In the public eye, the most recent news of P-Square splitting up, was the 2017 edition of the now-so-stale break up threat that always ended as a strategy, for yet another smash hit.
These 2 had literally sat on the Nigerian music industry for almost 2 decades, Sumo style, with nothing short of premium music artistry. They had managed to break out of a dead-end era in Nigerian music to gain and retain an outrageously history worthy relevance; and by every standard possible, they had truly earned it.
Peter and Paul could sing, they could dance, they were “marketable”, they were focused, they could make a hit out of any genre they chose to, the replay value of their albums was an insanity, they raised the bar- video after video, they kept the scandals at the barest minimum, they had the heart of almost every Nigerian girl, They raked in awards upon awards, their music surged through borders and possibly unknown to them, they subconsciously became a societal symbol for family, togetherness and brotherhood. From that kind of perceived stability, particularly with their big Brother Jude holding down the business side of things (visuals too), splitting up was definitely a far cry; completely unfathomable…
Or, so the public thought.
“30 children cannot continue to play for 30 years”
‘Aliona…’, Peter Okoye’s voice bellowed from the upper stairs of his Ikoyi home. There I sat in the living area, carefully processing the environment that looked like it was straight out of Music Television’s popular celebrity real estate show, MTV Cribs. It definitely would have made a worthwhile episode though: The camera taking close ups of the 3 super high end SUVs that sat pretty in calculated alignment, Lola Omotayo Okoye, (Peter’s wife) warmly welcoming the crew with a smile as she stepped out, Cameron, (Peter’s son) running around the house with his friend; their faces and arms covered in experimental body painting, producer and manager introducing themselves, Aliona (Peter’s daughter)taking up the attention of the domestic helps, Yuki and Yoko (their dogs) running to and fro from the excitement of new faces.
All of that did happen but this was no MTV Cribs. Matter of fact, this would be one of the earliest interviews that Peter Okoye would grant as Mr P, a former member of the now defunct P-Square, gone solo.
Even though he tried to not go too in-depth with details, his analogies kept painting what might be the real picture of things. Half the time, his responses veered off the premise of the question to shed more light and I did not try to get in the way. He was the one in the group for 18 years. He was the one wearing the shoes. He was the one who knew where it pinched him. This was his story to tell.
Vibe: 18 years down the line-what would you say is your fondest memory of P-Square?
Peter: Ever since we started till date, it has been fun till like probably late 2013.
Is there anything you’re likely to miss?
Like I said, 30 children cannot continue to play together for 30 years. We are at a point where we no longer have respect for each other. It is not ego or pride; it’s respect… Respect as an individual, and as family. This is the best solution we could come to.
You guys have been together for quite a long time. Not many groups have done that. What helped the group last as long as it did?
Respect. It was respect all through. What made us grow was respect? Not because we’re brothers. Not even because we’re twins. It was because we had respect for each other.
We’ve seen videos of people crying on social media because they heard about the breakup. How do you think fans will handle this transition?
Change is constant. I always hear people say blood is thicker than water. I’m married. I did not select a wife for anybody. The question is, who is water? Are my brothers blood and my wife and kids the water? It’s like asking me who is priority. When was the last time your parents decided to look after their siblings more than you?
To the fans, we’re sorry. You don’t want to see P-Square on stage when they just fought back stage; pleasing you guys when we are not happy. I’ve tried many times to make it work but it did not work… I just had to give up for the sake of the respect of our individual families.
Is there a slight possibility that some day, we will get back the P-Square we used to know?
Of course. When the respect is back. When you stay apart for a while, the respect will come. We’ve lost it.
People will never understand but we’ve lost that respect. Like I said in the open letter, we will work in future but when we come back, it will be from respect. There was no respect that’s why there has been a back and forth. Aren’t you guys tired of it? If I tell you that P-Square is back now, people will say “You guys are tricking us”. Don’t play with people’s minds.
I don’t have any problem. All I said is that, have it at the back of your minds – P-Square is for the fans. Peter, Paul. Jude and family, is family.
People say why do I put my business on social media? If I say I am not dealing with this manager (Jude Okoye), it is for the public to know because it is the public that will still call and book a show with him.
I give him my respect as an older brother. I don’t have a problem with that but when you disrespect me based on the job, then there’s a problem. One thing I will never do when I come back to this life again is mix family with business.
“You can’t remain in one place. People must expect and respect change.”
Sometime in late September 2017, a letter of termination from Peter Okoye hit the internet, preceded by numerous subs and shades on social media, that pointed out the strife between the Okoye brothers. A video was also released of three of them arguing in the office of their lawyer Festus Keyamo, while Peter recorded. Though he received a lot of backlash for releasing the video, his reason was because he got tired of keeping up appearances and he wanted people to know exactly what the situation was.
Social media has indeed been utterly crazy. Everybody has an opinion about this matter. How have you managed this intrusion?
