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Naira Marley, law and morality BY Kayode Idowu


Naira Marley

French philosopher and father of Absurdism, the late Albert Camus, described the rebel as someone “who says ‘no,’ but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation; he is also a man who says ‘yes’ from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion.” Don’t be fazed by the seeming contradiction: the whole thesis of Camus’ philosophy is rejection of any meaning to life, at least in relation to humanity, and the absurdity of humans searching for meaning in a meaningless life. The book-essay titled The Rebel is one of the works on which basis Camus won the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.

Hip-hop artiste Azeez Fashola, otherwise known as Naira Marley, is a rebel. His rebellion, however, is not in the intellectual sense of Camus’ absurdism; rather, he is a crass bohemian who violates the law to criminal rather than philosophical ends. Since the norms of society are informed by both its written statutes and cultural morality, Marley commands a strong following among a segment of the Nigerian population who see his affront on societal morality and the written codes as one courageous challenge to the tyranny of law and culture. But his challenge, in truth, isn’t by any stretch that high-grounded, it is just primitive deviance for its sake. He has gone on social media to brand himself an outlaw.

Marley is a regular in having run-ins with the law. The latest instance was penultimate weekend when he travelled from Lagos, where he is based, to Abuja for a live musical concert in violation of restrictions by government on inter-state travel and a ban on public gatherings as warranted by Covid-19 pandemic. The concert, put together by Play Network Africa, Traffic Bar and El’Carnival, and sponsored by Glenfiddich, held at the Jabi Lake Mall in the federal capital. To get to Abuja for that concert, Marley and his gang converted for use a special permit given by the government to Executive Jets Services to convey Justice Adefope Okojie from Lagos to Abuja and back on official assignment. The concert itself wasn’t a hush-hush affair: it was pre-advertised by organisers as a drive-through event – whatever that was to mean. From what eventually played out, however, attendees did not ‘drive-through’ but rather squared in for contact concerting. with not the slightest thought for the protocols of social distancing and use of facemasks prescribed by health authorities for outdoor engagements.

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The effrontery of it all and criticisms elicited from Nigerians – especially on social media – must have hit the governing authorities in the face, hence they lashed out with penalties. The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) administration indefinitely shuttered the Jabi Lake Mall, where many other lawful businesses plied their trade, for violating government directives banning public gatherings towards containing the spread of Covid-19. But you could ask: was the FCT administration learning about the concert holding for the very first time or were there prior approvals for it to hold in some form that was only violated? In other words, was the mall management the approving authority or mere host of an approved event? If the mall management was the approving authority, the issue goes far beyond just shutting down the facility; and if there was prior approval by FCT for a ‘drive-in’ event, what magic was envisaged about regulation in an atmosphere completely inspired and influenced by Naira Marley? The FCT administration tweeted that besides violating the rules of social distancing and use of facemasks in public, the concert as well breached the 10p.m. to 4a.m. curfew in the territory. But what was expected of a Naira Marley concert: a church service? So, is the Jabi mall management the culprit here or a scapegoat for failings in FCT approvals? And what is the fate of businesses that have no part in all these but are now shuttered with the mall?

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On its part, the Federal Government slammed an indefinite suspension on Executive Jet Services that conveyed Marley and his gang to Abuja, with Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika adding that the operator would be maximally fined in line with the law and the flight captain sanctioned for giving wrong information to the Control Tower. The minister confirmed that approval was given ExecuJet, only it was misused: “We approved a flight indeed, but not for any musician. The approved flight was to convey a justice on official assignment, but ExecuJet illegally used it to convey musicians to Abuja for a concert,” he said.

An apology by ExecuJet boss Sam Iwuajoku better illuminated the dynamics of the aviation sector during this period of blanket restriction on flight operations owing to Covid-19 pandemic. Iwuajoku acknowledged that the permit granted by government was to convey a judge to Abuja on Sunday, 14th June, adding: “But unfortunately, when I called the judge on Saturday morning to inform him that we have the permit, he said he had reached Abuja already with a different flight, that someone gave him a lift to Abuja.” The implication here is: it is easy getting around for select people at a time most Nigerians are locked to base by official ban on travels said to be aimed at flattening the Covid-19 curve. Government says it gives exemptions from the ban strictly for essential purposes. But the ‘exemption’ seems, in reality, a ‘selective norm,’ such that Presidency staff were lately reported to have enjoyed it for family visitations. It is like George Orwell’s Animal Farm where all animals are equal but some are more equal than others.

Naira Marley and his crew were aware of this when they made their plans for the Abuja flight. In his apology letter, Iwuajoku said his staff called in Saturday morning to notify him there was a charter flight booking to Abuja and that the passengers were already in the lounge. That is to say, when Marley’s handlers made the travel arrangement, they were not counting on fresh application for flight permit because they knew one would be lying idle somewhere. The scandalous sloppiness of Iwuajoku’s verification of the manifest that made him mistake one of the names for Works and Housing Minister Babatunde Fashola was only incidental to facilitating a journey Marley and handlers were confident they would swing. So much for exemptions and special permits!

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Not that Marley and his friends even assayed to be discreet about the journey. The artiste and an ex-Big Brother Naija housemate, Kim Oprah, who anchored the concert shared videos of themselves inside the private jet en route Abuja and upon arrival in the federal capital. Yet questions weren’t asked by aviation authorities until uproar erupted over the concert. Actually, if the maverick artiste is to be taken serious, he hinted in his angry rejoinder to Iwuajoku’s labelling of him and his crew as “a bunch of useless people” that the flight was arranged by others. “We didn’t book the flight ourselves,” he said in a tweet. Government should be interested in who these parties were and how they secured the plan.

Finally, no one would seriously deny the motivational influence of Marley, and he himself boasted about it by threatening Iwuajoku in his tweet that over 20,000 ‘Marlians’ use his airline’s services a month and “we won’t be using your useless airline again for calling us useless.” Besides, there’ve been widespread anecdotes about ‘Marlian’ bohemianism involving his male followers going without pants and females without bras. So, he is a standard-bearer wrongly or rightly for some. But in all of the sanctions that have been imposed for the Abuja concert, none is directed at holding him personally accountable for violations. This is a dangerous indication of ‘sacred cowism’ that could fuel emulation by his followers.