What did your COVID-19 experience teach you?
I realised that I was very ignorant. I was treating malaria. Meanwhile, I should have just done the COVID-19 test. The funny thing was that after taking those malaria drugs, I would feel relieved for some time before a relapse. That let me know that it was more serious than malaria. One day, I woke up in the middle of the night and was gasping for air. I told my elder brother what I was experiencing and he said he was going through the same thing. We then sent for our doctor and he did tests for us.
The day I made it open that I had COVID-19 was when I found out that about 80 per cent of Nigerian celebrities have the virus or have had it in the past. But, they are afraid to reveal it publicly because of what people would say.
When I recovered, I referred more than 18 celebrities to my doctor within 10 days. One (a male) even called me and was crying. He said he could not breathe. I told him to go to a hospital but there was no space so he had to be treated inside his car.
Was it because you had COVID-19 that your family stayed so long outside the country?
They had travelled before I tested positive for the coronavirus. They were in London when a lockdown was declared so they had to stay there for some time. When the lockdown was lifted, they went to Dubai.
But, to be honest with you, my wife, kids and everybody they travelled with tested positive for COVID-19 in Dubai. They were supposed to return to the country in the first week of January but they had to delay their trip. They just recently turned negative. However, none of them had any serious symptom.
Your songs usually have messages behind them. In ‘Reason With Me’ you sang about a certain girl that did not stick with you when you were not rich. Is that a true story?
Yes, it is. It happened during my days at the University of Abuja. It was also the same person I sang about in the songs, Omoge Mi and Say Your Love.
She made me feel like I had to make money (before I could find love). The University of Abuja then was filled with the children of governors, senators and other top personalities. Meanwhile, I was just an up-and-coming musician jumping from one okada to the next. I had dated her for about four years, then one day, she just told me that I could not take care of her.
Back then, I was staying with a friend in a one-room apartment that was sparsely furnished. I was popular then but I had no money. I used to walk around with a helmet in my bag then because I boarded okada a lot and I did not want to be recognised.
Anyway, that was where the emotional part of my music came from. That’s why any song I make must have a message. If a song does not have any message, then count me out.
Have you met the lady since you became rich and popular?
I saw her once in traffic at Ojodu Berger, Lagos, and from afar, her situation was not good. I was quite comfortable then and I saw her struggling to board a commercial tricycle. She did not see me though because the vehicle I was in had tinted glasses.
Did she ever try to come back?
Who wouldn’t? Especially when I moved to Lagos. Some of her friends came to my house and they told me she was outside and I should go and see her. But, I told them I could not because my fiancée was already pregnant then.
At this stage in your life, what are you most thankful for?
I am very thankful for the gift of life and the gift God gave me. I often say I am not talented but gifted. My songs actually come from my dreams. I would sleep and find myself singing from the dream. Meanwhile, the song would most likely be about what I had experienced already. Sometimes, I look back and wonder what life would be like if I was not doing music. I could have been someone writing proposals, looking for jobs from one office to the other or a trader. But now, I just sit at home and get paid for what I love doing. The truth is that even if I was not making money from music, I would still do it because it is what I love.
I am also thankful for the fans because it was our generation that changed the mentality of only listening to Western music. Sometimes, I wonder how we were able to convince the fans to support Nigerian music.
In which African country did you have the most wonderful performance?
As P-Square, it was in Morocco, Sierra Leone and Rwanda. Imagine performing in Morocco where they don’t speak English and they sang our songs word-for-word.
But as a solo artiste, the most wonderful experience was in Equatorial Guinea. I performed in two cities there within four days. That was where I got convinced that I was back (to reckoning) because when P-Square broke up, things changed. The stadium was filled up and people were singing my songs, such as Reason With Me, word-for-word. Other places where I have had wonderful performances include Seychelles, Senegal, Uganda and Mauritius.
How long did you spend as a solo artiste and when did you decide to team up with your twin brother, Peter, to form P-Square?
It was actually our elder brother, Jude, that paired us together. He did that because he wanted us to be unique. So, Peter came in as a dancer. The idea was to incorporate both singing and dancing to the group.
Your mum played a huge role in the formative years of your career. What do you miss most about her?
I started singing in her church and there was one day she told me that God told her I would change our family for good. I am not from a rich family; forget about the fact that things have changed.
I usually consulted her on any major decision I wanted to take as regards my career. Even as a solo artiste, I still send songs I intend to release for prayer. The church did not want me to go solo and that was why it took me some time to do that.
She may no longer be alive but she taught me how to handle many things, and that spirit lives in me.
A lot of fans want P-Square to come back. Even if that does not happen, is there any chance of a collaboration between both of you?
The question is, does he (Peter) see us together? It is not compulsory that everybody in a music group must sing. P-Square was never a group of two singers (rather, it was a group of one singer and one dancer). I honestly tried my best for the group to work. There are so many issues the public are unaware of that led us to this point. I choose not to say many things because I want to protect my family.
I think people should just move on. Our case is like that of a husband and wife whose marriage is not working but they post lovely pictures on social media. People who don’t know the details would see the rosy pictures and plead for the union not to break up. But, they don’t know what is happening behind closed doors. The best thing is actually for them to go their separate ways.
