May 25, 2016

REMEMBERING EVANGELIST SONNY OKOSUNS


Sonny Okosun 1947 - 2008

By Ozolua Uhakheme

Eight (8) years ago, precisely on the 24th of May, 2008, we lost one of the giants of contemporary Nigerian music and renowned freedom fighter, Evangelist Sonny Okosun (died of Colon Cancer). May his soul rest in peace.

His Quote (from an interview on January 11, 2008): “what is the use of the Order of the Niger Awards (OON) bestowed on me by government if it can’t be translated into cash? And where are all those Nigerians who I thought were my friends? Where are all those governors who gave me red carpet treatment when I sang at their parties?”

His Experience:
Sonny Okosuns: his life, his music, his struggles

Selected works

Albums

Ozidizm, Capitol/EMI Nigeria, 1976.
Living Music, Capitol/EMI Nigeria, 1977.
Ozziddi for Sale, Capitol/EMI Nigeria, 1977.
Papa's Land, EMI Nigeria, 1977.
Holy Wars, EMI Nigeria, 1978.
Sonny Okosun in 1980, EMI Nigeria, 1980.
Live in Varadero, EMI Nigeria, 1982.
Mother and Child, Oti, 1982.
Which Way Nigeria?, EMI Nigeria, 1984.
Revolution II, EMI Nigeria, 1985.
Africa Now or Never, EMI Nigeria, 1986.
Togetherness, Celluloid, 1990.
African Soldiers, Profile Records, 1991.
Songs of Praise, Ivory Music, 1994.
The Ultimate Collection, AVC Music, 1996.
Celebrate! & Worship in Caribbean Rhythms, God's Glory Records, 2000.
Be Glorified, God's Glory Records, 2001.
The Glory of God, Ivory Music, 2002.

BEFORE AND DURING HIS ILLNESS

Oziddi sound maestro, Evangelist Sonny Okosuns, who died on 24th May 2008, made his name in music which he used to further causes he believed in. Ozolua Uhakheme, Assistant Editor, Arts, writes on this man of many parts.

The story of apartheid struggle in Africa, especially in South Africa, will be incomplete without the activism, through music, of Oziddi sound maestro, Evangelist Sonny Okosuns who passed on at 61 on 24th May 2008 at Howard Hospital, Washington DC, the United States.

Okosuns who spent over 35 years on stage as a musician and as an activist, made one of his last public appearances at a high-life party in celebration of his 60th birthday at the Ojez Restaurant, National Stadium Surulere, Lagos. The event was organised by Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA).

Okosuns who had won over 30 awards and performed in international and local musical concerts was the first Nigerian musician to win the EMI gold awards in 1974. He won 15 gold discs and five platinum discs from sale of records. During the June 12 crisis, Okosuns was among front-line artistes who supported the cause with all they had- music. He was acknowledged as the only musician who accompanied the late Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola on a nationwide campaign, without charging any fees for his services. And when Abiola died, he wept for hours at his tomb, playing his guitar and singing dirge for a departed friend and mentor.

Like some of his contemporaries, Okosuns embraced gospel songs and founded a church, House of Prayers, at his Ogba residence in Lagos where he used music to praise and sing for the Lord. Among his gospel hits were ‘Song of Praise 1 and 11’, ‘Great Change’, ‘Revival’, and ‘Save Our Soul’. But he hit the limelight when he released ‘Ozziddi for Sale’, ‘Papa’s Land’ and ‘Fire in Soweto’, his three albums that recorded the highest sale. Okosuns, in his heyday, performed with great musicians such as Eddy Grant, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Harry Bellafonte, Sunny Ade and Victor Uwaifo.

His passion for freedom and justice was never restricted to Nigeria as he used his music to spread the campaign and struggle for independence and majority rule in apartheid South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia, among others. His records, including ‘Papa’s Land’, ‘Fire in Soweto’ and ‘Holy Wars are among his major hits dedicated to the struggle against apartheid. In appreciation of his support for the struggle against apartheid, he was invited to perform in international concerts in Europe and America. The concerts he participated in include Music against Apartheid in Toronto and Philadelphia in 1985, Soweto Day at New York Park in 1986, Zimbabwe Independence Party in 1987, Nelson Mandela Welcome Concert in 1980 and Reconciliation Concert in Freetown in 2004.

Besides, he had command performances for some great world leaders, including Fidel Castro of Cuba, Muammar Ghadaffi of Libya, Ahmed Ahidjo of Cameroon, Abdou Diouf of Senegal, Joseph Momoh of Sierra Leone, Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, Mathew Kerekou of Benin, Maj.- Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Thomas Sankara of Burkina Fasso and Olusegun Obasanjo.

Okosuns who hailed from Edo State started his first band, the Postmen, in 1964. He served several years in the group of Victor Uwaifo before launching Paperback Limited, which he later renamed Ozziddi in 1972. Ozziddi’s first few releases, with their catchy, rock-inflected melody and topical lyrics, were all big hits in Nigeria. But 1977’s “Fire in Soweto” brought Okosuns international recognition. Further attention came in the early 80s with the release of ‘Liberation’ on the American Shanachie label. Okosuns’ supposed “controversial” lyrics in the 1970s and 1980s about South Africa and the plight of the Third World were not at all radical in the African context. In this regard, it is interesting to compare Okosuns’ career with that of the late Anikulapo-Kuti, who faced hardship as a result of his pointed attacks on the Nigerian elite.

