The person of Jude “Engees” Okoye may mean different things to different people but to his younger brothers, Peter and Paul “P. Square” Okoye, he means guidance, a manager, director and even protector. During the buildup to their 30th birthday celebration which was held at their new home, SQUAREVILLE, in Omole Phase 1, Ikeja, Lagos on Thursday, November 28, 2010, we sat down with him to talk about him and his brothers.
Tales of him being rude and distant had prepared us for a very cold reception but none of this was evident right from the phone call to fix the appointment to our arrival at the house. We were cheerfully welcomed into the brand new SQUAREVILLE and ushered into the tastefully furnished yet simple living room on the ground floor of the twin duplex. Jude carefully switched off his phones as the tape recorder came out and proceeded to answer to our questions.
Starting from the beginnings in Jos, Plateau State, he told us of how he first noticed and recognized of his brothers’ musical talents. “I used to watch them rehearse around the house but never took anything seriously until when they came to perform in my school, the University of Jos. The kind of reception they go from the students really surprised me and from them I started taking them seriously and giving them attention. But they were still “Imitating Michael Jackson” like they put it in their song and I encouraged them to try out their own lyrics. The first two songs they wrote, “Igbedu” and “Say Your Love” fully convinced me that they could make it as professional musicians and they won my full support.”
Jude who is the third in the family of eight children was also a musician in Jos then; in fact he had two albums of his own, one was entitled, HARD BEING ENGEES while the second was still untitled when he switched over to movie making. The switch was prompted by the movie RATTLESNAKE which was released then. “When I saw RATTLESNAKE, I was impressed,” he says. “The fact that Nigerians could capture the society in such manner impressed me a lot at that time and I immediately went to work on my own story.” The product was his first movie which he named, GREAT OBLIGATIONS. He enlisted the help of an NTA Jos staff who directed it and while watching the man work behind the scenes, the idea that he could also direct his own movie came to him and his second movie, TOBI, which came a year later was directed by him and featured Peter and Paul who were not yet P. Square then. Two more movies, SISTER SISTER and GAZOLA followed, but those were done in Lagos.
Everybody knows about how Bayo “Howie T” Odusami brought P. Square to Lagos and managed them through their first album, LAST NITE before Jude took over. So we asked Jude how that came about and he traced it back to their university days. “When they got into the university, I encouraged them to sing and dance to their own songs because people were beginning to make fun of them for dancing to Michael Jackson and other people’s songs. That came with the need to promote those songs and I went round the major cities of the country trying to push them,” he said. Then came the BENSON & HEDGES competition to Jos and the twins entered for it. They won in Jos and went on to represent the Northern Region in Abuja where they won again to proceed to the Grand Finale in Lagos. They again emerged victorious and that was the turning point in their career. BENSON & HEDGES then helped them launch their first album and according to Jude, “the rest is now history.”
Because Jude was still a student in the university then, Howie T, the renowned DJ and show promoter who was actively involved with the BENSON & HEDGES was saddle with the management of P. Square and he supervised the release of the first album, LAST NITE, under TIMBUK2 MUSIC. When they all graduated, Jude suggested that they all move over to Lagos where he now took over the management of his brothers. This was just before the release of their second album, GET SQUARED. And while earning the reputation of a very hard bargainer on the way, Jude has arguably managed his brothers to becoming the biggest band in the land.
His other reputation lies in the direction of award winning videos for his brothers and we made him also talk about that. That he was into movie making was already a given but how the switch from music to that and eventually the videos of his brothers came about needed more explanation and we got that in this manner: “Whenever I put my mind into something, I have conviction and believe that I can do it. The ‘Senorita’ video was my very first video and for a big company like BENSON & HEDGES to trust me enough to let me do it meant a lot to me. I was able to convince Howie T that I could do it and I just did it. I just know that when I see a good thing, I can identify with it and I know how to follow up and achieve it in a particular manner.” This was done without any formal qualifications whatsoever in video directing or editing.
But was concentrating on his brothers’ career not too large a sacrifice against his own career? “No,” Jude disagrees. “I don’t think it’s a sacrifice so to say, it’s a job; it’s a calling, responsibility and a career. If you say sacrifice, it would be like I’m just doing everything for them. I’m working as well and making a career out of what I’m doing. I run NORTHSIDE ENTERTAINMENT which manages artists. I have a video and movie making studio in the works right now and I have been working for about six years now – from the GET SQUARED album till now. It’s no sacrifice because if I wasn’t doing this I would still be behind the scenes of movies and music just like I am now. It was my choice to just work with my brothers for now.”
