The Awkward Things I Did Looking For Miracle –Yinka Ayefele
On Tuesday, December 12, it turned 20 years that Nigeria’s popular gospel music maestro, Olayinka Joel Ayefele, simply known as Yinka Ayefele had the ghastly auto accident that changed his life forever. It was a memorable week for the 51-year old music star who decided to commemorate the two decades of the accident. In this interview with FUNSHO AROGUNDADE at his Music House headquarters in Ibadan, Oyo State, Ayefele reflects on his trials and triumphs and revealed his only wish
It has been 20 years since that life-defining incident. Reflecting on the transition, how would you describe these past years?
First and foremost, I give God the glory for sparing my life after the auto accident. If I had died through that accident, it’s possible I would have been forgotten, but here I am today. Looking back, I got to realise that spinal cord is life. Each time I sit down and think of those pains I have gone through, I sit and reflect about the importance of spinal cord to human being and give thanks to God.
What exactly was going on in your mind the first week of the accident as you lay on that bed at the neurological ward of the UCH, Ibadan?
I thought the end had come, particularly after the examinations and I was told that I had a spinal cord injury. I was a bit confused, because I didn’t really know much about spinal cord and its value to human lives. Until then, I didn’t realise the importance of spinal cord. So, when I was told that I might be confined to the wheel chair for life, I thought I was going to die thereafter, but after a while, I made up my mind and told God that I was not ready to die, as I wanted to live. I believe that I will still walk again. It was a sort of proclamation: I said I will not die and at the end of the day, here I am still living. I was actually making those proclamations because we were about 40 that were brought to that Neurological Department of the UCH at that same time and in that ward, all of them died, I was the only surviving patient in that ward among the 40 brought from different parts of the country to that place. At a point, I thought I might also go the same way like the rest, but at the end of the day, God indeed proved Himself to be awesome.
What are you most grateful for in the last 20 years?
Life. If I wasn’t alive, I won’t be able to achieve what I have become today. In achieving what I have today, it’s not by my doing, but that of God. I have a lot of friends doing what I am also doing, but they cannot be put side by side what I have achieved today. It is not by my doing, but by the power of God Almighty. I am grateful for the gift of life, which has been the spirit pushing me to forge ahead. If I had died in that accident; probably people would have gathered somewhere today for my 20th year remembrance, but God is awesome.
During those days, you released an album ‘Bitter Experience’ where you narrated your whole experience before and during the accident as it concerned your then boss, late Kola Olawuyi. This actually exposed your challenges, but strained your relationship. Though you later aplogised to him in a live television programme, what memory did you hold of those encounters?
The truth of the matter was that I was naïve then, but I later learnt my lessons. If I had known then, I would not have taken the whole matter to that extent. Looking back, I now believe that God has a purpose for everything that happens to a man. There are reasons why some things happen at a particular point in time. If Kola Olawuyi had taken it upon himself then to assist me, maybe I won’t be where I am today. Just like when King Pharaoh insisted that Israelites would not leave Egypt. To achieve a purpose, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, because he wanted him to perish. Likewise if Brother Kola had taken it upon himself to help me by announcing the ordeal I was passing through on his programme; maybe a lot of people would have rallied round to give me that support financially. Then, I wouldn’t have made those noise through the music and be where I am today. If he had done what I thought he should have done then for me, because I would not want to be ungrateful, I would have been tied to his apron. But on the other hand, you, well meaning Nigerians, rose up and supported me financially in order for me to travel abroad for further medical treatment then. The issues in the album generated a lot of controversy, but then I still have to apologise to him because I wanted peace to reign.
How would you describe the life on your feet for 31 years and the past 20 years on the wheelchair?
I can tell you authoritatively that life on my feet would have been far better than on the wheelchair. No matter how financially stable one may be, you are almost restricted when you on the wheelchair. For me, the pains and that restriction alone are too much to bear. They are nothing pleasant. Many a times, I would want to get some things done, but would have to rely on others’ assistance. It’s such a painful thing, but if you are on your feet, even if you have no cash in your pocket, you can still run around to get things done and with God’s grace, things could happen for you. But in all, I give thanks to God Almighty who has always been my shield and helper.
Looking at then and now, do you think you would have achieved what you have now if you had not had the accident?
