Op-Ed
Photo by Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Youths from nigierian origin, protest on October 29, 2020 in the center of Madrid, Spain, by police brutality, after the generalized reports of kidnapping, harassment that is taking place in the country of Nigeria.

#EndSARS: Nigeria is a Nation of Elites and 'Everyone Else'

Op-Ed: Andrew Akpan, a Nigerian based in South Africa, reflects on class divides among Nigerians and how that has affected the way in which #EndSARS protesters are perceived and treated.

I have personally experienced two incidents with the Nigerian Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), one of which was notably traumatising. While driving with a friend, we were stopped by the police unit and although I wasn't the driver of the vehicle, I was asked to step out of the car. Once I was out of the car, one of the officers advanced towards me to search my pockets. Before I could ask him what he was doing and why, he landed a big stick on my knee—without so much as an explanation. One could say that I was quite lucky compared to the many other horrific stories of torture, maiming and even death suffered at the hands of this rogue unit.

This kind of story is precisely what energised Nigerians to take to the streets of major cities and demand the disbandment of SARS, for weeks on end. The government's subsequent response to the protests unfortunately culminated in the military shooting and killing at least 38 peaceful and unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. What followed this event was a widespread breakdown of law and order through the destruction of public and private properties.


There has been a growing rhetoric that the violence that erupted post the Lekki Massacre was to be quelled by whatever means necesarry. The rhetoric was that those who broke into government warehouses to cart away food items that were supposed to be shared as COVID-19 relief were mere criminals that should be shot on sight. This view found traction among the dwindling middle class of Nigeria whose businesses were affected and who feared that the masses might eventually turn on them. However, the recent activities by the government in which the bank accounts of prominent protesters were frozen, the seizing of passports of those who wanted to travel out of the country, and the labelling of protesters as "terrorists" all show that this assumed difference between the masses and the middle class is non-existent.

There are two groups of people in Nigeria: the elites and the masses. The masses are those who are politically and economically impoverished. They constitute 40 percent of the population or almost 83 million people living below the country's poverty line. The elites, on the other hand, require little definition. However, there is another group that I refer to as the "missing middle class." These are the people who are not rich enough to be a part of the elites but are also not poor enough to be a part of the masses. The recent #EndSARS protests saw a rare coming together of both the masses and the middle class in a struggle that initially started as a fight against police brutality.

"There are two groups of people in Nigeria: the elites and the masses."

As the government cracked down heavily on the protests in what eventually culminated in, what has now been dubbed, the Lekki Massacre, the divide between the masses and the middle class was again visible. It was worrisome to see the condescending attitude and disrespectful language used by the latter to describe the ensuing violence that erupted in many parts of the country, following the Lekki Massacre.

We must be critical of the political move that categorised these people as "hoodlums," "thugs" and "criminals" who should have be gunned down at first sight because they had disrupted economic activities and threatened the privilege of the middle class. And because violence by the state is the fuel that runs the entire system, we should question the prescription that any protest, if it is to be deemed legitimate, has to be peaceful. Protest, in and of itself, is often a response to a violent system. Crime is not in the blood of Nigerians. By labelling a significant number of the Nigerian populace in a specific way, we make it easy for them to be mistreated. History tells us the effect of such labelling in the form of genocides and other egregious injustices against specific groups of our society.

When the middle class was threatened by forces beyond their control (like the break-ins into warehouses and the destruction of private & public properties), we saw them siding with the oppressors and calling on the government to employ violence to quell the unrest. This, on the surface, appeared ironic since they abhorred violence of that same kind just weeks back with the #EndSARS protests. This seemingly inconsistent move could be because the middle class soon realised that the masses see them as being a part of the elites and accomplices to the rotten system.

#EndSARS protests - OkayAfricaSome of the destroyed property at different police stations across the state during the Inspector General Police visit to Lagos on November 3, 2020.Photo by Olukayode Jaiyeola/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Together with the political elites, the middle class considers the poor masses to be a bunch of beasts that should be tamed and put under control, particularly when their dissatisfaction tends to be expressed as violence. And what better way is there to "control the beasts" than to use the police to subdue and put the masses "in their place". This is one of the factors among many that birthed the police brutality that now finds it difficult to distinguish between the masses and the middle class.

