Christy Ogbeifun: Playing With My Children Has Kept Me Young

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Mrs. Christy Ogbeifun looks simple and ordinary but she is not ordinary in anyway. She runs the only existing drug rehabilitation facility centre in the Rivers State capital, Port Harcourt. She has a multimillion-naira vessel named after her. Her marriage is unique in many ways. It is a marriage of two engineers. While her husband, Mr. Greg Ogbeifun is a marine engineer and a renowned ship owner and the only private dockyard operator in the country, she is singer and minister of God. Her marriage is a fusion of two different ethnic groups, cultures and traditions. While she hails from Kaduna State, her husband is from Edo State.  She tells John Iwori how she copes as a mother to seven children, a minister, an operator of a rehabilitation centre, and as devoted wife to a busy husband
Tell us about you and your husband.
My name is Christy Ogbeifun. I am from Kaduna State. Ministry has been my main focus for the past 28 years. I am married to Greg Ogbeifun. He is a marine engineer and ship owner. We have seven children and they are doing well.
What is your reaction to your husband’s statement  that you the pillar behind  his successes  business?
I do not know. Perhaps that question should be directed to him. However, I am of the view that he made that statement because whatever comes up, I say to him, ‘let us pray.’ Anything that comes up in our family, I will say, let us pray and we will pray. God is a prayer-answering God. He comes forth forcefully when we go to Him in prayers. I supposed that is the strongest reason why he made that statement.
How did you feel the day your husband presented a musical instrument, a saxophone to you?
He actually bought that saxophone for me when I was pregnant with one of our children in the United States of America in 1996. The saxophone is a musical instrument I have always desired to learn how to play. So giving it to me that fateful day just stirred me up to play the saxophone. In Foundation Faith Church that day I had already played the little I had learnt so far. It was therefore a blessing and a dream come true that he actually invested in a saxophone and gave it to me. It was a blessing and it is still a blessing to be able to play the saxophone.
Seven children and you still look young. What’s the secret?
(Laughs) Nobody is responsible for the gene he or she carries. God gives it. I believe the grace of God is the huge part of why I am looking the way I am looking. That is one. Two, I think my gene is from my mother. When she was alive we looked like sisters. That was until she had a stroke and she deteriorated. Three, I tried to work out every day except Sundays when I exercise. I have a small gym at home. Sometimes, I go to an established gym to work out. Most important, I do not let issues sit in my heart. If there are issues, I trust God and release them to him. I do this to ensure that there is nothing weighing my spirit down. Another thing is that I play with my children too and that keeps me young.
 How many albums have you produced so far?
I have produced six albums so far. The first one is ‘As One.’ It dwells on unity in the body of Christ. The second one is ‘Build to Trust’ which is about being our brother’s keeper. The third is ‘At Your Table’ and it talks about the power of the Holy Communion. The fourth is ‘Man oh Man Beyond the Vow.’ It is a love album for married couples. The fifth and sixth albums are poetry, so to speak. They are poetry set within music. It is called ‘Encouragement, Series One and Two.’ Number one is on woman issues. It covers issues like abortion, late marriage, rape, prostitution, single motherhood and so on. The second one in the Encouragement Series is ‘Walk the Work’ and ‘Talk the Talk’. It is meant for Christians to live what they profess. So, these are the six albums I have produced so far.
How was the reception of these albums in the market?
I have never considered myself a Gospel musician. I consider myself a Gospel minister. I have never attempted to commercially advertise or publicise my works. What happen is that because I also preach, wherever I am invited, I take my materials along. In most cases, everything I take there, they buy it up in one day. I have also written some books. So far, I have written about seven. So people just come and say that woman that just minister, I want her material and they just buy up stuffs. To the extent that I have not been pursuing the production of my albums on a commercial basis, I will say that the reception has been fantastic. To say the least, I am happy with the way people have received my songs. This is because they are not songs that make you to dance or tantalize your mind. They are songs that make you think. They make you sit down and reconsider or revisit issues in your life. So those are the kinds of songs I sing.
How do you juggle all your activities as a mother, minister and gospel musician?
It is my husband. My husband is a great source of help. He gives me all kinds of support in the house – including cooks, nannies, rooms’ men, and gardeners. The support releases me from a lot of chores that ordinarily come up a woman. He also graciously allows me to go out and minister whenever I am invited.
How does your husband cope with your tight schedule, especially when you fail to return at the time you ought to?
The scenario you painted has happened severally, including accepting too many invitations within a month. It happened and he complained, ‘You went out last week and now you are going again this week.’ At different stages of our relationship as the number of children increases, we have to sit down and revisit how much I go out. So we have drawn up a timetable. I cannot leave Port Harcourt more than twice within a month. I can receive as many invitations within Port Harcourt as possible because I am not going to be back home that same day I go attend a programme. As the children grow up and leave the house, my responsibilities towards them have also reduced. Though we still have one child left at home. Even with that one, we have to make adjustments to our timetable. Sometimes, he will say I know you have committed yourself but you cannot go for this programme. I have been forced to sit at home and call the people to apologise. I will say to the organisers, ‘Sorry, I cannot make it.’
