Vanessa Obioha pays tribute to a towering figure in the Nigerian entertainment industry, who lost a hard-fought battle for life
Quite a few hoped that OJB Jezreel would defy the five-year circle of survival for kidney transplant patients. They hoped, albeit, against hope that his borrowed life would be prolonged. The trumpets were ready to sound off again to celebrate his rebirth. He was almost there. Just two years shy.
In fact, plans were already underway to mark his 50th birthday – a golden jubilee that an online entertainment magazine, TheNETng had the foresight to interview him for before the due date.
It was in 2013 that his deteriorating health challenge became public knowledge. For most part of his latter life, the artiste lived a secluded life, away from the prying eyes of the society. Not necessarily by will.
Many thought that the musician, song-writer and producer who shaped the burgeoning career of famous artistes like 2Baba, Ruggedman, Durella, Wizkid had taken a back seat. Little did they know that he was being driven around by a threatening disease: a kidney-related disease.
Death had already visited him twice but he miraculously escaped its fangs. But the respite was not eternal. He needed another kidney urgently, doctors advised.
OJB was not only burdened with the search for a matching kidney donor but also pecuniary demands to foot his medical bills. Due to paucity of qualitative and efficient medical services in the country, he was scheduled to travel to India for the surgery. Everything summed up to $16,000.
Where would he cough that amount from? His pocket was very lean. But the last thing he wanted was to resort to public plea. It had become ridiculous to see famous artistes at the mercy of the society once they are confronted by a life-threatening disease. But there was no way out. Swallowing his pride, he gave in to public plea.
Expectedly, his plea for financial assistance was greeted with suspicion and accusation. Questions were asked about his lifestyle. Was he a drunk? What happened to all his wealth? Did he lavish his money on women? Why didn’t he save for the rainy day?
Like a skilled pugilist, the instrumentalist matched each punchy question with punchy answers. Yes, he was famous. After all, he produced tracks for many famous artistes and projects like the Ovation Christmas Carol. He was also an artiste with top-charting tracks like ‘Pretete’, ‘Searching’, ‘Jah’s my Lite’. But none of this made him richer than Dangote or Otedola. Some pointed at his three wives as evidence of outlandishness.
He was also quick to remind them that his daughter few years back suffered from a cancerous heart. He didn’t seek anyone’s help for her medical bills at the time. While he admitted that he was no teetotaler, he was not a dipsomaniac either. His ailment, he argued, was not from abuse of alcohol but hard work.
Through the help of his friend Olumuyiwa Osinuga (Nomoreloss) who unfortunately passed away in March, they were able to raise the necessary funds.
A rejuvenated OJB returned with a heart of thanksgiving for the success of his surgery. More importantly, he spoke high of his first wife, Mabel who donated her kidney to him. Excitedly, he expressed gratitude to well-meaning Nigerians who came to his aid. He proclaimed he was reborn and would use his new lease to life effectively.
Normalcy returned to the artiste. His health was no longer in danger and his household was comfortable. Whether out of pity or not, his services were again in demand. The news of a fresh threat on his kidney was dumped was jettisoned by many. But when he did not turn up at his friend’s burial in March, it raised some questions.
Yet, no one knew the answer until recently when the family announced that he suffered a relapse and was undergoing a dialysis, before he finally bowed to the insistent invite from the Grim Reaper.
Ripples of shock spread across the entertainment industry at the devastating news of his death. This was another golden candle snuffed out. Tributes flowed in from every nook and cranny of the entertainment industry. It was copious evidence that the artiste impacted his skills on many.
Now it is certain that the man whom many described as a huge influence to musicians of late 90s and early 2000s will never light his golden candle.
Survived by three wives and eight children, Babatunde Okungbowa, who was better known by his alias OJB Jezreel was born on July 4, 1966, to an affluent family. Sadly, the younger generation may only remember him for his kidney disease than the towering historical figure he was in the entertainment industry.