She said, five days after the event, that her left ear still bled.
It must have been horrific, I suppose, having to crawl on hands and knees through thorny, humid bushes, in thick darkness, desperate to not make a noise, glancing in fear over your shoulders, heart jackhammering against your chest. I cannot say for a fact that this was how she did it but, by the looks of things, she indeed has done something. DJ Switch has burrowed her way out of Nigeria, and has most likely, via tangential routes, surfaced in Canada. This is a move that makes sense and also does not make sense — at the same time.
Late last year, Ms Switch’s career as a disc jockey had just turned an auspicious corner. In December, she’d won the Red Bull 3Style North/West Africa Final and by so doing earned a coveted tip of the hat from the streets. Many appeared to have suddenly discovered her gifts and so began the inevitable comparison with the billionaire heiress DJ Cuppy.
Some of DJ Switch’s followers, probably overwhelmed by the goose pimples you get from watching many a Switch set at the turntables, even tried to compel Pepsi to fire Cuppy as a celebrity brand ambassador. They campaigned that Cuppy must give way to Switch. While that idea didn’t take, Switch, all considered, was still going to be all right.
And so when Switch livestreamed the deadly face-off between the Nigerian army and civilian protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, she was putting everything on the line. What was she thinking? Yes, you’re friends with some celebs and you’ve recently acquired a stalwart fan base but what is this?
That night, her voice quivering as she strained to verbally caption the blasts coming from behind her, with none of the celebrity #ENDSARS spokespersons in sight, not a few people wondered why it was DJ Switch who had to catapult herself to the forefront of the skirmishes. She was concurrently a victim, a heroine, a war correspondent, a representative of the less courageous. But anyway, “Protect DJ Switch at all cost,” Nigerians tweeted.
And so she was. Ferried away in the cover of darkness, she was re-conjured in a video posted on Linda Ikeji’s Blog on November 10. In the clip, she answers questions from her point of view on what went down at what is now known, though hotly contested like a Trump-Biden poll, as the Lekki Massacre. Her panel of interviewers was the Sub-committee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development of the Canadian parliament. As a totally biased observer, I contend that, in the clip, she is quite articulate.
But, still, how did she do it? Or, more accurately, who helped her craft such a speedy, clever escape from Lagos? In the many reports that have succeeded her magical appearance in North America, she is quoted as saying a few people, “at the risk of their [own] lives, came to get me.”
One of such friends might have been Mr P aka Peter Okoye. Mr P is the singer formerly of the pop music duo P-Square. Between 2017 and her hurried vanishing from Nigeria this October, DJ Switch aka Obianuju Catherine Udeh was the official DJ for Mr P. She’d been with him as he established his own status, away from P-Square, as an international superstar in his own right.
“My life was being threatened for speaking up,” DJ Switch said to the Canadian panel.
Later, Charles Abi, a personal assistant to Mr P, told a newspaper that, “[Switch] got threats from every angle. She received death threats from every angle. So, she just had to leave.” Abi would not say exactly where DJ Switch had left for or if in that video with the Canadian parliament, she was indeed speaking from Canada, though the room where she was would fit nicely in any modern house in Nigeria.
Whoever it was that had helped her scurry from Nigeria that frenzied October night, that person’s job is now done. The nice country of Canada has given such rare audience to DJ Switch that suggests that they are keen on expediting her case.
If indeed she has applied for asylum with them, they must be taking the matter seriously. And if they’re taking her matter seriously, in the next few months, she’ll be theirs. And as she becomes theirs, she will probably do an Instagram Live and say how she missed Nigeria but she’s happy now, and we should please say a prayer for her and our country, and that she will always wish Nigeria well because, you know, there’s no place like home.
Which is something we’ve heard before. This January, Ohimai Amaize, the writer, journalist and activist who had escaped to New York in 2019, broke the news that the United States government had accelerated and approved his application for asylum. He thanked his lawyers and everyone who’d put in a good word for him. Then he wished Nigeria well. “I hope that in the not too distant future,” Amaize said, “Nigeria will return to a true democracy where a free press, freedom of expression and the rule of law are respected.”
Between 2010 and 2019, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), 16.2 million people applied for asylum to countries around the world but about a quarter of that number was in 2019 alone. For the insidious reasons of internal conflict, persecution, human rights violations, and “events seriously disturbing public order”, more and more people – about 100 million in total — had had to run from their homelands.
Since October 20 2020, social media trends and diverse comment sections have deliberated upon and offered an uncompromising verdict on the mood of the Nigerian youth as it relates to their country—they mostly want out—so much so that the BBC News Pidgin saw the click potential of a report that would point interested parties to a legitimate portal for asylum in Canada.
While some envy DJ Switch because not everyone can simply bounce the way she’s just done, others give her a shout out for seeing a good opportunity and knowing it. But they all agree Nigeria has lost another good creative. If only the country and its youth could reach a mutually beneficial understanding, maybe not everyone who can break out will get out.
Cover Photo: Yetunde Ayeni Babaeko/RedBull
This feature first appeared in The Guardian (Nigeria) of November 14, 2020.