Five days before his death, ailing ace music producer,
Babatunde Okungbowa, aka OJB Jezreel, disclosed some top secrets to The Point’s OLUSHOLA RICKETTS in his Gbaja, Surulere, Lagos residence. During the interview, which probably turned out to be his last, he spoke on his life, his pains, misconceptions people had of him, and plans to sell his house to raise funds for his treatment, among other issues. Excerpts:
There have been talks that you abandoned Nomoreloss when he needed you most. Were you aware that Nomoreloss was facing certain challenges before he died?
I was aware of his situation, including the ones he didn’t even say out. But he was a grown-up and one should not expect him to necessarily open up on all that was wrong with him.
His life has taught me that many people could be unhappy deep within. That we wake up every morning does not mean we are happy. It was not that he deliberately kept things to himself, but sometimes you unconsciously shut yourself from the world even when there are people around you. He had quality people around him; he had Ego and her husband, Ara the drummer, Ali Baba and many more.
At times, simple things kill great men and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Ordinary cough could kill. There were a lot of things we shared, things we were going through quietly. But you do not expect me to say most of these things on the pages of newspapers, especially when the subject is no more.
Can you, at least, tell us some of those things you shared?
For instance, I woke up and found out that my kidney had failed again. Do I come outside and tell the world? The world already had a wrong perception about me. People felt I collected over N200 million and spent it anyhow, when the amount realised was no where close to that. I got N16 million from the former Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, and realised N9 million from artistes and other sources. I didn’t make any serious money from that and the donation didn’t last for a month before I called it off.
So, I prefer to keep things to myself. As I speak to you, I would likely sell this property (the Surulere home) to cater for my health. I have two items of property at the moment; this one and another one in Abuja.
Where do you plan to stay if you sell the house in Lagos?
I can stay in a rented apartment; we have people living there and I am not better than them. There are certain things I find hard to tell people. The operation was just one step; the second step is the maintenance, which happens to be the real challenge. People are often shocked when they see that I buy drugs worth over N200, 000 every month. This is how I have been maintaining the situation for two years and there will always be off and on due to infections or reaction to certain things. You do not do a kidney transplant and think it is over; it is not. If you don’t keep up to your drugs regularly, you would be back to the beginning.
How about the things Nomoreloss shared with you?
He told me about his expectation on his record label with an American company and the franchise he was trying to create with the ‘Nomoreloss Live.’ He shared his plans, challenges and how it was not easy convincing people to support one’s ideas. I always believe that the dreams one chases have nothing to do with one’s daily survival, though sometimes your normal day-to-day activities challenge your dreams.
These are the things we had in common. I was working on a talent hunt programme and I wanted us to collaborate. But I didn’t want to stress him much when he explained his vision and dreams.
“I am not regretting asking the public for assistance, but I’m not proud of many things that went wrong with the donation. When I came back, I invited some key persons to celebrate with me. I called for P-Square but I didn’t see them. It was later they told me that they didn’t honour my invitation because I didn’t do the proper thing. They expected me to come to their house and specially thank them.”
Why did certain people feel you were not there for Nomoreloss, since he was there for you at the time of your need?
What did they expect me to do? Truth be told, he must have been depressed; I can’t doubt that. But he did die of typhoid though some people don’t believe typhoid could take a life.
However, he didn’t ask for help. We spoke warmly not long before his death. And when it was rumoured that he was hospitalised for months, I confirmed that it was not so. It was a case of someone suffering from typhoid and he was taken to hospital for treatment. I had just returned from the hospital when you (The Point’s correspondent) called me to confirm if he was truly dead. I started calling his number and once I confirmed it was true, I switched off my phone.
People go through many challenges and they don’t say anything. I had been having issues with the kidney since 2008. But I kept quiet until three years ago because I felt I could handle the issue.
Sadly, however, after I went public, people later said I made more than N200 million; they said I started buying houses in Lekki. But I am still living in Surulere. Comedians have made serious jokes about my situation. Regrettably, I’m not laughing. They would say if you wish to be rich, all you need to do is to be diagnosed of kidney problem like OJB. They think it is funny, but I am not happy.
So, many people quietly go through this type of experience, managing things themselves. If Nomoreloss was in my shoes before he died, I am sure he wouldn’t want to reach out to the public because of the drama I faced. If I had to repeat the whole scenario, do you think I would want to raise money again from the public?
You mean you regret reaching out to people for assistance?
I’m not regretting, but I would never do that again. The truth is that there are other methods. While I was in the hospital, there were people I shared the room with who couldn’t pay for their dialysis and I helped them.
