Ebenezer Obey’s Transition to Gospel Music
(This is the second report on the interview conducted with Chief Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi on April 18, 2021. With viewers on three platforms now at over 16,000, there is a strong loyalty between him and his admirers. For its entire recording, see https://youtu.be/nAJbdi0nJUw)
Although Ebenezer Obey enjoyed much fame as a Juju musician—pioneering his Juju Miliki sub-genre, touring the United States and the United Kingdom, selling his songs, and even buying the DECCA Records West Africa company—there were inclinations from the earliest moments of his career that he was bound to switch to gospel music. There were no doubts that he was a successful Juju musician, one of the most successful that Nigeria ever saw.
He founded the Ebenezer Obey Music Company Limited in 1979, in Ogun State, as a record label that was primarily dedicated to the production and distribution of his songs. This record label was soon to have branches in other locations in Nigeria—Agege and Palmgrove in Lagos State, in Ibadan, Aba, and even in Kaduna. In addition to creating his record label, which in itself is big enough evidence that the Chief Commander was a highly successful musician, about thirty of Obey’s albums sold over 100,000 copies, while two of his albums sold over a million copies, earning him thirty gold discs and two platinum discs, respectively from DECCA Records.
Despite all these, Ebenezer Obey did not feel truly fulfilled because he kept getting the nudge to delve into the world of gospel music. His call to the world of gospel music was not as sudden as many people believed. It started from his formative years.
Ebenezer Obey’s mum, Abigail Oyindamola Fabiyi, was a devout Christian and a worshipper at Methodist Church, Idogo. She often took Ebenezer Obey to worship with her in church. The story is told of how toddler Obey would always be found among the choristers, playing with their musical instruments, to the extent that a visiting minister at their church once said that the child would one day become a very popular musician.
The congregational hymns were Ebenezer Obey’s earliest contact with the music world. They influenced his emergence as a Juju musician, seeing that Juju is a genre of music that partly has its origin in church hymns. He graduated from attending church and listening to music to participate in the music-making process by joining the church choir. This was how young Ebenezer Obey was made into the musician we know.
Albeit the continuous nudges to transition to gospel music and become a minister for God, Ebenezer Obey remained numb to the call due to many factors. When he relocated to Lagos in 1964 and formed the International Brothers, his focus was on promoting his band and becoming a famous and successful musician and bandleader. So, he had no affiliations with any external spiritual organization for his first three years in Lagos. He was not a worshipper at any church, though he was very much used to church-going while growing up. Nonetheless, he maintained a personal relationship with God. On those nights when he would sit on his balcony, staring at the stars and earnestly hoping that he would one day become a musical star, Ebenezer Obey whispered prayers to God. According to him, one of the prayers he used to say then was that if God made him a star, he would build a church. At that time, when he earnestly sought a deal at DECCA Records and the secretary denied him access to the Talent Manager, Ebenezer Obey returned home and sought God’s face for a week. God had never been absent in his story, just that there were times when he was not actively involved in the things of God.
It was then not much of a surprise when in the 1990s, Ebenezer Obey eventually gave in and transitioned to the gospel genre of music. Before he became a gospel singer, he had received signs, which he turned a blind eye to. However, after a successful career spanning several decades, Obey said that he received clear messages from God, which were clearer than ever. In an interview, the Chief Commander granted City People, he said he heard the voice saying, “Son, I want you to leave what you are doing. I want you to come and work for me.” After initial struggles in his spirit, the Chief Commander started Decross Fellowship Center, where they held midweek programs.
It was strictly a fellowship then and not a church. The people who got converted during their outreaches were sent to different churches in Agege, where they could worship and continue communion with God. As reluctant as Obey was to venture into the ministry fully, he received an invite from Archbishop Ben Idahosa, who told him that God had a message for him. The chat he had with Archbishop Idahosa did so much to convince him that he had to become a gospel singer and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Archbishop told Obey that God was willing to use him, just as He used Moses. This single incident confirmed the genuineness of the call that the Chief Commander had been receiving.
Having received a confirmation of the message about his call, Ebenezer Obey told his wife about yet another confirmation he received from God. Before the archbishop’s message, he had told his wife of his experiences and the imminence of God’s call to him. His wife’s counsel was to heed the call, align with God’s purpose for his life, and start on the next path that God had for him. She reminded him that God helped him become successful in the world of Juju music and that if that same God wanted him to become an evangelist, he should yield to the call because God had something in stock for him. He knew how to make Obey a success in yet another endeavor. Obey’s wife was supportive of him becoming an evangelist from the outset. She was ready to adapt to the new life, so long as God called her husband.
However, the Chief Commander’s children were not so keen on him becoming a gospel minister. They had fears that he would lose his teeming fanbase, which would have adverse effects on the family. But the Chief commander did a good job of making them see the importance of the transformation, telling them that it was God’s call and that He always has all things planned out. These Chief Commander’s offspring agreed to, albeit with some reluctance because they knew how in-demand their dad was as a secular musician. Obey cited instances where people would delay their events until they were available to play at their ceremonies. Such was the fame and success of Ebenezer Obey and his then Inter-Reformers band, yet the Chief Commander left all that to yield God’s call.
On his 50th birthday on April 3, 1992, Ebenezer Obey has ordained an evangelist by Archbishop Benson Idahosa in Abeokuta. Even after being ordained by Archbishop Idahosa, the Chief Commander did not wake up one day to call himself an evangelist. Upon the advice of Pastor Billy Ingram, he took an observation course in Theology. When the evangelist started his ministry, he lost many of his fans, many of whom did not want him to abandon Juju music. However, he was more focused on God’s call and did not think much of the fans he lost.
In the beginning, everyone wanted Evangelist Ebenezer Obey to preach at their programs, owing to his fame. This made him very busy, and in the process, things went sour in some quarters. His cassette-producing company ran into debts, he had to liquidate some assets, and he also lost some shares. Undeterred, the evangelist kept to the work of God and his calling, and the Lord ministered to him through Myles Monroe that the focus of his ministry should be music; that he is expected to preach the gospel through music.
After the message of God through Dr. Munroe, Ebenezer Obey focused on preaching the gospel through music, and the Lord prospered him. The Chief Commander claims that he started to charge 2.5 million nairas per show, and soon, God returned him to the days of plenty. He soon regained the love and loyalty of his large fanbase, all while sticking to God’s call. Some of the notable gospel songs by the Chief Commander are “Eni Ri Nkan He,” “Anjade Loni Eledumare,” “Gbebe Mi Oluwa,” and “Iba O Messiah Oba.” Apart from releasing gospel songs under his name, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey has also written songs for several musicians.
Although Obey’s focus was preaching the gospel of Christ through music, he equally keyed into the vision that God had shared with him—to expand his ministry, Decross Gospel Mission, by planting churches. According to the evangelist, God wanted them to plant churches so that the vision would not go extinct at his death. Evangelist Ebenezer Obey is the church’s General Overseer, while his son, Rev. Folarin Obey, is the Deputy General Overseer. The vision of the Decross Gospel Mission is to develop people and make them unstoppable and high-end achievers. To this end, Evang. Ebenezer Obey has ministered in churches in many places to help train and empower people. His ministry, Decross Gospel Mission, continues to grow bigger as the days pass and now has churches in different parts of the country and beyond. In 2018, Decross Gospel Mission celebrated its silver jubilee, and in the same year, the Chief Commander handed the mission over to his son, Folarin Fabiyi. Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey remains a preeminent star of Juju, in addition to his gospel music.