His white beard and sideburns with a tinge of blackness make his countenance glisten. His bespectacled eyes dilate with excitement in their sockets. With a hefty frame, he towers above many. Clothed in a colourful top, his dreadlocks flow from under his velvety-like black beret. On his hefty shoulders, he carries the yoke of hope and relief. Like a stone rejected, he has since become a cornerstone. The CEO of Praise International, Righteousman Erhabor, is more than an artiste. Not many Nigerian artistes add glitz to the glamour of gospel music like Righteousman. His life is a piece of purpose, perspicacity and prosperity, writes Funke Olaode
His hope was nearly dashed, his dream remained unfulfilled and the flame of passion was fizzling out. As a kid, he had a passion for music and great ideas dwell in him but couldn’t find his feet until he came to Lagos at age 17 and met his destiny helper in Felix Liberty who helped to record his first album. He is one of the artistes who rose from grass to grace. It was a rough beginning, Righteousman Erhabor, CEO, Praise Affairs International has remained true to himself as he beli eves fulfilling life purpose sometimes requires perseverance, consistency, and commitment.
He is massive in stature, smart in movement and melodious in singing. Righteousman Erhabor’s appearance reminds you of popular reggae artistes. You can’t miss him in a crowd because of his intimidating personality and his dreadlocks. What makes him different is his style of music which is reggae. Welcome to the world of Righteousman Erhabor, a gospel artiste and native of Edo State. He began his career as a kid singer in Benin and was one of the kid stars at the NTA Music Panorama in the early 80s. He was also the first artiste to perform on Weekend Delight on NTA.
His name Righteousman evokes curiosity. Is it his birth name or an appellation?
“It is my real name given to me at birth,” he said.
“By His grace we are righteous and the Bible says the righteous are as bold as lion. Most times when people hear the name is like ‘Is anybody righteous? Abraham was perfect because he walked with God. And if you work with God you will be perfect because he is a Master. I believe in Jesus because Jesus lives in me and Jesus is a righteous as well. So it is like bearing your father’s name. Although I didn’t give myself that name. It was given to me at birth and I grew with it. I learnt I spent one year and eight months in my mother’s womb.
“My mom is a spiritual woman who gave me the name and it has worked for me. I believe there is a purpose why God kept me. Ironically, while I was growing up I didn’t like the name because I felt the name was like a cage or prison. It put me on my toes and constantly put me in check. There are certain things that I would want to do and the name is like a blockage. I remember I tried to do a naming ceremony to change it but it didn’t work.”
Erhabor has a passion for music and literarily you may say it dwells in him without any hope of actualization. His liberation came when he decided to seek a greener pasture in Lagos. He was only 17. Before his sojourn, something happened that laid credence into a prosperous future in the music industry. He was only 16 trying to find his feet in his chosen career but his moment of destiny came when Dan Irabor Promotions organized a Lover Boys Concert in Benin which was headlined by the reigning pop star of the time, Felix Liberty. As an upcoming artiste, he had pleaded with the promoters to allow him and his boys to open the show but was shoved aside.
Unperturbed, and not given up on his dreams, he decided to be one of the spectators and more than anything just to stay and learn the ropes. Then an ugly incident happened around 12 midnight when Felix Liberty was about to start the show. The news came that armed robbers had invaded his house in Benin. Felix Liberty abruptly ended the show and quitted the stage. For Righteousman, a rejected stone later became a corner piece as the promoters were looking for him and his boys. And throughout the night, he played his heart out, exhibiting his God’s given talent.
“I have always loved music and I made up my mind at a very early age that this is what I was going to do for a living. I made my own guitar when I was very young. The Dan Irabor concert also gave me a huge platform to perform,” he recollects.
The following day, Felix Liberty heard about his exploit and sent for him wanting to see the greenhorn who saved the day. To confirm his authenticity, Felix Liberty asked him to play a guitar and song which he did impressively. His hope was rekindled but it was short-lived as Felix Liberty travelled abroad.
“Felix Liberty promised to do something with me but we didn’t see until a year later when I came to Lagos at 17. I was going to Awolowo Road in Ikeja and I was trekking from Ketu down to Ojota and took Oregun when I sighted a beautiful car. Felix Liberty loved flashy cars. I found out he was around and I introduced myself. He said he remembered me. I said I am in Lagos hustling. I am somebody who always records. I had my demo cassette with me. He asked me whether I have any song and I said yes. He asked me to enter his car and we drove straight to a recording studio, which is one of the biggest analogue studios in Lagos. Felix booked the studio for the night and he said he would come back in the morning. I got my friends and we recorded ‘Stay with me.’
“He came, listened to it but it took a year for the album to come out because Felix Liberty took it to America to remix it. I recorded my first album at age 18 under Liberty Records owned by the iconic Pop Star, Pastor Felix Liberty. I was his rhythm guitarist. He signed me on. He is my father. I was on different platforms I was under Dan Irabor Promotions who is based in the United States before I met Felix Liberty. So far, I have recorded 30 albums under 30 years. Before this year, I promised to release a song every month. In January, we came out with “Product of Grace’ and in February we came out, with ‘I do” myself and my amiable wife Carol Cee and in March we are releasing a song titled, “I know Jesus is here.’ It is a collaboration featuring Buchi, Hezekiah, Big Bob and one of the biggest DJs in Africa, Covenant Child. That one is dropping on the 24th of March.”
