The death of popular singer, Ilerioluwa Oladimeji Aloba, popularly known as Mohhad, has been stirring controversy in the country in the last two weeks. Many people have been clamouring for justice to be done in a death saga which they believe has more than meets the eye. The authorities at the federal and state levels have waded in, with the Lagos State Commissioner of Police setting up a panel to investigate the circumstances of the demise of the 27-year-old artiste who was barely crossing the portals of his stardom.
This death and all the intrigues around it are indeed another testimony to our deeply entrenched institutional deficiencies that have been responsible for our overall failure as a people. The series of events that presumably climaxed in the death of Mohbad has been in the public space, at least, in the last one year, as the artiste continuously lamented his alleged ordeal in the hands of his erstwhile boss, Azeez Adeshina Fashola (aka Naira Marley). If actually the institutions responsible for law enforcement and protection of lives and property are efficient and alive to their duties, they could not have looked the other way until the worst has happened and public outcry ensued before acting.
Mohbad was one of the artistes signed to Marlian Records, a record label owned by the maverick Issa goal crooner, Naira Marley. Sometime last year, a video in which the artiste was receiving treatment for injuries he alleged were inflicted on him by Naira Marleys boys went viral. In the video, the artiste lamented that he was brutalized on orders of Naira Marley for merely wanting to change his manager. Naira Marley later made a video denying the allegation and rather saying that it was Mohbad who went haywire, apparently under intoxication, and was destroying things and had to be restrained. He also claimed not to have any issue with the artistes desire to change his manager.
Subsequently, other videos and tweets by Mohbad appeared alleging ill-treatment from the “Marlians”. The artiste had left the Marlian Records in 2022 and had alleged ceaseless persecution from the owner, Naira Marley and his boys ever since. While speaking to the Chairman of Senate Committee on Entertainment Economy, Senator Elisha Abbo, who visited her home on Thursday, the mother of the deceased alleged that his son had told him that Naira Marley had constantly threatened him.
There is something fundamentally wrong with a system where a citizen will remain helpless in the face of apparent threats and persecution from known NOT UNKNOWN elements despite the supposed presence of a monumental institutional set-up for providing security and censuring crime. The entire security apparatus of the nation especially the police could not see any reason to wade in and investigate what ostensibly was a grave threat to a citizens wellbeing. This once again speaks to our notorious poverty of proactivity in engaging security issues and indeed every other issues in the life of our nation.
Mohbad was not an obscure figure, he was a music star of national stature, yet his lamentations could not attract the attention of the concerned institutions. One can then imagine what becomes of the average citizen who lacks the public visibility of Mohbad. It is obvious that the Nigerian state has never satisfactorily embraced its duties of protection over the citizens.
It is wrong to assume that the police, in fact any other institution, should wait until a matter is formally reported to it before acting. This makes mess of the intelligence aspect of the work of the police which entails continuous and clandestine surveillance of the public and private spaces in search of information that will be helpful to its duties. An institution like the CBN requires financial intelligence for its efficient functioning just as a body like the civil service commission requires intelligence related to workers ethical conduct in order to more effectively regulate public service. A body like WAEC or an institution of learning requires intelligence regarding activities related to examination malpractice in order to better protect the integrity of its exams. In fact, any institution that wants to rely solely on information officially and directly brought to it is already courting failure.
Mohbads ordeal had since been trending on social media, making one to shudder at the indolence of our security apparatus. Was the police waiting for someone to run into its office with a report of something that is already public knowledge? It is a well-known fact that social media now serves as a priceless asset to security agencies the world over who now obtain on a platter of gold the sort of information they had, before now, invested so much resource and time pursuing.
However, it appears the Nigerian security agencies have their own different idea of how to operate in the 21st century. Little wonder it is common to hear police authorities dismiss allegations of extortion or brutality by its officers with the familiar talk that such cases will be investigated and dealt with once there is a formal report with credible evidence. Many a time we hear leaders of the force say something like: We are a disciplined force that does not tolerate any form of extortion. If any member of the public has any credible evidence that any of our officers has engaged in such acts, they should not hesitate to bring it up to us, and once we receive such report, we will act on it with dispatch. However, we will not be able to act on mere speculations.
