As TuBaba Strays into the Arena

Today’s protest march by a popular musician, Innocent ‘TuBaba’ Idibia, to highlight the prevailing economic crisis in the country, may be politically motivated, argues Tanimu Ahmed 
Many years ago, a popular Fuji music crooner, Obesere, sang a song entitled “Egungun Be Careful.” He sang: “Egungun be careful, na express you dey go. Motor go jam you.” Egungun among the Yoruba is masquerade, which is seen as the representative of their ancestors from the spirit world. To that extent it is invincible and is held in awe by the people.
But Obesere in the song called upon the masquerade to face the reality of the fact that it is in the land of the living and should not exaggerate its perceived invincibility by crossing the expressway without due caution. Put simply, the Fuji act of note preached caution to those prone to crossing the line.
Since January 25, 2017, when multiple award-winning singing sensation, Innocent Idibia a.k.a. Tuface or TuBaba, announced on his Instagram page his intention to lead a protest much against what he called the mishandling of the economy of Nigeria, opinion has been divided over the propriety of his proposed action.
While some have hailed him as an emerging champion of the masses, others have cautioned that he needs to be careful not to stray into the political arena, where he could be bloodied.
Those hailing him hold the view that at times like these there must be someone of note who will step forward to call attention to the sufferings of the people. This, they say, is what TuBaba is doing. The antagonists of the march opine that the musician may well have a point but that his method and choice of words suggest a voice-of-Esau-hand-of-Jacob situation. For them, TuBaba is a mere tool in the hands of opposition politicians’ intent on embarrassing the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
No doubt TuBaba’s mission statement and company are essentially political, exposing him to the charge of fronting for politicians, who seek to make governance uncomfortable for President Muhammadu Buhari.
“A call for good governance; a call for urgent explanation into the reckless economic downturn nationwide; a call for nationwide protests as we say No to the Executive, No to legislature, No to judiciary…. You have all failed us,” TuBaba said, about his mission, adding: “there is aneed for Nigerians to rise against what is happening in this country having waited patiently for the legislatures that were elected to represent the people all to no avail.”
In much later posts, the musician gave further justification for his new endeavour: “The people have hoped for a better Nigeria since 1999 but things are not getting any better for the majority. We are still where we are – poor and desperate. I will no longer be quiet.”
No one can begrudge TuBaba for choosing to speak, after all, this is a democratic society. But we sure can challenge the motif of his action. For his critique of the prevailing situation is not only commonplace, but also largely dishonest. Everyone is aware that the economy slipped into recession at the beginning of the second quarter of last year. The consequence of that is what the musician is complaining about.
The dishonesty of his agitation is, however, exposed by his abject failure to interrogate the causes of the economic challenge that has imposed on the people the current hardships. Had he done that, he would have found that a number of factors, entirely not the fault of President Buhari, conspired to foist the embarrassing situation on Nigerians.
He would have found that the president inherited an economy that was already on its knees with as many as about 29 states unable to pay salaries even as the federal government was borrowing to pay its bloated work force. And as the president explained, the situation was compounded by the free fall of the price of oil, massive looting of the treasury and lack of saving by the past administration and the dearth of infrastructure in spite of the huge earnings the Goodluck Jonathan administration made during the oil boom.
Not a few have argued that TuBaba actually lacks the intellectual capacity and clarity to be at the head of a protest march he threatens to unleash on the nation. Born in Jos, Plateau State, TuBaba went to Saint Gabriela Secondary School, Makurdi in Benue State. After his secondary education, he proceeded to the Institute of Technology (IMT), Enugu for a pre-diploma course in Business Administration and Management.
Not a particularly brilliant student, TuBaba was known more in school as a singer and entertainer. He eventually dropped out of school to pursue a career in music, performing shows at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu.
Whatever the Idoma born lacked in intellect, he made up for in music, rising to stardom in relatively short time with his hit song “African Queen” and claiming several local and international awards: MTV Europe Music Award; one World Music Award; five Headies Awards (Hip-hop award); four Channel O Music Video Awards; one BET award; four MTV Africa Music Awards; one MOBO Award; one KORA Award and numerous additional nominations.
None of his songs, which brought him these acclamations and fortune suggests any concern for the social conditions of the people. Nor is he known to have empathised with victims of poverty or social strife even in his Benue State homestead, where fights over farmland have rendered many people homeless.    
Besides, Nigeria has witnessed many political struggles, including the fight for democracy against military aristocrats of the 1990s as well the more recent campaigns to strengthen democracy in the country, Save Nigeria (2010) and Occupy Nigeria (2012) to which many Nigerian musicians and artists lent their weight. TuBaba is not known to have participated in any of them as he concentrated more on his music career which has no doubt brought him fortune. No wander his sudden interest has drawn widespread suspicion and cynicism.
Perhaps aware that he had opened his flanks, he offered a clarification: “The protest 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.” Yet his clarification cannot convince even the most naïve politically exposed person as the company he keeps and the circumstances of his protest march remain hugely suspect.
On his side is that enfant terrible, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, who has issued his endorsement with flourish. “If they could sponsor a rally against President Goodluck Jonathan, why can’t this one hold?” he asked in justification of TuBaba’s political moves.
Meanwhile, the event which was supposed to hold on Sunday was dramatically shifted by 24 hours to coincide with the arrival of President Buhari from the United Kingdom, where he had gone to enjoy a deserved rest. Who is still arguing that TuBaba has not strayed into the political arena?
The point, however, is whether he is acting alone or in concert with the president’s political foes. He needs to tread with caution as the political terrain is a completely different ball game from the business of singing and dancing to melodious beats that lured him out of school decades ago! It could be messy going forward.
-Ahmed, a public affairs analyst, writes from Kaduna