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The killing of my son by Bakassi Boys left me so battered that I lost interest in everything and almost lost my own life

Posted by By Fred Iwenjora on 2006/02/04 | Views: 3045 |

The killing of my son by Bakassi Boys left me so battered that I lost interest in everything and almost lost my own life

Afam Ogbuotobo, old school artiste reveals that: The killing of my son by Bakassi Boys left me so battered that I lost interest in everything and almost lost my own life

Afam Ogbuotobo, old school artiste reveals that:  The killing of my son by Bakassi Boys left me so battered that I lost interest in everything and almost lost my own life

HE is popularly called Igwe Egwu (king of music) by his numerous fans. He was named Afamefuna by his parents who  felt a replacement must have come to carry the family name further than they imagined. And he did because he has made  enormous fame and fortune since he discovered that he had the gift of composition and singing, quite early in his life. All  over Nigeria, especially in Igboland, he is more popular as Afam Ogbuotobo.

He learnt how to sing minstrel music from one of the most popular musicians in his native Onitsha, known as S.M.  Ikpeazu. This was before the Nigerian civil war. Soon, he became the toast of the populace. With a string of albums after  another, Ogbuotobo was soon a star artiste and a household name all over Eastern Nigeria.

Suddenly, he disappeared. The music seemed to have dried up and no one heard of him. But when Saturday Vanguard  met with him recently, Chief Ogbuotobo was still cold and obviously in shock. He said that his son was ?wickedly killed  for no just cause? by the dreaded Bakassi Boys and that left him utterly weakened. He tells his story.

The sad death of my son drained me

I don?t know whether the right word is to say that cannot say I disappeared from the scene. I was around, but the  dastardly killing of my son, Okwudili by the so-called Bakassi Boys during the era of Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju as the  governor of Anambra State devastated me. That killing took me back many years and killed my spirit. It almost dried up  my well of songs. I am not God to judge anyone but I will never forget that day.

That?s why I would believe that several innocent people may have died during that period. The intention to set up the  Bakassi Boys may have been good but the practical aspect of it was very wrong. I would never forget that day. My son  had an altercation with one of his friends who threatened that he would deal with him. The entire family waded into the  matter and settled the issue. The other boy?s family had a link with the dreaded Bakassi Boys.

So, one day, Okwudili was abducted. He never came back that night. We were all worried and we began to run round  to see if we could reach him. A few days later, his head was dumped in front of our house on the ever-busy Awka road,  Onitsha. When I saw it, I called his brother to go and fetch it and we later buried him.

The one that pained me so much was that they labelled him a thief. Thank God, a lot of people knew and still know that  he wasn?t a thief. My precious name was defamed. It was bad enough that my son was killed. The pains were deeper  that he was lied against even in death. The shock made me to withdraw into my shell. That?s why I?ve not been able to  release any music. My interest in virtually everything was drained. That episode threatened my own life. It was the most  trying period for the entire family. But we take solace that Onitsha people, Ndigbo know me and what I stand for. Their  support in that time helped me to be alive today.

How the music journey started

My interest in music started before  the Nigeria civil war when I was young...  I didn?t know I was going to be a  musician. I come from Onitsha and if you know what I mean, whenever my elders go to fetch firewood at the other side  of Nkisi river where we call (Ufesi Nkisi), I was taken along. My work was to sit down and sing for them while they  worked.

I sang the songs of Israel Nwoba. He was a very popular musician in those good old days and people were very familiar  with his music. So, they would fetch firewood and would fetch the one I would carry along. It was a compensation for  entertaining them.

When I became older, I started writing songs. I wrote many songs during those days when I was in primary school. I  went to Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe for assistance, at least to listen to my songs. Chief Osadebe couldn?t believe that a  young boy like me could write and compose such songs. I went to Erasmus Jenewari who also appreciated my songs but  never took me to wherever he rehearsed. Osadebe, on his part, asked me to meet his assistant band leader.
When I got there, I didn?t have the courage to speak with the man, I can?t remember his name now. So, I eventually left.  But soon after, I discovered that I had deep interest for music.

In those days, there was what they called bush radio which the Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation usually mounted in  homes. The person who pays, gets the speaker mounted for him. It only had room for volume control.

I would go to wherever the bush radio was and listen to the music of Rex Lawson and other highlife musicians. I was  addicted to this radio station because of the music they played from morning till midnight. I also listened to Celestine  Ukwu?s. I also heard the music of Ekwegbalu Anyanwu. He played and sang minstrel music but there was one in which  they introduced the guitar into which interested me and it was played on the radio regularly.

