Ibitayo Jeje: My Relationship with Former President Olusegun Obasanjo

Call her the female version of the legendary Juju crooner, Ebenezer Obey Fabiyi and you wouldn’t be wrong. She is a devoted purveyor of culture. With her one-of-a kind voice, many couldn’t imagine where highlife music would be without Ibitayo Jeje. What many don’t know is that the gospel highlife diva got her start in a church choir. The singer, entrepreneur and author looks back at various moments of her life, marriage, music and relationship with ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo in this interview with Adedayo Adejobi

How did you discover that you are a musician?
I didn’t just discover that aspect of me by myself. Before I started singing highlife music, I used to do a bit of everything from Hip-hop, R&B and reggae in my subsequent albums. Someone heard one of my songs in the old album and asked if I had tried singing highlife music. Because I appreciate culture, I got interested and started researching and went back to the studio. One of the songs that I had recorded in highlife before I finally decided to give it a trial came out really nice and the feedback I got was fantastic. Then the journey started for me. I appreciate traditional music a lot. I love to listen to music with percussive instruments, guitars and the richness that accompanies such music. I got stuck and it’s been fantastic.
I am not going to depart from it and at the same time I am not going to let it keep me in a box. I am going to (try) other genres because I know I can do that. Even if you can hardly find any woman doing highlife; it’s not something I want to stop doing in a hurry.

Your music tends towards spiritual songs. Is that deliberate?
Yes. I won’t be doing only highlife music. I am a minister and a pastor’s wife. There are certain functions I attend and the genre would not really work for me, so I keep it very spiritual. I sometimes deviate from proper highlife and probably do worship songs. It’s usually very difficult because it takes a lot for you to be able to enjoy the music. There is so much that goes into it. On a day-to-day basis, I can’t keep carrying the whole crew out because it can be so expensive. Sometimes, I work with what I have, and in so doing, I adjust to make it what is acceptable.
Well for me, music runs in my family. My father is a musician, minister and a pastor. So that also tailored the direction I went musically. While growing up, I went through a lot as a child and it was in the place of music I found peace and restoration. It was the place where God reassured me He would always be there for me. Music is a calling for me.

Was your childhood exciting?
I didn’t have the best of times growing up, but God was there for me. In secondary school, I remember we used to have a clique of those that didn’t know their fathers on time. I didn’t quite know my dad early enough. There were quite a number of us like that who didn’t quite have a relationship at that early stage with their fathers. I think that affected me in a way. But I was also surrounded by people who showed me love. The vacuum was filled. I have grown up to be strong.

The Nigerian music industry has evolved over the years. Where is the place of true musicians in the global field of play?
Sometimes, I get a bit confused because at some point I feel we are there and we are not there again. For those of us who have gone outside the country, we see how people appreciate our music, embrace and celebrate us. In Nigeria, if you can just put some beats together and make it danceable, that’s it. You find out that a lot of people don’t really take their time to do professional music most times. I don’t think that’s good enough. We need to give more attention to professionalism. I won’t do just any music. If I give a producer a song and it’s not there yet, I take it back till I get that sound. We need to do music more professionally.

What was the first song you sang as a musician?
The first song I sang was, ‘You need a man’. I had just finished secondary school. The song was the title of my album. The impulse behind the song was to preach good news to people. That’s the whole essence of the calling and the man I was talking about was Jesus. I got good responses and that encouraged me to work more.

Can you describe your first time on stage?
I am not a shy person – nervous maybe. But once I have the microphone and face the audience, I release myself and the Holy Spirit takes control.

What evergreen song inspires you?
I have quite a number of evergreen songs. But, ‘E no dey slumber’ ministered to me. The song constantly assures me that God was there for me. I waited on the Lord for the fruit of the womb for 10 years. When God finally did it, it was a confirmation he was there all the while. Funke Akinokun stands out with the way she praises God in different languages. Each time I watch her, it stays fresh. She inspires me. From the old stock, I listen to Ebenezer Obey as he inspires me to write.

