Chief Joseph Osayomore is retired Army officer known for his musical exploits across the globe. Late in 2017, he was kidnapped by men of the underworld; although he had since been released the pain, fear and sorrow are still fresh in the mind of the musical icon as he told the other side of the story to OJIEVA EHIOSUN in this revealing interview.
What inspired you into music?
I think is an act of God that I must be a musician. I was not too privileged in life to now occupy where I’m in society. My primary interest in life was to be educated and probably be a medical doctor; that was my ambition in life. But my parents had no money to send me to secondary school, not to talk of the university. Well my mother being a hard working woman managed to send me to modern school; thereafter I saw some of my classmates going to the university after college but I was not privileged to. I then opted for the military, fire was raging in the country then, Nigeria/Biafra war. I joined the Army in December 1969 as a very young boy of 19 and in 1970, I was properly enlisted into the Nigerian Army. During this period there was real fire on the mountain as regards the civil war. But the Army being a highly disciplined organisation, they asked me what I wanted to do.
At that time there were publications calling on young people to come and study music. Virtually every subject in life is in the military, so when I see some people who claimed to have served in the military and you find then drinking ‘kain-kain,’ (Ogogoro) all over the place, looking very dirty and most of them gatemen, I wonder what they went to do in the Army.
As destiny would have it I went to the school of music, properly trained and here we are today. So the Army is a place where you can get to the height you desire in life. If I had gone into other areas I would have equally excelled, but my calling is just music, because the thing was running in my blood, I was very much interested in playing music.
I saw the likes of Victor Uwaifo, Sunny Ade, Victor Olaiya, among others. When I watched these great artistes perform, I would say to myself ‘how I wish I was there.’ So when I had the opportunity of studying music in Army school, I got exactly what my spirit had been yearning for. It was as if I was walking into my father’s house when I walked into the school of music that brought out my hidden glory.
Did you have the support of your parents on joining the Army?
My parents did not even know because I was far away in Lagos while my parents were in Benin. They never had any knowledge of how I came about the Army. We wrote exams for the Army in those days. They will interview you, and depending on your intelligence, you were recruited into the Army. They send you to a formation and if you are good and want to be useful to yourself, you get to the top in whatever subject or discipline you have decided on. So that was how I found myself in the Army. And I am glad God gave me wisdom, and whoever was in charge in the army at that time accepted me. I will ever remain grateful to the military. If I have the opportunity again, and I’m young, I will still join the military.
Would you say that joining the Army brought out your real self?
Yes that is what I have said. The Army is the best place to be because it prepares you for the challenges of life.
As a music icon, which album would you say brought you to limelight?
Every good musician would not know the track that will make him or her great; you just wait for that one, play it and go to sleep. When an artiste is going to the studio, he believes every song he is taking there is going to be a hit. If it is in your destiny to be great, one track will just shoot you up one day and you don’t really know which one is going to bring you to limelight. As long as you don’t relent in your efforts in composing songs, burning your candle, thinking, looking at current events and past ones, so you can bring out some beautiful words to the acceptance of the public, then it will sell like harmattan fire.
At a time in your music life, you delved into solidarity and revolutionary songs, attacking the government; were you not scared they would you?
In the first case, the military was in power in Nigeria, today it is an abomination. Mind you, I was a soldier, and I am still a soldier, and as a soldier I was not afraid of my fellow soldiers. The Head of State then was not elected, it was a government of force, so I was equally a member of government by force. So if I was agitating against them, I was talking to my constituency.
Why are your children not taking after you in music?
Any child that is born into this family, even if he or she is not physically playing music, the thing runs in their veins. I have one of them in the United States of America now, he graduated from the University of Benin in the Arts, did his masters in the US. He is playing music currently and living in Los Angeles, California. He is there now and was already popular here before leaving for the US. I hope one day he will come back if he is not carried away by American way life. He is already big in the industry I know many young ones are coming.
Any regrets in your musical journey so far?
Naturally whatever you are doing you must have some challenges; challenges are bound to happen in any area you are into. I don’t regret anything because life is war, and there is no journey of war where you don’t have casualties. When you into war, you expect tough times, there is no battlefield that is smooth, it goes with sorrow, blood, pains and tears. So to overrun your enemies in the battle front, you must be ready for tough times. Yes I have had many challenges, but the ability to overcome your challenges is what matters. The late Obafemi Awolowo once said that: “You cannot be called a tribalist if you do not have a tribe, you must belong to a tribe to be a tribalist. Challenges come and go, your ability to surpass them makes you great and a real man in your field of specialisation.
