WHY I NEARLY COMMITTED SUICIDE AFTER MY ALBUM SOLD EIGHT MILLION COPIES
Paul Nwokocha is a gospel artiste with close to 40 albums to his credit. But he didn't become a known name until a few years ago when he did 'Nkwa Praise,' a gospel album that somewhat became a household item.
But much as the album shot him into prominence, it also brought with it trials and tribulations that almost made him to commit suicide. The album did not only turn him to a villain, it caused his kinsmen in Aba, Abia State, to declare him a persona non grata. Why? They believed the instant wealth he experienced could not have come from the album alone, but also from some rituals.
It was a grave allegation that forced the musician to release another album entitled Akam di Ocha (my hands are clean), which incidentally won him the Best Gospel artiste award at the recently held Nigeria Music Awards 2008.
Spectacles ran into him in Owerri and he recalled the turbulent times and how he was able to wade through them.
Nwokocha started his career as a musician 25 years ago. In primary school, he was reputed by many as a very good singer. So much so that he was invited to perform at many functions. “I remember that each time our SS 3 students were leaving school after their exams and the school held a valedictory service for them, I was always called upon to sing. After singing, some guests would come to me and offer to pay for my education. I finished my primary and secondary education on scholarship.”
Since it was singing that made it possible for Nwokocha to get some formal education, he could not but hold on to his talent. He therefore decided to become a professional musician.
But why gospel music? Spectacles asked.
“I grew up in a Christian family, with Christian music all around me. So, when I started singing, I started with Christian music. The reason is that I acknowledge God, the creator. He is the one that gave me the voice to sing. I come from a poor background, so when I look around me and see how good God has been to me, I sing his praises.”
Indeed, Nwokocha had a very poor family background.
“We used to eat the chaff from pap. I still remember the day my mum sent me to get it from one woman in our village. I got there late, so the woman had swept the chaff into the dust bin before I arrived. We had to pick them out of the dust bin. Some of them were mixed with ashes but I still had to pick them, otherwise we wouldn't have had anything to eat. As I was leaving with the chaff, the woman wept for us. But I was happy that I got food.
“We would pound the chaff into a meal of eba, and then we would pick some palm fruits from the farm. My mum would cook it, melt it, add some seasoning and use it as soup to complement the eba. Of course, there was nothing like fish or meat, and we would eat it like that.”
In the midst of poverty, Nwokocha remained a happy boy. He was happy because he had music. Each time he needed encouragement, he sang. He continued like that until he became a man.
To pursue his dream, he left his Abiriba, Abia State village and came to Aba, the commercial city of Abia State, to see if he could make ends meet with music. But it was as if the hard times followed him there. “I left the village for Aba on my own. Nobody helped me to get to Aba. It was not easy at all. I was sleeping on the streets until I was able to get a one-room apartment.”
Surprisingly, Nwokocha remained a pauper even after his albums started selling?
He explained. “My albums were selling but the marketer who handled it never remitted the money. My music was selling and he was giving me peanuts. Do you remember Oh Lord I Am Very, Very Grateful? That was my song. Ibu Chi m was also my song. I had about 18 hits, but I didn't have anything to show for it.”
But his time finally came in 2000. The album, Nkwa Praise, turned out to be a chart buster and he won many awards with it.
But that became the beginning of his trials. He told Spectacles the story: “In the year 2000, after so many albums, I came out with an album, Nkwa praise, which sold eight million copies. It gave me a lot of money. I used the money to build houses, buy cars and some earthly things, if you would say so. But when my colleagues saw the money I made, they started saying that it was not only music that gave me the money with which I acquired all those things. I didn't know they had paid a 'prophet' in Aba to mention my name as one of the ritual killers in the community.
“They said I was a ritualist, that I buried human heads in my compound and killed my parents and used their blood to make money. They even said my house had been burnt down. But if you come to my house, you will see it still there. My parents are very much alive. I never killed anybody. To the glory of God, during the scandals, He showed Himself strong.”
But how did the scandal begin? Spectacles asked.
“I went for an award ceremony in South Africa where I was named one of the best gospel artistes in Africa. That was when the scandal started. When I heard it, I left all that I was doing in South Africa and came back to Aba. People were even telling me that I shouldn't come out and that the 'prophet' called Utu, mentioned my name as one of the ritualists in the area. I told them to take me to where the man was and they took me there.
“When I got there, the man said he didn't know me. But some of his boys took him aside and told him that I was the ritualist that people were talking about.”
Nwokocha said the 'prophet' asked for N200,000, “but I told him that I didn't have that kind of money to give him. I asked him why he wanted money and he said if I gave him money, he would tell the people that I was innocent and that I was not among the people he mentioned as ritualists.”
He said because he didn't pay the money, his ordeal continued.
The gospel artiste recalled that Utu ordered that he should be brought to him whenever he was sighted. But he said he didn't wait to be 'arrested' before he presented himself to the 'prophet'. “I went to him on my own. People had gathered there before I arrived, but he did not say anything. Instead, he started dragging me into the house. I lifted my hands to the heavens and said, 'God, my hands are clean.' To my greatest surprise, about the same time, a man shouted and started yelling at Utu, 'If you kill this man, I will expose all the evil you have been doing. You know that this man is innocent!'
“The stranger grabbed my hand and brought me out. He then turned to the gathering and asked who had brought me to the place. Some people chorused that they were the ones. The man said they should take me away.
“Utu later confessed that an artiste came to him and offered him N3 million to destroy me. He said the artiste gave him N1.5 million and promised to bring the balance after he had destroyed me.”
Nwokocha would not disclose the name of the artiste, whom he said had apologised to him. “He came to apologise for what he had done. I told him I had forgiven him, but that he should desist from such acts in future.”
But Nwokocha said the scandal dealt a heavy blow on him and his family.
“My wife couldn't go to the market, because nobody would sell to her. My sisters could not buy or sell in the market. At a point, I wanted to commit suicide because I could no longer bear the humiliation. I was at the last floor in my house and I said to myself, 'If I jump down now and die, all these whahala would end.' But another voice told me not to do it.”
Although he made a lot of money from the album, his finances started to dwindle in the midst of the crisis. “Nobody was buying my tapes any longer. If I was walking on the streets, I would see my tapes broken and thrown on the road. It was really bad.”
Some other wives would have believed the scandal, but Nwokocha said his wife never believed any of it. Rather, she stood by him until the storm was over.
“She knew the kind of husband she was married to. I don't have any hidden area in my house. The door to my room is always open and people in the house can walk in and out as they like. My wife never believed them and she will never believe them. I've told myself that any day my leg entered into the place of a native doctor for anything, I should die. My family members believed I was innocent.”
Much as the crisis nearly pulled him down, Nwokocha said he was grateful that it happened when it did. “I see it as a stepping stone to what I have achieved now. I am bigger now than I was. The album I did after that incident is making more waves that the one that even brought the scandal about.”
Talking about the new album, Akam di Ocha, Nwokocha said, “I never wrote anything down. The lyrics just kept pouring in. I called a pianist to put some sound to it and I started recounting all the experiences I went through during that ordeal.”
He also said he had learnt a few things from the experience. “I have learnt that everything is in God's hands. I also know that life is just about time. When your time to shine comes, anybody that stands on your way, God will take them away.
“Another thing I have learnt is patience. Be patient with whatever you want. Delay is not denial. One day, it will come to pass.”