This question is a bit technical, but all I can tell you is that I know where my mates are now. I know how we used to struggle together and how far they have gone. But the truth is that if I was on my feet; I don’t think I would have been where I am today. Definitely, I would have made some progress in life or even beyond what I am now, but God has His ways of doing things. He must have seen what a mere mortal won’t see and just said ‘I will make sure you are restricted a bit’. I think if I have not been on the wheelchair, I would probably have gone to where I am not supposed to be found.
How true is it that you prefer to be on the wheelchair than getting back on your feet as your present state evokes the love people have for you and it is to your advantage than getting back on your feet?
How can I prefer to be in pain? I am always terribly in pain for almost 24 hours because I still have five broken ribs. For me, being in this condition, after 20 years of the accident, I still have that persistent pain everyday but I’ve learnt to live with the pains because if I have to be taking painkillers, it might later cause damages to my kidney, liver or lungs. That is why I have decided to live with the pains every day. There is no way I would have loved to stay like this and bear such excruciating pains at most times. For what? It’s just not possible.
Despite the pains, you seem to create merriment in your music and for your fans.
Well, if I did not tell you now, nobody would know I am still passing through some pains. I just left downstairs playing with children who came for our Christmas programme because I love being around people that love me. So, whenever I am in such a gathering, I forget every pain and play along with them because if eventually I walk, they won’t have known who I am during the 20 years that had passed. So, I need to enjoy the time I have presently. Whenever I am on stage trying to make people happy, I am always ready to give them what they want.
Don’t you think you are being favored as a result of the compassion that people have for you being on the wheelchair?
I don’t think so. When I first released ‘Bitter Experience’, a lot of people said it was patronised because of my condition. Then I came out with the second one and if it was still with sympathy, they bought it and it was accepted. I came out with the third album and over five others I released concurrently. To say those records were bought based on sympathy will not be fair. It only takes the favour of God. There is nothing special about me; I only see the favour of God. Yes, there are lots of musicians that cut across all genres and they are making it yet they are not on a wheelchair; you can see that they are also favoured. The irony of life is the fact that there are some people who don’t like the Ayefele brand and when you ask them why, ‘They will be like, Yinka did not offend me, but I just don’t like him’.
Are there moments while on stage you feel like jumping up?
Severally! Most times, when I am performing, I want to jump out of the wheelchair, especially whenever I am on stage. Every minute I wish I could stand up because most times I make moves with my legs. Most times I want to show a lot of people that I am still very fit and whenever I see people dancing to my music, I feel like joining them to dance.
There have been issues concerning the classification of your music. Some opined you don’t belong to the gospel sector but that you play a Tungba kind of music, reasons you have not been invited to places such as the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) camp?
First of all, Tungba is my own kind of music and the Tungba is the sound of my talking drum mix, it is my own way of preaching the gospel if you believe it or not. I am the only Nigerian gospel artiste with lots of Muslim fans in Nigeria. Performing at the Redemption camp is not a ticket to see God or to make heaven. If they want to me to come and perform, I will be invited. I have met with both Pastor Enoch Adeboye and his wife several times at revivals; if I am not invited, it might not be Pastor Adeboye’s fault as it could be sentiment amongst the pastors. I have performed in virtually all other churches.
What is your relationship with other upcoming gospel singers?
I encourage them because it will always be my pride that they are doing something and I am there to give them the support needed. I want to be a part of the success story of many so that when they are writing, they can say that at the point they met me, things changed for them. If you are a musician and you want to get close to me, you are welcome.
Do you believe in miracles?
Of course, I do. I believe in miracles and I have been waiting for it ever since and I know for sure that it will come one day unexpectedly.
What are the awkward things you did in the course of looking for this miracle?
It’s funny, but the major one I can readily tell you was going to the Synagogue Church for a miracle. In those early days of moving up and down for special miracle that will get me back on my feet, a lot of people advised me to go to and see Prophet T.B Joshua. Difficult initially, but I took the pains to go there and unfortunately he could not see me. I was going to the Synagogue for three consecutive days, yet for reason best known to the man, he refused to see me. That was about 17 years ago. On the third day that I visited him hoping for a healing, he still didn’t see me, but later sent someone to give me N5,000 for transport back to Ibadan. So, after that third day, I decided not go there again.
Did you find out why T.B Joshua refused to see you?