How did you cope during those years?
It was a waiting process. It wasn’t so difficult because of the man I married. He understands the dealings of God and knew that it was a process that God had us go through. He was able to shield me from every external pressure. He was always there. I used to have low moments, but God’s word always gave me hope to move on.

Are you fulfilled as a musician?
I won’t say I am fulfilled yet. I thank God for where I am now. But I am still open to what God would have me become in the next 20 years. Ten years ago, I didn’t think I was going to write a book; but now I am. I know that I am evolving. I won’t say I’m fulfilled.

Tell us about your book?
My husband actually influenced the book. He influences lots of decisions I make. Six years ago, he told me I needed to write a book and immediately there was a confirmation within my spirit. There had always been a yearning for women. I feel there are many things women need but are not getting. Many of women are heartbroken, and need someone to talk to. The book pin-points things that can help women find solutions to problems they’re faced with. It answers some of the questions. A lot of women are not real. That’s one area the book addresses.

If you weren’t doing music, what would you be doing?
I have worked 9-5, done businesses and still do business. I cook. I have a restaurant and a studio. I am not a one-business kind of person. I try my hands on a number of other things. Music has come to stay and nothing is going take that away from me.

How did you get to meet your hubby?
My husband, Ayo Jeje, a pastor and politician, is a fantastic man. We met at the university. We are 17 years into our marriage. It was clear because at that time he was a pastor and my dad was also a pastor. I didn’t really like (the idea of marrying a pastor) because my dad was hardly ever around in the house. To start with, I used to look at my dad’s life and said no way. Along the line, I discovered he was a very different person. He was sold out to me; so I had no choice. It’s been fantastic. Just like every marriage, we’ve had our challenges over the years and grown in it. My husband is romantic.

In those trying times, did it ever cross your mind to quit?
It crossed my mind to quit. It happened because I felt tired. It’s fine to get to that point because I am human. But what I do at that point is what matters. We decided not to quit, though we felt like. We made it work.

Who is more romantic, you or your hubby?
In some aspects, he is more romantic. I am more romantic than him in more aspects because he’s an Ekiti man. But we complement each other. He’s a fantastic lover. He’ll go out of his way to make me happy with surprises.

How do you juggle being a pastor’s wife, a musician, a mother and an entrepreneur?
It’s a lot of work, but that would also come back to the man. I married a man who understands what I do so when I am lacking in an area he is able to fill in. Not every man is able to do that for you.

You have a robust relationship with ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo. What is the connection?
The gift of a man will make way for him. Music connected me with former President Olusegun Obasanjo. My husband and I are like his children. We have a very strong relationship with him. He is like a father to us and we relate to him on that basis. So, getting him on the video was not a big deal at all. It’s what a father would do for a daughter.

In your simplicity, you exude a great level of confidence and style. What is the secret?
I like to be me. While growing up, I used to be very tomboyish. I am very comfortable wearing trousers and T-shirt. If you can allow me dress like that to a wedding ceremony, I’ll be very okay. People are not able to merge my social appearance with my regular appearance. But because I do showbiz, I have to wear make-up and dress up. It is weird for me.

Outside work and family, where do you find your groove?
I am not a very sociable person but people perceive me as one. I can be very private because I enjoy my quiet times. You can lock me up in a house for two weeks – just make sure there is electricity, television and music and I’ll be fine. I can listen to music and dance all alone in front of the mirror. I play a lot and enjoy my times with my band guys. If I am not working, I would rather be home.

What major international artiste would you love to meet and collaborate with?
It has to be Asa. In case you know her, tell her I would love to collaborate with her. I like her songs and her style. I could sing all the songs on her first album without stuttering.

A global public figure you would love to meet?
Barack and Michelle Obama; I love them. I love their simplicity. I love real people.

Tell us about your upcoming concert.
A lot of people have disturbed me to organise a concert. I finally agreed to do a concert this year and it’s going to be happening on the last Saturday of November at Intercontinental Hotel. So we are working. It’s going to be big.