By Amaechi Ugwele
My friend, Ani Amagboruju Jnr’s post on Facebook recalling the maestro Jide Obi, touched off something in me. It lifted the lid off my memory of this Ogidi, Anambra State born son of a Law Professor who graduated from the University and became a lawyer at 20 years of age. I will talk about him from where I will peek at his friend and contemporary Chris Okotie. The two though solo acts shared a certain unity in my mind that underscored their friendship and artistic supremacy in their time.
Jideofor was indeed a highly talented silver spoon kid that had all the suave his friend lacked, though of which he (Okotie) compensated in fierce and witty personality. Christopher Okotie, the son of a prison warden, was from a humbler home who was not only older but who upon graduation from Edo College had had a stint as an auxiliary teacher at Igbo Etiti Grammar School, Adada, in Nsukka, present day Enugu State. He had taught English and Literature and was famous for his electrifying morning assembly speeches the students decoded with their dictionaries. He was also a judo and karate enthusiast who in between his guitar strumming sessions spared some time for his students he taught the weaponless self defence arts.
Back then in their days of musical fame, both were phenomenal personalities on the Nsukka and Enugu campuses of the University of Nigeria where they were law students in the early 80s. Okotie had directly influenced Jide Obi in the local scene having started his musical career and broken into the scene a little earlier. But unlike Okotie who had suffered series of demo rejections until a new label, Phonodisk, I can’t recall the owner now, produced his I Need Someone in 1979, which went gold; Jide, on showing interest in music and upon his satisfying his father he could balance the two, was sent down to Chief Goddy Tabansi of the Ikeja based Tabansi Records. Each time Jide got to Lagos, he was chauffeured unlike Okotie that had had to literally sleep under the bridge a few times!
Finally, after working with Laolu Akins, Jide went to Eddy Grant’s Coach House Studios in London where he recorded all his three albums out of which two would be released: Front Page News and Kill Me With Love. Front Page News contained such beautiful songs like Tonight, Front Page News, At The Disco, I Love This Friend I Found, etc. The Second, Kill Me With Love would follow. These songs had faint calypso flavor, an inevitable influence probably from the success of another album Tabansi had earlier done, Let Me Love You, by the Sierra Leonean legend, Bunny Mark. The album had heavily dominated the West African scene in 1980 and its commercial success must have guided Tabansi’s idea of using the same creative motif on Jide’s work.
In London Jide met Eddy Grant whose 1979 song, Say I love You, with a Yoruba version, Wipe Mo Mfe, was a hit in Nigeria. Jide would later dream on being signed on by Eddy’s label Ice for a shot at the international scene. A selection tape containing almost all these Jide’s songs was the very first musical property I would ever own as a nine-year-old lad who loved music. I used the money people gave to me for Christmas to buy it. It also had some of Okotie numbers as well as one group I never really got to know well but would later learn were formed from the remnants of Sweet Breeze, The Esbee Family, that played another party groove, Chicks and Chicken. It took me many years to actually understand what those guys were referring to. LOL.
Jide had it all going for him. He was being played regularly on TV, radio and party floors. He was good looking and girls openly fought because of him on campus. There was a game he and Okotie used to play then. My uncle who was a student at UNN said they would drive down to Nsukka from their Enugu Campus base in Okotie’s red Honda Prelude coupe and park in front of one of the female hostels. Then Balewa Hall was to UNN what Moremi was to UNILAG. Once words got out they were outside in flesh and blood, the girls would all empty out in their Sunday bests. I heard many were near orgasm just being smiled at! One needed to have belonged to that generation to understand who these guys were and the effect they had on young women.
Okotie was an electrifying dancer whose song, a blues he delivered in a husky and erotic voice, Carolina, made girls cry. They were indeed the biggest afro pop acts in Nigeria then with Felix Liberty. Others like Dizzy K trailed far behind. Dizzy K managed to register two songs in two album efforts; Baby Kilode and Listen To The Radio, respectively. There was also the Enugu born Dora Ifudu who was in London singing in anglicized Igbo. Onyeka, then a London returnee TV personality in Enugu was the most popular female voice but sang in vernacular, mostly in folk styles. Her Onye G’agba Egwu was well received, laying the solid foundation her act would eventually be rooted in.
But all of these were never comparable to Jide Obi and Chris Okotie. While Okitie looked like a member of Shalamar in his dripping wet jerry curls; Jide looked like a member of the Brothers Johnson, in his perfectly groomed and well cropped afro. He had a perfect skin and spoke so softly you could barely hear him. He just smiled on, and each flash was a pang of unconsummated lust in the hearts of these star struck Balewa Hall girls.
However, Okotie was a smart fella who was also more commercially successful than his friend because he was both older and had better street exposure as aje pako who fended for himself. He got involved in more shows. Of course they made no much money from the albums as the companies kept claiming they never re-cooped their investments while the artistes believed they were being ripped off. It used to be contentious and I would say the companies were less than honest.
Then the mid 80s blight that hit the Nigerian music scene was underway. The economy collapsed. The masses were just too hungry to care anymore about music. Of course Okotie had sensed it coming and bailed out early enough by declaring for Christ when people still missed him. He went to the pulpit with his pop charisma and a lot followed him. Jide Obi was more or less caught by surprise. He was actually a project that was yet to go beyond its beginning stages. He still lived with his parents in their UNEC quarters and depended on them for everything. Okotie plunged into his church project and has never looked back ever since.