Although Okosuns’career witnessed a downturn in the late 1980s, he bounced back in 1994 with “Songs of Praise,” which won some Nigerian music awards. Since then, “Evangelist Sonny Okosuns” had through evangelism become the country’s foremost gospel musician, with a growing fan base in other parts of the world.

But while still riding on the crest of the success of his gospel songs that cleared all the gospel music awards in 1995 at all music awards held in Nigeria, Okosuns who was fondly referred to as Papa by his flocks at House Of Prayer’s followers, suddenly began to lose weight. The chubby and stocky Ozzidi king emaciated so much that his state of health became a source of worry to his fans and journalists, especially those from the genre commonly referred to as junk journalists. Some of them were so worried by his lean that they insinuated that he might have contacted HIV/AIDS. While his fans and journalists worried themselves sick over his state of health, Okosuns wasn’t bothered. Instead, like the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who at the early stage of the illness that took his life told his fans that he was only experiencing skin regeneration, which at the end would make him fresh as a baby, Okosuns blamed his loss of weight on a diet drug prescribed for him by his doctors. Perhaps, unknown to him, he had just started his journey with a terminal disease, cancer of the colon.

But while he told the world that he was on diet, he confided in some family members that he was indeed suffering from diabetes. So, he sought cure from the numerous charlatans who lay claim on national television and radio stations that they are trado-medical practitioners with herbal drugs that can cure all ailment, even AIDS. They supplied him with all sorts of concoction, all in the name of curing the ‘diabetes.’ And he took all the drugs.

It was, however discover the ailment which has reduced the freedom fighter, the musician that gave the world songs like Orimolade, Holy War, Fire In Soweto, African Soldier, Wind Of Change, Ozzidi For Sale, Which Way Nigeria and Mother and Child, the man that brought Mandela and his fellow freedom fighters in ANC struggle against Apartheid to the consciousness of the ordinary Nigerians, the man who gave the music world the likes of Onyeka Onwenu, Yvonne Maha, to a mere ‘bag of bones.’

It was however in one of his trips to America for performance cum medical check-up that doctors reportedly told him that he had cancer of the colon. Okosuns in his stoic belief in God was said to have told the doctors “I reject it in Jesus name,” not knowing that the ailment had eaten deep to his body.

Before he was finally diagnosed of cancer of the colon, he had started experiencing difficulty in his feeding habit. He could no longer eat his favourite African dish like pounded yam, a special delicacy which his surviving wife, Omono (his first wife, Nkechi, died about a decade ago) served him with ogbono soup in a handy clay pot. In the midst of all this and probably because of his abiding faith that he would triumph over it, he not only kept it secret but reacted angrily to our reporter when he broke the news that he was down with cancer.
While on his way to the US for medical treatment, it was reported that he queried the worth of the national honour conferred on him. He disclosed that he was travelling to the US from where he would go to India for treatment.

He said: “As soon as I get back to America, I will leave for India where I hope to seek further medical assistance for my failing health. Although I’m feeling okay already, I don’t want to take chances, for it has taken my faith in God and the efforts of doctors in America to have gotten me this far.

“I give praises to God Almighty who brought a man in the person of an Indian, called Patrick Fernandez, into my life. This man who God showed to me in Port Harcourt volunteered to take care of all my medical expenses in a hospital in Bombay, India.
“Mr. Fernandez’s gesture brought tears to my eyes and I asked: what is the use of the Order of the Niger Awards (OON) bestowed on me by government if it can’t be translated into cash? And where are all those Nigerians who I thought were my friends? Where are all those governors who gave me red carpet treatment when I sang at their parties?”
When asked of what becomes of his congregation during his treatment, Okosuns said: “Nobody owns the church and neither is the church mine. The church belongs to God and anybody who says it is my church is a liar. That shows that whether I’m there or not, God is in control. Since I left, the church has remained intact. God is my survival and He has been taking good care of me and that is why I say from everlasting to everlasting God is God. When you are honest and righteous and you are in Christ, the Holy Spirit will direct you in everything you do.

So it’s a miracle that I’m living today and I have no regrets in anything I’d done in the past. God is taking care of me, he is a wonderful father.”

REFLECTION:
This great man, died 8 years ago from colon cancer at the age of 61 because of late detection.
Colon cancer is one of the cancers that are highly preventable because it starts as a polyp which may eventually progress to cancer after many years if not detected. The polyp can be picked up during colonoscopy and clipped off, thereby preventing the person from going on to have cancer. Colonoscopy is recommended once in 10-years from the age of 50 in the western world, where the peak age of developing colon cancer is 70.

However, the peak age of developing cancer in our environment is 44. This implies that we ought to start our colon cancer screening from the age of 30. Now, how many health facilities in Nigeria have a colonoscope? How many people can afford colonoscopy in Nigeria?

 
PIX SHOWS COLONOSCOPY

If Evangelist Sonny Okosuns had access to colonoscopy, he will probably still be alive today. He would have been 66 years old now. The outcome would have been like that of the case of the Queen mother (of England) who had her colon cancer (polyp) picked up at the age of 68 and then lived until the age of 102 when she died (not from colon cancer of course!). Pope John Paul II also survived colon cancer. Why should our experience in Nigeria be different?
“Where you live should not determine whether you live, or whether you die.” ― Bono
As you know, 10 precious Nigerians die every hour from cancer, most of which are preventable with early detection. To learn more and how you can join THE FIGHT AGAINST CANCER AND SAVE PRECIOUS LIVES FROM CANCER visit Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP- Nigeria)