By Olusegun Adeniyi
Last Friday in Las Vegas, United States, Duane Keith Davis, popularly known as ‘Keffe D,’ was arrested after a grand jury indictment for murder with use of a deadly weapon. Although Davis was brought to court yesterday, his arraignment was deferred till 19 October while he remains in custody. He will be tried for allegedly killing Tupac Shakur, the legendary American rapper, on 13 September 1996 at age 25. It is remarkable that attempts to resolve the fatal shooting of Tupac 27 years ago is coming at a time the Nigerian police have opened an investigation into circumstances surrounding the death of a 27-year-old rapper, professionally known as Mohbad (real name, Ilerioluwa Oladimeji Aloba). He died on 12 September and was buried the next day. A week later, his body was exhumed following a social media campaign.
Let me be upfront here. Ordinarily, I consider myself a music illiterate because I have never even heard of many Nigerian artistes being raved about. And it would be insane to compare a global icon like Tupac with Mohbad whose name and music came to my awareness only after his death. I am not trying to do that. Such is the impact of Tupac on popular culture that there are monuments of him in several countries around the world. Even on the streets of Abuja, you see his image on public vehicles and tricycles. Tupac has also been a subject of intellectual curiosity in several institutions of learning. A year after his death, the University of California, Berkeley offered a course titled, ‘Poetry and History of Tupac.’ And in April 2003, Harvard University co-sponsored the symposium, ‘All Eyez on Me: Tupac Shakur and the Search for the Modern Folk Hero.’ He is adored even by politicians. In 2020, United States Vice President Kamala Harris, then a California Senator, described Shakur as the ‘best rapper alive’, and she justified her curious assertion by saying rather affectionately, ‘West Coast girls think 2Pac lives on’.
However, if we are to learn lessons that will serve the budding rap music in Nigeria, there are parallels to be drawn from Tupac’s life and death and that of Mohbad. This is particularly important for us, with many of our young people believing that their only way to success is through the music/entertainment industry. As an aside, I have encountered many of them in recent years who, believing I ‘know people’, sought my help. I have directed quite a few to those I believe may know how to reach Don Jazzy. I am still on the lookout to see if anyone of these young men will ‘blow’ so that I can remind them of my role in their stardom.
Meanwhile, with an autopsy already conducted on Mohbad’s exhumed remains, the coroner inquest into the cause of death has also started with a hearing fixed for next Wednesday. As stated earlier, I heard the name of Mohbad for the first time after his death. But out of curiosity, I have in recent days listened to some of his songs. There can be no doubt about his talent. The controversy now is about his last days. Before his death, Mohbad had posted social media accusations of being harassed, bullied, and even battered against certain people in the industry. Some have been arrested by the police and we should allow them to do their job.
However, while we await the autopsy report and the coroner inquest, stakeholders in the music industry should not waste this moment. Even if it turns out that Mohbad died of natural causes, glorification of the gangster ethos, debauchery and lawlessness being promoted in the name of music by some with whom he associated is dangerous to the health of our society. The notion that rap music or hip-hop as many call it, is a subculture that only thrives by promoting violence, drugs, sex, and wealth without work, has been disproved even in the United States by Jay-Z, Kanye West, P. Diddy and others who are now corporate giants and strong political voices by virtue of their craft and the choices they made. Sadly, the emerging rap culture in Nigeria tends to glamourise ‘the thug life’ while creating the illusion that success has nothing to do with work. They encourage ‘Yahoo Yahoo’, money rituals and drug dealings.
In June 2009, Reuben Abati wrote a controversial piece on ‘Youth Culture: A Nation’s Identity Crisis’, with special emphasis on the then emerging brand of music in the country and their promoters. In dismissing most of their outputs as noise, Abati compared them to older generations of artistes who “sang music under its real names, not abbreviations or slangs…after the fashion of T.S. Eliot‘s description of ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, a pattern of meaning that dates back to traditional African musicians and all the musicians that succeeded them.”
