Even as the world is taking a stand against systemic racism and racial violence, Nigeria is also fighting its own battles. Right about the time Americans hit the streets to protest the murder of George Floyd, we heard the rape and murder of 22-year-old undergraduate, Vera Uwalia Omozuwa in a church. About a day before, Tina Ezekwe, a 16-year-old girl, was shot dead by the police. Another report surfaced of a 12-year-old being raped by 11 men. All this was swiftly followed by droves of cases of rape and sexual violence against women which immediately sparked an uprising on social media, calling for justice for these women. This also brought to the fore nuanced conversations around the grim realities of being a woman in a country like Nigeria.
A country where women are raped, assaulted, harassed on the daily, even in spaces presumed to be safe. And worst of all, our laws don’t even protect them. For years now, women have taken their security into their own hands. It wouldn’t be particularly odd to find pepper spray, taser or even pocket knives and other defensive tools in a woman’s bag.
There have also been cases of high-powered persons using their influence to bully victims into silence. Over the last couple of weeks, we witnessed the unsuccessful attempt by D’Banj and his team to intimidate Seyitan Babatayo who had earlier accused him of rape. Right after declaring his innocence via a statement, the veteran singer then went on to bully her with the police forcing her to recount her statement; a move which eventually backfired. And it has been a very messy road from there.
Thanks to the outrage on and off social media, the Inspector General of Police has called for a probe into the case. And although justice has not been achieved yet, we can be sure that the process is closely monitored.
And it is at this point we need practitioners in the entertainment industry to join in this uprising and lend their voices to the cause. The entertainment industry needs to stand up for women in our society and amplify the calls for a legislative reform that provides more protection for our women.
We cannot unlook, deflect and act like nothing is going on. We need more than just performative, half-ass, careless and near-empty statements, tweets, and hashtags. We can do more than just “say NO to Rape”.
The reason people look up to celebrities in times like this is that they have a louder voice. They possess a wider reach that can help shed light and call more attention to these issues. You can help take the conversations right out of social media and straight into homes.
This is one of the things Preye had in mind when she recorded and released her latest single ‘Man In The Wind’. Inspired by the ongoing uproar against oppression and injustice across the world, she calls on us to get off our screens and take to the streets to let our grievances be known by those in power. “As an artist, the purest way for me to express myself and to raise awareness is through music… Man in The Wind is different from my usual sound but this is how I feel at the moment,” she says.
In the wake of his joint EP with Masterkraft, Vector also lent his voice to the cause with his 4-track EP titled “The African Mind”. Over soft violin riffs, he vocalized his thoughts on ‘Rape’ through spoken-word, condemning our culture of silence and victim-blaming where the victims of abuse are expected to keep quiet and “sit still”.
Art is supposed to imitate society. Over time, many have used it as a tool to provide insightful social commentary, holding up the mirror for all to see. And despite being a major tool for entertainment, art has also been a potent tool for sparking conversations. One of Nigeria’s most revered music legends, Fela Kuti is often quoted, “I want to move people to dance, but also to think. Music wants to dictate a better life, against a bad life.”
But before you can do this, you first have to learn. Open yourself up to information. Read books, reflect, have honest conversations. And while at this, keep an open mind. Be ready to unlearn lots of what society has taught you up until now, and relearn even more progressive ideals.
We need to take responsibility and cut back on lyrics and whole songs that embody men’s entitlement to women’s bodies. You might think what can just one line or one song do, but you should know that a lot of fans feed on these things and internalize these layered meanings in many ways. Learn what consent really is and how it works. Then let your fans and listeners learn with you. Let these lessons be embedded in your works. Let it reflect in your lyrics, songs, visuals, interviews.
And even though fingers are often quickly pointed at our music superstars, it goes beyond just the music space. Even in performing jokes or skits as comedians or through movies, we have to ensure we are passing the right message. We have to be responsible. Isn’t it admirable how Dave Chapelle cut back on the jokes to address issues of racial violence in his heartrending show, “8:46”? And for what it’s worth, the video is raking in really impressive numbers on Youtube, recording over 20 million views in just six days.
Yes, the entertainment space isn’t solely responsible for the change(s) we seek. But in times like these, the sector can play a huge role in educating the public about these issues and creating awareness until we can get our voices to the right ears. It might not seem like much, but that one line, one scene, one joke can go a long way.