Are you saying that you were compelled to call off some invitations at the eleventh hour?
Yes; but it does not happen all the time. This is because my word is my bond. If I say I will come, I will do everything within my powers to make sure I go. I do not like saying I will come and then, I do not. So I try my best but once in a while you cannot help it. My husband does not really interfere with my invitations. There are situations he says, ‘Christy, this is not convenient. You cannot go for this programme. You have to call them and cancel it.’ There are circumstances that make it impossible for one to keep her word.
What does it feel like for a ship to be named after you and your children?
The very first vessel, a floating dock because it is the vessel that actually goes into the water and brings out the ship, is named after me. It is the first ever. It is called Chrisbar Dock. The ‘Chris’ there stands for Christy and the ‘Bar’ stands for his then only business partner from Britain. Her name is Barbara. Two of them decided that it is my name and her name that will be on that dock.
How did you feel when that floating dock was named after you?
I feel special; a vessel that last for a long time and generates income and provides employment for several people.
As a director in his companies how do you see the business in the next five years?
Well, I am not knowledgeable in that field but one thing I know is that my husband is a man who is committed to hard work and excellence. He does not cut corners. So he kept on working at his business. He tries hard doing his business in the right ways and over the years, I have seen the company growing, improving, expanding and I do not see that trend ending now. This is because it is the same man that is still at the top running these companies. I expect that in the next five years, he will procure more vessels and the expansion of the dockyard will be completed.
Are there times when you feel insecure with the large number of people that hang around your husband?
I do not feel insecure. I understand the nature of his work, nature of his associations, and the nature of his responsibilities. I cannot stop people from being around him. Instead of killing myself over that, I found an acceptance for it. This is where he is right now and it is the time of his life and things has to be done. The only time I feel probably somehow is when I suspect somebody around him does not have good intentions whether male or female. Evil people, someone who may want to harm him and all of that but if I do feel that way, I just pray. I cannot protect him but God can. If it is the only ones I can see, what about the ones I cannot see? Who watches over him? It is only God that can protect and watches over one. I just entrust him into God’s hands.
What informed the annual thanksgiving service organised for the management and staff of all the firms in the Starzs Group?
Well, I think that every organisation especially if it is a private organisation will necessarily carry the spirit, faith or belief of the head of the company. For instance, if the chairman is a Muslim, the staff will probably celebrate in a Muslim way. So an organisation will carry the spirit of its head and Greg is a Christian. One of the cardinal points of Christianity is thanksgiving. The Bible says in First Thessalonians Chapter 5, Verse 18 that ‘In everything, give thanks. For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.’  For the owners, it means saying to God ‘we have gone through another year. Some companies folded up during this year but we are still here. We are thankful.’ For the staff, they are saying, ‘Other people lost their jobs but we are still here with our jobs. Others are being owed salaries but we are not.’ If you read through the Bible especially the writings of Paul, he admonishes us to be thankful. I thank God always because thanksgiving is a big issue in Christianity and a lack of a thankful heart always leads to all kinds of problems. If you read the book of Romans Chapter 1, Verse 21 to 22, you will see where God was speaking to the Romans through Paul when he said, ‘Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darken. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.’ Therefore, the annual thanksgiving service is an act of expression of gratitude to God and an act of obedience to God who commanded us to be thankful. It is a deliberate policy of showing gratitude unto God.
You are from Kaduna State and your husband is from Edo State; where did you meet each other?
It is a triangle, so to speak. He is from Edo; I am from Kaduna but we met in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
How have you and your husband handled cultural differences in marriage?
It has to be a season of learning for both of us. There are things that are culturally acceptable in Edo State that my people in Kaduna State will frown upon. There are things that are culturally acceptable in Kaduna State but the people in Edo State will frown upon. So we have to face that reality that we are from different backgrounds and we will approach things differently and found common ground especially things that concern our in-laws. Between Greg and me, there have not been too much of an issue because of our being Christians. So our faith has been more the basis for our relationship than cultural differences but when it has to do with our in-laws, we have to find a way to accommodate the differences.
Among your seven children, is there any one of them that you have a soft spot for and why?
If I tell you now, you will put it in your paper and then they will see it and read it. So, I will not tell you (laughs). The truth is that each child for me has a different kind of pull in my heart. This is because their personalities are different and the seasons in which they wer e born also hold different kind of significance. I will not say this is the one I have the softest spot for but I know that each one of them has special space in my heart because of what each of them represents.
Which of your songs do you like most?
