Reminiscences of Juju maestro, Ebenezer Obey
Evangelist (Dr) Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi, the Juju King maestro also known as Chief Commander of Juju music or "Miliki King" is a very busy person who is hardly tracked for an interview. In this encounter, Obey as fans fondly call him, speaks on what he is currently doing as an evangelist, his days as the Miliki King, relationship with Nigerian kings in praising God, the issue of re-branding Nigeria.
WHAT are you doing right now because some years ago, you retired from active music and went into evangelization even though you played Christian songs as well? Tell us what you do now?
Well, presently, the furtherance of the work of God that brought me into the Ministry preoccupied my time, and that is what I am doing and I am happy that God is seeing us through. We have continued to have crusade, both in Nigeria and overseas, especially in other parts of West African. That has been my preoccupation. That has occupied my time. The furtherance of the work of God, the Church, my music ministration and evangelization has occupied my time.
We just concluded some crusades in Ivory Coast. That was wonderful experience. The French-speaking people in Ivory Coast and other Nigerian churches were there. It was a very successful ministration. We came back from Ivory Coast and held three crusades both in Yewa in Ogun State. One was held at Idogo, where I grew up. So I saw the need to take the gospel there, to use the gospel to further shed the light of Christ to people who are in the kingdom of darkness and to bring them into the kingdom of light. The crusade we had there was very powerful and it was successful.
The special appearances are what I do for some of the people who are our partners in the work of God. There are people who are concerned with what I am doing. They were following me since the time I was playing music and when I came into the ministry, they were watching what was going on. Some of them thought I would go back to my music, but when they saw what was happening, they said; Oh! We thank God for your life! Some of them asked me; what can we do in the ministry? So, some of them became partners.
Crusades cost so much money. The work of God costs a lot of money. But I was mindful of that. I just didn't want to ask for money anyhow. I don't want the name of the Lord to be dragged anyhow. For those who don't understand what you are doing,
they may see it in another dimension and they will talk anyhow about it. Just as Paul
said; 'I covert not your gold and silver'. Rather he worked with his hands. So, Paul was involved in tent making to support himself. I do special appearances for those people who are supporting us in the Ministry. Though there are lots of demands for the special appearance but I don't do it as people often want me to do.
It's just as tent making to support the ministry. We thank God that things are going on very well. The Ministry is doing well and we have cause to thank God.
In those years you were actively involved in music, you churned out four to five Long Play records every year. Don't you miss those active days?
There is no way I can miss music. It's like you an author. You know the books you have written and when you want to talk about one of your books, you still remember how it all happened and what led to it, where, how and all those things. More so, with my records, they have been so successful and they have made impacts on the life of people generally. They are there. And if anybody is singing the songs that I sang, they are just singing the songs. They are not Obey. So, I could see that the songs are very useful.
Even now, the songs are supporting what I am doing.
There is a Pastor who took all my records and put all the scriptures that go with them. The Pastor first of all started to intimate me by sending the text messages of the scriptures to me. He would say Evangelist this song goes along this and that scripture. So, I encouraged him to go along with what he was doing. For every record, he had the scriptures. And anytime he invited me to his church to come and sing, he actually asked me to sing all those songs.
I can see that things like that cannot happen without God. I can see that it was God who made it possible, who made me and gave me the gift to have composed those songs and recorded those songs. Many Pastors have used my songs to preach.
I remember that Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie said in the media late last year that those who are greedy in the leadership of the country should remember your song; 'Eni ri nkan he, to fe ku pelu e, Owo emi to ti sonu nko?' (Meaning the man who found a lost thing and he was hell bent on dying with it. What will the owner who lost it do? It's vanity upon vanity like one of your songs too.
Yes. So, we have every cause to thank God that the records are supporting the work of God. Many people are using the songs.
Religion apart even your songs have socio-political impact. In 1973, you sang about the terrible traffic jam in Lagos. Oni moto a ma sare elese a ma Kanju. Kaka kiwoni suru oyinbo repete (meaning the motorist will be speeding, the pedestrian will be in a hurry on our roads. Instead of having patience, they will be speaking endless English). The traffic jam is still there today years after.
The motorcyclists who are now called 'Okada' and not 'alalulupupu' anymore are even more reckless than the period you sang the song?
They are even more numerous on the road.
When you reflect on the kind of prophesy in your lyrics coming to pass how do you feel?
It just confirms God's invisible hands. The song goes on to say, "You don't hit my car Oyinbo repete." You have hit my car and you are speaking English endlessly. The song was taken by Tony Tetuila and he made his own version and that brought him out and shot him to limelight. That shows that those who the Lord has given the talent, their talent will speak for them. Just as you have said, everything in that record is still happening till today. How the motorcyclists, the motorists and the pedestrians on the street were running against each other.
And the drama you put in the song between the motorcyclist and the car owner; saying; you done hit my car WE 995! I used to think that number belonged to one of your cars?
Yes. At that time, that was one of my cars.
