The sordid details of the happenings that led to 2baba’s cancellation of the physical protest of February 6, 2017 may one day come to light.
In the meantime, the conjectures flying around have made and will continue to make sometimes-interesting, sometimes-annoying and other-times hilarious reading.
That’s the reality for celebrities and public figures. The first lesson you learn once you hit public figure status, particularly in the social media age, is to accept the fact that everyone will have and probably air an opinion about anything noteworthy that you do, or say, or post. And boy! Some opinions will be so far-fetched you may be tempted to miss those good ol’ days of anonymity.
2Baba made an uncharacteristic Instagram post on January 25, 2016, millions of Nigerians connected with it – because they believe him – with thousands of Nigerians responding vociferously on Twitter in a manner that arrested everyone’s attention and rocked government and politics in Nigeria to the core.
The hashtag, #Istandwith2baba garnered four million impressions on twitter in less than two weeks. On Facebook, the video of 2baba announcing the protest march reached 1.2 million people on his official Facebook page alone.
In that Instagram post, 2baba in calling for the protests said ‘we do not wish to continue with a system and government that is not working but afflicting the people.
We the people of this country not living under the privileges of government allowances and remuneration have now accepted to take the bull by the horn to come out and protest this obnoxious and baseless policies and excuses of the government of the day.’
Convinced that there was more to the ‘leader’ and movement than met the eye, the security apparatus had gone into overdrive.
Political intrigue, simmering frustration, dangerous opportunism and inauspicious timing in a seemingly sinister convergence had thickened the plot and created an air of ominous climax to what we had loudly communicated was a peaceful engagement between citizens and leadership. Why 2Baba? Who were his sponsors? ’Sai Baba vs 2baba’: Whose interest was this designed to promote? The questions just kept flying.
If there’s one thing all of us, the key actors in the epic drama that played out before our eyes agree on, it is that 2baba’s exit from the physical protest basically guaranteed its peaceful outcome. ’Young man, you have no idea how much trouble you have saved so many people’ was a response from a relieved security chief that captured the import of the cancellation announcement.
The tension was so palpable you could ram a car right into it. To many Nigerians, it was a heroic move. All manner of interests were jumping on the train and the signs were not good.
Conflicting signals from the Lagos Police Command and Abuja High Command only further escalated the tension. For many, if the protest was indeed designed to call government’s attention to the cries of the people, the movement was already a resounding success way ahead of the scheduled date, so exposing people to the much vaunted risk of violent hijack was absolutely unnecessary.
The announcement on February 4 was greeted with fury and disappointment by another section of the public who oblivious to the high stakes behind-the-scenes drama, felt betrayed by the ‘messiah figure’ who had risen to lead the stand-off against a government they believed had left them terribly impoverished and disappointed.
A government that sat back while the unemployment rate rose to 14 per cent. So the people made their feelings known in brutally clear terms.
The announcement rapidly diffused tension and narrowed down the many possible scenarios to just one – How would the decision make 2baba look? We had to make a choice between two straight-forward options:
a) A decision to cancel the street protest at the worst, might mark the end of 2Baba’s career – a situation where we never get to sell another record or get another booking for a gig ever again;
b) A decision to play the hero in the face of clear security threats and hit the streets might turn sour and the ensuing fracas could result in the loss of life.
2Baba bravely chose peace at the risk of his career and possibly a lifetime of hateful attacks thereby staying true to his ‘one-love’ mantra and ‘peace ambassador’ brand. Once again, Innocent Ujah Idibia wrote his story and blazed his own trail.
Like 2baba himself said when announcing the cancellation, the cancellation was necessary ‘due to security concerns and public safety consideration as the protest was under serious threat of hijack by interests not aligned with our ideals’
The moments that define a man are usually unscripted. One can learn maxims and practice routines hundreds of times over but how one reacts when lava hits the fan is what provides solid proof of character at the end of the day.
2baba is not the first Nigerian musician to side with the people and take a stand against a self-serving government. It is impossible for instance to separate the music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti from his activism and fight for social justice. In other climes, prominent people such as Martin Luther King Jr. have shown that social change can be effected when the people, sometimes led by only one man, rise up and demand it.
