Nigeria’s political scene is one that is both complex and dynamic in nature, with a history of corruption, ethnic tensions, and economic inequality.
In Nigeria and many other parts of the world, music artists often use their platform to express their political consciousness and address issues affecting society.
For music artists in Nigeria, their political consciousness can be influenced by their personal experiences, cultural background, and socio-economic status.
Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti leveraged the art of music to speak on socio-economic and political issues that negatively affected Nigerians. His music has often been regarded as a template for what African-conscious music should look like.
As a political activist, in the 1970s till his death, Kuti criticised the corruption of the Nigerian government and the unfair treatment of the citizens. He also spoke of colonialism as the root of the socio-economic and political problems that plagued the African people.
The release of one of his most famous songs ‘Zombie’ in 1976 was a huge hit at the time, describing the Nigerian Army as zombies that could easily be controlled and manipulated by the government. The Nigerian Army did not feel pleased with the song as they saw the lyrics of the song as an insult to what the Nigerian Army stood for.
On February 18, 1977, the Nigerian Army, dissatisfied with the song, sent over 1,000 soldiers to attack the Kuti compound, causing numerous injuries to his wives and supporters, including his mother, 78-year-old Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti, who was thrown from the second floor and suffered serious injuries. The building where his tools and recordings were kept was burned down and all of Fela’s followers were detained for a month.
Dorah Ncube, a Zimbabwean media personality, on a Twitter Space discussing the influence of African music on social and political issues, said that artists should get involved and use their craft to highlight political issues because music is the most appreciated form of art in the continent and a medium of liberation in the African continent.
In Nigeria, music artists can become symbols of political resistance or solidarity, depending on the messages they convey in their music. Folarin Falana, popularly known as ‘Falz’, is an Afrobeats singer that has been known to be vocal in conveying political messages through his musical works.
His 2019 album ‘Moral Instruction’ was aimed at highlighting social ills and the misuse of political power as well as charging the people to stand up to vote for credible leaders in government positions. Some fans have likened his outspokenness to that of the great Kuti and he showed that in songs like ‘E no Finish’ in the album, where he used similar beats to that of the Afrobeat legend to speak on current political issues he sang about in the 70s.
The 2019 general elections in Nigeria were seen as the beginning of a rise to a new generation of artists who used their music to openly criticise vote buying, bribery, and voter suppression that occurred during that election year.
In 2019, a Magistrate’s court in Kano sentenced an artiste, Mohammed Yusuf, professionally known as AGY, to two years imprisonment for defaming the character of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje in a viral song. Yusuf recorded the hit song which mocked the governor’s alleged dollar bribe, the creation of new Kano emirates, and election rigging.
The song was meant to praise the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, as the chorus implies, but some of the lyrics implied that the governor can even sell his wife (Goggo) because of money.
The court found Yusuf guilty of three-count charges of releasing a song without the approval of the Kano State Censorship Board, releasing a video without obtaining the same approval, and defamation of the character of Ganduje. The singer was sentenced to six months each with an option of an N50,000 fine for the first and second counts, while on count 3, the musician bagged one-year imprisonment without the option of a fine.
Not all music artists in Nigeria opposed the ruling party, as some artists, especially in the northern part of the country, used their music as a platform to campaign in support of President Muhammadu Buhari. Rarara, a music artist from Katsina State, was famous in the northern parts of Nigeria for making 20-30 minute-long songs praising local politicians he supported and ridiculing politicians he didn’t support. He was later made the national director of Music for the Buhari 2019 Presidential Support Committee.
After a video of police brutality in Delta State surfaced online in October of 2020, the Nigerian youths took to the streets in protest over police brutality and extrajudicial killings happening across the country. The youths, even with their loud voices for a total reform of the police, needed the voices of artists and celebrities generally to speak together with the people.
While some artists such as Falz, Davido and Oxlade were vocal on the streets protesting with their fans and calling for a reform of the police and better governance, some other artists chose to avoid political topics generally.
Ncube, on the Twitter space, said artists have different passions and not all singers will have the passion to delve into politics, “Music mostly comes from passion and life experiences, what moves you or what inspires you, we can have a musician whose main passion is on the social issues and sing more communities coming together, drug and substance abuse, then we can have another artist discuss politics. As much as we are different as individuals we are also different as artists. So we can’t all sing about politics, it’s about passion,” Ncube said.
After the infamous Lekki toll shooting on 20th October 2020, a number of artists such as Burna Boy and Reekado Banks referenced the events in songs like ‘Ozumba Mbadiwe’ which is the actual name of the road where the Lekki toll is situated and ‘20-10-2020’ the date of the Lekki Massacre.
The 2023 general elections brought in a wave of political consciousness among celebrities in Nigeria. Artists like music duo Psquare were vocal in their support for Labour Party candidate Peter Obi while other artists used their platform to sensitise the youths to get their Permanent Voters Card and vote for the right people in government.
The announcement of the presidential election result by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was met with widespread criticism. In March, Falz and Vector released a single ‘Mr Yakubu’, which many see as targeted at the electoral umpire.
Artists like Adebantu, from the Bantu tribe who were popular in the 1990s, had to reinvent their style of music, from recording songs like ‘Nzogbu’ in the 90s, which address the Niger Delta issues, to forming his Bantu crew music band in recent years. He made songs like ‘Disrupt The Programme’ (2020), which Adebantu described as a call to action against a government and system that has created an atmosphere of fear and terror where insurgency, corruption, criminalisation of poverty, and abuse of power reign.