Abati’s anger was driven by what he described as sound with very little sense, shape and skills coming from many of the music stars. He also noted a lack of originality in their lifestyles and comportment. “They try to imitate Western hip pop stars. They even dress like them. The boys don’t wear trousers on their waists: the new thing is called ‘sagging’, somewhere below the waist it looks as if the trouser is about to fall off. The women are struggling to expose strategic flesh as Janet Jackson once did.” But as critical as he was, Abati also recognised the fact that “it is now possible to hold a party without playing a single foreign musical track, the great grandchildren of Nigerian music are belting out purely danceable sounds which excites the young at heart. But the output belongs majorly to the age of meaninglessness and prurience. The lyrics says it all…”
Even if one may argue that some of his statements in the piece were too sweeping (and Banky W. wrote a powerful rejoinder), Reuben made a strong point about the lyrics. And he referenced many of them. Nobody should say that these lyrics don’t matter because they do. In April 1992, an American Trooper, Bill Davidson, was killed by a 19-year-old Ronald Ray Howard. Davidson had stopped the vehicle of Howard for broken headlights, but he shot the cop in the neck before driving off. Three days later, Davidson died of his injuries. In court, Howard claimed that when pulled over by the trooper, he was listening to Tupac’s track, ‘Souljah’s Story’ and the lyrics influenced his decision. Part of the lyrics is about the harsh life of a young black American, especially when he confronts police on the road: “Only fifteen and got problems; Cops on my tail, so I bail ’til I dodge ’em; They finally pull me over and I laugh; ‘Remember Rodney King?’ And I blast on his punk ass…”
In addition to the murder charge against Howard who was eventually convicted and executed by lethal injection in 2005, the officer’s widow, Linda Davidson, filed a separate civil suit against Shakur (who was alive at the time) and his Interscope Records label, a Time Warner subsidiary. In the charge, it was alleged that the label and the rapper were grossly negligent in manufacturing and distributing music that incites “imminent lawless action.” According to the family’s lawyer, the lyrics of the album read like “pages out of a cop-killing manual.” The then United States Vice President Dan Quayle waded in by saying, “There’s no reason for a record like this to be released. It has no place in our society.”
Hip Hop (Rap) is about rhyme, rhythm, and poetry and very popular among young people. Most writers have traced its origin to the early seventies in the United States and the defiance by young African Americans against racism and unequal opportunities. In the process, some took to music as a way of escape by rapping about guns and ghettos as a reflection of their daily living. “Not only did rap provide an outlet to voice the struggles of the black youth”, according to one writer, “it also gave them a sense of pride.” The genre, he concluded, “was a testament to triumphing over hardships, to having enough confidence in oneself not to let the world drag you down, and to rising above the struggle, even when things seem hopeless.”
Our circumstances may be different but there is a way in which rap music is also popular among the deprived of our society. That probably was how Mohbad emerged. Was he exploited by people he trusted? And was his death a result of brutalities inflicted on him? Those are questions authorities will now have to answer. But when the inquest into the circumstances under which he died is over and justice is seen to have been done, I hope two things will happen. One, there should be an attempt to honour him in a way that will benefit his son and wife who are his immediate next of kin. Two, I hope that those who are promoting misogyny, violence, drugs, and other vices in the name of music will retrace their steps.
Fortunately, there is no better place to look than the United States where this genre of music originated. The Big Boys have moved from the streets and dark alleys to the boardroom! And so have their songs. How did Kanye West put it in his album, ‘homecoming’? Yeah, “Reach for the Stars, so if you fall you land on the clouds.” That’s far different from those whose world still revolves around “Cannabis in the rizla, so high I can’t get higher”, while asking young people who look up to them to ‘marry Juana’ and ‘smoke the fire’.
May the soul of Mohbad rest in peace.
The Value of Life in Nigeria
I read a moving story in PUNCH newspaper yesterday of how a female lawyer, Uduak Adams, survived death by whiskers, after she was wrongly accused of kidnapping a boy. According to the report, Adams had on 16th September gone to Surulere in Lagos to inspect a house she wanted to rent. She asked a boy for directions to the street, and he obliged. Not long after, Adams was confronted by the boy’s mother who accused her of kidnapping him from their compound and wailed for support. “Immediately, people gathered. They carried planks, and sticks, dragged me, and didn’t give me a chance to explain. They dragged me and started beating me,” she recalled. “The crowd brought tyres and wanted to burn me. They told me that I was going to die, that even the police and army could not save me. They said they were about to kill me, and I should start saying my last prayers.”
Fortunately for Adams, while she was still being molested by the mob, the boy returned. Asked where he had been, the boy explained that after he and his friends had assisted Adams to locate the street, he left to go and play football. At that point, the crowd dispersed, while the mother started begging. Policemen from Itire Police Division were said to have immediately arrested some of the attackers including the boy’s mother. While Adams should seek legal redress, I don’t expect anything from the police. In July 2019, I wrote a column, ‘Let me Talk to my Father Before I Die’, based on jungle justice involving the loss of life right at a police station. I am recalling excerpts from the piece to draw attention to the lack of premium we place on human life in Nigeria and the propensity for jungle justice that is driving the menace.
The video clips are two. Though it is difficult to ascertain which comes before the other. In one, the young man, bleeding and shackled, is in the trunk of a Hilux vehicle as he rails at policemen. In a futile bid to demonstrate he is still in control of the situation; he even threatens them as he scoops his own blood while making a gesture of washing his hands. In the second, he is lying on the ground. Sensing that his life is ebbing away, he makes a desperate plea: ‘Let me talk to my father before I die’. It is met with a stern ‘God punish your father!’ by one policeman and a cacophony of curses and abuses from bystanders.