Today, he has recorded 30 albums and still counting. Has he always been doing gospel music?
“I started with reggae music and you know reggae music is spiritual music then it was 90 percent conscious music addressing the ills in the society. Now it is 99 percent gospel music and one percent of addressing the social ills because I can’t change it but I believe God can change it. I have never written or sang a song that will insult God. I have never sung sex and music. I don’t promote it either.”
Gospel music according to some people is not a money-making venture, but Righteousman is of a different view.
“Going into music at an early age was a passion. Growing up destroying my father’s tapes by picking one and press record and play button and wipe it out. I don’t want to know the artistes. I will just wipe it out and record it because I wanted to hear my voice. I wasn’t doing that for the money but the passion. That has kept me going over the years because if it was for money I would have faced something else. When I was with Liberty Records, there was no contract between me and Felix Liberty. We had a written document though. But the passion and my personality endeared me to him.”
Righteousman life’s lies between life determination and actualization, the strength and ability to succeed he said lies in God’s grace. “Sometimes when I begin to think about ups and downs in life which I had faced while pursing my career I give God the glory. It is not by passion but His grace because I have seen passionate, talented and gifted people dying with their talents, passion, and gift. And I have seen righteous men who have served God wholeheartedly die. What has taken me this far is God’s grace. I am also a very consistent person. Grace is the greatest sustenance because you can’t be consistent when you are sick. God gives me good health even with my massive stature God is with me. If it is not God I would faint but God has given me strength. And before I climb the stage I will always tell God to hide and show thyself forth.”
What would he consider his biggest breakthrough?
“Well, it was the day my mom gave birth to me after one year and eight-month. Coming out itself was a breakthrough. The biggest breakthrough is my salvation that I am still in Christ. My biggest breakthrough is not about money. I tell God every day don’t let me beg to eat and give me the grace to feed my family.”
Righteousman would not be caught without his dreadlocks which he has kept for decades. “I can’t remember how many years since I have been wearing the lock but I know about three of us in my family have dreadlocks. It started from childhood and my parents would cut it off. If I leave it, it would twist back. I have shaved it more than four times because whenever I cut it people mistake me for something else. Again, we are in a society where people play religious and a lot of people don’t see me as a born again because of my dreadlock until they hear me speak then it will dawn on them that I actually belong to Jesus.”
Righteousman as a gospel artiste is married to a woman of like mind who is also into music.
“I was a street boy and my wife is a church girl and I took her from the church and moved her to the street. I didn’t know I was doing myself great favour by allowing a church girl into my life not knowing she had her own intention of moving me back from the street. She is from Isoko in Delta State. Her parents are pastors and she is the only daughter. I remember when I wanted to marry their daughter and I introduced myself as a musician and they said how can they discharge this dreadlocked man. They said their daughter can’t marry a musician.
“They said I am either a pastor or an oil worker with the fear of God. They weren’t specific about the company either Chevron or Shell. I left and after three days I went back with five litres of kerosene, five litters of palm oil, groundnut oil, fuel and everything that has to do with oil and I said that the condition to marry their daughter was like an eye-opener that I am now into oil business and currently the president of Righteousman Oil and Gas and these are my products. The woman fell on the floor that ‘who is this man that they thought I had gone. That was how the whole thing started.”
Continuing his love story, he recounted: “And prior to that scenario, I first met my wife when she escorted her friend to the studio and my late friend showed interest in her. I remember asking him whether he saw a black beauty outside and he said ‘She is my girlfriend.” And I said, ‘Are you okay” you are calling my girlfriend your girlfriend. I quickly ran out and pleaded with my wife to strike a deal with me that in case my friend comes out just say you are my girlfriend. Being an adventurous person she agreed. That was how the whole thing started. We have been together for over 20 years now. She is a Data Processing graduate from the University of Benin. The marriage is blessed with five children of a boy and four girls. My children too love music but I am not pushing them.”
For his amiable wife, Carol Cee, she couldn’t have chosen a better man.
“I have been singing in church from the age of four long before I met him. It has not been boring for us. It has always been adventurous and exciting. He loves music and I love music. We love what we do. There is virtually nothing that will weigh us down. We believe this is what we are called to do and it is been fun all the way doing the same thing.”
She also wears dreadlocks. “My husband influenced the ‘dreads’. I am a low cut person. But I found that ‘dreads’ are comfortable. When I met him I loved it and since I love him I will do what he likes.”
Music wasn’t lucrative when they started out but Carol Cee stood by him because of love.
“I tell people to love is not love until it is tested and I love music. Music is life and I wonder how it would have been if God had not created music. I am happy with my husband and what we do. So far, it has been good and the Grace of God will continue to lead us through,” she stated.