By Ogbonna Amadi
Ebenezer Obey-FabiyiÂ a.k.a Commander before he went into the service of the Lord was one of the nationâ€™s foremost juju musician.
At the peak of his career he shocked the nation when he announced his retirement from active secular music to serve God. Seventeen years after, the Ogun State born musician is still trudging on in his new found believe.
He shares the story of some of his trials and triumphs since he chose to serve the Lord, with Ogbonna Amadi, our Entertainment Editor.
How were you called?
The calling came while I was doing my musical career. My plan in life has always been to be on stage till I die. Because I loved that career so much that I gave it all I had. But when this calling started coming, and I realized it was God calling me, there was nothing else I could do.Â So, I started moving closer to God more than ever before.
Initially, I was still trying to struggle with it, thinking it was something I could run away from. But when the actual time came, God Himself spoke to me, and said, â€œMy son, I set this musical platform for you for a purpose. But now, I want you to step aside.â€
How long did you struggle with God?
About 11 years. Before, I gave up finally. I went to bed one night and this voice came again saying, â€œIâ€™ve asked you to go and do my work and youâ€™re refusing. If you sleep tonight and donâ€™t wake up tomorrow, will you play your music in the grave?â€ At that point, I surrendered. It was a clear vision, just as both of us are talking now.
He (God) said to me, â€œGo and do what Iâ€™ve asked you to do and other things will follow.â€ So, from that moment, I made up my mind to do Godâ€™s work.
When you took this decision, did you think about your members? How were you able to pass the message across?
First, I want to tell you that whenever God is asking anybody to do anything, it may look foolish to that person. But no matter how mad or foolish that message may look, it can never be wrong. Because he knows what to do next. He knows how to take care. A good example is that of Abraham and Isaac in the Bible.
Did he not take care of the situation? Did he not provide the lamb for the sacrifice? Whenever God is asking anything from you, just obey and surrender. For He will take care of the rest.
When I answered the call, the first thing God did was to give me a direction on how to pass the message to my wife. And she did not argue it. She accepted it in good faith. So, my wife started encouraging me. When my children heard about it, they were asking if I could do it, and I told them I had no option than to do it.
Then, I called the band members and told them. I made it clear to them that it may not be like the music thing where most times, Iâ€™m fully booked for a year. Then, even if Iâ€™m not booked for a year, atleast on weekly basis, I have about three places to perform, and weâ€™ll all have something to go with. When I told them, their countenance changed.
But I called my captain and asked him to continue the band, as long as he does not disappoint me. And, it didnâ€™t take long before trouble started among them because they didnâ€™t want to give the leadership to the captain and he wasnâ€™t happy about it. So, they chose another leader and started disappointing people.
They started creating problems that I even had to go to court to bail the band. And after spending so much money, I knew that the whole thing wonâ€™t work. So, I told them to go and form their own band.
That was how the band was dissolved, until later on, some of them started meeting Christ on their own and came back to me. And weâ€™re still together today. Others had to find their own way.
It must have been very difficult for you to cope with life then?
No, it wasnâ€™t because God was always giving me a divine direction. That time, a friend of mine went to United States, and while he was there, God told him to see me when heâ€™s back. So, he sent for me. And I remember going to see him with my late brother.
He told me that God wanted to start something new with me. Another woman of God told me that she saw me in her dream and I was in a place where all the grasses were dry but the ones in front were green. And she knew that God wanted to do something new with me.
So, I had to be prayerful. The third person who confirmed was a reverend. He said that God told him that he wants to deliver a key to me. And that key is the gospel. They told me not to start in a big prayer house. Because of my name, I had to start in a low key, so that I could have testimony. I took that counsel.
Iâ€™m sure people didnâ€™t believe it, even after the band scattered….
There were a lot of comments. Some people said Iâ€™ll come back within six months, and some others said it was not possible. But they were surprised when I scaled through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd year.
Were there offers from people asking you to come and play music for them?
Of course, there were several of them. I remember somebody told me that heâ€™ll build a house for me if I could postpone my calling for another five years. He would build a house for me in Victoria Island, just for me to postpone it for five more years. And I called that person and asked if we owned our lives. How were we sure that we were going to see those next five years?
Did you experience more temptations when you first started this work of God?
Several difficulties and storms came. I remember at a point all my cars went bad, and I just bought a new one. Not long after I bought the new car, some robbers came and took it away at gun point from my driver, while I was preaching.
I had to ask God why He should allow such a thing to happen to me. Series of difficulties like that kept coming but I had already made up my mind. So, there was no going back.
I equally made up my mind never to beg anybody for anything so that they donâ€™t discourage me, until one day, I met someone who gave me a cheque of N5 million.
And I made sure I used the money for the purpose which it was given.
Thereâ€™s another thing that happened, which was my factory. I took loan from banks to buy equipment for music production in the United States.
