In the course of the past two weeks, there has been a shift in the mood of the country. Particularly among the youth. The EndSARS protests began out of discontent for the state of the country at large, but particularly the activities of the Special Anti Robbery Squad of the Nigerian Police Force, SARS.
And in that space of time, the youth have let their dissatisfaction be known to the government and attracted international media and attention.
The protests were a success for young Nigerians. It was a glimpse into our true capabilities. We made the government listen to us, we got global attention, we definitely used our voices positively. No wonder the government appears to be really scared and shocked.
As the protests moved to the streets and got larger, the different functions being carried out by protesters became evident. The financial aspect of the protests in sorting out donations was taken care of by a few women from the Feminist Coalition. There was also the legal aspect of the protest, that needed to ensure the safe release of detained protesters. Others that cropped up include welfare, medical, insurance, sanitary, and morale. Each part of the whole was equally important.
Entertainers and influencers have played a very important role in the protests by ensuring morale, presence and representation, particularly on social media. They have also been important in rallying protesters. Small Doctor was influential in pulling together protesters from the Agege axis of Lagos mainland and rallying the local interior members of the protests.
Seeing a public figure that they connect with, be affected by the things that affect them, and be just as passionate, creates a bond between the protesting mass and the celebrity or social figure.
Debo ‘Mr Macaroni’ Adedayo and Folarin ‘Falz’ Falana are two of the inspiring entertainers who have used all their platforms during the protests, to make sure the government hears the voice of their fans.
Mr Macaroni, an actor, comedian and viral skit maker, was instrumental in vocalizing the griefs of the people, their hurt, their dissatisfaction, and unhappiness. It was not difficult to support and amplify what he was saying, because it was how everyone felt.
Mr Macaroni just recently got introduced to stardom. After four attempts, Debo was finally successful in securing his Bachelor’s degree, in Theatre Arts, from Redeemer’s University.
He had started off schooling in pursuit of a law degree. However, the private school he was admitted to was soon beset with accreditation problems. For the uninitiated, accreditation problems may arise as a result of said school not meeting up with certain prescriptions of the National Universities Commission (NUC). And for this lapse, a faculty or department in the school may lose accreditation. That private university will cease to be listed as a University that offers that particular course of study. The faculty of law lost its accreditation and Debo lost his first admission. He had to move on and try his luck at another school.
He did not go quietly. The students led a protest against the failure of the system and the injustice that had been done to them as a result. For this act of protest, he was asked to leave the school. He left Nigeria for neighbouring Benin Republic, in hopes of acquiring a degree. But things didn’t work out there too. Soon he was on his way back home as relations between him and a lecturer grew increasingly tense and nearly got physical.
At this point, and understandably so, Debo was frustrated with the country’s education system and the way his schooling was going. He was ready to give up on this course and abandon it. He eventually came to a compromise with his parents, he was going to study Theatre Arts. It was his passion and he wanted to pursue it.
So he registered to study Theatre Arts at the University of Ekiti. Not long into the programme, the Dean of Faculty calls him to inform him that the school does not run a Theatre Arts programme. This is devastating news for Debo already and it looked like history was about to repeat itself. He was offered English and Media studies in place of Theatre Arts. He eventually left the school, in his second year, failing to complete his course of study, for the third time in a row.
He eventually got admitted into Redeemer’s University, where things were going smoothly for a while, until his final year in the University, when, he says, “drama happened”.
Debo was the Student body president while at Redeemer’s University. In his final year, the school authority summoned him over a Facebook post he had published, which they claimed showed the school in a bad light. He was accused of actions “unbecoming” for a product of the school, and was expelled on this ground. He almost lost his degree, again. The issue got a lot of social media attention as Debo expressed his grievance against the school on his social platforms. He claimed not to have mentioned any names or schools in his Facebook post, and the ground on which he was expelled was baseless.
The matter got so bad that Debo and his family planned to institute legal actions against the school. He had been something of an activist while at the school, fighting to ensure better welfare for the students and it is possible that he rubbed some of the school authorities the wrong way.
Eventually, after the intervention of several individuals and the negative media attention the school had been exposed to, Debo finally graduated with a degree in Creative Arts, in 2018, after finishing secondary school ten years earlier. The fourth time was eventually the charm for him. It explains his distrust of the system. He had also been a victim of the failure of the system.
Upon graduating, Debo shared this on his social media, “I struggled and bled for 10 solid years at 4 different Universities for this day. Today is not the day to say if my fight and struggle was right or wrong at these Universities.”
Though Mr Macaroni’s earliest Youtube upload is dated March 21, 2019, he had been an actor for a much longer time, before gradually evolving to skit making. He had tried his luck in Nollywood for several years, landing small roles in movies and soaps, never thinking he would eventually become a skit maker.
Reminiscing in a Facebook post, he says, “I used to say to myself that I would never ever do short videos/skits…. Emi!!!! Odindin Thespian!!! Spent 4 years studying Theatre Arts… Trained by The Great Professor Ahmed Yerima!! Trained at Wale Adenuga’s PEFTI!! Me!! MacaSuper!! I will now be doing 1 minute videos on Instagram.”
Today, Mr Macaroni’s skits record up to 700,000 thousand views, and have featured a wide spectrum of cameos and appearances from several Nollywood celebrities to artistes, socialites and elite. From Don Jazzy and Toke Makinwa to Ogogo and the Ooni of Ife. Huge accomplishment.
Mr Macaroni has become the social media influencer to court. An Instagram skit maker, at the top of the food chain, with a combination of popularity and influence at his disposal.