This then led us to talk about him not working for other people and he explains that he had tried to work with other people without much success. The fact that he is working for his brothers has been in the way because whoever he works for would ultimately come to compare him or herself with P. Square and if their success levels are not at par, there would naturally be a lot of dissatisfaction and grumbling. “If they don’t do well, the easiest excuse would be that I do the best for my brothers and that I don’t want anybody to be bigger than them. They will not admit the fact that they are not P. Square and that the levels of success can never be the same for everybody. It would either be that they are bigger or they are smaller. They cannot be at par because they are not the same. So for me to avoid such a scenario, I would simply concentrate on working for my brothers for now.” He is contented just working for his brothers for the meantime. “But very soon I will open the doors to other people in management, recording and video directing. And when I do that I will be sure that P. Square has got to such a level that there will be no room for comparison. In fact, once I release another album from P. Square next year, I will open the doors to other people, he says”
There are a lot of complaints about him being a very rude person and we confronted him head-on with it. “It’s simply not true. What happens is that people like misunderstanding others. I’m a very busy person like most other people and because of my schedules, I like being very blunt and strict. I don’t like beating behind the bush or dragging an issue that should have been concluded in minutes. I have six phones and I have to answer all of them and there’s no way I can satisfy everyone that calls on them. Bill Cosby said that he might not know the secret to success but he sure does know that the secret to failure is trying to please everybody. Most people call thinking that one is idle just because he sees them on the TV without know what the person has passed through in the other 23 hours and six days of the week. God knows I’m not rude and I can’t be. God has been very wonderful to us. His blessings are so much and there’s no way we can be rude with it.”
In getting to the top, there are always fights and challenges and Jude and his brothers have had their own fair share. Of note was the last year faceoff with their former landlord which led to them rushing through the building of their house. But Jude sees it as dues everyone has to pay to succeed. He believes that everyone has his own route to the top. The stoicism and determination of the Nigerian youth impresses him but what they have to face pains him so much that he unwittingly digresses into a larger sphere of discourse – the entire Nigerian music industry.
“I don’t know why some of these bodies like the PMAN, COSON, MCSN, PMRS and so on that always come out to say that the government has recognized them to come and collect monies on behalf of the artists only come out to collect things. Nobody has come out to say that the government has recognized him to come and repair, they only come to collect. We have a piracy issue at hand and what they are doing is akin to a patient going to a hospital with a spinal cord injury and the doctor is trying to trim his nails. The major problem facing the industry is piracy so why ask the government to bring money? All we want them to do is to recognize the industry and help us fight piracy. Piracy is corruption and we want the government to help us to fight piracy. Most of these bodies are fake and they misrepresent us to the government and then ask us to join them. I can’t join because they don’t know my problem. That the government should help me to collect my royalties from the radios and TVs is my right, I know, but that is not my problem for now; it is not the bone of contention.”
“P. Square has succeeded in becoming a success and building a worldwide brand but what happens to those coming after? If everybody comes to collect, who is going to come out to give? What are we keeping as a foundation to the next generation? We don’t have any foundation in Nigeria. Imagine if P. Square were not musicians today what would they be doing? If all the artists in Nigeria today were not musicians, what would they be doing? If they had not had the opportunity and the will to fight for themselves to become great, they would have ended up being miscreants and threats to the society. This is what they were able to do for themselves and the government is still yet to recognize them, what will happen if we give them support?
“In every country in the world the government supports entertainment except in Nigeria. Yet it is the same entertainers that would come out to support the government and entertain them. So it’s high time we stop praising who has made it or who has not made it. We need to come together and say after we have made it what next? Can a parent train up his child to grow up in entertainment just like being a doctor? Come one million years today, doctors would still be in vogue but can the same be said about every music? In the 1960s we had the pyramids of groundnut in the north but immediately we discovered oil everything about agriculture went behind. We are now focusing on oil alone and that would finish one day. If we don’t lay a foundation in this music industry, very soon I don’t know what is going to happen.”
So with Jude’s spiritedness on the things of the industry we inquired if he and his brothers were taking any personal measures to see that things are corrected but he explains that the job of safeguarding the nation lies with the state. “It’s not something an individual can do alone. I cannot take the laws into my hands or start walking from one shop in Alaba to the next to stop people from selling pirated CDs. It is what the government should do. P. Square has been recorded to sell at least six million copies of every album they make. But at how much? N70, N60 or N100. Even an empty CD costs more. If they should be able to sell at N1000 like 2face is trying to do, do you know how much the government can make in tax from that? Or how much more employment can be created through that? And this is just one person. What about when others are involved? But if the government doesn’t come in we will still have to selloff our albums at giveaway prices to marketers. There’s nobody implementing the laws and what these pirates are doing is stealing. They are no different from armed robbers!”
Jude could have gone on and on about this issue but we had to round off but before leaving we asked if he had any plans of settling down with a wife soon since he is three steps in front of Peter and Paul who were celebrating their 30th birthday already. But he simply smiled and told us that it won’t happen until he finds the right woman marry. “Or am I to walk down the altar alone?” he asked.