So, in the process of trying to get the equipment down to Nigeria, we had problems and the equipment couldnâ€™t get to Nigeria.
And we ran into problems with the banks. I had to sell the factory in few days to pay back some of the money. All these troubles almost crippled me.
Are you saying that these troubles wouldnâ€™t have come if you werenâ€™t in Godâ€™s service?
They were part of the challenges of being in Godâ€™s service. I know that similar thing (factory issue) happened to an elderly musician who was before me, and he couldnâ€™t manage the crisis and that was what led to his death.
That period was the most turbulent period of my life. But the scripture and the Holy Spirit were there for me. During this period, help did not come from anywhere, even those I had helped before did not show up. During this period also, a particular media house wrote a story about me.
Though the writer did not mention my name, the description was me. It read, â€œThe mighty is falling from grace to grassâ€, and I wept the day I saw that story.
Then I went back to God and said, â€œLord, this story is for you and not me. So, Iâ€™ll continue to do your work, no matter what happens. Today, Iâ€™ve forgotten about all that. May be, God allowed me to pass through all that so I could have something to tell other people who are passing through any kind of crisis.
God saw me through and gave me plenty of money again, which I invested into stock and lost all again. But I was not worried.
I went back to the scripture in the Book of Micah, chapter 8, verse 8, which says, â€œMock me not, my enemy. For if I fall, I will rise again.â€ Later, I had all those things again because God surprised me from where I never thought help would come from.
Was there anything you missed after you abandoned the world and followed God, or anything you remember and wish you never did in the past?
You see, the good thing about God is that when you turn to Him, old things will pass away, and youâ€™ll become a new creature.
You used to be very unfaithful to your wife. How did you overcome that?
Yes, I may have been unfaithful to my wife but even then, I lived a modest life, though I wasnâ€™t a saint. Celebrity life goes with a lot of temptation, especially, in the area of women.
From the onset, God knew He was taking me somewhere. So, He was guiding me. I had girlfriends but they didnâ€™tâ€™ come to my house. So, I lived a disciplined life, especially, because of my children. I didnâ€™t want them to copy any bad life from me.
Iâ€™ll say that God loves me more than any other person, and today, that part of scripture which says I am a new creature is being fulfilled in me. God does not remember my past anymore. Everything you want to ask about girlfriends is in the past now.
Will you say youâ€™ve made more money as a man of God than when you were in the world?
No, donâ€™t let me say that. I donâ€™t use the church money. I donâ€™t receive salary. I look for money. I have never seen the ministry as a place where Iâ€™m coming to make money.
Iâ€™m there to serve. I used my personal money to run the church. At least,Â 80 per cent of the building of the church is my money. I thank God, today, the church has grown, and we have branches. But uptill today, I still source for money outside the church.
And I want to assure you that God has never let me down. In the ministry, we have a purse for pastors whose parents did not assist them in the burial. Because many times, pastors are left alone.
You used your music to make people happy, and now youâ€™re in the church to win souls. How do you feel when you remember that you were once a juju musician?
I still use my music to win souls for Christ. I sing to get peopleâ€™s attention and then give them the word of God.
You remember that Christ had to chase people away from the temple when He saw that they were turning His Fatherâ€™s house into a market place. And today, some men of God are taking that direction, building mansions and even universities, which fees most of their members canâ€™t afford to pay for their children. Is that the way of the Lord for things of the world to take control of the church?
No, donâ€™t get confused. Things of the world are not taking control of the church. Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with a man of God owning a university. Because such university will be run with the spirit of God. Since government cannot satisfy the needs of millions of children who want to get into higher institutions, thereâ€™s nothing wrong if a ministry or church decides to assist. Donâ€™t forget that those universities owned by churches donâ€™t go on strike.
If the government decides that churches should begin to pay taxes, will you pay?
In the Bible, pastors and men of God donâ€™t pay tax. But if the government insists, then why not? But I tell you that God is wise to have kept that record in the Bible.
Even in the Bible, kings listened to the voice of men of God. Thatâ€™s why any message from Samuel was important. Because they were coming from God.
Rulers followed the voice of God, and things were fine. Leaders who fear God donâ€™t talk about that,Â after all there are so many resources which God has blessed this country with, and which government is making money from.
So, why will churches be asked to pay tax? Iâ€™m not saying the government should not do what they like. But if they do it, they should be ready to enjoy whatever fruit it bears.
Those days, you used to be booked from the beginning to the end of the year. How is it now?
These days, Iâ€™m so busy. And I thank God that my song preaches His word. So, whether Iâ€™m singing or preaching, Iâ€™m doing the will of God.
Do you have any of your children working with you in the vineyard?
Oh, yes. I have three of my children there, and I can see that this is just the beginning of what God will do in my life.