Humour and laughter often serve as a powerful tool in driving home words that may otherwise be difficult to communicate. An example is Nigeria celebrating her 63rd anniversary and yet enmeshed in several dysfunctions that cannot be explained. One of the many popular jokes about the Nigerian crisis available on the streets has attempted to humourize the ailment and drive home the complexity of the Nigerian problem. It goes thus: “There is absolute (turmoil) – economic collapse, political commotion, wars, social dislocation, tsunamis etc – in the world, and all nations decide to meet God in Heaven to ask for when their great tribulations would come to an end. Every single country that comes before God does so in sublime supplication and with torrents of tears, pleading for knowledge of when its problems would come to an end. The Almighty obliged each country, telling it when all would be well. Some got 10 years, others were promised 25 years, others about 50 years. When Nigeria staggers before the Almighty to ask God for when her problems would be over, God bursts into tears…”
Although an engaging comic, the humour speaks to Odolaye Aremu, late Ilorin, Kwara State Dadakuada musician’s song. Odolaye sang that when a calamity grieves the heart beyond measurable limit, even tears become incapable of articulating the tragedy, precipitating the need to employ laughter as well. “Oro t’o ba j’ekun lo, erin laa fi rin”, Odolaye sang. Perhaps, God later laughed? He had endowed Nigeria with too much potentials to warrant her getting this stuck in the mud.
Today marks Nigeria’s 63rd Independence Day celebration. In the midst of all diseases that ail Nigeria, apart from the need for gratitude to God by her citizens over their individual existence, there is hardly any cause for cheer. When a situation appears hopeless, the babalawo’s words become poignant in his bid to articulate the sorrowful climate. He says birds have refused to chirp as they are wont to, and rats have lost their squeaks. This equation appears to be Nigeria’s. Nigerians are agreed that today, there is no reason for celebrations.
If anyone ever doubts that there is a synchrony between living and non-living things, dead and the living and that life can be better lived if we take lessons and messages from situations around us, Late Alagba Adebayo Faleti reinforced this binary. In Saworoide, Mainframe International’s satiric movie, a critique of bad leadership that has become a pestilence in Africa, Faleti played the role of an elderly palace staff called Baba Opalanba. Opalanba is a Yoruba name for broken bottle. Anyone who ever once mistakenly stepped on smithereens would remember the discomfiture and pain shards inflict. A knowledgeable and respected thespian and broadcaster steeped in, and a repository of Yoruba culture and tradition, Faleti’s role in this movie was that of a sage. His lacerating words, delivered through music, chastised evil and evil doers. Opalanba demonstrated that music can be used to straighten the curves of bad leadership. Pretending to be asleep while chiefs gathered to hatch details of their evil plots, Opalanba deployed his sagely musical lines to chaperone them off their path of destruction. He warned that birds that perch on rooftops don’t do so merely to rest their aching legs but to gather information. He expressed this as, “Oro l’eye ngbo, eye o dede ba l’orule o, oro l’eye ngbo o”.
Nigeria must be one of the most researched countries in the world. Scholars have dissected her stunted growth from all prisms. At inception, the country held huge promises for the Blackman all over the globe. Three months into Nigeria’s independence in 1960, in its December 5, 1960 edition, the Time magazine, super-excited about her prospects, had written, “In the long run, the most important and enduring face of Africa might well prove to be that presented by Nigeria,” while adding that Nigeria was a “sober voice urging the steady, cautious way to prosperity and national greatness.” On the front page of that Time edition, the picture of Queens English-speaking Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria’s Prime Minister, adorning his native babariga announced to the rest of the world that the Blackman had arrived the global scene. Gradually, like the destructive cells of cancer, Nigeria began to destroy every of those potentials.
Since the destruction started to manifest, from military rule to civilian dictatorship, different theses have been propounded on what led to the quashing of such massive investments of hopes. Not only has Nigeria proved to be a total letdown to the rest of the black world, she has been a major letdown to her citizens themselves.
So many descriptions have been coined to express the colossal letdown that Nigeria is. My teacher at the University of Ibadan, Eghosa Osaghae, labeled the Nigerian fall as that of a crippled giant. Karl Maier, American-born ex-African correspondent for the London-based newspaper, Independent, in a locus classicus biography of Nigeria’s rot, said it was a house (that had) fallen, even remarking that, “(w)ith the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that such optimism (the like of Time magazine’s) was naïve” and that, in retrospect, Nigeria was “the bastard child of imperialism.” To the duo of Nigerian scholars, Wale Adebanwi and Ebenezer Obadare, “Nigeria is the predicted ‘giant’ that has become a disappointing, even aggravating Lilliput.”
