life will take it one day and when He does, we will become nothing. So, as a musician, let us remember to be careful and know that we cannot play God. Let’s take it softly and let every human do the best they could do.
Then, looking at what is happening in the country now, we have been praying and we must continue to pray. But prayer alone is not enough. We must go back to the good old days when parents had time to look after their children, educating them by showing them the way of life; how they ought not to follow the negative path of life; how they ought to be a good example and be good. Those who are looking for quick money are contributing to what we are witnessing today. Look at 18 to 20-year-old boys and girls killing for money rituals. At 20, you don’t want to work; you just want to start riding cars and building houses? It was never like that and that is what the youth of these days want to do.
We must be serious and teach our children the right things. We have to bring back ethics; the way our forefathers used to handle their children so that we will have a better Nigeria. Money rituals! No! Let them know they have to work with their hands. Let them know that it is through their sweat they will put food on their table. We need that; and I believe that God will help us. I believe that God will intervene to restore Nigeria and use all the things happening to teach us.
Were things that bad when you released your popular hit entitled ‘Ko easy lati je Omokunrin’, or did you foresee that Nigeria will become tougher for the masses?
It was a way of preparing our children for the future. Through that record that you just mentioned, I was preparing the minds of the young. I wanted them to know that it is not easy to become a man. I was specifically mentioning the responsibilities they had to pass through. It is not easy to be a man; letting them know that marriage is a responsibility. So, you must be prepared. Don’t think you will just get married and everything would fall into place. Things were not this bad then. The current situation calls for urgent attention and I want to urge the government to do the needful to ease the tension and address the challenges of the country.
Even the evergreen song Ketekete is still food for thought for a lot of people. Can you tell us the secret behind the song?
It is a simple message, very direct and specific; telling you that there is no way you can please or satisfy the world. Then, the story of the donkey, the man, and his son is an example of what life is generally. The man and the son tried to satisfy the world, but they were condemned. In the end, the man saw that there was nothing for him to do but to do his best and leave the rest. So, that is why the song ended with ‘Commander Ebenezer, do your best and leave the rest; Ile aye fungba die ni o, omoaraye e se re o. Food for thought!
Going by the song, have you done your best and left the rest?
Through the grace of God, I have been able to do my best. With all modesty, I am classified as a successful musician and God has placed me high till the moment. I am 80 today; it can only be by His grace. I cannot quantify how God has helped my life in totality. My lovers still want me on stage; this is divine grace. Obey’s works are still fresh in the minds of people and remained evergreen; this is grace too. Honestly, I have been able to give my best as a music legend and to be candid no one is an island, I have my space and we have to give room for others to rise and I pray that they shall rise above us.
Virtually all your works are timeless and surprisingly they are all fresh in your memory. How come?
They are so fresh in my memory and in the eyes of the listeners. Some people who listened to it have passed away and the young ones are still picking it up because they are relevant and they are common sense; an applicable content that is needed for every sphere of life.
Did you realise this back then, or you were just producing chunks of music as an artiste on the verge of becoming a star?
I wanted to be a composer whose works will last because when you go deep, you think deeper, and you bring deeper things out of deeper thoughts; uncommon lyrics. That is why, to do that, you must go the extra mile, devote your time and commitment to making personal research and I thank God because everything I have, I believe God gave to me. Even the knowledge and wisdom of putting those words together are not ordinary.
Some even believe that becoming a genius in music, is not ordinary…
Yes, I believe that too. Did you know that we have fishes that are made by man? But the original fish came from God. It was the original fish that people use their wisdom to copy to do all kinds of modifications. But what is known as fish originally came from God. So, those songs came in through the Holy Spirit. Jesus said: When I go, I will send a comforter… That is the Holy Spirit. He said the comforter will teach you all things, including my composition and thoughts. If we shun it, then we are the ones who will regret it. You will see what others will not see.
It is the popular belief that musicians attack themselves with their music even from way back. Were all your compositions from the Holy Spirit?
At times, you know, the devil too will bring something to you. It depends on which one you choose. When you want to crack jokes, you must be careful because some jokes come from the devil. So, it is because the cow doesn’t have an option, he saw a butcher with a knife, laying it down and holding its throat and slaughtering it, but it is helpless (Oju ni malu n ro, obe o da lorun ooo…)
Would you say that your evangelical ministry is the greatest thing you have ever achieved following its great impact on humanity?
Yes, the greatest thing is to propagate the gospel. The Bible emphasised that it is the best thing that can happen to a man and that those who do that have a special reward. I am fulfilled I had the grace to achieve this in my lifetime. I am happy that I can bring people from darkness to light (God). Not me, but God, that brought them out. The glory that comes out of it is God. So, to Him be the honour and glory.
Did you take a big risk converting your money-making venture, Ebenezer Obey Hotels to a church, why?
What happened is that I had Ebenezer Obey Hotels in Iyana Ipaja, Agege, Lagos, but that same hotel was what we converted to a church and we thank God, He is the one that gave me the power and enablement to do so. I feel it is better to change something that will bring negativity in the lives of people to positivity.
Honestly, I have no regret in taking such a step, because some are called, some are chosen. If you are called and chosen, you will be able to surrender. If you call yourself because of your stomach, you will see the result and the Bible stresses that ‘by their fruits you shall know them’. If you are called or chosen by God, and you lay down what you think is essential when you don’t have to, God will not joke with that kind of person. So, God backed me up and supported me, and gave me success.
Now that you are 80, what is next?
Life after 80! Anyone who attains the age of 80 must just give thanks to God. Then, you have to be more patient and tolerant; you have to be more accessible. One has to take it easy and overlook things that might get one annoyed. Of course, the Bible says, ‘Get angry, but sin not.’ There is a reason for that statement. It means you will see things that will annoy you many times since we are still in the flesh. For me, if I shout on or discipline someone, and even speak harshly to people, the Holy Spirit will tell me that I was too harsh and I will apologise almost immediately. I am only human; I do that to my staff and those that are close to me. Now, I pray and advise people more than to reprimand them.
Even at 80, you still have the energy to perform on stage, what is the secret?
I will continue to do what I know how to do best till I am no longer able to do it. That I am doing it is because God still gives me the grace to achieve it. It may not be as I was doing it when I was young, but, I enjoy it. I am happy when I perform on stage. So, if I say I am not going to do it, that happiness will not be there. But, with my age, I will be doing it until I am unable to do it.
I know it is the love people have for my music and because of that, they still want more. I will be giving them, but it will not be at the pace that I was doing it before. Each time I do it, I do it to be happy; I satisfy them, and when doing so, I will be happy too.
If you are not doing music, what are the things that occupy your time?
If I am not doing music, I read the scriptures. You cannot read the scriptures enough. If you read a particular chapter 40 times, it will appeal to you in 40 different ways.
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