Emerging musician, 27-year-old Ilerioluwa Aloba alias Mohbad passed away on September 12, 2023 of undisclosed reasons and crowds poured out in the streets. In Lagos, youths marched in Lekki, Iju-Ishaga and Ikorodu with a huge concert at the Muri Okunola Park on Victoria Island featuring leading musicians like Davido, Falz and Zlatan.
Youths in Taraba State rolled on the streets and held candle light procession in Abuja. They marched in Anambra, Oyo, Ondo, Delta, Ekiti, Cross Rivers, Ogun, Osun and Edo states. People were also on the march in Nairobi, Kenya where Nigerian music and films are quite popular, and London and New York with large Nigerian migrant populations.
The message was the same: ‘Justice For Mohbad’ as if they are certain that he would not get justice unless they move to put pressure on the Nigerian state.
The tidal waves of protests caught many of us by surprise, especially when those widely accused of complicity in his death are members of his former record label and manager. So, why are people who have not protested the biting inflation that has seen the price of rice rise in eight years from N7,500 to N58,000 and the Naira in the same period crashing from about N200 to N1,000, taking to the streets for a rising youth?
Why are youths who have not rallied against the plethora of new fees in the universities, mass abduction of students in schools and kidnap of youths answering the national call to serve, on the streets for a relatively new musician whose first album was just three years ago?
First, his story of rising from want and deprivation, surviving a broken home, emerging from the streets and striving to build a future with street music despite alleged attacks and torture by his former managers, resonated with the youths.
They identified more with his life story not so much because they read about him or listened to his few interviews, but because he had a direct dialogue with them through his lyrics. In his ‘Peace’ musical track, in which he talked about “frenemies”, he sang: “Been through many things,
Many many gists
But, I still find my peace (Imole)
Oh-ah I do like say me I no dey see Like say I no dey hear
Which kind person be this?”
In it, he described himself as: “Money chaser, faster than a bullet Flyin’ like a rocket Badman wey never rest King of South and the West Faster than a car…”
In ‘Feel Good’ he sang: “Plenty enemy (Mohbad) Wey dey follow me Maje k’o mumi (Don’t let him catch me)
Even if na die minute Emi omo (I, a child of the) ghetto …
I don work tire I don pray tire I don go Mountain of Fire I know there is a day All my pains will go away…
Til then, I smoke it away…”
He also playfully sang in a video in which he was wearing jersey No 7: “If I dey play football, I go bench Messi, bench Nemar, bench Ronaldo…”
Certainly, Mohbad was no Bob Marley, Max Romeo or Fela who addressed social issues. Apart from telling his personal stories, his focus was being on the fast lane; making money, women, cars and living the good life. For instance, on education, he sang: “I know know mathematics…Mathematics teacher wey no get money na jangbajastics”(Nonsense).
Mohbad is a story of hope turned hopelessness, a rising star, shot down from the firmament, and a youth whose promising life was avoidably cut short by a harsh, uncaring system. A system that failed a youth when he persistently cried for help, when he feared for his life.
After physical altercations with the management and members of his old record label, he went public. In a video he posted, the clearly traumatised youth said: “I’m at the hospital for CT Scan for head impact and chest X-ray as a result of the assault. I had the meeting clear headed and without any influence too.”
In response, the owner of his former Marlian Records label, Mr Azeez Fashola, popularly called Naira Marley, said in his own video: “If Mohbad didn’t do a video, I wouldn’t bother explaining because it is nothing big, it is a family issue. Obviously, he is not in a right frame of mind…Mohbad is not a type of person that fights, he doesn’t fight…unless he is high…maybe he is mad already”. Then he added in Yoruba language: “…You know when somebody is mad and they are beating out the madness in him, he would calm down.”
Mohbad had also petitioned the police. His June 27, 2023, petition was titled: “Petition of threat to life, malicious damage of properties valued (at) the sum of five-million-naira, assault occasioning harm, oppression and conduct likely to cause breach of peace”. But after his controversial death, the police has been unable to tell the public if it investigated this petition and the stage of such investigation. But if it did not, why it ignored the cries of a youth who feared his life was about to be snuffed out. This led to feelings that had the police acted or granted him protection, he might still have been alive today, writing songs and entertaining his fans.
As the protests spread, the police instituted a 19-person investigation team, and in collaboration with the State Security Services, is investigating the circumstances of his death. This has led to the exhumation of his corpse for forensic examination.
The speed with which he was buried within 24 hours in a coffin so small that his neck had to be bent, and in an unmarked grave, also inflamed passions. But these could have been the actions of a family too shocked to think straight.
Lessons the ‘Justice For Mohbad’ teach us include the fact that Nigerians can rise for the underdog without identifying with his region or religion. Nigerian youths can rally against the state like the EndSARS case or against perceived injustice no matter who is involved. The peaceful nature of the mass protests again demonstrates that Nigerians, even in anger, can protest peacefully, and that as in almost all cases, mass protests do not degenerate into violence until the police intervenes in an attempt to curb the human rights of Nigerians to assemble and publicly protest their feelings.
The speed the protests were organised, together with their massive nature and spread across the country and its borders, reminds us all once again of the power of the internet which, like the rain, cannot be stopped.
Generally, the case raises once again, the challenges of the deadly mix of music, money, drugs, sex, bad managers, cultism, thuggery and power relations.
May Mohbad rest in power.