In the case of Nigerian rapper, Ilerioluwa Oladimeji Aloba, professionally known as MohBad, and his fatherland, there may be a synchrony, a link of his life with the Faleti bird that perches on the rooftop. A few weeks to today’s Nigerian independence anniversary, specifically on September 12, 2023, hitherto sparsely-known Mohbad suddenly died, aged 27. At death, MohBad seized the klieg like a pestilence, calling global attention to the life he lived, the state of Nigerian music and the ordinariness of death in Nigeria. Apart from being a rapper, he was a singer, songwriter and formerly signed to Naira Marley’s Marlian Records. His hits that have since shot him to top ranking dancehall charts are Ponmo, Peace, Beast and Peace, Sorry, Feel Good and KPK (Ko Po Ke).
Mohbad’s convoluted death has evoked all manner of theories on what exactly could have led to his untimely departure. From suspicion of his having been poisoned, gas-lighted to his grave or probably remote-controlled to his death through native talisman, the likelihood of resolution of the cause of Mohbad’s death, even after the release of an autopsy report carried out on his exhumed body, may be slim. However, at death, Mohbad’s hidden glory became manifest. By September 15, three days after his sudden death, his Beast & Peace, which was the opening track of his Blessed album, oscillated at Number Four and his Feel Good track flicked at Number Five of global music ranking. In the same vein, between September 12 and 14, a space of two days post-death, his streams peaked at 702%, from 990,000 to 8.02 million. During the week of September 2023, Peace, one of his tracks, debuted on Billboard’s Hot Trending Songs chart, occupying its prestigious Number Two. Equally, on September 18, 2023, Blessed peaked at Number Four, and Light hit its first on the chart entry, becoming Number 20 on the Nigerian Official Top 50 Albums chart. On September 21, streams of Blessed catapulted to the top by over 530%, while on September 23, Mohbad rose to become the 46th best-selling digital artist, sidestepping recognized international artists like Nicki Minaj, Eminem, 21 Savage, Lady Gaga and Chris Brown.
Though not as beloved alive as in death, the rash attempt to beatify Mohbad, both as a brand and due to the tragic circumstances of his death, has made apportioning him blame for his own death very unpopular. The truth however is that drug addiction among Nigerian youths and specifically, among musicians, played a major role in the circumstances of his early passage. From testimonies about his life, it was obvious that Mohbad got trapped in the puddle of that destructive belief that drug consumption was an enabler of musical inspiration.
Drug consumption has, from time immemorial, been the bane of music and musicians. It is an affliction that didn’t just start today; it has dragged many notable musicians down the sepulcher, in their scores. Even outside the shores of Nigeria, there exists this subsisting but notorious notion that drug consumption contributes highly to artistic inspiration. While scientific studies locate a liaison between these two, no study has been able to strictly confine inspiration strictly to drug consumption. In other words, there have been artists who got to the topmost height of their careers but who did so while maintaining wide social distancing from drugs. What this means is that, yes drugs can be enhancer of inspiration, other less-dangerous pastimes can evoke even higher inspirations as well. You could count artistes, in remarkable number, who never had any consonance with drugs.
In my book, Ayinla Omowura: Life and Times of an Apala Legend (2020), I drew on a canvas the tragic life of Ayinla, an equally highly talented Yoruba musician whose life was cut short in his prime in 1980. While drug consumption, which he was notorious for, couldn’t be strictly isolated as the cause of his death, it was obvious that if Ayinla had escaped the bar-room violence that eventually took his life, another death lurked in the backyard for him in his addiction to drugs. Many of today’s musicians are enmeshed in a binge of drugs consumption. A couple of years ago, the name of hip-hop singer, Davido, was identified in a messy puddle of group drugs allegation, when some of his friends were caught with the substance, a pastime that claimed the lives of some of them. For this gang in the musical and showbiz world, it is almost an anathema not to be involved in the culture of drugs, which I once dubbed “the water bottle culture.” This has proved to be the graveyard of many in this category.
Whenever the issue is about drug addiction, one musical star close to my heart, which dimmed unceremoniously and whose fatal life I always cite, is Brenda Fassie. A highly talented South African singer, who was so talented that the great Nelson Mandela was not only fascinated by her song and danced with her on the dancehall, Madiba and million others, including me, were her fans. Born on November 3, 1964 in Langa, Cape Town, Brenda was a wonder to watch. Her album, Memeza (Shout), which was released in 1997, is rated as the top of her musical success. It went platinum on the first day of its release. After Yvonne Chaka Chaka, arguably, no musician from that country possessed Brenda’s waltz and voice. She also made a huge contribution to Miriam Makeba’s famous hit, Sangoma, as well as Harry Belafonte’s anti-apartheid song, Paradise in Gazankulu. She was once voted 17th in the Top 100 Great South Africans. Unfortunately, Brenda was a suicidal drug addict and addictively wedged to lesbianism.