What do you like most in your life – dressing, foods, clubbing, of course women?
As a real Benin man, we eat pounded yam a lot. We have a lot of food here in our state. I do not have a special kind of food that I love most. I eat good foods that are well prepared. Talking about dressing, I don’t have a particular style of dressing, but I like appearing very neat. For women, yes women, drinks and cigarettes go with music.
These things are partial intoxicants that make you happy when on stage. Any good artiste must surround himself with beautiful, sexy looking women. Women are flowers, and music is also as beautiful as flowers. They are always around us. I have so many children, I do not want to count them because in our culture, we do not count our children, but they are above 20; let me say so, and I have enough to keep them going. It is important to know that there is no child in this family that is up to 24 years that is not a graduate. I don’t know how to put it, but my house is called a home of knowledge.
I was not privileged to have education; I would have governed this state if I attended a university. Knowledge they say is power. With a good university education, there is no way I wouldn’t have become a Minister or Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. All the same, I have given myself education by becoming a popular singer.
Yes, I have got to the level any musician would want to get to, but I do not have paper qualification to show what I can do for this country. With due respect, Professor Victor Uwaifo was a commissioner in this state; I can’t be now because by the time I wanted to give myself education, music took me away. I’m glad it happened that way, because there is no part of this world that people don’t know me, I mean my people. As long as there is an Edo man anywhere, Joseph Osayomore is accepted.
Not long ago, you fell into the hands of kidnappers; could you share your experience?
Yes, just a few months ago, very bad and bitter. Actually I went to perform for the Oba of Benin on the first anniversary of his coronation, precisely on October 3, 2017. The monarch sent for me that I am one of the selected artistes that must perform, and I am happy to say that I performed during his father’s coronation.
I performed when Oba Akenzua passed on, so I have performed for three Obas in Benin Kingdom. So after that beautiful performance on that fateful day, stepping down from the stage and about to go home, one of my houses in Ekehuan Road, road to Gele-Gele, all of a sudden I started hearing sporadic shooting. I was lucky bullets from AK47 narrowly missed my head, inside the jeep.
I had two of my two children and my younger was wife driving me. I don’t know what happened, my children started shouting Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! My wife managed to drive the jeep away with blood all over her body. On a very bad road, these boys came in with six motor bikes.
Suddenly they look me and put me on a bike and said that they are vigilante going to meet their commander. I asked why they were shooting and firing at the car? ‘If you are vigilante group won’t just tell us to stop so you can search the car and see if we are carrying anything incriminating.’ Every one of them was carrying AK47 even superior firearms. Well by my military training we were told that it is only a fool that would argue with a man with a gun. I didn’t argue with them. Suddenly we saw another, as if it was in escort.
They created a path from their riverside, from Gele-Gele to wait for me. Then we started going into a very thick forest with the six bike men. I was in front with two other boys that took me away. We finally got to a waterside, I thought they were hired killers. I began to imagine ‘what did I do, who have I offended?’ Then they took me to the side of the water where two boats were waiting to pick me. We entered the boat and they sailed off. This time it was already night, no light.
They sailed in the river like mad people that had no regards for life, until we got to a very big sea. They got to a point and shouted Greek 5. They bent their boat and entered the swamp, a big forest. They stopped the engine of the boat and started paddling. At least, I schooled with them before, I know how they talk.
I tried to say something they gave me a slap like thunder. I was fully beaten and my face swollen up; but then what could I do? When we were going, one of the bikes fell on my legs, they carried me up and we continued the journey. I was in serious pains. Finally, we reached a point where we saw a make shift building, erected with bamboo sticks inside the swamp. Ijaw type of houses. Then they lifted me up and put me in one of the rooms and said to me ‘you are welcome to our shrine.’
How did you relate with your kidnappers?