I was so moved by music that I joined S.M. Ikpeazu?s group. He is an Onitsha man who had a band of musicians and  entertained in the community. He was very regular and popular that no parties, events, funerals were complete without  him. I escorted someone to where he was rehearsing. I noticed that two people playing clay pots (udu) were playing the  same thing. I told the man that I could play something else and he said ?try? and I did. That was how I joined his group. I  forgot to tell you that I had played with the youth group who played what was then termed Egwu Erico.
It was community music which was very popular in Onitsha. It was the experience of Erico that I applied and S.M.  Ikpeazu made me a band member in his group. I even went to live with him when he was at Otuocha, Aguleri.

Day Nigerian soldiers drilled me

When the Nigerian soldiers over-ran the area, we moved on to Nsugbe. But we quarrelled. He had sent me to go and  collect some money from someone. I went to the person to add some more money into what he had requested and the  man did. And you know I lacked money, so I wanted to have something for my upkeep. I returned to him with what he  was expecting from the man and kept that extra which I got from the man. When several days later he saw the man, and  queried why the man didn?t add anything for him, the man said he added something and it was apparent I had taken that  extra. So, he invited his friends who were soldiers to drill me. They arrested me and kept me in a bunker. They later  released me and I moved on with annoyance.

I moved on to Enugwu Otu, around  Ifete Ogwari. It was there that I formed a new group and when the war ended in  1970, I returned to Onitsha. I didn?t have a name for the new group then. In those days, there was a palmwine drinking  parlour somewhere at Zik?s Avenue, Fegge, Onitsha where I usually went to perform in the evenings. I had one wooden  gong and I sang some of the new songs I had composed in Enugwu Otu. I sang about the pogrom in Northern Nigeria,  about how the Hausas called us, the Igbos Nyamiri...

Later, I called up my two brothers. Unfortunately, they are now both late. One of them played the maracas (Ichaka)  while the other played the wooden gong (ekwe) while I sang. I was then living with Lady Jessy Abadom in the same  building. The war had dealt with the building. She lived in the first floor while I was then living in the remaining one room  on the second floor. Each time I sang in my room, Jessy would be eavesdropping. I discovered that she was one of  those who enjoyed my songs.

One day, she called me and said she would love to be the mother (matron) of this musical group. I was baffled because I  didn?t see what I was doing then as serious. I agreed for her to be the mother of the group, what we call the Nne Egwu.  She organised a ceremony which was very elaborate. She bought wine, prepared food and became our matron. That act  was a great motivation for the group and for me particularly and I started to write a series of new songs. Others started  to join the group and we became a strong group. I sang several songs in her name. She died about four years ago. May  her soul rest in perfect peace, Amen.

How to sustain Nigeria?s cultural heritage

I could say the cultural minstrel music was not what I expected to play. It was because of the fact that I couldn?t find a  guitar band to join that I toed that minstrel line. Moreover, people loved it. It was Lady Jessy Abadom that propelled the  music far beyond my expectation. I was developing very fast. Through her, I met the then Administrator of East Central  State, Dr. Ukpabi Asika and played for some high and mighty people and great audience.

A few years ago, I tried to infuse guitar into my music. I did it before Morocco nwa Maduka did. There was a day we  were playing at P.N. Emerah?s house and Morocco was also there. He came out to see what I had as instrument and  maybe followed suit. That equipment was brought for me by Onwa Chukwudi Egbunike based in the U.S. He is a great  fan who has been planning to take the group to the US. It hasn?t materialised. I hope it would happen some day. I recall  the day we met on one of my shows in the US. I was playing at Chalton Hotel while Ozoemena Nsugbe was playing at  Frontline. When his show ended, they came to see my show. That was when this young man came up to say he loved the  music but wondered why it?s not propelled by guitar and other instruments.

Nigeria music has grown a great deal.

As you know, we are now the old school and some people neglect the fact that our kinds of music appeal to our people.  There is nothing like a music of the people. The only problem I envisage is that our new ways have defiled all the original  theories of producing and marketing of music and of course artiste management. There are no marketing companies that  do things the way they were done in those old days.

But you must also give the new entrants the benefit of doubt because they have tried to sustain the industry. On the part  of the artistes, most of them do not bother to compose original songs these days. They rely on replaying already  composed songs. My son, Afam jnr is also one of the new young men and I keep advising them to make efforts at  composing their own songs.

I want to use this opportunity to plead with Nigerians to have interest in our kind of music and cultural heritage because  that is the soul of the people and makes us who we are. I am happy that some of the young musicians are thinking  towards this now. There is need that more people get involved. I am very happy about what is happening around the  Owerri axis. Their bongo music is still alive. I don?t know whether Onitsha people would let their Egwu Erico to die  away just like that.


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