Whatever is out there, is what the fans need to know. Last year, nobody knew what was happening. “When are you guys releasing a song?” They did not know we were fighting but we’d still go on stage and perform. All I wanted was to keep the family together but what the fans wanted was to have P-Square. We gave you guys P-Square even though the family had been fighting for about four years-even as of last year that we claimed we were back. I cannot even face the shame of making the fans feel that we are okay. We are not okay. It’s not healthy. I don’t have any problem with their own family. The wives, everybody. I am cool with them. I don’t know what’s wrong. I don’t know why it looks as if the hatred is on my family. I’ve tried to ask them what the problem is but nobody is telling me anything.
It’s like saying Mr Charles and Mr James are business partners and they own a beverage factory together. Mr Charles and his partner work together but Mr Charles doesn’t like his partner’s family. All the time, he insults the family. All the time, he says sh*t about the family. All the time he doesn’t attend the family’s functions. Do you expect two of them to still be working together? Be honest with yourself.
Now it looks as if the most important thing is for the 2 partners to be in the business while they are fighting. They will come and smile to the people that everything is fine. It’s not fine. There’s a way you pinch someone; it will be painful at first and then later, you don’t even feel anything. I don’t feel it anymore.
What major lessons would you say you learnt while in the group that will be applied to your brand as Mr P?
Don’t put yourself in a corner. Let no one ever tell you “You cannot do it without me”. If there’s one thing I have learnt in all this, it is that being a man is not just having 2 balls. Being a man is about standing for your family. I cannot trade my family for anything, I’m sorry… They cannot trade their family for me. It’s like waking up and asking me “Your family and me; who is more important here?” And I throw the question to you and you cannot even answer it.
Do you think it’s possible for any music group to remain together till retirement?
It is not possible. It has never happened. Never. Some individuals decided to separate 2 individuals by saying this person Is better than this person but my motto is, if you steal from Peter to pay Paul, you’re paying P-Square. “Oh I hate this Peter.” Well if you see 2 of us on stage, with Peter on one side and Paul on the other side, you will watch the show like this. (He covers one side of his face with his phone).
The reason why I started responding to social media is because there was something that came out one time. I was advised “Peter do not say anything” but it’s affecting me today. When my brother put out that he sings and writes all the songs. I never responded but right now, there are 50% of our fans and some groups that believe Peter doesn’t sing. All because I wanted peace. But now if you say anything about me, I will respond. I don’t respond harshly if you’ve noticed. I’m not like last year. I decided to calm down because my family is more important here. I cannot trade my family. If you do not like it, don’t be my fan. If you do not like the fact that I am standing for my family, then you should not be my fan and I am serious about it. My brother is my twin, fine, but you keep asking me blood is thicker than water. Obviously you think Paul is my blood and my family is the water? You guys better be out of your minds.
Being apart is the best solution at the moment. It’s not pride. It’s not ego. It’s respect. We’ve lost it.
‘Nigerians are known as 419ers, scammers, but now, I think our music has diverted that negative thought from people’s minds.’
The highest point of Peter’s success has got to be going from absolutely nobody to becoming an influential figure in the society and changing a large part of Nigeria’s notorious reputation through the music. He had received numerous calls from the “who is who” of the society, over and over again, concerning the breakup and it did not sit well with him. ‘It pains me a lot.’ he says in regret. “It should be an achievement. It should be “mehnnn I heard how good you guys are doing” not “What’s the problem again?”.
‘I have achieved the fact that when they call my name or my brother’s name (of course it will still be tagged as P-Square), it can be said that we have done wonderfully well in the society. I think people no longer talk bad about Nigerians anymore. I don’t want to give the props to only P-Square. I give it to everybody. The Faze, 2 face, Remedies till Davido, Wizkid, Tekno, J martins, Bracket, Flavour, everybody. We have changed people’s mindset. Nigerians are known as 419ers, scammers, but now, I think our music has diverted that negative thought from people’s minds.’
‘I’m not 100% a good song writer but it does not disqualify me as a musician.’
From the little glimpse into the plans for him as an individual act, Mr P is a ticking bomb. His Glo sponsored Dance with Peter show which halted due to the numerous conflicts will soon be back in full effect, He has another reality show in the works, he had just paused his tour to be with the Mrs and the babies for a week, he just dropped arguably the most popular music video on the block –Cool it down-, He had just signed an impressive digital marketing and distribution deal with American based Empire records, P Classic records is still going on strong and has a new act called Singer in addition to Papi J and DJ Switch and we might just have a P-Square cartoon show running soon! Even with all these, he chose to go all modest on me.
‘I’m upcoming… I will say it. I won’t lie. I want to say it boldly. The ones that want to insult me, so be it. When I mean I’m an upcoming artiste, I’m an established, comfortable, if you wanna use rich, upcoming artiste. I’m okay with it. Change is constant. People are scared of change. You can’t remain in one place. People must expect and respect change.’
He looked nothing like 37 as he told me about his tattoos and their various meanings- some of which were the first instrument and the first note he ever played. Knowing that he had stopped putting that much effort into “fitfam” was almost unbelievable. He continued to downplay the fact that he has forever been eye candy for the gals dem.
