Interview with the singer Africana, endorser of the call to the World Conference against War and Exploitation, for a Workers’ International (Paris, October 29-30)
— Africana, you are a Nigerian singer. Can you tell us more about yourself and your songs? What are they about? What do your songs stand for?
— My name is Jibril Adewunmi, but my stage name is Africana. I am 32 years old. I was born and raised in Bariga, a working-class neighborhood in Lagos. My parents, now deceased, were civil servants. I have a degree in animal breeding. But I chose to be an artist. My songs are inspired by my immediate environment, by what I see around me. They speak about the political and social context of my country. For example, one of my songs, Stand Up, says, « Fight for your rights / For a better future / So many lies / So much corruption from our leaders / While the masses starve. »
— You participated in the #EndSARS movement in 2020. What can you tell us about this movement, and more generally about the current situation of youth and artists in Nigeria?
— Before the #EndSARS movement, all Nigerians, especially the young people, were being harassed by the police, and in particular by the SARS (Special AntiRobbery Squad). The SARS was created in 1992 (during the military dictatorship) to combat robberies and kidnappings. But it got to the point where, as a young person, if you were well-dressed or looked good, they would harass you to extort money from you. Young people mobilised against that. It was a massive mobilisation. The aim was to fight for a country of our own. But that led to the Lekki Toll Booth Massacre in Lagos in October 2020. They told us to leave and suddenly the army came and opened fire on the crowd. Many lost their lives.
The current situation of the Nigerian young people is marked by unemployment and lack of education. Because of this, some of the young people are involved in criminal activities, especially cybercrime. But if the government would do something for the people, for example by creating jobs, all this would decrease. The government is not on our side. The problem comes from the top. The #EndSARS movement was born in response to this.
— The #EndSARS movement wasn’t just against police harassment; it went beyond that, right?
Yes, it was more than that. The situation is constantly getting worse. There are no jobs. No stable lighting! For example, as an artist, if you have a studio and you need to work, you have to get gasoline (to run the generator and make up for the lack of electricity).
— Speaking of gasoline, what do you think about the fact that Nigeria, which is one of the biggest oil exporters, is facing a fuel shortage?
— Colonialism and imperialism have affected Nigeria and Africa in general. They have affected our economy, our politics, our culture. They have damaged many things. Today, we are experiencing a « new colonialism », that is, a situation where our own people – we ourselves! – dominate and oppress the people.
— But there are still foreign companies (such as oil companies) that take advantage of the current situation, aren’t there?
— There is a saying in the Yoruba language that says, « If the world didn’t crack, the lizard that wants the coconut wouldn’t get in. » The situation is related to the fact that our own politicians are taking advantage of it. The ideology behind imperialism and the new colonialism is capitalism! A few people have everything they want at the expense of others. If Nigeria does not exit capitalism, we will never be able to exit this situation. We will never be able to make things right.
— Is there an organisation in Nigeria that is currently advocating this view?
There are some organisations that are trying to fight against this situation, but so far it has not worked. I am impatient for organisations to come together for socialism, for an egalitarian society, where everyone is treated equally.
— Are you yourself part of an organisation, trade union or group?
— I have only been involved in the #EndSARS movement. But the situation in Nigeria requires a joint effort. That’s why I signed the call for the International Workers Conference against War, Exploitation and Precarious Labor. I did it because I want change. I want to be heard.
Interview by Jeanne Sauvage, June 11
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with 219 million people, 40-% of whom are under 15 years of age. A British colony until 1960, the country has substantial oil reserves that are exploited by major foreign multinationals, where a large and organised working class is employed.