I didn’t argue or struggle with them; whatever questions they asked me I answered to the best of my ability. They were happy that I did not give them trouble in answering their questions. Then they said to me ‘we are going to kill you,’ I said well. They replied ‘so you said well.’ I said ‘well what would I do now? What can I say, do I begin to argue with you? I am alone here you are many.’ If you see where they kept their weapons, it is up to the size of a warehouse in Apapa. With highly sophisticated types of guns of various sizes, missiles, grenade and so many high class weapons that you cannot find in the hands of our security agents. All of them neatly packaged and all looking new. In fact those people can confront a whole city, even a military barracks. I saw weapons of various types. What surprised me was when they told me that the sophisticated weapons were given to them by white men. They allowed the white men to take crude oil and they paid them back with weapons. When they drove me to see their weapons home, they told me that they could even engage the whole of Benin, that they had enough weapons and support to fight us.
They said I should go and tell the governor that one day they are going to confront the whole of Edo State. They also said to me you are a chief go and tell the Oba that we would come one day with a surprise and destroy the Kingdom of Benin. But I replied them ‘but your people are in Benin.’
They said before war they would evacuate their people, that they know how to remove their people before they strike. On the second day of my kidnap, they transferred me to a place they called self-contain in their den.
They did one thing in fairness to them, they covered one all through with one big mosquito net. They told me they did not just pick me, that somebody told them that I am very rich, that I am close to the government, close to the Oba of Benin, and that they could get up to N200m from me. They told me it is your people that sold you to us.
The people that came to pick me don’t know me and I don’t know them. It wasn’t until we got into the swamp before those who knew me said: ‘see our musician don come oh!’ They started singing some of my songs and were dancing around me like animals. I was completely naked, no bath, no food, nothing. I was naked for 30 days in their camp.
One of them offered me a blanket during the night to cover. So, it was a very bad and traumatic story. In the course of investigating me, they said: ‘your people say you are so rich and that they want N200m.’ I said to them: ‘I have not seen that kind of money in my entire life; where will I get that kind of money from?’ They said Davido a ‘small’ musician paid N30billion into a girlfriend’s account not to talk of me, an old and famous musician. I said that is a very big artiste, and his parents are very rich.
They said if I don’t have N200m, I would die. I replied that I would not die. And they wanted to know why I said that and I told them that we don’t die inside the water in my family. The best food they eat is eba and beans.
They live like animals in the camp they took me to. Occasionally, they do would cook rice in one big pot and eat it directly from the pot. You can imagine what I went through- no drugs, no food, nothing. In fact it was God that kept me alive.
There was no network where I was held captive; the only thing you can find there is a small radio. They negotiated on my behalf with my family. All the protests people were doing in Benin, I never saw any. Finally, my people agreed to give them N10m.
They demanded high quality phones. My people had to hire a boat to bring them the money. They don’t come out; all they do is to give you directives on how to bring them the cash. We finally parted with N11m before I was freed.
Did you see their faces?
Yes; they don’t cover their faces. We were all sitting down together for those 30 days. They run shift duties in their camp. Even if they ask you to go how do you do that? In my life, I have never entered a boat, but I experienced it during my captivity.
What will you tell the Nigeria government?
Well, I will not say that the government is not aware of their existence, they know; but the big question is, how can the security agencies get to them? I don’t think the police or the army can confront them, because they are very far away on the high seas, and they are heavily equipped with automatic weapons. Again, if government wants to confront them, they must be ready for big war, because they live in the creeks. I am sure that police know where they are. If you ask me to go there now I will not know road to the place. But I am grateful to God that I survived the trauma. And I want to thank Edo people, my fans, the monarch and most especially journalists. It shows that I am loved by my people across the world. It is not something somebody wishes to experience.
News10 hours ago
PHOTOS: Former defence chief, Alex Badeh, shot dead
News21 hours ago
2019: Kogi elders’ council endorse Echocho for Senate
Metro and Crime21 hours ago
Police arraign man for allegedly defrauding business woman of N4m
Politics23 hours ago
Atiku to Buhari: You’re a bad manager of economy
Politics23 hours ago
PDP faults Buhari on position of cabinet
News20 hours ago
JUST IN: EFCC arraigns NBA President, Usoro, over alleged N1.4bn fraud
News Around Nigeria21 hours ago
Maiduguri residents decry outrageous electricity billings
News21 hours ago
I’ve high hope of becoming next governor of Lagos State — Agbaje