If we want to build a new Nigeria, our middle class must first transform themselves—be more tolerant and respectful of all people. The struggle cannot be won if we do not change both our language and attitude towards most Nigerians who are poor and systemically disadvantaged. In fact, the struggle against a corrupt government cannot be won if it is not equally led and owned by both the masses and the middle class. We have to find ways of carrying each other along and leading from both ends. This is vital. The middle class cannot take the masses along in any meaningful way if they continue seeing them as "the masses", lumped together in a way that negates their individuality. Haba! These are Nigerian citizens with dreams and aspirations of their own that have been dashed by system beyond their control.

"If we want to build a new Nigeria, our middle class must first transform themselves..."

In my assessment, going beyond police reform to demand political accountability and all-round reform is favoured by the masses and those sympathetic to their plight. However, among the middle class, their only demand seems to be being granted permission toto eke out a living for themselves. This is essentially a class divide.

The question I sit with now and one to which I have no answer is: how do we narrow this divide? I am sure there is no one answer and no one starting place. However, a possible starting point could be for the middle class to broaden their definition of the struggle and join most Nigerians in demanding from the government an enabling environment where all dreams can be actualised. They have to go beyond the myth of meritocracy to realise that the Nigerian system is fundamentally disabling. The masses are not beasts that can be tamed; they are human beings who like everyone else feel hunger, see the injustices around them, and deserve a decent life for themselves and their families.

Everyone must recognise the looming dangers of poverty and inequality and work painstakingly to create a fair society for all people. This is how nationhood is built and strengthened. This is what will give people a sense of belonging in the country and transform the masses into citizens.

Follow Andrew Akpan on Twitter.

Spotlight
Photo courtesy of Nurdin Momodu

Spotlight: Nurdin Momodu Is Using Animation To Share African Ingenuity

We spoke with the 3D artist and animator about his company Lotusfly Animations, Black excellence, and Africa's relationship with technology.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Nigerian animator and 3D artist Nurdin Momodu. The Founder of Lotusfly Animations, Lagos-based Momodu's work beautifully articulates his vision of a technologically advanced world where Black excellence shines brightly. The animator founded his animation company in 2015, and has since pushed the boundaries of how African stories are told and shared. Keen on developing how African children see themselves on screens, Momodu and his team of established 3D artists are currently working on a kids' show titled, "Time Tech Kids".

We spoke with Momodu about following your passions, expressing Black excellence, and the representation that matters.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Describe your background as an artist and the journey you've taken to get it to where it is today.

I never dreamt of pursuing a career as an artist, however, I always had an artistic eye. Life and its circumstances forced me to look within and harness the gifts I was given. The lack of jobs after pursuing a degree in microbiology was a turning point, and eight years ago, I discovered 3D animation and taught myself everything I could.

What are the central themes in your work?

I like to explore themes related to Afro-futurism, technology, and science fiction. I also like to look into deep emotions, melancholy and Black excellence.

How did you decide on using a digital medium for your art?

The moment I discovered 3D animation, I knew it was the medium for me -- the possibilities were endless. It felt so natural, I always had a fondness for computers, so expressing my art with one was a no-brainer.

Can you describe your artistic relationship with ‘Afro-futurism’ and African technology?

I think we are inseparable. I produced my first proof of concept titled “Jagabaan” because I wanted to express Black excellence and its relationship with technology and the future.

I imagine a time, far into the future, where Black people -- our culture, technology, stories, struggles of the past and present, and how they shaped the future -- dominate. However, the realities of everyday struggles in Africa make it challenging to envision this future. If my portrayal of Afro-futurism can connect with people just enough to enable them to ponder and believe in a future dominated by Black excellence, I’ll find fulfillment.

Can you talk about your use of colors in your work?

Black and Red are my favorite colors, I find them to be a default palette in my arsenal of colors. However, I am drawn to orange and cyan when lighting a shot or an image, especially when I think on a cinematic scale. I love making darker-looking art, but with a stylized look.

Night shots are particularly my favorite, so I go for desaturated colors with the exception of the focus to enable it to stand out from the background. I have an unhealthy obsession with colored neon lights. LOL.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

With the exception of mass hysteria due to Covid, lockdowns, and the #EndSars movement that took place in Nigeria, not much of my lifestyle changed. I began working from home in early 2019, and have been since, so the lockdown didn’t affect me much. I had an influx of jobs, so I spent most of the year working and improving my craft.