According to Gbenga Sogbaike, CEO of influencer marketing and content trading platform Plaqad, brands love working with Mr Macaroni because, “his unique and relatable character, as well as the other characters in his skits, appeal to a broad spectrum of the brand’s target audience. Brands love any influencer that can deliver results in terms of awareness and conversions… You can safely assume Mr Macaroni delivers results.”
As the EndSARS physical protests gradually grew, Mr Macaroni was one of the important voices amplifying the concerns of the protesters and the importance of the protests. He was camped at Alausa for several nights, braving the elements with thousands of other protesters refusing to be deterred from their cause, insisting that SARS must be disbanded.
He has also dropped several skits addressing or amplifying the protests. In one he visualized the significance of the EndSARS protests, addressing particularly those unconcerned by the agitations of the youth because they think their status protects them and their family.
He dropped another when the looting started, in collaboration with another comedian, Twyse, condemning the act. Mr Macaroni is able to, in just a few clips, pass across a clear message, punctuated with enough humour. Several of his catchphrases like, “fantabulous”, “you’re doing well”, have become popular, even crossing over to everyday use.
As part of their reform of the Police force and in response to the EndSARS protest, the government announced that SARS had been renamed to SWAT, Special Weapons And Tactics. This did nothing to assuage the grievances of Nigerian youths, it had the opposite effect of further riling them up at the apparent insensitivity of the government, with its tone-deaf approach.
In response, Mr Macaroni returned to his craft, releasing a skit reminding the government that the protesters cannot be deterred by flimsy moves by the government that will bring about no actual change.
He dramatized the demands of the protesters, calling for the government to compensate and publicly apologize to the families of the protesters that lost their lives due to police harassment during the protests. He also advised the government to ensure that police officer accused of brutality are investigated and punished if found guilty.
In one of his tweets addressing the government during the protests, he said “The government does little or nothing to better the lives of youths in the country. Nigerian youths struggle day after day to earn a living for themselves. We do everything by ourselves yet you people slaughter and murder us.”
Bop Daddy himself, Falz’s route to comedy and activism is a little different. One might even say that Folarin Falana is not an apple that fell very far from the tree. Folarin is the son of two respected human rights activists and lawyers in Nigeria, Femi Falana who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Funmi Falana, a women’s rights activist and founder of Women Empowerment and Legal Aid (WELA).
Falz is a rapper, actor, singer and comedian, combining a series of talents to become a powerhouse, and now a household name in the Nigeria entertainment industry. Falz is not just a son of lawyers, he is a lawyer himself. A graduate of the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, Falz got called to the Nigerian Bar in 2012.
He utilizes humour and wit, in passing conscious messages across to his audience. In January 2019, he released Moral Instruction, his fourth studio album addressing some of the worst issues hitting us as a country including prostitution, internet fraud, corruption, police brutality, social injustice and the like. The album had a very heavy Fela and Afrobeat influence, and a tracklist that includes, Johnny, Follow Follow, Hypocrite and others.
Earlier in 2018, Falz had released This is Nigeria, a social satire inspired by Childish Gambino’s This Is America, which was a discourse on the true state of reality in the United States.
He did not gain many fans for taking a stance on social issues, some of which were not very popular, but he has been consistent in his message, reiterating over and over in his records, how he feels about the state of the country.
“This Is Nigeria” was banned by the National Broadcasting Commission, which described the song as “vulgar”. Muslim Rights Concern, (MURIC), also threatened to institute legal actions against Falz, describing the video to This is Nigeria as “hate speech”, for depicting girls in hijab, doing the popular Nigerian shaku shaku, dance.
The video contained moments that condemn the Boko Haram kidnap of the Chibok girls, the Fulani herdsmen on a killing spree, police brutality, among other social issues.
Speaking in an interview after the release of the controversial video, Falz says, “We need to pause and think and look at our social space. We have a voice as artists and we need to use that voice for the right purpose, we need to speak the truth to wake people up. The terrible state of Nigeria has become so normalised.”
Falz has called out politicians repeatedly in his music, accusing them of incompetence, laziness and corruption. Holding them responsible for the state of the country. In all of this, one might have described Falz as much a social activist, as an entertainer.
On EndSARS, Falz has taken up an advocacy role, speaking to the protesting public about their rights and the responsibilities of the government. He was one of the first few celebrities that rallied a physical EndSARS protest, along with Runtown, on October 8, which ultimately led to physical protests in several other parts of Lagos and other states in the country.
He has taken up the mantle of interpreting and analyzing some of the challenges facing Nigeria. As well as providing legal insight into the activities of the government and the rights and responsibilities of protesters.
Though he insists that he will not be joining any of the judicial panels, the artist who turned 30 on October 27, vows to follow the processes every step of the way. He encourages everyone to play their part in ensuring accountability and transparency in governance.
Following the events at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, which is being described as a massacre, where soldiers opened fire on peaceful protesters at the Lekki tollgate, Chief International Correspondent for CNN, Christiane Amanpour interviewed Falz, on the current situation of the protests in Nigeria. When she asks him if he isn’t afraid for his life, for calling out the Nigerian government on international TV, he replies, “I’m not afraid for my life, because I feel like I could easily die from anything right now.”
He goes on to list all the possible things that could kill him because of the failure of the system. Corrupt practices of the government and mismanagement of funds, have led to an impoverished health care system, poverty, unemployment, and several other maladies that ail the nation.
Falz has clearly been frustrated with the government for a long time, and the burst of energy he displays is proof of how long he has been waiting for a revolution of this kind. With his evident confidence and hope, Falz is able to buoy protesters’ energy. He continues to encourage Nigerian youths to be consistent in their unity and oneness.
The EndSARS protest has marked the beginning of an incredible time in Nigeria’s history, one that will go down in the books. It might signal the arrival of change in the system of things in the country. It’s a time of rare hope, if we make it.