I’m not proud of many things that went wrong with the donation. When I came back, I invited some key persons to celebrate with me. I called for P-Square but I didn’t see them. It was later they told me that they didn’t honour my invitation because I didn’t do the proper thing. They expected me to come to their house and specially thank them.
After Don Jazzy sent someone to give me money, I asked for his number so as to thank him. The person told me that Don Jazzy instructed him not to give me. I don’t know why he said so but I felt bad. This is an industry I have spent the best part of my life in and I contributed hugely to where it is today. I deserve more.
Tuface’s wife, Annie Idibia, was spreading news that her husband gave me money. To set the records straight, Tuface didn’t contribute a dime to the surgery. When we called her to confirm the payment, the moment she noticed it was from us, she dropped the phone and didn’t pick it again. That nearly caused an issue between Nomoreloss and I. Nomoreloss was unnecessarily hypersensitive, over reacting to the issue. At a point, I stopped telling him about money coming in until I was sure the money was in my account.
Don’t you think the industry has forgotten about you?
I don’t think so. I think it is a trend of who they see. When you go out or you are found in their circuit, you participate in their activities.
But for me, if I’m not at one foundation meeting or hospital, I’m at home. How do you expect me to see Basket Mouth, Yaw, Ali Baba, Tuface and others? What this kidney challenge has done to me is beyond description. Survival is my first priority. Imagine if a bus conductor develops a kidney problem and he has to be on dialysis three times a week. After surgery, he has to worry about drugs for survival and dialysis for a lifetime. I think about all this pressure. With all my years in the industry and the stardom, I feel bad that I cannot do much again. That is what I mostly think and it has taken me out of the limelight.
Do you still have things you desire to achieve?
Most of what I am working on at present has to do with my Foundation. I’m trying to see how we could partner with some local and international bodies. The things that make dialysis expensive are the consumables. They said that if there was money to buy some things, they could reduce the cost of dialysis to a reasonable price such as N15, 000. If we have people supporting the OJB Foundation and other foundations, we would be able to help many people.
What have you been able to achieve with the foundation?
We invited foreign doctors to do free screening for people. But we still have to do more and one of the things is to see how we could reduce the cost of dialysis.
Could it be that there were certain opportunities you did not utilise well when you were making money through your works?
What people must understand is that 1986 is not the same as 2016. The things you see today were not there then. We didn’t have the likes of MTN, Glo and a host of others. By the time showbiz industry started experiencing boom, 30 years had gone. Since we do not have proper structure in Nigeria, it is really a big challenge for people like us. But in America, there are loads of fantastic endorsements for veterans. So, it wasn’t that we didn’t take advantage of things; we were just unlucky.
Has your present state changed certain things about you?
Yes, it has. I now see things beyond the glitz and glamour. Entertainment has much glamour but no money. At 50, I want more money. If the money is bigger that the glitz and glamour, I think I prefer it that way (smiling). People usually say a challenge as mine draws them closer to God, but I was never far away from God.
Don’t you think your time of relevance has passed?
I won’t say my time is gone; I would say a cycle is gone. Whether we like it or not, the cycle of Tuface is gone. He is not the same Tuface who did the album, ‘Grass to Grace’ and he is no longer making music for popularity. So, it is not that I don’t have the bite or hunger anymore, but a phase of my life is gone. I am trying to attend to the new cycle I find myself.
Are you proud of what the industry has become?
I am not totally happy. But when I look into the future, I see things getting better.
Do you have unfulfilled desires?
Before now, I had acquired landed property that I planned to turn into estates and enjoy in my old age. By the time the sickness struck, I started selling them one after the other. There is no way I could say that the sickness didn’t affect my plans. I have sold more than eight items of property, including plots of land and cars. But I still appreciate God. One of my eight children is a graduate already and two are in the university. Since I am seeing the progression of the blessings God gave to me, I find it hard to start counting the losses.
On why I have been inactive, the reason I left the industry is different. It was not just about the glamour anymore. God willing, I will invite the whole industry by the end of July for my 50th birthday celebrations. I am looking forward to it.
Kidney disease has killed so many people. Don’t you think you are lucky to be alive?
I would count myself blessed. I have been battling with this since 2008 and most people didn’t know. The fact that I am still alive is only by the grace of God. I always tell people that miracle is not until the dead rises; the fact that you wake up healthy is a miracle. Every day is like a miracle for me.
What are the essential things you do to stay healthy?
There are no special ways I live. When I am not too strong, I try to walk around for like 30 minutes. I eat light, I hardly drink Coke, Fanta and I don’t take alcohol at all. I then commit the rest to God’s hand. We have people who were living healthy but still died.