Photo by LotusFly Animations courtesy of Nurdin Momodu

Featured
Photo Credit: Damilare Kuku

Damilare Kuku on How Real Life Inspired Her Hit Novel ‘Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad’

OkayAfrica spoke to author Damilare Kuku about her salient breakout novel ‘Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad.’

Damilare Kuku is new to Nigeria’s literary scene. But her short story collection, Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad, came with a buzz. Released in October 2021, the book is a collection of twelve salient tales of young Nigerians in Lagos. Capturing the complexion of the city, it grapples with themes like love, sex, deceit, infidelity, companionship, and heartbreak.

The characters in Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad are women. However, they are not just any kind of women. They are people with whom Kuku shares certain connections with.

Some of these women are friends, close acquaintances, and relatives. "One of the aims of my work as a creative artist is bringing human beings closer, especially women," Kuku told OkayAfrica. "Because women need to know that whatever they are going through, they are not alone. There are other people with the same thing happening to them."

Kuku, who loved reading books as a child, grew up between Lagos and Ile-Ife. Before her debut novel became a hit, Damilare played roles in movies. She’s made appearances in Africa Magic's television series Unbroken and Nollywood blockbusters like The Set-Up (2019), Chief Daddy (2018), and Love is War (2019). As her writing career enjoys attention and success, she landed her most important Nollywood role yet — in the Biodun Stephen-directed drama The Wildflower, released in May.

OkayAfrica caught up with Kuku on Zoom to talk about this anthology work, its inspiration, and her most important role in Nollywood yet.

Damilare Kuku book

How did you come up with the title?

The title of the novel came to me after a prayer session. I'm an unapologetic child of God, which means I rely heavily on God. I was actually in between projects and remembered I was in my one-room apartment in Yaba, Lagos — a very cute little place. I liked it, and I was so proud of the space.

Whenever I am not working, I pray. Somehow, somewhere, I was praying, inspiration came and was like, "how about you write a novel titled Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad?" It wasn't even the inspiration for the stories; it was only the title. So immediately, I sent the title to a very well-known Nollywood actor's assistant. I never got a response, which discouraged me a bit, but I thought maybe it wasn't the right time, so I let it go. This was in 2019. A year later, I submitted a book to my publisher. This was the publisher who later published Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad, and they were like we see potential, and we'd love you to come in for a meeting. So I went in for a meeting and they wanted to sign me on the spot.

Your book deals with themes like deceit, companionship, infidelity, social class, friendship, and heartbreak. Was there any of these themes you wanted readers to pay more attention to?

All stories in the novel are as personal as they can be. I don't have a story in the book, but each story was carefully written, which is interesting because I had all of these things written out, hoping anybody reading the book would get the message. When the message was clear, it was pretty comforting. Every particular story was of clear intention. The same thing with any of my work has always been clear. I'm always delighted when people see my message's clarity. Each story is a love letter to some woman I know.

In the story “Beard Gang” from Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad, you explored how Gay men use marriage to straight women to conceal and hide their sexual orientation. Do you think Nearly All The Men in Lagos helped in any way to pinpoint how this is problematic?

Firstly LGBTQ+ community is very precious, and I'm cautious with what I say. I believe my work mirrors what is going on in the society. Take from it what you will. I tell most people I'm not here to educate you, and I'm more of a timekeeper. That's what I am as a writer. I'm saying this is what is happening. As Damilare, I believe people should be who they want to be. People should learn to accept people for who they are. That's my phenomenon; that is my theory about life. When a person shows you who they are, accept them, but on the other hand, I'm not doing that in this book. I'm simply saying that this is where our society is. Read it and then take from it what you will.

Because it would be foolhardy of me to say this is wrong or right. I'm not here to teach anybody, I'm just here to mirror the society and say how it is. I've had many reporters ask me what my view on queer people is. I don't have an opinion, and that's not because I'm trying to play it safe, but this is what society is.

Damilare Kuku green shirt

"I'm very intentional with my work, and I feel like, as a woman, I can only share stories about what it feels like to be a woman," Damilare Kuku said.

Photo Credit: Damilare Kuku

Let’s talk about the theme of sex. Why was it so essential to the stories being told in your novel?