Nothing tells a more compelling story of our country than these video clips. There is inherent value in every life. How we react, as individuals and as a society, when someone’s life is at stake reveals who we are. From the video clips, it is abundantly evident that life holds no meaning in our country. Invariably, we can begin to understand why nothing works in a milieu where the life of an individual can be casually taken. All the talk about quality of life, standards of living and human dignity are hollow. Before you begin to think of education, health, job security and things that advance our quality of life and livelihoods, you must first be accountable for what you didn’t create.
Now, let us return to the video clips. According to social media reports, the young man, said to be an undergraduate, was reportedly arrested for sporting a tattoo, a crime not known to our law. But in the official version as provided by the Ogun State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), a Deputy Superintendent of Police: “…He assaulted somebody, and he was arrested. On getting to the station, he just took up an axe and was pursuing all the policemen. He destroyed 17 vehicles at the station; he broke their windscreens and side screens. All the policemen and suspects at the station had to run for their lives. But when he wanted to harm a policeman that was armed; in the process, that policeman shot him in the leg. Should they have waited till he (suspect) killed everybody? The suspect is a confessed member of Eiye Confraternity. At the station, he suddenly jumped up and drew the axe. He destroyed 17 vehicles; you can confirm from those present at the scene, including civilians.”
I do not want to dispute the police report of the young man’s violent behaviour. The officer who shot him in the leg was also professional, he at least did not target the head. But what followed when the boy was already demobilized is the issue. It was clear to the policemen and those milling around at the station that if he was not taken to the hospital he would bleed to death. Because that is precisely what eventually happened, we can conclude that it was deliberate. The notion that someone accused of crime is deemed guilty and can be subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment is the greatest challenge of our criminal justice system in Nigeria. But what I found most shocking was the behaviour of the crowd. They were braying for the blood of the young man! In one of those common conspiracies between the state and society, a life was brutally taken without court trial simply because of broken windscreens.
That Nigeria is a state in serious retreat is no longer in doubt. What is more worrisome is that almost daily, each Nigerian is becoming progressively less capable of performing the critical role of responsible citizenship. That accounts for the total breakdown of law and order and why the law of the jungle operates as we saw with the way a life was casually wasted at a police station without anyone calling for restraint or expressing outrage. While we complain so much about why our government, (at practically all levels) is not working, we may also need to look at ourselves in the mirror. No matter how much noise we make, the change that we seek in our nation must begin with individuals. If a society is not compassionate, it is futile to expect the government to be. If a society has degenerated to the level of everyman for themselves, then we delude ourselves to expect anything different from our government.
The sanctity of life, as espoused by all religions and by philosophers including Emmanuel Kant is based on the supposition that “If laws were permitted to embody the idea that in some circumstances life loses its worth, or that some people lack sufficient worth to have their lives protected, individuals would no longer enjoy equal protection of the law so far as their lives are concerned.” When that happens, all other things are forfeit. That is why Nigeria is what it is today.
Whichever way we look at it, what happened at that police station reflects a disturbing reality of our time and society. Gradually, the value we place on lives as measured by how much we are moved by violent deaths is almost nil. Our policemen routinely supervise the extra judicial killing of innocent citizens they are paid to protect. On our part as a society, we have failed to grow into a community of compassion. Our public would prefer to be spectators witnessing citizen rights violations than act as protectors of those rights. The net result is a collective descent into a Hobbesian jungle where life is nasty, brutish, and short.
Atiku and The Chicago Papers
Ever since former Vice President Atiku Abubakar filed his application at the Northern District of Illinois Court, requesting for an order of mandamus compelling the Chicago State University (CSU) to release information regarding President Bola Tinubu’s school record, I have taken considerable interest in the matter. Complying with the court order on Monday, the school authorities released the documents to Atiku and on Tuesday, their registrar testified under oath. Given the politics involved, supporters of both Tinubu and Atiku are now claiming victory. But since the American deposition is supposed to be part of the election petition case being pursued in Nigeria by the latter, we must wait to see how it all ends.
The Tinubu saga is a long-running one that began 24 years ago in his first year as Governor of Lagos State. Following his victory at the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential primaries in July last year, I wrote a column on ‘Tinubu’s School Record and Matters Arising’ where I traced how it started, dating back to 1999 based on the information contained in his Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) form. That Atiku would wait till 2 August this year, two months after Tinubu had been sworn in as president, before commencing his legal inquiry in the United States is what I still don’t understand. How does that help his cause? Since this is a case I have followed from the beginning, readers may refresh their memory with my July 2022 column, https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2022/07/07/tinubus-school-record-and-matters-arising/
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