I was 39 when I went on a solo voyage to write my first ever biography: The biography of Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, The Juju music superstar, who was then 49, and targeting the book for his 50th birthday. Oh, how time flies! It’s 30 years now since I wrote that book, meaning that next year, by the grace of God Almighty, the Maker and Keeper of our fate, I would be 70 years old on this beautiful planet Earth.
Ah, I remember the Ebenezer Obey biography which took me just three months to write. I was writing the book along with editing my newspaper, the Weekend Concord. I wanted a lyrical book, a piece of prose with a dash of poetry. Because that is exactly what Chief Ebenezer Obey, the bard who sings philosophical songs and tells stories that make meaning, is about. The Ebenezer Obey of Ketekete and Aimasiko fame. Having just written my massive book on 50 NIGERIA’S BOARDROM LEADERS—Lessons On Corporate Governance and Strategy, let me say that Obey’s Board Members evergreen hit is my favourite of all his songs. Oh, I enjoyed the biography project, sitting down with the quintessential storyteller and hearing him sing out his stories. The sad thing is that I can’t even find the book to buy today. I hear it’s on Amazon. I was reading Dele Momodu’s book titled Pendulum, the Writings of Dele Momodu, a collection of his newspaper columns (which has inspired me into compiling my own collection of Mike Adenuga columns into a book titled MIKE ADENUGA, CHRONICLES OF THE GURU), when I came across Dele’s review of my Chief Ebenezer Obey biography. For me, there is no better way to wish Chief Ebenezer Obey a belated happy 79th birthday and look forward to his 80th birthday and my 70thnext year. Life has been so good to us and we bless God Almighty the giver of life. Now, here is Dele Momodu’s review first published in FAME magazine:
THE CHIEF COMMANDER
First published in FAME Tuesday April 28 –
Monday May 4, 1992
To be happy in Nigeria today, you have to develop a sense of humour —Chief MKO Abiola
By Dele Momodu
For the first time in many weeks, I intend to take my mind off our problems and seeming helplessness in the hands of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and his men. We thank God for His wonderful mercies. At least, one is relieved that not all of us are cowards. Even if our strong protests have not sufficiently moved our rulers, we have successfully registered our grumblings for posterity.
Which brings us to our subject of digression today. He is no less a personage than Nigeria’s superstar musician, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey Fabiyi, who celebrated his 50th birthday recently. For his sake, I am dedicating this column to a new biography of his which was brilliantly packaged by Nigeria’s journalism wiz-kid, Michael Awoyinfa of Weekend Concord. When I got a copy of Ebenezer Obey: The Legend’s Own Story, I was on my way out of Lagos. I had then wondered if I would ever find the time to read the book critically within my tight-schedule as a writer, bread-seller and budding businessman.
But I owed the author, my former boss and confidant, a duty of assessing the work. Chief Ebenezer Obey is one living legend whose incredible contribution to the development of Nigerian music must be celebrated by all men and women of conscience and history.
Mercifully enough, when I eventually settled down in the car to take a first glance at the book, which ultimately turned out to be a panoramic view of Obey’s life as recounted by the master philosopher himself, I was soon caught by Obey-mania. I have read many biographies and autobiographies, but none gripped me with its “unputdownability” as Ebenezer Obey’s account of his exciting life. My initial fear that the book might turn out to be an ego trip soon dissolved as I encountered brutally frank revelations from Obey, the master raconteur. If I had expected a whitewash from his collaborator, in person of Awoyinfa, I soon discovered that the book was far from being what literary critics refer to as hagiography—the deification or idolization of the subject as an infallible saint.
In a very smart manner, the chronicler of events allowed his man to personally take the reader on a tour de force of an enchanting world, spanning the local setting of Idogo Village near Abeokuta, Ogun State; the cosmopolitan city of Lagos and the choicest spots around the globe.
Oh, the book itself sings! It sings with the sonorous voice of Nightingale, which the Chief-Commander is. The book is full of scintillating rhapsodies of an accomplished poet. Sample, Chapter 7, which is dedicated to Juliana Olaide, Obey’s dutiful and loyal wife of many years:
“Adam had Eve, Romeo had Juliet. Every crown has a jewel. Every desert has an oasis, where a thirsty traveller can settle down to drink. You are my Eve, my Juliet, my oasis in the desert of life. You are my soul sister, my friend, my wife, my woman: the very partner God chose for me. You are the real thing—even better than the real thing. You are Juliana Olaide Fabiyi…”
The book drips with unrestrained love: love for one’s family, friends, associates, enemies, etc. The book, from the master of didactic lyrics, swims in a pool of sentiments and emotion. Coming from a committed preacher, the story teaches the virtue of compromise and gentlemanliness. Even when he recounts past injuries, he concludes it with a lesson in unconditional forgiveness.
The language of the singer is supremely beautiful. It is the mesmerizing language of a toastmaster, capable of making a beautiful woman capsize in an ocean of love. The style is very much fashioned after that of Nigeria’s foremost Yoruba novelist, Chief Daniel Oroleye Fagunwa of Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irumole fame. This style guarantees the monumental success of this new book by the very popular and famous Juju exponent, Chief Ebenezer Obey.
As a parting note, let me tell a short story about the man’s popularity. Less than three weeks ago, Chief MKO Abiola was a guest lecturer at the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He had been invited to talk about his project, Reparations. As usual, the multiple-multiple chief garnished his lecture with songs and wisecracks. But, one of his greatest moments of the lecture was when he sang one of Obey’s profoundly philosophical songs. The hall erupted into a carnival of songs in a community of academic juggernauts. Such is the stupendous popularity of Obey Fabiyi—singer, composer, philosopher, preacher, peace-maker, lover and businessman extraordinaire.
I, therefore with every sense of honesty and humility, commend his biography to all lovers of readable tales. Even the late Ugandan poet, Okot p’Bitek, would marvel in his grave at the superlative razzle-dazzle ably weaved together by our one and only craftsman, Mike Awoyinfa.