For me, it was the characters telling their stories, and I can remember older people who had read the book who called me and said, "Is this what is happening now?" and I said yes. I told them it was different from their time when women were very conservative about their sexual life and sexuality. Nowadays, if a woman consents to sex, she's doing it of her own free will. So is that necessarily a good or a bad thing? Then again, it is not my place because if I pass judgment as a writer, I'm not doing my job telling the story. It is left to the readers to make with it what they will. I remember I did an interview a while ago and the interviewer and critic called NALMILAM not too far from pornography, and I laughed. Similarly, the book is dedicated to my mom Oluremi Abake. She started reading the book, but she also says the sex talk is a bit too much for her. But I feel like it's a normal phenomenon; young people living in Lagos are having sex, so why sugar coat it?

Was there any story in Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad that was tedious or mentally draining to write?

The only thing that was quite tedious was emotions. So when my friends — the inspirations behind the stories — went through what they went through, I related as a listener. To write about their experiences, you have to become them. So I found myself being them. Sometimes I would even cry. In the story "Ode-plus complex," the main character (Jide) was a family member's experience. I became the character to understand what they went through, which helped me as an actor. It was very therapeutic.

Let's talk about your latest role in The Wildflower. Share with me what it was like to play the role

As I said, I'm very intentional with my work, and I feel like, as a woman, I can only share stories about what it feels like to be a woman, either through what friends have been through or what I know someone else has gone through. I can tell what other women go through because I am one myself, so when I got the role in The Wildflower, after several auditions, I was very excited. I wanted to tell the story of women and what they go through, abuse in the workplace and many girls go through that. They are being marginalized. Women go through a lot, and most times, some people who do these things to us don't think they've abused the woman.

In The Wildflower, my character was abused by her boss, and there was a scene after the abuse where he said to her, "If only you've been a little bit more cooperative..." and I believe most men think like this. They think, "I didn't rape you — we had sex." But no, it's rape. I told you "no." You didn't listen and went ahead to do what you wanted. When someone says "no," no should mean no. I have often heard some ridiculous views like, "when an African woman says no, she means maybe."

We are here in a society where men don't respect boundaries. They don't respect personal space, and they think it's okay to touch a girl because she's wearing a short skirt. I read a review about The Wildflower from a popular site, and the reviewer said, "absolutely not recommended because abuse has been talked about," and I actually wish I could talk to the person and say, "just because abuse has been talked about many times, doesn't mean it shouldn't be explored."






Featured
Photo Credit: Mazin Elzain

Reem Aljeally is Leading Sudan's Burgeoning Art Scene

Community is at the forefront of Reem Aljeally’s artistic pursuits, as she empowers artists just like her.

Sudan’s art scene is a hidden gem. The country’s capital, Khartoum, has been a budding attraction for creativity and expression, though inextricably linked to the uprisings that shook the country in 2018. Art was deployed as a tool to register discontent on rising prices and the removal of subsidies on basic goods. Artists became an integral part of months-long protests that saw Sudan experiencing numerous marches, strikes, and protests.

Among such artists were Reem Saif-Aldin Aljeally, who created three murals depicted the involvement of women in the sit-ins at the military headquarters in Khartoum.

"My murals, which showed a woman wearing a white toub while carrying people forward, garnered a lot of attention," Aljeally told OkayAfrica. "One mural was erased by the military but two are still there.”

According to Aljeally, the immense expression of creativity was both a result of loosening restrictions on freedom of expression and, at the same time, a catalyst for further change. The 24-year-old artist, who grew up in Khartoum, directs efforts towards helping other emerging artists realize their dreams.

Trained as an architect, Aljeally remembers how she was always fascinated with art. Growing up, she would try to create and put color to almost everything that she owned. While in grade four, Aljeally signed up for extra art classes and she had her first exhibition experience.

“My fascination with design has also been nourished from my childhood. I remember constantly building models and cities of cardboard for games," Aljeally said. "I think that enriched my interest in pursuing architecture, as art was not a practical option for me back then."

Aljeally started taking art more seriously in 2016 after joining a painting competition. She eventually joined her school’s art group and hosted her first solo exhibition in 2017, which was inspired by the Harry Potter movies.

\u200bAljeally with pioneer modernist Kamala Ishaq.

Aljeally with pioneer modernist Kamala Ishaq.