On the issue of re-branding of Nigeria. I have noticed in your songs over the year that you have been re-branding Nigeria. I see that as an individual re-branding. Your song; No place be like my country; then "Ye ye ye Africa is my home," then Blessed is your name O Lord, I am proud to be a Nigeria etc. They are many and no one taught you that you should praise Nigeria and be proud of her. Anytime you were abroad, you sang about coming home. But today, the youths and many think about running out of the country. What's your reaction?
When Professor Dora Akunyili spoke about re-branding Nigeria, I saw how many people reacted. Some people misunderstood her. It's a fact that we are having problems in the country. There is no light, no water and many other problems. People misunderstood the good intention of Prof. Akunyili. I agree with her that people should be talking positively about their country. And you saw that I have done that in my songs in the 70s and 80s; "No place be like my country." I sang about my country, I talked positively about my country. No matter what happens in America, no matter what happens in Russia or Asia, no matter what happens my country is Nigeria. That's the way I see it. It was a kind of re-branding. People should talk positively about their country. They should say good things about their country. That's what I believe that Prof. Akunyili was saying about re-branding of the country. When we are more positive about our actions and reactions in the country, it will help us. I agree with people who are saying that our priorities are the essential things that the masses need.
I agree with them. But at the same time I agree with position of the Information Minister that we need to see things and that there is goodness in our country and we can make it like others.
Whatever happens, the fact that some of our leaders are not doing the right thing does not mean that the whole of the Nigerian people are bad and not doing the right thing. We have people who can do it. Until when we come to the right people and have it done, history will give credit to the leadership that has done the right thing. But in summary, its goods for us to think positively about our country and to also know that it is not running to other countries that can solve our problems.
The present economic melt down or global crisis is affecting people in America. People in America are no longer comfortable. And that is where Nigerians are running to. Things are no longer as it used to be there. So, it means economic crisis can happen anywhere. So, we need to take care of our country, we need to take care of Africa. That should be the thinking of each and everyone. And if we look at it, God has given us every thing we need. What we need in Africa is in Africa. God is the God that has made everything available. What is needed in Nigeria is in Nigeria. But some Nigerians will steal the money here and take it abroad. It's not God that is not doing what he should do for us, it is the people. All we need is a change of heart, to listen to the word of God and apply them to make things work for us in Nigeria.
You have this programme where you organise praise worship attended by royal fathers. As a star, you are a royal, the King of Juju music. You relate with those Kings to praise God. What inspired you to do the "King's Day of Praise?
"King's Day of Praise" is actually the vision of Oba Adedapo Adewale Tejuosho, the Oshile of Oke-Ona, Egba. It was his vision that all the royal fathers should come together to praise the King of Kings. That's why we call the King's Day of Praise, the
gathering of the royal fathers. They gather to praise the King of kings.
It's the vision of Kabiyesi Tejuoso. And Kabiyesi Oba Tejuoso having been my friend since the days when I was playing music, and now, we thank God that he is an evangelist contacted me about it. So, I am one of those involved in handling the organisation of King's Day of Praise. The King's Day of Praise is an annual event and it's into the seventh year now.
It is a wonderful thing to see the royal fathers coming together to praise God. That gathering is an opportunity for them to show their love and adoration for God. Praise is the only thing that God eats. Whatever you give for God's work is for God's work. Whatever you give in the house of God is for God's work. The food that God eats is praise. Cook pounded yam and food it won't go directly to God. But its praise that goes to Him. So, it's been a wonderful time for the royal fathers when they come together. I have seen many wonderful things that God has done through this. The King's Day of praise has even extended to the royal fathers in neighbouring countries - even in Benin Republic. We are going to have another one in the month of October. We usually have it annually in October. The date for this year's event will be announced any moment from now.
I shared with someone recently that it was rare for people to travel abroad in those days and the person was amazed. I bought your CD where you sang about King Sunny Ade's role when you returned from London and people came to welcome you. The lyric was; Sunny Ade O, Sunny Ade mi O, Ila lo moriki Iyan, Iyan lo moriki Obe Obey lo moriki e o Sunny Ade. (Meaning: my dear Sunny Ade, It's okra that knows the praise name of pounded yam, It's Ebenezer Obey that knows your praise name Sunny Ade). Then you went further to say on the day you returned from London, there was a huge crowd from the Ikeja airport to Idi-Oro in Mushin.
Yes. It's true. That's right
Some people in their 30s said that sounds unbelievable?
But it's true.
What was your experience that day when people lined up the streets to welcome you?
Throughout the world, celebrities are recognized through the gift God has given them. So in sports the footballers have their fans and these fans leave whatever they are doing to watch the game. So, is the importance of the reaction of people to celebrities either in sports or music. Truly, what happened was that many people came to the airport. That was the order of the day in those days especially the fans came to show their joy. This was because whenever the celebrity was out in those days, may be for three months, three months is enough a time to have missed the musician.
The way it was then was such that every where we went, it was given publicity and people knew the way we were traveling.
It is true that every spot we got to the news were just spreading and you could see the people trooping and waving. Actually, what you said was the truth. Our presence and the reception by the fans caused traffic jam everywhere we went. In those days, that was the way people reacted positively to the good things they love