Shock!!! That is how many have described the sudden death of Babatunde Jezreel Okungbowa, popular musical artiste and producer better known as OJB Jezreel, which occurred after more than four years of battling acute kidney failure.
Not that his health condition was secret — he was forced to seek public help after doctors said his death was imminent if he didn’t undergo a kidney transplant at the cost of $16,000, which translated to N16m back in 2013.
But he granted an interview to entertainment website thenet.ng just two days ago. And although the reporter did note that OJB “looked frail and was a shadow of his old bubbly self”, there was nothing to suggest that his death was 48 hours away.
After himself admitting that he had come close to dying “two or three times”, OJB had literally become a cat with nine lives — one of that class of people who flirt dangerously with death but end up living well into their 70s or even 80s. Unfortunately, it’s ‘light out’ for OJB, the man whose arguably most popular song is Jah Is My Lite.
HIS DEATH, A LESSON ABOUT LIFE
In March, after the death of Olumuyiwa Osinuga, better known as Nomoreloss, so many people wondered why OJB was a noticeably absent figure, either at the hospital or the burial. In truth, it was strange.
Nomoreloss was the man who spearheaded the fundraising for OJB’s medical trip to India. The public barked: this man was there for OJB but OJB couldn’t be there for him; ingrate!
Little did they know that OJB was stealthily fighting his own battles, that he was staring relapse of his kidney trauma in the face and he himself needed all the support he could amass.
His death on Tuesday is indeed a life lesson on the impropriety of judging before investigating, of blaming people without first asking the question: ‘What happened’?
OJB WASN’T ‘THAT CHEAP’
When he called for help in raising the $16,000 required for a successful transplant, there were doubts over the veracity of his claims. Perhaps the doubts were understandable.
The average Nigerian musical artiste leads a bling bling lifestyle easily noticeable in their choice of cars, wears, housing, even women — everything. A man full of wisdom, OJB made no effort to argue when he was confronted with the doubts.
“Yes, musical artistes make money; we thank God for what he has done for us,” he said. “But we are not as rich as people think; we are not Dangote.”
Explaining the genuineness of his call for help, he described himself as someone who wasn’t so “cheap” as to con the public into parting with money for a phantom transplant.
“If people think it is a lie, I won’t blame them. But to a large extent, I have a stronger integrity than that. If you look back at my history, five, six, seven years ago, my daughter had an issue with her heart, which became cancerous. And if you want to be very candid, I can’t remember calling out to the industry to come and help me pay the bills. As at that time, we paid nothing less than $47,000 for the operation. I didn’t call on anybody to ask for money for that,” he said.
“But at this point in time, it’s bigger than what I can handle, and that’s why we’re reaching out to people. Anyone who wants to confirm can go to the doctors to confirm it, they can. I’m not that — sorry to say — I am not that cheap to fabricate such a thing.
“People have made donations and we appreciate it; people have brought in N100, people have brought N1,000 and we’re not complaining, because we’re not in their pockets. So it’s bigger than what they think it is. If you’ve known me in the past 10 years, you will definitely have seen that there have been a lot of changes. This is not the OJB you knew in 2002 or 2003. There is definitely a difference, and you’d know.”
REBIRTH BEFORE DEATH
When he returned from India in October 2013, OJB headed to church for a thanksgiving. He had so many things to be thankful for, but one he kept harping on was the opportunity experience a “rebirth”.
“My experience, for me, is that God has given me a rebirth, a rebirth that means I should have a change of perception, change of mind towards a lot of things,” he told journalists tearily at the end of the service.
“I am more moved by what God has done than what I have or what I don’t have. It’s been a blessing and I am overwhelmed by it because even right there in the service, I almost started crying. It’s a different ballgame for me; I’m the one experiencing it, so someone outside may not know. You almost lost your life like two, three times and you came out of it, it’s something else entirely.”
ONCE A MAN, LATER A HALF-WOMAN
After raising all the money he needed to undergo a transplant at an Indian hospital, there was still a snag: finding a compatible donor.
“Six people had come forward and none of them was a march per se, apart from the blood grouping,” he said after returning.
“My wife came out, tried herself, and it turned out she was a match. We were still hoping it would be someone else but she said there was no point wasting time: ‘Why don’t we just do it?’ Right now, the man standing in front of you is half me, half my wife.”
That was Mabel, the first of his three wives. If half of him was his first wife, you could say he was born OJB Jezreel but he died ‘OJB Mabel!’
WORKAHOLIC, NOT A DRUNKARD
The doubt was just one of the litany of questions generated by his ill-health; his drinking habit was questioned and hastily fingered as the genesis of his anguish. How wrong!
OJB was a workaholic who involuntarily perpetuated a cycle of sleeping approximately four hours daily. As he would later admit, it was a lifestyle that should have handed him a stiffer punishment in the form of stroke. Luckily, his kidney was instead the target.
“We thank God that we’re feeling fine; it’s a lot better than before,” he told Hip TV days after returning to Nigeria from India.
“There are two major ways [of suffering kidney failure]: either you have high blood pressure or you have diabetes.
“For me, it was about my sleeping pattern. I probably sleep earliest by 1am and by 4:40am, I am up and off to the studio to make beats and write songs. It was a cycle. I didn’t get the stroke effect but it started damaging the heart down to the kidney.”
A BLESSING IN DISGUISE
By his own admission, OJB had a blissful childhood. His family was so rich that when he stubbornly decided to make a career out of music, his family “pulled the financial plugs” to force his hands into abandoning music. He was left alone eventually, but that is not the story.
It’s the irony of a man of such affluent background spending several millions of dollars on his daughter’s illness (and still losing her) and spending millions of naira on his own ill-health to the point of seeking public contributions. Not the kind of transformation anyone would fancy. But hold it, it wasn’t all gloom! There were blessings in disguise.
“During the fundraising, there was a week when we told people to stop the donations because we had got what we wanted. But some guy came from Abuja — his name is Felix Edebor — he was explaining to me that when you go through this and you’re coming back, you need to change your environment, change your settings,” he explained in 2014.
“I told him, look, this is my house, I own the property. If I’m changing my environment, it means I’m buying a new house. We just talked abut it briefly. The day he was leaving, he gave me $1,000 and said he’d call me back.
“Next time he called back, he asked for my account details. First money he gave us was N6m, and he said we should start building a new house. Attached to that, I like to say, he also said he had a gift, and it was a Range Rover! So, for me, whatever happened in the process of the ill-health brought about so many blessings that I can’t explain myself.”
THE DESTINY MAN AND HIS THREE WIVES
Most polygamous men around advise their sons against it. OJB is no different. But unlike others, he has no regrets at all; he sees his marriage to three women as his “destiny”.
“I think it is destiny; there is no other way to explain it,” he once told Punch newspaper.
“It is everything. But predominantly, I think it is by design. Some people believe in destiny while some others don’t. I think it was destined to happen. I believe in destiny. I don’t think I would have survived it if it weren’t destined to be…
“There is no regret. Initially, you would tell yourself that if you had one wife, this would have happened or that would have happened if you didn’t. But then again, you have to check and understand that life is in stages. I am appreciating life the way it is. From the marriages, I have eight beautiful children. When I look at them, I am happy. They are my investment.”
It is pretty much the way OJB Jezreel always analysed the most important events of his life; and if, while on his current transit to heaven (hopefully), he is asked to comment on dying just a month shy of his eagerly-anticipated 50th birthday, OJB would unmistakably have said: “I think it is destiny!”