Nigeria has a long history of major protests, from the 1929 Aba Women’s War against the British colonial administration—fought by women in the present-day Eastern and South-south regions—to the ongoing #EndSARS and #SARSMustGo protests sweeping through cities and social media—against police brutality on young Nigerians.
Each moment in our history could be soundtracked, from the catalogue of Fela Kuti to recent offerings in the last two decades. Last weekend, a video surfaced of Abuja protesters dancing to Davido’s “FEM”:
— Ebenezer Agu (@eezer_) October 10, 2020
We bring you five Nigerian songs from the 2000s and 2010s that capture the great swirl of anger and unstoppable call for justice.
1. “Jaga Jaga,” Eedris Abdulkareem (2004)
The song that drew a response from President Obasanjo, which led to it being banned from radio, but couldn’t stop it becoming a modern classic for the masses. Nigeria, as the lyrics go, is jaga jaga, scatter-scatter, disorganized. No one can argue this.
2. “Mr President,” African China (2006)
African China’s direct callout of the Nigerian leadership is an enduring message from Nigerians. The chorus is simple: Mr. President/Lead us well/ If you be governor/Govern us well/If you be senator/Senate am well/If you be police/Police am well/No dey take bribe. As President Buhari remains out of touch and Governor Wike of Rivers State banned protests and the police continue shooting unarmed people in Abuja and Oyo State—there is nothing more to say.
3. “Dem Mama,” Timaya (2007)
Timaya’s debut single is a chilling reminder of the Odi Massacre of 1999, when then president Olusegun Obasanjo sent in soldiers to raze the town of Odi in Bayelsa State—leaving only a bank, an Anglican church, and a health centre—after the killing of policemen by militants. This song says: this can happen to you, too, if you belong to the wrong ethnicity in Nigeria, if you belong to the wrong class.
4. “Jailer,” Asa (2007)
Asa’s emoting, about a jailer whose oppression makes them a victim as well, is a mega metaphor for any oppression. In today’s Nigeria, it points at a political class most of which does not care about the #EndSARS movement, as if their own children would be immune to being shot dead in the streets as many have.
5. “This Is Nigeria,” Falz (2018)
Falz’ cover of Childish Gambino’s international sensation “This Is America” became a hit in Nigeria, if divisive among critics. It does what it set out to do: dramatize a malfunctioning society in which crime is as rampant as it has been officialized in plain sight. As the police shoot unarmed protesters, killing people, we are reminded of what Nigeria truly is.
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Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, editor, journalist, and curator. He is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: business, art, photography, music, activism, health, food. He has vast experience working in literature. He has sat on the judging panels of The Gerald Kraak Prize and of The Morland Writing Scholarship. He is an editor at 14, Nigeria's first queer art collective, and Curator at The Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. For three years, Nov. 2016 to Apr. 2020, he led the transformation of the literary blog Brittle Paper into a continental powerhouse, ideating and administering The Brittle Paper Awards, the first by an African publication. His work in queer advocacy has been profiled in Literary Hub. In 2019, he won The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians." He completed a collection of short stories in 2016 and his novel in 2020. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.