I Smoked 'Igbo' At 15 —Sonny Okosuns
Veteran musician turned Evangelist, Pa Sonny Okosuns, clocked 60 years on 1 January. In this interview, he spoke about his early life, career and sundry issues
Q: Pa Okosuns, you were 60 years old on 1 January. How has it been?
A: I feel 30, I feel so wonderfully 30 and I am glad because I don't really know how it got to this level. Seeing myself and still feel so young, playing with the young ones. Suddenly, I heard them call me Papa.
Q: Don't you feel honoured being called Papa?
A: It's wonderful and sounds funny because I see some elderly people answering Sir whenever I greet them. Well, I feel proud.
Q: Looking back at 60, how have you fared?
A: Now, I am 60 years old but I miss some things I used to do in my youthful days. I miss those years, but what gives me joy is when I sit down to review the olden days, I think of what I have done, I feel proud, I thank God for everything. I can assure you those things are in the books being written about me. When I read the preview copy of the book, I cried because it was a cry of joy. It makes me remember the people I met, where I have travelled to, the stage I have performed and the songs I have danced to, among other things.
Q: Why didn't you to celebrate elaborately?
A: I decided to wait till February because the company packaging the event has planned the Sonny Okosuns 60th birthday for February this year.
Q: What are the things being put in place for a hitch-free celebration?
A: In fact, I have been asked to come to Benin, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Bayelsa and few other places, courtesy of the governors as well as Abuja, Kano and Lagos.
Q: What type of book is being written about you?
A: The book is simply entitled Sonny Okosuns. It is being put together in Abuja by a Hausa boy named Bala. He has been working on it for the past nine months.
Q: Can you let us have a tip of what's in the book?
A: Well, we have the Ozidi days, my movements, my private life and other things.
Q: What are the things?
A: How I met my wife, what happened when I was in the studio, whether I smoked or not and other things.
Q: Did you ever smoke?
A: Yes. The first time I smoked was when I was 15 years old.
Q: How did you get into that habit?
A: We had a street gang, nobody knew where we all came from, but we were Enugu boys and we were macho boys, meaning you must not be seen with a girl. So, we were really seen machoing and marching against girls until one day, when my sister yabbed me and said we were all devils. So I started to think and that word alone changed me. But one day, when I spoke with a girl, a member of the group reported me to our gang leader and that one asked me to run an errand for him by buying him Igbo (Indian hemp). So I started to buy him Igbo.
Q; So you started smoking Igbo?
A: Not really, but one man, who was selling Igbo to him accosted me one day and said “boy, you have been buying Igbo and you don't smoke. You are not a guy but a Jew.” Since I wanted to be a guy, I decided to have a feel of it.
Q: So what happened when you took a puff?
A: At the joint, there was a way guys took the stuff, they behaved like guys. I took three puffs as they were passing it round. Each time it came to my turn as a new comer, they would start to hail me, “Sonny, go on,” etc. After the whole episode, I felt as if I was floating. I held the chair I was sitting on tight and on leaving the place, I could not find my way home. I heard myself talking aloud. I felt so tall that I thought my head was touching the cloud. On my way home, a neighbour of mine saw me sitting on the pavement and came to my aid. The woman said to me that I was sitting in the sun and “your eyes look like person wey dey smoke Igbo.” She was taking me home when my boss saw me. He asked for his Igbo and I told him I was now a guy and he already knew what had happened. He later took me home and I slept for almost an hour and because I was hungry, he prepared food (Eba) for me.
Q: Why did you join the gang?
A: In Enugu then, every street had a gang and we played ball, wrestling, we
even followed the masquerades, among other things.
Q: After the first experience with Igbo, did you continue to smoke?
A: I decided not to go near it and that was the end of my taking Igbo. I later outgrew that gang when my friends started to go to school. I entered into a new life of music, drama when everybody began to look for what to do. In fact, our gang leader ended up as a tailor.
Q: After your primary school, what happened?
A: I decided to do other things because my father had no money to send me to school. We were 14 living in one room, nine from my mum and other cousins. My father was then working in the Nigerian Railways. In fact, we were the poorest family in the whole of Enugu. We didn't have a radio set, chairs and other good things of life. My mother was frying and selling akara (bean cake).
Q: How did you survive?
A: I made friends with some foreign actors. I watched their films but I dreamt of becoming an Elvis Presely as I loved the way he played the guitar, until I was discovered by a woman at Enugu Broadcasting Corporation. I joined the youth group.
Q: At 60, do you have any regrets?
A: I don't have any regrets. Any painful period is God's own design, I don't think there is anything to regret about because if you do God's bidding, there won't be anything to regret about. Jesus wouldn't have come back to say that He regretted submitting himself to be crucified. That is the way I look at things.
Q: What have you gained and lost?
A: I don't think I have lost anything as I have gained a lot. The only thing I lost was my first wife. I lost my mother, one of my kids born outside wedlock, an uncle and a grand mother.
Q: If you have to live your life again, will you still be a polygamist?
A: Polygamy is not a sin, it is a way of life. Our forefathers practised it, in fact, it helps to eradicate prostitution. There are many women looking for husbands, if you put one in your house, you are not doing badly. It meant that I had to do it then and I did it. So it is not a sin.
Q: Do you wish to marry another wife?
A: I don't have time for that now.
Q: Any plan to retire from music?
A: I will not retire until I am tired. Now, I am not tired, so I won't retire. For example, I am working on another album entitled Light in the fire again.
Q: Is it a gospel album?
A: No, it is a compendium of songs, but with some gospel tracks.
Q: Will the album be released for your birthday celebration?
A: Although it was not planned to be part of it, the way things are going, it may be released as part of the event.