Falz’s ‘This Is Nigeria’ and the challenge of speaking out in a democracy

The Hiro Murai–directed video for Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ turned into a think-piece mine with analysts offering several interpretations upon release. Now, Nigerian rapper Folarin Falana, better known by his stage name Falz, recently released his version of Childish Gambino’s video titled ‘This is Nigeria’, and a similar reaction has happened. 

Childish Gambino’s video, choreographed by Sherrie Silver, touches on historical violence inflicted upon African-Americans, and Glover’s dancing serves to highlight the ways Americans are continually distracted from that history. Falz uses the same interchange of cameras and scenery as Childish Gambino to run through a range of issues that affect the everyday Nigerian. The video begins by showing an man on a motorcycle posing near a wall while the rapper holds a radio set which starts running commentary of a capitalist system based on fraud and exploitation as the motorcycle begins to move. The scene continues to pan out revealing two people fighting and a Fulani tribesman playing his musical instrument, who later makes to behead a man while “Ewo”, a Nigerian exclamation often used when a bad event happens, is sung repeatedly.

The general consensus is that Falz has performed his duty, which as Nina Simone puts it, “is to reflect the times.” More agree that he has taken the courage to do this at a time when most Nigerian musicians would rather pander to politicians and government of the day for cheap gains. Falz has taken a direct depiction of tribe relations, the normalisation of terrorism, insecurity and other issues that make every other front page while the background commentary runs, emboldening the images seen throughout the four-minute rendition of the video. All the chaos comes to an end with a torn flag representing the state of affairs of Africa’s most populous country.

‘This is Nigeria’ may be entertaining as an adequate conversation starter but unlike ‘This Is America’, it falls short in effectiveness as the conversation it depicts is not far fetched. It is one that can be witnessed in conversations had over beers, and surrounded by laughter as most are wont to do.

For starters, America has a history of being associated with that glorious dream which led most, especially those from poorer black backgrounds to believe that this was a free and fair country where anyone could succeed. That depiction is quickly coming down in shambles as the other side of the story continues to be told. But even in the shambles, there are still those that would prefer the shambles of America to the shambles of their countries back home, leaving the country enough room to remain on a pedestal.

Falz’s only credit in ‘This Is Nigeria’, seems to be that of being able to speak the truth in a country of supposed democracy whose place on an averagely high pedestal has been long overthrown. His take on Nigeria’s socio-political climate intended for the reflection of political apathy is, sadly, not ingenious in the sense of breaking down previously conceived notions or revealing new, subtle or overlooked truths.

While the curtains open on America’s systematic violence and subtle racial discrimination towards people of colour, the curtains of the systematic decline of the quality of life and economy in Nigeria was never even hung. The truth makes its way to the tabloids everyday, especially in the age of alternative media technologies. And it is often said that a Nigerian satirist would not need to do a lot of work as the country delivers enough content to last an entire career.

Any praise for the ability to speak out is rather telling of the state of democracy in a country which has the history of the military regime where any amoral person who had a knack for speaking truth to power underwent a series of arrests and attempts on his/her life.

Stories are still recalled of Fela Kuti, whose music was often a life-threatening fight against corrupt military dictatorships. After he launched a scathing attack on the army in the song ‘Zombie’, his home was attacked by soldiers and his mother thrown from a second-storey window on 18 February 1997.

A more recent case when pop singer Innocent Idibia, popularly known as 2face, announced that he would lead a nationwide protest against the Nigerian government. The Benue-born artiste took to his Instagram page on Sunday, 5 February. He wrote, “A call for good governance. A call for urgent explanation into the reckless economic downturn nationwide. A call for nationwide protests as we say no to the Executive, no to legislatures, no to judiciary… You have all failed us.”

The musical artist, whose song, “African Queen,” earned him wide recognition in Africa and beyond, however abandoned his much-hyped plan. He canceled his planned protest late Saturday evening, claiming that his decision was based on security fears that hoodlums might hijack the planned protest.

‘This Is Nigeria’ is, however, more reminiscent of the release of Eedris Abdulkareem’s third album ‘Jaga Jaga’, in 2004. The song, ‘Jaga Jaga’, a Yoruba term for a shambles, in which Abdulkareem declaimed corruption and suffering in Nigeria was banned from radio by President Olusegun Obasanjo, during his tenure as President.

Nigerian artist, Falz.

The former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo took the incident to heart, again criticising rapper Abdulkareem over his hit song ‘Jaga Jaga’ while speaking at a forum organized by Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI) in August 2012, expressing his disapproval of the ‘modern day youth towards Nigeria.’

“One of the worst problems Nigeria is facing is disbelief. Nigerians no longer believe in themselves neither do they believe in their country,” Obasanjo was quoted as saying. “That takes me back to that song Jaga Jaga, how could a sane man dare to call his country ‘Jaga Jaga’? It is the height of blasphemy. We are grooming our youths for tomorrow’s leadership and with such persons I don’t think the country can move forward.”

The proverb “What the elders can see sitting down, a child cannot see standing up” failed to take hold in this case as years down the line, the former president finally called out the same thing socially conscious people, musicians and artists were berated for.

The former President at the 38th Kaduna International Trade Fair in 2017 declared that one of major problems facing the country which urgently needs to be corrected is poor leadership.

“Nigerian leaders lack focus, commitment, continuity and sometimes, proper knowledge about economic and development issues, hence we have not been able to achieve meaningful result,” Obasanjo said at the one-day seminar organised by the Kaduna Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (KADCCIMA) He continued: “Nigerian leaders must be tough and ready to bite the bullet, because Nigeria cannot have it easy and until we get the right leadership, the problem will continue.”

However, the opinion of one may no longer count especially as the sitting president has failed to come to this divine revelation. The current president has had a lot of moments, falling out of facour with medical trips and controversial statements one of which was the depiction of Nigerian youths at the Commonwealth Business Forum in Westminster,  While responding to the question of why he did not sign the African Continental Free Trade Agreement in Rwanda, he was reported to have said: “About the economy, we have a very young population.. More than 60 percent of the population is below 30, a lot of them haven’t been to school and they are claiming that Nigeria is an oil producing country, therefore, they should sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare, education free”.

A response which unwittingly begs the question of why a lot of Nigerians haven’t been to school, and to which millions of Nigerian youth responded by tweeting about their ventures and how they work hard to make a living in a country that has done little to help her citizens survive. We also see, again, the attitude toward truth in the back story published by TheCable on the journalist who reported the story, who said the media house came under pressure by the Nigerian Government to pull down the story.

Those who would tell rather than listen to feedback on their government’s progress continue to do so to protect their cash cows. But the gag is, it is not done out of ignorance of one’s actions. For how can you claim not to know when efforts are continuously made to suppress opposing voices, but an indifference to the plight and a protection of power in a system closely run to that of a monarchy where power is transferred not by blood but “godfathers”.

We can indeed say how beautifully depicted ‘This Is Nigeria’ is—it comes across as a more visually artistic and melodious version of Eedris Abdukareem’s ‘Jaga Jaga’but make no mistake that there was no confusion. Perhaps it is exactly for this reason that a lot of things are permitted. An American may be disgusted in finding out the kind of country he really lives in but for a Nigerian, as the saying goes, “Na Naija we dey.”