Some people think that all these started recently but it has been going on for a long time. I can confidently tell you that my first solo album was supposed to be Game Over (released in 2007). That title, Game Over, meant I was done with the group. I recorded the album as a solo artiste and sent it to some people but they were surprised that I was the only one on the album. People said different things and I later shelved my plan.
People are still hearing what they loved about P-Square (in my music). And that is because there was never a music collaboration between us.
Some people even tell me that if I have the guts (to stand alone), why am I still singing like P-Square. They say that is why I am doing better. Am I supposed to change my voice? It is the same thing I have always been doing. The only difference is that I am alone on stage.
Some people feel your family members should have intervened to keep you together. What’s your reaction to that?
Do you know how many uncles and aunties have intervened? We have two siblings that are older than Jude and they have always tried to resolve the issues. Is Jude even respected as an elder brother by the people in question? Governors and other top personalities have also intervened. I worked so hard for P-Square to succeed. I cannot build a house and destroy it with my hands. It was so painful seeing what I laboured to build coming down and I could not do anything about it.
Some people believe one of the major problems the group had was the fact that Peter got married to a Yoruba lady, Lola. Is that true?
People have said all sorts. They painted me to be tribalistic and I know what that stain did to me. They knew that people loved me because of my music, so they wanted to cause hatred for me. They also said I disrespected his (Peter)’s children.
The last time I responded was when I told somebody (Lola) to stop posting my picture on social media on my birthday. Don’t be inside the house being who you are and try to use me to ‘trend’ outside. We have not spoken in five years. All those things you are posting online should be said to my face. After all, it’s only a fence that separates us. Don’t be inside wishing me bad, then go on social media to congratulate me on my birthday.
What are your plans for 2021?
I hope Nigerian artistes invested well before now. For someone like me to start minding the way I spend money means the situation has become serious. The impact of COVID-19 on the music industry has been bad and I wonder what would happen if it continues for a second year. Things would be rough for artistes that don’t have catalogues and don’t have large streaming numbers. Most of the money artistes make come from concerts and now, large concerts can no longer hold. Several events I had been paid for were cancelled. There were some I did not even refund and I told them to reschedule their events. But, not every event can be rescheduled.
Davido made some comments on your birthday that did not sit so well with you. How is your relationship with him now?
I don’t want to be that kind of artiste that would be having issues with other artistes. But, if we are to call a spade a spade, I believe he said something that should not have come from him. With his tweet, he insulted my uncles, aunties and other people I respect. I don’t like it when people try to take advantage of what is trending at the moment. A week before the incident, I was with him. He said he liked my song, Woman, and he would like for us to do a remix. We were in the process of working that out when the incident happened.
Your song, ‘Woman’ talks about building the perfect spouse that one wants. But these days, most people prefer readymade persons. What’s your take on that and what inspired the song?
It is the things that are happening around me that I use to make music. I have friends that are not in the music industry and some of them are not as rich and popular as I am. I have seen them go through a lot. In some cases, when they brought their girlfriends to my house, the girls would be comparing them to me. Because of that, my friends don’t bring their girls to my house anymore.
When you started making music, Western music was in vogue. Did you ever think that things would turn out this way?
The challenge I had was where I was coming from― Jos. Back then, we had only one radio station and TV in Jos and they did not operate for 24 hours. There were songs that would be in vogue in Lagos that we did not know about in Jos, until after several months.
Then, I was a solo singer and I used to by the albums of the reigning musicians at the time. I would listen to their music and feel like what I had was better than theirs. The only people I felt were doing good music was Plantashun Boiz. I then discussed it with my elder brother, Jude, and he told me to join him in Lagos.
I decided to make music that would sound foreign but when people listened closely, they would realise that it was Nigerian.
When we (P-Square) got to a certain level, we started making money but that was not our goal. Imagine rejecting N1m for a show to go and perform at a concert of $1000 in a place like Sierra Leone (back when a dollar exchanged for about N120). Not many people can do that. We did that because we wanted to build our fan base in African countries. We would perform at filled stadiums and sell our albums there. That way, we made people to get familiar with our music in those countries. We did that for about two years and nobody knew what we were doing. Most of the money we made was outside the country. We did not organise concerts in the country like some other artistes did.
How do you relax?
I go to my poolside and swim, or drink. I have never gone for a holiday in my life. The only thing I do is that if I am in a country I love, I would stay back for some days after the event I travelled for and look around.
It is not even all about being busy. I think I would be bored if I went for one of those trips, even if it’s just for one week. I went to the United States of America for a tour and when we finished, I decided to stay back for a week to do some shopping. I went to our house in Atlanta and after just two days, I got tired and wanted to return to Nigeria. However, my wife has been persuading me to travel and have fun. She is even ready to pay.
Are any of your children showing interest in music?
The three of them love music and they know how to play the piano. However, the twin boy (Nathan) is interested in car racing and football. My first son (Andre) likes basketball and dancing. It is only my twin daughter (Nadia) that seems to like singing and writing.
I would make sure I encourage them in their education and develop their talents.