Without hesitation, I can tell you that one. It is called the ‘Kingdom Song’ which says today the world has reached the age of suffocation. We are not that easy to impress and the moral standard is less. Teenage prostitution is no longer news now and drugs addiction is on the increase in the society. The things we called taboo are now seen as fun. But there is a kingdom where holiness reigns; where a new life is granted to those who want to change. There is no discrimination but there are equal opportunities for everyone. Where you have meaning in living, peace and love. That is my favourite song of all of them and it is in my second album. Once it starts playing now, I will connect immediately.
Where and how do you get the inspiration to sing or write your songs?
There is a difference between a songwriter and a singer. I am not a songwriter. I am a singer. I have written few songs in my life. I write the words. I have friends who are songwriters. I take the words to them and they put music into them. If it is to write lyrics, I have written a lot but songs very few. I have just one or two I will say to you, the Lord just dropped in my heart. Many times, I say to my friends this is the message I want to pass across, can you write the song. They will write the song and I will sing them. That is how my inspiration comes.
How do you relax?
I relax in two ways. Number one, I read a lot. In fact, I am a reader. I am always reading. Number two, I do crossword puzzles a lot. I have piles upon piles of them. When I travelled to the United Kingdom, puzzle is the first thing I buy at the airport. I will buy all the past editions that I have missed and the new ones. When I am doing crossword puzzle, life is good. I am at peace with myself.
Apart from singing and ministering the word of God, what else do you do?
I have a Drug Addiction Rehabilitation Centre in Port Harcourt and it is probably the only one in Rivers State presently. It has been in existence over the years but it was only two years ago, we are able to set up a residential facility. We house them and help the inmates with food, medications, rehabilitate them and integrate them back into the society.
How many inmates do you have in the facility?
The figure fluctuates. At times we have five, six or seven. Sometimes, we have only one person or no one at all. But the facility has a capacity for 15 inmates.
Why do you think many drug addicts do not take advantage of the facility?
It is lack of understanding and frustration. Many people still do not understand the difference between rehabilitation and psychiatric cases. Therefore, when somebody has a drug problem, they take the person to psychiatric hospital. But that is not what the person needs. It is rehabilitation that person needs. Moreover, we still attached a lot of stigma going to such places. Therefore, even when they have problems, they are afraid to come to a rehabilitation centre because of the stigma associated with it. These are the challenges. However, people are beginning to understand that look there is help available. It is fulfilling to see many coming into the centre broken and messed up and later to see them in better shape, six months after. You will see them finding meaning and direction in their lives once again. Like the ones that have been kept out of school because they were caught with drugs, seeing them back in school and working hard to pass their examinations and graduate is a gratifying act and good experience.
Do you get the inmates from the streets or they come to you?
Most of the times, their families bring them. Sometimes, it is their employers. Maybe they are good and hard-working, but suddenly started struggling with their jobs. They will bring them and pay for them. Sometimes, it may be discovered that they are not functioning well. Churches bring members and they pay for them to stay in the rehabilitation centre. It is only in one or two occasions that some walked into the facility by themselves and said they needed help. They are few. Overall, it is family members that bring them.
How long does it take to rehabilitate them and turn their lives around?
Turning around is a lifetime thing. Just as it took them many years to be drug users and you also need to dedicate many years to get them free from drug abuse. However, the initial period is the detoxification period. We do a minimum one-month stay in our rehabilitation centre and after that, the doctor will evaluate the person and if he thinks he or she is strong enough to go home without falling back to the old pattern of his behaviour, we will release the person. If not, he or she will do another four-week circle. In the four-week circle we run in the centre, we are marrying the clinical with the spiritual because we need to deal with the spiritual component. So we have doctors. We have clinical psychologists, addiction therapists, pastoral counsellors, and so on. They all work in tandem.
How is the facility funded?
It is a private initiative. The funding is from my pocket. So there is no funding from anybody. We do everything by ourselves according to how strong our pocket is. One young man they brought to us last year who have been taken out of two private universities because of drug abuse was brought to us. We worked with him and stayed with him. After we rehabilitate inmates our services do not end there. We have what we call after-care and every week, they come back for group therapy. This session brings those still in the centre with those that have been rehabilitated. They share their experiences and the challenges they have had. They share what they were confronted with before and how they overcame it. One of them just called me recently from Berlin, Germany. He said: ‘I am back in school. I am in the university. I am reading Neurotic Engineering. Do you know it is because you helped me? Thank you for giving me another chance in life.’ Amazing! That means his father trust him enough to send him out of this country to continue his studies.
What you currently do is far different from what you studied in school.
Yes; I studied Electrical Engineering. What I am doing now has nothing to do with what I studied in school. But, I am engineering people’s lives through the word of God. No more working with wires, cables, screw drivers and all that.
Where did you study Electrical Engineering?
The Polytechnic, Bida, Niger State.