A few years ago, a Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) with whom I belonged to a particular virtual forum was fond of responding to any such allegation made on the forum by posting a standard message from the police urging members of the public to officially report cases of police extortion or any other form of misconduct. In other words, the informal allegations being made on the virtual platform did not matter to him. He did not seem to be conscious of (or was merely discountenancing) the fact that his belonging to a public forum like that was a very useful source of intelligence for the force, both for crime fighting and regulating conduct of officers. I once told him this after he reposted the usual notice when I stated on the platform that police officers were openly extorting motorists somewhere close to Arroma junction, Awka. Of course if you guessed that the extortion has continued till today (six years after) you will not be wrong. Maybe the police is still waiting for a formal report.
It appears the only use which informal information in the public space (including social media) serves Nigerian security agencies and in fact most of our public institutions is that of knowing what is being said of them for the purpose of merely denying it. This aligns perfectly with our attitude as a people who live in constant denial. Several years ago I watched the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission on a television programme almost dismissively respond to a callers allegation about the poor attitude to duty on the part of civil servants by simply insisting that the civil service under him was being reformed and was becoming better and better. This is about 20 years after, and you and I can see the extent of progress that has been made on the path of this reform. In the later years of the Obasanjo administration, a journalist once asked him about the poor state of power supply in the country despite his well-known promise to end power interruption within the first two years of his rule, the President responded to this poser by, among other things, insisting that “all I know is that power supply has improved. You and I know better. Such institutional denialism remains a trademark of public bodies in our country, and for this reason, we have never come to sincerely look at ourselves to acknowledge our desperate state of decay and urgently face it.
It is this continuous denialism that brought us to the precincts of anarchy in what was the #EndSARS protests in 2020. The issues that led to the protests had been in the public domain for decades. As far back as the 1990s, former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Coomassie, had responded to the allegations of misconduct against his officers by denying that the force was systematically dysfunctional, insisting that the police was merely being given a bad name by activities of a few bad eggs among its ranks. A few bad eggs most of us must have heard this familiar phrase times without number as our public institutions live true to their denialist disposition. Confront any public institution about corruption and other forms of misconduct among its workers, the immediate response is denial and attribution of bad image to a few bad eggs a few bad eggs among our workers, a few bad eggs among our operatives etc.
For the police, the first stern warning came in 2017, as years of neglected public outcry against the atrocities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) suddenly metamorphosed into a frantic social media campaign as many people reposted the hashtag EndSARS. Again the authorities were in denial. The then force spokesperson, CSP Jimoh Olohundare Moshood, sought to discredit the protest by alleging that its initiator had links with the political opposition camp, a puerile response that prompted his TV interviewer to ask him whether the affiliations of whoever that initiated #EndSARS addressed the factuality or otherwise of the allegations being made by many members of the public.
Therefore, what eventually took place in October 2020 was, perhaps inevitably, the frenzied climax of an unattended public discontent, a mass irredentism that was incubated in the womb of the authorities penchant for denialism. It was the potentially anarchic reality of that movement that eventually became the blow that jerked the authorities out of their self-induced slumber. But the speed with which the government reneged on its promise to bring to justice police officers alleged to have committed rights abuses easily exposed the fact that its announcement disbanding SARS at the peak of the protests was merely a knee-jerk response to douse the perilously growing tension. Today, those SARS officers accused of rights abuses are as free as they were, we have not heard of any being brought to book neither have we heard about the publicized psychological test they were to undergo to ascertain their fitness to remain in the force. Therefore, it is clear that our government remains what it is; it would not act on anything to correct what is definitely a national decay. The #EndSARS phenomenon didnt change this state of affairs. No better confirmation of this truth exists than the fact that the same government which had appeared poised to reform the police, when the dust finally settled, began to spin narratives meant to delegitimize the protests and even went as far as targeting the bank accounts of its financiers.
Back to Mohbads death, it is instructive to observe the insinuations in the public domain that Naira Marley, the supposed adversary of the late artiste, had acted with the arrogance of one that was above the law. In fact, recording artiste and entertainment entrepreneur, Kenny Saint Brown, took this beyond insinuation when she categorically stated on ARISE TV on Friday that Naira Marleys connections with the security agencies were the reason Mohbad was helpless in his ordeal. It is public knowledge that Naira Marley was once hunted by the EFCC and he came out triumphant releasing the hit song Am I a Yahoo Boy? Did money exchange hands?
