Last Wednesday, Falz the Bahd Guy, aka Folarin Falana, roared at the government. He was live on Instagram. Hair dyed pink. Beard. Black T-shirt. Brisk.
He was in Lagos, at the then five-day-old demonstrations against the Special Anti Robbery Squad, SARS, a unit of the Nigeria Police Force accused of untold cruelty. He was talking to someone who was off-camera.
He said, “If the government is serious about police reforms, they will grant us our ‘Five for Five’.” This is the list of five demands the protesters want the government to urgently address.
Then Falz raised his voice. “What do we want?”
The crowd behind him replied: “Five for five!”
“What do we want?!”
“Five for five!”
“What do we want?!”
“Five for five!”
You see, Falz is a rapper. On some occasions, he also sings. When he’s not making the obligatory club, romance, and cash money tracks — which is what you must do if you want a music career that actually makes money — he is singing about oppression and the eternal faults in the Nigerian government. Sometimes he hits the sweet spot where his dissent music and the young public’s taste collide.
Just like it did in 2018. Falz’s cover of Childish Gambino’s hit video This Is America had its own viral moment too. He called it This is Nigeria and in it, you could see the parallels between America’s multi-generational civil rights errors and Nigeria’s institutional problems.
As I speak to you, This Is Nigeria has collected nearly 20 million views on YouTube.
Like his father, the iconic human rights activist Femi Falana, Falz is a lawyer. Although Falz trained at the University of Reading, he, as other Nigerian graduates of Law, took the unavoidable one-year course at the Nigerian Law School. This is what you do if you want a law career that could work in Nigeria, if for nothing than to have a back-up career.
That Tuesday, as Falz addressed protesters in Lagos, he was exactly a dead ringer for someone familiar and familial. The moment, too, was just like some other time in, say, the mid 90s. This story has come full cycle, the issues and venues are similar and Femi has passed the baton to Folarin.
Unlike the old times, however, the chief agitators of today have niftier tools to amplify their ultimatums. In the times of Femi Falana and his collaborator the late great Gani Fahewinmi, media was a scarce resource. Control of the airwaves belonged to the government, which owned all the broadcast stations. Newspapers were only in print. And Facebook? What is Facebook? Don’t even think of Twitter. The Internet? Forget it.
However, as advancements in technology have caused the democratisation of media, anyone — ANYONE — can now broadcast their thoughts to the world. Now, if these anyones reach a critical mass, they have the power to start a movement. They’ve done it in Egypt, America, and Armenia.
But every mass movement needs leaders; leaders with the appropriate language registers, the respect that comes from knowing what to say and how to say it. One of such leaders, it turned out, is Falz the Bahd Guy.
Born in 1990, he was only nine years old when Nigeria returned to democracy and President Olusegun Obasanjo took office. But Falz belongs to the generation that most importantly values big ideas and individuality. When you combine these cultural realities of his generation with his nurturing, his platform as famous artiste, and his law degree, he emerges perfectly equipped to speak for this multitude standing behind him.
Which leads me to the other well-practised dissenter: Mr Seun Kuti.
Thirty-seven years old in 2020, Seun has represented consistently for many years what the #ENDSARS campaign is today. Like Falz, he too was influenced by his father, the need-no-introductions Fela Kuti.
At just nine years of age, Seun started playing with Fela’s band Egypt 80 (he still leads them till today) and was deeply immersed in the anti-colonialist, ant-corruption, and anti-repression philosophy of Fela. By the time the maverick genius died in 1997, Seun was 14 years old, almost fully formed.
“Smart guy,” people often say about Seun. “He knows a lot of stuff.” The stuff to which they refer is a wide field of study that covers pan-Africanism, Nigerian history, political science, anthropology, and, naturally, Afrobeat.
Not one to balk at a public, even if shouty, public debate, Seun makes his declarations with the confidence of one who has not only mastered himself but also possesses the knowledge to validate his points of view on every single thing. Seun could pass for a lawyer too but he is not one. He is only learned in the art of self-actualisation, as taught to him by his legendary father.
As the #EndSARS protests rage on, Seun Kuti has taken to Twitter and Instagram to renew his long-running fury at politicians, the media, and rich Africans who “sell us out.”
“Everyone is saying they need me, how?” he said in an Instagram post. “I am the one that needs the people. I am not trying to own the people; I am with the people. I am by the people and I am behind the people!! Keep the energy way up, the ancestors masquerade dey dress up!”
Finally, this man’s long-running struggle may have reached its tipping point. If, as it is gradually appearing, the government accedes to all the demands, this generation will start feeling like they have a voice in how their country is managed.
Of course, the work to galvanise and organise #ENDSARS has been done by a collective of digital native influencers and the Feminist Coalition. It was The Feminist Coalition, for instance, who built the backbone of the resistance.
Nonetheless, this #ENDSARS is an iteration of a multi-generational march against the country’s leadership. And it’s significant that some have had to inherit the long-running struggle from their parents — as have Seun Kuti and Falz the Bahd Guy.
A version of this article appeared in The Guardian of October 17, 2020. | Cover Image ©samadeoye.com