By Victoria Ige and Victor Enengedi
He’s still hitting stages – as his outing at the launch of Ebony Life TV last month showed. But his performance that night, with rapper M.I, also showed one shocking thing: that the musician is battling health issues. It was conspicuous he had difficulty seeing and walking alone and, many mouths opened for two reasons as he and M.I spent their time on stage – surprise about the combo of both brilliant music makers, and wonderment about what is troubling the great Miliki exponent.
There had been rumours, since his joint concert with on Sunday May 27 that Obey was battling Parkinson’s – a nervous system disorder that causes tremors and difficulty with walking. Although nothing was confirmed officially, and Obey vehemently denied reports he was battling ill health, many sources told NET ‘his condition is a well known fact and he’s been managing it well for years, with the help of family members and friends.
The reports went viral shortly after his wife died in 2011. But Obey insisted he was more than okay. He told The Punch ‘It has become a regular practice every month to spread sinister rumours about me. But, why me? One month, they will say this has happened to Obey; another month, they say that has happened to Obey. Yet, I am fine. The Lord I’m serving is a good God and He is good to me. I’m fine and well’.
‘I don’t mind people writing about me, but I get disturbed when people just sit down and write anything that comes to their imagination and publish. They said the death of my wife had taken a toll on my health which was all speculation.’
We gathered he’s also had to undergo an operation in his eye – and those who saw him at the Ebony Life launch wondered if he could use the eyes at all. When he was announced, M.I and one aide helped him on stage. He held a walking stick. He also needed help to climb the stairs as he exited the stage after their performance.
‘When I had eye surgery, it was as if I was the only person in the world who ever did it. People were saying that Obey had gone blind, why? Even if somebody is blind, when has it become a crime? But I’m not blind. I can see that you are wearing a red shirt over a pair of light blue trousers, while my sister has a flowery blouse. A blind man cannot see all those things. And they continue to say their enemy is blind. I’m not blind; I have an eye ailment, which anybody can have. There are millions of people in the world with various eye ailments. Even at 70, a man that is 50 may not even look good as I do. I look at myself at the mirror and I know I’m good looking and I know my God is making me more beautiful’ he told The Punch in an interview last year.
All through the interesting performance, it was clear he was not the man we used to know.
Ebenezer Obey has never been known to occupy a stage like KSA; but he was also not one to stand on a spot and sing. That night, it seemed he was under great discomfort, and many wondered why the organisers gave him such trouble.
Chocolate City rapper, M.I. who was excited to have mounted the stage with the legend told our reporter, ‘Performing with him was a humbling experience for me. It made me appreciate the quality of the music He has brought juju music into the mainstream, cutting across language and cultures. That’s the beauty of music, that’s what is legendary about him. His work is timeless’.
His post-Ebony Life appearances have also caused the concerns to grow. Those who saw him speak at the COSON events in May attest he needed aid walking; and in June, there were unconfirmed reports his children had requested he put a stop to performances. But the musician would have none of that – He told Nigerian Entertainment Today he’s off to the US this week for a scheduled gig in New York.
He told our reporter in a phone conversation ‘All l I can say is that God has made me well. Thank you’.
Now 71 (he was born on April 3, 1942) Obey is one of the most remarkable Nigerian musicians ever, using Juju music to teach lessons, inspire a nation, create enjoyment and build talents for many years before he switched to Gospel music after he became an evangelist in 1992.