It is no longer news that security agencies habitually hobnob with rich and influential personalities who thereby practically become above the law. The unholy affair between CP Abba Kyari and now convicted Internet fraudster, Ramon Olorunwa Abbas (aka Hushpuppi) is one big notorious example. In the same vein, one is intrigued at how popular musician Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu (aka Burna Boy) was never known to have faced even a mere questioning session with the police after his security aides shot and injured two persons at a night club in Lagos in June 2022 following the rebuff of his advances by the wife of one of the victims. Once news emerged that he had soon after the incident jetted out to Spain, a friend who discussed the news with me agreed with my position that by the time he would be back to the country, he would have used his huge financial muscle to settle the whole matter and nothing will be heard or said about it anymore. The rest is history.
But to give Naira Marley a fair hearing, it is important to also vent the other side of the story. He may have been a victim of the often seen scenario where artistes who, having been signed and heavily invested in by a record label, become too ambitious once they break through and become stars. These artistes, losing their head in the excitement of stardom and allure of money, start aiming to arm-twist their record label and walk out of the contract to become their own boss even when the record label is yet to recover tens of millions of naira invested in their career. This is nonetheless not to make excuses for Naira Marley assuming the allegations of being a mindless predator levelled against him by Mohbad and his sympathisers were true.
Lastly, this whole saga once more speaks to the issue of young people, their identity and role models within the context of our entertainment and popular culture sphere. Truth is that whatever we may have against Naira Marley and his “Marlian” culture, we have over the years celebrated this artiste and his objectionable ways. Are we not aware that the youth are the ones being misled as we culturally canonize a lad whose music has been an embodiment of celebration of lechery, drug and other forms of deviance? Many will definitely get attracted to this culture.
Make no mistake about that, Mohbad went into romance with a questionable group, the “Marlians”, reputed for promoting the wrong values including drug taking. Last year, he was reported to have been arrested alongside five others by the NDLEA in the house of Naira Marley on drug-related suspicion. Though the NDLEA has, after his death, denied that Mohbad was among the six persons it arrested from the maverick musicians resident, the artiste had insisted he was arrested and given something that later proved poisonous to drink by the NDLEA, and his mother has now restated this claim. Is the NDLEA now merely trying to wash its hands off the series of ordeals that preceded the artistes demise?
Personally, I have observed our societys deep-rooted ambivalence when it comes to calling a spade a spade as far as differentiating between creativity and decadence is concerned. In an article I wrote nine years ago, I had noted how we easily overlook those moral values we traditionally cherish whenever it comes to evaluating the works of entertainment figures. Hence, so long as a musician sings something that is sweet to our ears, it becomes a praiseworthy piece of cultural contribution irrespective of the kind of values such a piece promotes. Thus, lyrics and videos that border on the decadent are routinely celebrated as an ideal art form. This way, unwholesome values are propagated and questionable characters enthroned as role models for the young. This summarizes our confused social consciousness manifesting in our inability to differentiate artistry from debauchery as exemplified by our courting of the likes of Marlian” culture. The recent decision of the NDLEA to appoint Naira Marley as its ambassador is one shocking manifestation of this contradiction.
Mohbad, like many other young people, was caught up in the middle of this confused collective consciousness. But too bad for him, he paid the ultimate price (assuming his death is finally proved to have a link with his alleged ordeal in the hands of the “Marlian” family).
At this juncture, I will leave the reader with the submission by my good friend and public commentator, Mazi Ejimofor Opara, on how Mohbad and all of us have become victims of a culture that thrives on obfuscating the line between art and depravity. Said he: For me, I wanted to be a musician because of 2baba Idibia (all my songs are still with me especially as I couldn’t pay for them to be pirated in Alaba International at the time). Until I got to the university and gave my all to studying sociology because I encountered the late Dr. Andy Obiajulu a renowned sociologist.
“Today I ask myself, What do young people want to become because of me?’ … The consciousness that there are people who I might be influencing their life choices makes it even more difficult to blur the lines. As a society, we must help young people to understand hard core lines between depravity and creativity.
“At the time it became normal to espouse openly without reprimand that one was a Marlian, we took it for entertainment even when Naira Marley himself didnt mince words in telling us what being a ‘Marlian’ entails. Today we all are standing for and with Mohbad simply crying when the head is off. However, what is not late is to save the younger ones from a fresh bout of depravity. Including teaching them that there are things loathed by society, and such things must not be done boldly as though they were normal. This is a better way to avoid the more Mohbads in the future.”
The fact, they say, speaks for itself.
Henry Chigozie Duru, PhD, teaches journalism and mass communication at the Department of Mass Communication, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria.