By Mercy Hill
Meet Otika Oja
Can we meet you?
Otika: I am Otika Anthony Chimezie Leonard, popularly known as Otika, the flutist, Otika Oja. I am from Anambra State, from Aguata Local Government Area, Achina to be precise. I’m a graduate of Psychology from Nnamdi Azikwe University, here in Awka.
Take us through your educational background
Otika: I had my Primary School at Primary School, Egbeda, Lagos. My Junior secondary school was at Asolo International School, Mowe, Ogun State; then my Senior Secondary School was at Christ The King Catholic College, Odo Elewu, Ijebu Ode, Ogun State, still in the west. Then, I came down to Awka to study Psychology at Nnamdi Azikiwe University
What prompted your study of Psychology?
Otika: You know that Humans are everywhere, we have to learn to manage, tolerate and cope with each other. Wherever you have human beings, it’s important you have a Psychologist there to make the environment calm and enjoyable for the good, the bad and the ugly. I felt I could contribute the society through that, so I decided to study Psychology.
Tell us about your family background
Otika: My family presently resides in Nasarawa State, at Nyanya, a town at the boundary between Nasarawa State and Abuja. I’m the first born of six. Two others are also graduates apart from me. Others are still rounding up with school.
What would you call your greatest challenge in the university days?
Otika: My greatest challenge was distraction. I was almost distracted by school politics, I just disciplined myself from joining school politics to enable me concentrate on my Oja. Though, towards the end, I tried to join. If I had joined, it would have taken me far but I would not have had time for my Oja
Tell us about your service year
Otika: (Laughs) Well, I graduated in 2017, my service year was in Imo state. The three weeks in camp were exceptional. I was very popular in camp, the only difference between Davido’s service year and mine was that Davido was richer than me. I was able to blend in with other ethnic groups especially people from the West, the Yorubas, and the North, the Hausas. I speak little of both languages. I was able to communicate with them.
What would you tag your greatest achievement in your service year?
Otika: Being able to mingle with other tribes in Nigeria. The service year also brought me to understanding that if there is understanding among all the ethnic groups in Nigeria, there will be a smooth life for all. I was able to conquer that in camp. After camp, I was posted to the municipal prisons. I was opportune to meet some prisoners, while interacting with them, I noticed some of them that found their talents in the prison yard, as there were ways to develop your talents in the prison yard in Imo, then we had the tailors, the musician, baking, the Pastors to mention but a few. I encouraged those that were into that and advised those that were not doing to start something.
What next after NYSC: Money, Marriage, Masters (MMM)?
Otika: (Laughs) Money o, ha, it’s money o. One needs money to marry and you can’t engage in Masters without money. Though, I’ll be taking life gradually, I’m not in a rush. If those who rushed life should tell you their stories, then you better take it gradually. What will be will be.
Tell us about your Music Career
Otika: Coming to Unizik, I noticed the Igbo culture was not appreciated in the school, so I took it upon myself to elevate my culture by continuing with my flute. I did not start in the university, but I kept on with it. It was not easy at the initial stage but with time, people started taking cognizance of it and it brought me to where I am today.
How did you start?
Otika: We the Igbo believe that the Oja na-ama ama. That is, it is not something you can learn, it is innate. In my own case, when I was small I couldn’t play the Oja. I think I took over from my late uncle, Mr Jude Otika. Let’s say he inspired me.
I actually started when I was in secondary school. I remember when three seminarians from the Catholic Diocese of Awka came all the way to Christ the King Catholic College, Ijebu Ode, to teach us the popular ‘Igba-Eze’ dance. I sincerely wanted to dance but the then Chaplain of the school, Rev Fr Pascal Ezeihuoma, compelled me to learn flute blowing (Oja).
I remember how that he (Fr Pascal) threatened to suspend me from school, if I did not learn how to play the Oja. I quickly took advantage of the training and learnt how to play the Oja in two weeks for fear of being suspended from school. Though my learning was not perfect, but I never gave up.
After secondary school I went for admission and was admitted into St John Bosco Seminary Isuaniocha, Awka North LGA: I omitted that when I spoke about my schools. It was there I met Okpala Basil, popularly known as Etiko, a very great flutist.
Etiko took his time to teach me the dynamics in blowing the flute. I was enjoying a smooth teaching session with Etiko before I was issued my withdrawal letter from the seminary after my spiritual year and we lost contact.
Wow, amazing story. So, having learnt from Etiko, how many persons have you taught how to blow the Oja
Otika: Well to the Glory of God, I have taught a minimum of 10 persons of which more than 5 are doing excellently well. I had plans to teach more people before the pandemic struck in the month of March and till now things have still not normalized. The coronavirus pandemic prevented me from getting more students. Besides that, the major challenge faced by teachers of Flute is the availability of good Oja. Unfortunately, I must say that one can rarely get a good Oja these days. I remember I have checked in Onitsha main market, Ogbete and new market Enugu, elsewhere, but you hardly find good Oja.
You spoke about Fr Pascal, the three seminarians and Etico, are you still in touch with them?
Otika: Yes, two years ago I went for a function at Nri Kingdom where I met Etiko; it was a great time of reunion for us after so many years apart. We took some pictures of which I posted on all my social media, acknowledging him as the man who made me what I am today.
Well, about the Chaplain, Fr Pascal Ezeihuoma, I was with him earlier this year before the pandemic at the 50th wedding anniversary of his parents, at Umuchu, and I was excited to had encounter with him and he disclosed that he was so proud of me.
For the seminarians, I am currently doing everything within my power to get in touch with them. The last I heard about them was that they were all priests now. I am certain that one day I will see them and pay homage.
What is your greatest inspiration?
Otika: In psychology, we were taught that, if a behavior is punished with time the behavior varnishes but if the behavior is appreciated continually, the behavior grows and develops.
So, aside from the support, financial reward, and encouragement I receive from people, my greatest inspiration is impacting lives through the Oja. Inspiring people through my talent is undoubtedly my inspiration.
Who is your mentor?
Otika: I had no one I was looking up to because I was forced into learning how to blow the Oja; but to say the truth, it won’t be out of place to say that it was my then Chaplain, Revd Fr Pascal Ezeihuoma, who saw it in me and mandated that I learnt it. The credit should also go to the then Seminarian, who is now a Revd Fr. I’m sorry, I can’t remember his name.
The third credit goes to Etiko (Okpala Basil) who took his time training me because he stayed longer.
Fides: How are your parents coping with your flute blowing career?
Otika: At the initial stage, my Dad was not cool with my flute blowing, because he felt there should be something better to do to get the money and the popularity. Though he did not discourage me, because he could have seized my flute or my cloth, but he did none of these. I did not give up still, I just saw him as one out of one hundred, the other ninety-nine people were there to encourage me, but I’m sure he had his reasons. As time goes on, there was my late grandfather’s brother, Chief Obiora Nnabuenyi, during his lifetime. I complained to him about my father’s disapproval and he spoke to my father about it. He also gifted me some of the things you see today, the bangles and all.
Do you only blow Oja or do you do some other things?
Oja is not the only thing I do. I am a baker. I do MC.
What advice do you have for the Nigerian youth?
Otika: My advice, in a time like this, is that very youth should take advantage of this pandemic and learn a skill. Certificate might not be able to put food on your table. Look at companies that lay off their workers in this pandemic, while people with skills still make their money. Every youth out there should learn a skill and be good at what they do.