‘I don’t think I look good. If you see my old pictures ehn… If I was a carpenter, e no go dey like this. I’m not that handsome, I’m not that ugly.
Even the workout, I don’t do it as usually anymore. I can do twice a month. I was the first person to start doing Mr sexy in the industry but now I have my guys like Iyanya. (He laughs.) Looking good is good business. Once you look good, it’s a plus. It’s an added advantage.’
‘If you do not like the fact that I am standing for my family, then you should not be my fan.’
Peter’s gorgeous wife made the news few days after the Cool It Down video after she asked what the vixen was doing on her bed. Of course she was joking but I wondered, had she adjusted to her husband’s lifestyle as an entertainer whose constant contact with females was highly inevitable? How different were things for Peter after his marriage? How was he managing the expectations of his female fans?
‘I knew her for nine to ten years before we got married so when we did our marriage; according to her, we just dey waste our time. We don marry since. Well on my Instagram I don’t behave as if I’m married. It’s showbiz, you have to be happy and play along. It doesn’t mean cheating. Just be happy and know that you are an entertainer.’
Cameron and Aliona watched from a distance as we chatted. Peter explained how he tried his best possible to make sure he was always in their lives; no matter how much his job demanded from him.
‘Thank God for phones’ he said. I video-call and talk to them all the time and one thing for sure is, out of sight is not out of mind. I try my possible best to make sure that the little time I have I spend with them. I was on tour but I’m back for a week to head out on Thursday…Look at them here watching us because they feel you guys are taking their time because I’m supposed to be chilling with them. I promised to take them to the park today but I told them we will go tomorrow; I don’t joke with my family. i can’t trade them for the fans… I’m sorry…’
Cameron’s friend had asked him in school about the disbandment of P-Square and he brought the question home to daddy.
‘I told him we just don’t sing together anymore. Music is like football. Morata and Ronaldo used to be together but where’s Morata today? He is in Chelsea…what if it is a particular company that wants to sign me for three hundred million Pounds? The same money, I go collect am give Paul fifty million Pounds. We go even fight real fight post am for una. Abi? It is showbiz for Christ’s sake…’
Celebrities like Waje and Tiwa have expressed their fear of their children gravitating towards music but not Peter.
‘I will allow them. Truth is our parents never gave us that moral support 100 percent; except our mother when she discovered that it was going to work out. but I think some of us, our parents stopped us from being whatever we wanted to be. They always wanted us to be doctors or lawyers… You can’t beat talent. It stays in you.’
Despite the numerous projects Peter has in the works, he has learned the magic of delegation. Back in the day, he would choreograph dances for videos and performances but now, he would rather hire professionals to do his bidding; including songwriting – one of the bones of contention that played a part in the dissolution of the P-Square group.
‘I’m not 100% a good song writer but it does not disqualify me as a musician. Michael Jackson, Usher Beyonce; people write for them.’
In all truth, Whatever Peter lacks in the songwriting department, he makes up for it in quite a number of ways especially in other music arts. He plays almost every music instrument, he is a walking dance machine and he used to be a professional footballer. When I asked what part of his body he would most likely insure, I already knew what the answer would be. His legs.
He joked: ‘Imagine a Mr. P show and Mr. P comes on stage limping…After the show they will tell him to refund the money.’
“You can’t beat talent. It stays in you.”
In this new era of Nigerian music, Mr P is quite impressed with Tekno, Wizkid, Davido and Runtown especially because of how they remind him of P-square, 2face, 9ice and Styl Plus back in the day. As for the music industry in general, he agrees that albeit slow, there is positive progression.
‘We have done well so far but some things are still lacking. It may get better but so far we have done really well. A few of us started off selling albums in Nigeria but now, some people even throw their songs for free. “Just download make I blow.” As long as that is still existing we still have a long way to go. An upcoming American will stick to his rights saying you must download it from here o. They won’t give you for free. I pray the change will come. We are between 35 -40 percent. Not bad but we will get there.’
By far the most intense interview I had conducted, there was still some time to ask questions like what Peter loved to waste money on.
‘Party! Chilling in my house. Instead make I waste the money for club, make una come here. There’s never a dull moment, anybody that knows me know. I still go clubbing o but I still love the fact that I can stay in my house. Even if I get drunk at least I’m in my house and not outside.
For new life to occur, something must give. P-Square will forever have a place in the hearts of music loving Nigerians but in a world where even Siamese twins sue themselves for the most trivial of things, this separation may have been written in the stars.
For Mr P, this individual journey is deeper than trying to outdo another. This was mostly about the freedom to explore and channel his creativity in all the ways he had always wanted to.
Of course there are quite a number of things to prove especially as he has been confined to a particular profile all through his career and he is well within his rights to change whatever notion that did not sit well with him.
He said to me; ‘There are a lot of things that people don’t really know about me but I think time will tell. All they just believe is that I dance but what happens when you realize that I know how to sing? It will come. let’s wait for it.’
Cover Story: Cynthia Atagbuzia
Photography: Image Faculty
Styling: Peter Okoye