Today's Nigerian situation realistically calls for more than Eminem. But no Nigerian artist will take on such a bold statement.
Nigerians are applauding veteran US rapper, Eminem who called Donald Trump out in a new video. In what is perhaps the fiercest and the most exhaustive attack against Donald Trump in Hip-hop. Eminem, on Tuesday night, called the President everything from "Donald the b----" to a "racist grandpa" in an explosive 4.5-minute freestyle rap.
And while the visual has generated over 5 million views in 24 hours, Nigerians on the internet shared and ran a commentary on the visual, until they came to a certain point: Why can’t we have a Nigerian artist do this in today’s political climate?
Today's Nigerian situation realistically calls for more than Eminem. The country is heated in all regions, with the leadership of the current government questioned at every turn by citizens. But this isn’t reflected in the music created by the leading voices of our music. Our artists for the most part act and live their lives as being impervious to the struggles of the people. It feels like they aren’t a part of the country, or are insensitive to the society in which they profit from with their art.
This current situation isn’t in agreement with the protest history of Nigerian music.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the late Afrobeat king, was the personification of protest music during the era of military rule in Nigeria. Songs like, “Zombie,” “V.I.P. (Vagabonds in Power),” “Unknown Soldier,” and “Beasts of No Nation,” lampooned the military mentality, likening them to robots that are remotely controlled. Sonny Okosun added his voice to the condemnation of the Apartheid regime in South Africa through his music. Tracks like “Fire in Soweto” and “Liberation,” were some of the pungent messages on the ills of Apartheid. This was just as his “Which Way Nigeria,” was a critical comment on the political direction of the Nigerian ship of state.
In more recent history, artists such as 2face Idibia has a catalogue of politically conscious music. Sound Sultan, African China, Eedris Abdulkareem, and more have made records reflecting the state of the nation and calling for change. In this time, the closest we have had to that is Tekno’s ‘Rara’.
A moving message such as Eminem’s Trump freestyle cannot be replicated for a number of reasons. Unlike the US, the influence of politicians stretches deep into the very heart of our creative industries. From music to movies and media, political interference is very high. In some cases, the fear of politicians is the beginning of common sense.
The most common reason why that is impossible for artists to attack politicians today is their possession of power. In Nigeria, the political class wields enough influence in every sphere of life. They control all the major industries through years of strategic dominance and generational transfers of power. They control the money in the country.
The music industry in Nigeria largely depends on corporate sponsorships for live concerts and private gigs. You can draw a line from major concerts in Nigeria, private events, and brand endorsement campaigns, and it will lead you squarely to the office of a politician. Any artist who dares go against the political class in Nigeria risks the loss of income. Nobody wants to intentionally ruin their chances of making more money from private gigs.
Then there’s also the issue of self-preservation.
In February, Nigerian musician 2face Idibia was to participate in a protest against the Muhammadu Buhari government. His anticipated presence in the protest galvanized people and ignited a lot of buzz and conversations online. Many youths were ready to come and join in the protest but a day to the planned march, he pulled out. This sparked a debate on Nigerian musicians and how they avoid political of activism going on in the country. Many labelled 2face a coward and he was attacked in the media for being a ‘chicken’.
But according to unconfirmed reports, 2face Idibia was invited by the Department of State Security (DSS), where he was threatened. 2face later denied the reports.
No artist would want to be in a situation that compromises their safety and the life of their loved ones. They look at the life of Fela and give themselves ‘sense’.
"For a decade, [my father] challenged the dictators in Africa, the military," Femi Kuti told NPR in an interview. "And the military was a very wicked military. They beat him many times, they jailed him, burned his house. And singlehandedly he stood, never compromised — he spoke for the people. If my father did not do that, people like me would probably be naïve about the African predicament."
Interestingly, the current President of Nigeria, General Muhammad Buhari jailed Fela Kuti. He was arrested 200 times by different regimes but only kept in jail for a lengthy period of time by (then) Major-General Buhari, who first came to power in a military coup in December 1983. Fela was sentenced by a military tribunal to five years’ imprisonment on what he always insisted were trumped-up currency charges, but he was released after a year and a half, following another change of military regime.
No artist would want to go through that amount of personal sacrifice of the greater good. Afterall, pop culture in Nigeria today is dictated by thematic hedonism and consumerism. Prison sentences aren’t pleasurable. They are hell.
Eminem won’t go to jail or face persecution for attacking the most powerful man in his country and the free world. But in Africa, questioning a lowly government official would come with consequences. Why suffer that when you can look the other way and profit from a broken system?