Photo Credit: Abubakr JarElnabi

Besides her abiding presence in the art scene, Aljeally, who is also curator, channels her passion towards addressing social issues. Additionally, she draws her inspiration from personal reflection, observations, and by curiosity. She is also eager to be part of new projects, meet new people and know more about their ideas processes.

“This curiosity led me to be a curator and every day I pick myself up and work," Aljeally said. "There is so much more to be done and to be explored.”

In 2019, her efforts led to the launch of The Muse Multi Studios, an enterprise that works towards building a platform for the local art community. So far, The Muse Multi Studio has been able to train 90 artists on various skills in art including painting, drawing, and illustration. The platform has been able to work closely with almost 40 artists to bring their ideas to life in terms of solo exhibitions or group shows including working with the pioneer modernist Kamala Ishaq to curate a collection of her drawings.

Currently, Aljeally’s studio is hosting its first residency program that includes three researchers, three painters, and three photographers in a project that aims to enrich the critical and visual skills of its residents and assist them in materializing their ideas. The Muse Multi Studio has also worked with children in various programs including the “Stories from the Cubs” that focused on art therapy training for children in a reformatory centre in Khartoum.

Aljeally’s curatorial journey has been both extremely challenging yet satisfying at the same time. Her studio has collaborated and worked with professionals, amateurs, and art lovers in different ways. Some of the partners whom they have worked with include: Rift Digital Lab, the Spanish Embassy, and Education without Borders, providing guidance and assistance to organizations and individuals in regards to artistic projects and with sourcing artists to fulfill a certain role.

“Our focus is to present professionals’ work to the audience through curating it into exhibitions and projects that display the true potential and value of it,” Aljeally said. “While with our art sessions, we focus on youth, children and the community to involve them in the creation process and provide them with a fun environment to create and connect with others. We believe that we only go as far together, hence we try to work with other organizations or individuals in our community."

In July 2020, Aljeally debuted Bait Alnisa, a platform dedicated to all Sudanese women both in the country and diaspora. The platform showcases, supports and empowers Sudanese female artists and promotes their work.

“Bait Alnisa works through exhibitions, online content and articles, training and documentation. Being involved in the art scene, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of presence and representation of female artists and their work,” Aljeally said. “As I believe the female generated art comes in many different unusual forms in our society and it should be represented in more various ways. It has also given me the chance to meet and discover many artists and females leading important careers and visions in our country.”

Reem Saif-Aldin Aljeally headshot

In July 2020, Aljeally debuted Bait Alnisa, a platform dedicated to all Sudanese women both in the country and diaspora.

Photo Credit: Reem Saif-Aldin Aljeally

Haneen Khalid, 22 years-old, born and brought up in Khartoum, Sudan is one of the beneficiaries of Bait Alnisa. According to Haneen, it has been an enlightening journey with Reem who continuously inspires and encourages her.

“She always encouraged my ideas and never boxed me into my creativity,” Haneen said. “My pictures left my small digital space for the first time and it was being showcased for hundreds of people. It was just an immersive experience. I felt very empowered sharing the space with women who came from different backgrounds exhibiting various art. All thanks to Reem’s space that brings us together, empowers us and gives us exposure.”

Throughout her journey, Aljeally dedicated her time to work on her exhibitions. Since debuting in the industry, she has had three solo exhibitions with the fourth coming up in August at the French Institute, Khartoum. However, she has been part of numerous group exhibitions in South Africa, USA, Kenya and Sudan.

Her first artist residency online was in 2020 with the Sudan Moves project with Goethe Institute, Khartoum, where she collaborated with a German art therapist to create a project together titled Non-verbal Dialogue. Aljeally plans to own a gallery in Khartoum that will introduce contemporary art to the community, and to work with artists on uplifting their profession and skills. She would also like to turn The Muse Multi Studios into the first art institution in Sudan, as she continues to build a name for herself locally and internationally.


Music
(YouTube)

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South African music keeps being part of the global music conversation and the artists are doing their best at exporting it across all frontiers.

South African popular music might be having the best years it has had in recent history. Carrying on from the momentum gained during the pandemic and its lockdown/travel restrictions, 2022 has been one of the years artists get to eat the fruits of their hard labour.

Contemporary artists are touring, performing at the biggest global stages amongst the best the world has to offer. From the Grammys and Coachella to Ibiza and Afronation, everyone is outside and is putting out their best music while at it. South African music is part of the global African music conversation and the artists are doing their best to export the music.

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