Brenda was not only talented but possessed the tantrums of divas, so much that the Time magazine dubbed her the Madonna of the Townships. The world, however, began to notice hiccups in her life when her weird passion spilled into the limelight in 1995. Brenda was found in a hotel room with the remains of her lesbian partner, who passed on during an orgy. She had died of an apparent drug overdose. Brenda herself must have gone in and out of a rehab for about 30 times and on one occasion, sure she had overcome drugs, screamed, “I’m going to become the Pope next year. Nothing is impossible!” A few years after, Brenda reportedly collapsed in her brother’s arms, flung her last cocaine straw on the kitchen floor of her home in Buccleuch, fell into coma and died on May 9, 2004, shortly after suffering from a brain damage. Postmortem report even claimed she was HIV-positive.
Today, hundreds of musicians and emerging stars, especially in Nigeria, are trapped in waltz of drugs. Their excuse is that it is a performance-enhancer. They however fail to come to terms with two facts: one, that you could perform resplendently without drugs and second, drugs could cut your life short at the cusp of stardom.
While hopefully, autopsy should tell us what actually killed Mohbad, the fact that this talented artist stomached innate, bountiful glory in him for 27 years of his earthly existence, while glorying in peripheral stardom, is an area of interest to me. At 63, scholars, spiritualists, international agencies, comity of nations, etc. who speak disappointingly of Nigeria’s Mohbad glory, even as she is bedeviled by underdevelopment and bad governance, have not ceased to marvel.
In the same way as what led to Mohbad’s death and his stunted glory while alive has been a subject of intense debate, in the last 63 years, no conclusion has been reached on what actually led to Nigeria’s stunted growth. For instance, scholars who sought to unlock the secret of the Nigerian crisis, like famous writer, Chinua Achebe, in his The Trouble With Nigeria, have submitted that leadership is at the cusp of the crisis. Osaghae, in Crippled Giant, follows this same conversation. So also did Wole Soyinka, who, while conducting a postmortem on General Sani Abacha, reckoned that Nigerian leaders have “no idea of Nigeria (and) no notion of Nigeria.” Some others even said that Nigeria was such a queer contraption that “it is within disorder or adversity that many social actors in Nigeria have derived profit or advantage.”
Some other scholars locate the Nigerian stunted glory in what they called the “resource curse” thesis, in that the oil find in Nigeria ruined her growth. This thesis is padded by a joke which allegedly transpired in the 1950s between the Nigerian economic minister and the Prime Minister. The minister had told the PM, “I have some good and bad news for you” and the PM asked for the good news first. When told that Nigeria had just discovered a large swathe of petroleum buried deep in the bowel of her soil, excited at the immeasurable possibilities for growth of the find, the PM then asked for the bad news. He was told that, “The bad news is that we have just discovered vast reserves of petroleum!”
To some others, Nigeria’s Mohbad-like stunted glory is due to the fact that blood was not shed in the struggle for her independence, as was done in South Africa and some Southern African countries. I disagree with this thesis because our forefathers indeed sacrificed their lives in the cause of the 1960 independence. Yet, some said that the quality of the led is Nigeria’s problem. This appears very profound because the havoc which followers have wrecked since independence is indeed colossal. To some, it is a sustained history of corruption in Nigeria that has made us a Mohbad.
I tend to agree with those who concluded that Nigeria’s major problem is leadership. We thought 2023 would give us what has clearly posed a stumbling block to our growth. The last four months have been very opaque and do not speak to any hope in the horizon. We still need to continue to search for that leadership. French historian, Fernand Braudel, has argued that “any nation can have its being only at the price of forever being in search of itself.” Unfortunately, Nigeria hasn’t begun or is hypocritical about the search. Leadership makes a huge difference in the life of a people. A comparison is often made about a Nigeria that seems to be free of natural disasters like cyclone, earthquakes, hurricanes and tremors which afflict other countries at the drop of a hat. When such disasters happen in those countries, leadership comes to their rescue. Nigeria, on the reverse, seems to be afflicted by a more tumultuous and deadlier disaster – leadership.
Yet, many others have predicted that it is only when Nigeria dies, like Mohbad, that her glory can materialize. It is then that all her trapped glorious stars (nations) will reach for their utmost heights. This is after she may have been granted opportunity to breathe as independent entities.
Good night, Mohbad.