The events of January 25 to February 7, 2017 have provided me with more insight about the phenomenon that’s Innocent ‘2Baba’ Idibia, the power of social media, the hustle of activism and the internal dynamics of Nigerian politics perhaps more than any other set of experiences in my lifetime.
For much of these, I have Idibia and a not-so-Innocent Instagram post to thank. Wednesday, 25th January. 9.53 am. I received a message on WhatsApp. ‘Boss! Is this true?’ I clicked the www.thecable.ng link to a story titled: 2face Announces Nationwide Protest Against ‘Obnoxious Policies’ of FG. ‘Let me get back to you in a bit please’.
I responded. Within the next four hours it took me to wrap up the meeting and eventually reach him, the post had gone viral and became the hot topic on traditional and social media. When we eventually spoke, a couple of facts were established.
1. His account had not been hacked. He indeed, made the post.
2. He had seen the text in a Whatsapp group chat, connected with the sentiments and decided to register support for the move by amplifying the message.
3. The text had been in circulation for a couple of days prior but obviously no one paid it any mind.
4. The group he believed was spearheading the call had swiftly dissociated itself from the protest. It had inadvertently become a 2Baba thing.
5. While the call to protest clearly didn’t originate from him, he was convinced that Nigeria had gotten to a point where leadership – at all levels – must listen to the voices of the people. And act. Fast.
A huge chunk of my time has been devoted to strategy sessions for the better part of two decades.
Sessions to articulate strategic direction for everything from music magazines, television shows, concerts, album projects, media, production, distribution and entertainment start-ups, to strategy sessions for copyright protection advocacy, collective management operations, peaceful electioneering campaigns and crisis management – yes! crisis management.
This time however, there was no time for anything. There was no plan for this. It happened and react we must.
This however was a different kind of beast and it was growing a different mutant power every hour. We had to seize control of the conversation somehow.
I reached out to a few of our inner circle people. Brilliant minds, clear heads, gorgeous hearts. Trusted friends with whom we have navigated some of our most tricky challenges for years – Kunle, Pamela, Yemi, Buki and Matthew.
Together with my in-house team members – Funmi, Frankie, Helen and later, our omni-present godfather Edi, we attacked the task of maintaining a grip on an emergency of national proportion.
Our first step was to identify the primary objective for the One Voice Nigeria protest and establish ground rules. From the get-go, my primary concern was control. 2baba and everyone was aligned that we were not going to relinquish control of the narrative to any interests for any reason.
1. One Voice Nigeriawas going to be citizens talking directly to leadership. No partisan, religious, ethnic or sectional colourations will be accommodated.
2. One Voice Nigeriawas going to be a PEACEFUL and articulate engagement. Every Nigerian has a right to express his or her opinion but One Voice Nigeria was not going to provide a platform for the propagation of positions we do not agree with.
When ex band mates and university dons expressed their right to disagree with our stand or attack the person of the Innocent Idibia, it was easy to ignore.
When people threw up names of alleged sponsors of 2Baba and labeled One Voice Nigeria a manifestation of corruption fighting back, we were unfazed because we knew Innocent better than that and trusted him completely.
We also had complete trust in Yemi Adamolekun and EiE, an organization we had collaborated with since 2010 on countless projects on mass mobilization, voter registration and active citizen participation in governance.
When it was reported that we were denied use of The New Afrikan Shrine by Femi Kuti while the revered venue had not featured in our conversation let alone the sending of a request for use, it was easy to shrug off.
Even when holders of political office, the target of our planned peaceful ‘citizens-to-leadership conversation’ declared public support and registered their intention to join the protest, we politely and privately clarified our intentions.
We were determined to control the protest narrative and did the needful to achieve that objective. Brand me naïve but it turned out to be a lot trickier than I had anticipated.
We wanted to tell the government in clear terms that we would not be ignored. That Nigerians had things to say and they should listen because not every dissenting voice is an enemy, not every critic is opposition.