I didn’t bother to know why. I just don’t want to know the reason. Maybe it was because of my late boss, Kola Olawuyi. Because, at that time, Kola had issue with him and he knew I was working with him before my accident.
Were you then discouraged?
Not really. Inasmuch as I believe in miracle, the only regret I had was going and looking around for it at some specific places, forgetting that miracle can happen anywhere. I didn’t remember then that God had said in His book that He won’t share His glory with anybody. I remember my encounter with Baba (Timothy) Obadare during those early years, I was on my way abroad for treatment and he told me that it’s apparent my faith had been tied to overseas as if my miracle was over there. Prior to that meeting, he and some other men of God had given me messages and assured me that God said He would do it at his own appointed time, because he wouldn’t want any man to take the glory for my miracle. And I do believe in that now. For instance, if I had had to stand up at any of those churches I had visited in search of miracle, a lot of people would have trooped down to such church and the glory would have gone to the pastor.
Since you are still in pains, medically how fit are you, performing what nature gives you as a man?
Medically, I am very fit and can perform virtually every other thing any man can do. I am very agile, despite the pains, but I try not be restricted by the pain. I live with it. I don’t have any other health issues than the fact that I cannot stand on my feet. At the initial stage, I only feel the sensation limited to my shoulder from my head. But now, I can feel the entire sensation all over my body down to my toes.
Let’s talk about your closeness to the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s family…
Yes, I am so close to the Atiku family just as I am so close to many other prominent families. As much as I understand where you are driving at, for clarification, I don’t belong to any political party, but then Chief Mrs. Titi Atiku has done a lot for me likewise Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. He has also been so good to me. I have performed at virtually all their events. The family has literally made me their official musician as I have performed at almost all their children’s weddings. All politicians are my friends. The way every artiste is being contacted for show, so I am too. I have performed for many prominent families who are members of different parties like All Progressives Congress, Peoples Democratic Party or APGA. It’s just that Mama Atiku has been so good to me.
It is also believed that you are the favourite of Mrs. Patience Jonathan who has openly shown you affection.
I was close to Madam Patience too, because she has always shown me love. Like I said earlier, I love to be with people who keep me alive. Wherever Mama Patience sees me, she will specifically request to sit with me. And while we are together, she was always so passionate about how I was faring. She encourages me more to be alive and positive.
You own one of the most promising radio stations in Nigeria, Fresh FM. At what point did you conceive the idea of owning a radio station?
I think it was when I was shooting the video of my first album ‘Bitter Experience’. I just flashed back and saw the support I received from the electronic media during those trying moment. Such memories made me want to contribute to the broadcasting sphere. In actual fact, the process started 19 years ago, and at a point I thought it won’t manifest until about nine years ago, when I met one of my friends in London who introduced me to internet radio. I kicked off from there using my Facebook page where many of my fans on the page started encouraging me. I was the first and only presenter. I started uploading my music on the radio and the fans base started growing. A little while after then, I applied for the broadcast licence and obtained a form from the National Broadcasting Commission which kick started the process. After several investigations by the DSS and other security operatives, I was granted the licence and two years ago, we commenced transmission here in Music House and gradually we have been improving by bringing fresh programming, as our name implies, and delivering quality services to our audience. This has gone to earn us plaudits and rating as the best radio station in the entire South West.
We learnt you are already planning to expand to other states?
That’s correct. We have concluded plans to commence operations in my home state of Ekiti. We are just taking our time to ensure that the Fresh FM in Ibadan is stabilized, but almost all the broadcast equipment for the new station in Ekiti is ready and we would soon launch out.
How do you feel getting rewarded with the national honour of MON?
I didn’t expect it. I was too excited because that is the biggest award I have ever received in my life. I really thank God seeing myself in the midst of other distinguished Nigerians getting the national honour. I felt so honored because the award is not something you lobby for. It was based on merit. The Federal Government felt I was worthy of it and a letter was written to me intimating me of the honour. Just recently also, I got a letter that the government has decided to name a street in Abuja in my honour. All these are major achievement for me and I don’t take them for granted.
Looking at these honours and achievements, what dream do you still nurse to attain?
Only God knows what tomorrow holds for me. I don’t think of any significant thing, but what I desire most is for me to get up and walk on my feet again and I believe that will happen very soon.