Jide, as at the time we met in 1994 was a wreck. He was squatting with a lady friend in a nearby street to ours in Achara Layout part of Enugu. Then PMAN Enugu had honored Oliver De Coque and I had gone to the Presidential Hotel to see the show. It was when Oliver was promoting Biri Kam Biri. Jide was announced to perform. He came out and mid-way into Tonight, he asked the band to play Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean! The band was confused. They did not rehearse it. Jide dropped the mike and walked away. Everywhere went quiet. A journalist near me said “O kopu go since” roughly translated, “he has since unhinged!”
I went to where he sat alone and asked him if he minded if I joined him. He nodded quietly. I saw evidence of hardship everywhere. On his skin, hair, clothes; and he wore a pair of well-worn slip on sandals on threadbare caftan. That was what he wanted to perform Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean on! But I still saw, buried deep under layers of crusted frustration and hardship, that charm that once magnetized the Balewa girls as well as me as I watched him on TV twist his slim waist and thrust his comely head backwards as he soulfully sang Kill Me With love. Life was indeed killing Jide Obi. His deeply furrowed forehead carried it like a billboard. What would I do? I felt like I should do everything for him. But then I was just a year one Student in the University who was also desperate for support.
I ordered two drinks for us. He loosened over bear and began to smile and soon was laughing. I asked him where he stayed and he told me. He was patching up with Jennifer, a staff of one of the radio stations in Enugu, just close to me. I told him I would ride him home in my uncle’s car I had come out with. Was he glad! A whole Jide Obi feeling relieved a poor me was going to drop him off. And the bombshell: he confided in me he had no transport; nothing on him. I just survived a heart attack and kept staring at him! What was this world like? What happened to this star? What caused its light to dim to this point it was totally extinguished? I was determined to know.
We eventually became friends. He started coming to my uncle’s house where I stayed on regular basis, especially on holidays I was around. I returned more often from my school in Port Harcourt, just for his sake. I never wanted to have any meal without him. I explained to my uncle’s wife his predicament. She understood and invited him to be coming when I had gone back to school. By then Jennifer had simply left the house for him. Jide suspected she was avoiding him and had moved into one of her friends at nearby Uwani. With time I would see that lady’s predicament. Jide had just lost it. He was blaming everyone else but himself for his failure. By this time his father had retired and relocated to Ogidi. Jide did not want to stay there, yet he could not support himself in the city. He at a point stopped going to eat in my house. Reason? My aunt was not cooking tastefully or early enough!
I never met Jennifer but saw some of her clothes as they hung at one end of the hanger as few of Jide’s hung on the other end. I guessed this wardrobe space was the current metaphor of their friendship. The two ends appeared much less keen for any contact. I tried to sniff out love. Even if there had been, just like Jennifer’s damp clothes and absence, it would have been too stale to matter anymore. I tried profiling her, fitting those clothes on her imaginary body. She sized pretty and somewhat sophisticated. I concluded Jennifer was a fan, like me, coming from Jide’s far and very colorful past. If I was a lady, we would have cohabited too. However, the devil had taken the real Jide we knew, leaving just a husk I try hard to connect with; with the lost essence that mesmerized his TV audience way back in the 80s.
Then with time I managed to ask Jide about his life. Where he took the wrong turn that landed him at this devil’s part of town he is now helplessly trapped. That was the second time he almost gave me a heart attack.
He said: “Amaechi, Jesus Christ put me in this condition. He was jealous of my stardom and as he did not want another competing star, he shot me down and took away my art, fortune and life. He ruined me. Jesus is holding me hostage!”
I need not add anything on this. I leave you to make out of it whatever you wish, but these words remained deeply engraved in my mind to date. How come Jesus that had died to save us all was now the one killing Jide Obi? Well, that was what he said.
He would tell me he had also become born again, after Okotie’s and joined one small church somewhere at Ibiam Street in Uwani, Enugu. The owner, sorry, General Overseer of the church, was nearly placing advert for people to come to his church to see the mighty work of God, who had arrested a big fish that had swam out of his Godly influence but was now back again in the gospel net cast by the mighty worker of God, the GO.
Jide thrilled them every day with his beautiful voice and music. He strummed the guitar like David playing the harp. By then he had turned the lyrics of those his songs to gospel that used its nostalgia to pull more crowd for the church. He sang “Tonight, Tonight. Tonight am gonna meet with my Jesus” They loved it all. Jide at a point ‘donated’ his 305 car to the church. This car was given to him by his father and he had given it out to his pastor, sorry to God!
With time, his aura was worn and both pastor and congregation got tired of him. The man kicked him out but not with his car. Jide thus hit the streets on bare foot and scrounged for living. He told me initially Okotie was sympathetic and helped him for a long time. He too moved on as many he had and would meet because he was by then totally unwilling to pull himself out of the water.
What I could only tell him about himself and Chris was that his friend was smarter. When God called him, he did not stray into another man’s church. He founded his own upon a solid rock of the conviction of a man who knew what he wanted and where he was going.
NB: First published in 2016 and updated in 2021 with thanks to Chijioke Jonathan Edeoga.