In the video 2baba himself said that ‘the march is about demanding that all saboteurs of good government policies should hands off.
This march is about encouraging positive minded Nigerians to continue to work without intimidation.’ ‘It is not a platform for politicians of any party to manipulate. I know you will still spin it but for one second leave your battles aside and just listen to people without trying to score cheap political points against one another. It is not a point scoring exercise. It is certainly not personal.’
Since the start of last year, the country’s economy has been in the doldrums, shrinking by over 2 per cent in the third quarter of 2016 alone. Inflation has also bit harder on Nigerians, reaching 18 per cent last December.
Even the foreign exchange rate was not left out; the naira exchanged at some point to N520 to one dollar. As the deluge of calls flooded in and the consultations raced up the power structure, two things became apparent.
1. Leadership had heard us loud and clear: 40 million twitter impressions in a week and daily cover coverage on mainstream newspapers seemed to suggest it before the acting president confirmed same.
2. Politicians believe nothing can be altruistic:Painfully few power brokers believed it was as simple as it was. Even if they did, it didn’t stop most of them from trying to key into the event as a platform to drive their personal agenda.
It was a tricky proposition. 2Baba had pricked raw nerves and strayed into the political space where unlike our entertainment scene where we could pick our target audience and control the engagement, politics was free-for-all.
Basically every Nigerian has the right to protest whether they agree with your modus operandi or not. Everyone includes well-meaning Nigerians, self-serving Nigerians, violent Nigerians and more.
We picked Lagos and Abuja for our protest and broke down how everyone who is unable to join in could participate. Before we could finalize logistics for the selected cities, we were swamped with requests from dozens of groups in far-flung places who were ready to roll. And these were the guys who felt the need to even reach out to us.
Others simply made their plans, designed their artworks, placed 2baba’s image on them and were good to go. If 2baba’s name was going to be deployed for a nationwide protest at a time as sensitive as that period was, I most definitely had to have control.
I learned perhaps a little late, that control with this protest was going to be impossible. Our private security report was pretty ugly before our engagement with the police to work with them to protect the protest.
We had jointly analyzed their challenges and conceded to a one-spot protest rally at the National Stadium at Surulere as opposed to the initial street march.
Before long it became evident that we had to contend with interests who didn’t want the protest to hold because the build-up had substantially hurt the image of the government on one hand, and those who needed the protest to serve their individual or collective interest on the other. These were the guys whose purpose would not be served if the outcome was peaceful.
It was easier to remain bullish, perfect his personal security plan, go ahead and play hero to whatever end but 2Baba chose to cancel the physical protest because not one of us involved with the security unit was sure about the safety of the thousands of young Nigerians who were waiting to pour out on February 6 to join 2Baba at the One Voice Nigeria protest.
Through the vehicle of The 2Face Foundation, Innocent Idibia had made immeasurable contributions towards peace building and youth participation in politics for almost a decade.
He has diligently worked to practically propagate the message of peace he has vociferously promoted through his music since he went solo in 2004.
In addition to out-of-pocket spending, 2Baba turned down over N140m worth of booking requests from partisan political interests in the lead up to the 2015 general elections to protect the credibility of the Vote Not Fight: Election No Be War campaign.
Some of these requests came from campaign committees working for friends and associates with whom he had maintained long-standing personal relationships.
By pulling the plug on the physical protest, 2Baba the peace ambassador, made a sacrifice to forestall violence.
All the hoopla that sprang from comparisons to Fela were at best, uninformed. 2Baba, for all the much-publicized admiration and respect he has for the Abami Eda has never tried to be like Fela. The Fela brand was built on activism.
2Baba’s life’s work has focused more on peace-building. It was therefore only logical that the option he chose once it was clear that his participation in the physical protest could cause a breach of public peace and expose citizens to the threat of violence, was the peaceful option.
If somehow there happened to be a replay of this episode ten times over, I am convinced 2Baba will do Innocent Idibia and choose peace. And I, ten times over and more will #StandWith2Baba.
The piece first appeared on Thenet.ng.
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