PROFILE: The (un)relenting advocacy of 2face Idibia

by Wilfred Okiche

After all said and done, the matter of the I Stand With Nigeria/One Voice Nigeria protest played out like many other significant events in history. The man who started a movement was the same person who almost brought it to a premature end. When the artiste formerly known as 2face Idibia,- he chose to be officially recognised as 2baba in 2014,- released a video declaring the cancellation of the feverishly anticipated One Voice protest march which he had only days ago canvassed support for on the internet, it was not a few persons that were left were left disappointed, the wind knocked out of their sails.

Since 2baba made public his intention of protesting the sad said state of affairs brought on amongst others, by a crippling economic recession, he has received mostly commendation and support by a wide swath of Nigerians,- home and abroad,- fed up with the current national mood and the total refusal of the political class to take up any kind of responsibility in fixing the rot.

In many ways the time was ripe for such an undertaking, and with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) presently in disarray and thoroughly discredited since their last major show of force in May 2016 slid by unacknowledged nationwide, a vacuum existed and was craving to be filled.

2baba’s voice was both a welcome place holder for organized labour and a vessel for the frustrations and angst of millions of Nigerians languishing silently under the harsh and outdated policies of the Buhari administration, and he was instantly hailed as a democratic hero, with effusive praises anointing the pop star as some kind of modern day Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

The influential and dynamic civil society coalition, Enough is Enough (EiE), led by the indefatigable Yemi Adamolekun offered to partner with the 2face foundation in making the protests a reality. The involvement of EiE brought added credibility to the proposed march as the youth focused group had been in the trenches previously fighting for the love of country with a focus on good governance and government accountability.

As a coalition of youth leaders, EiE had earned its stripes headlining and participating in movements like the youth march to the gates of the National Assembly in 2010, demanding that the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, then shielding by a band of manipulative aides either resign or resume office. With their ability to bring out both Nollywood stars (Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde) and music top shots (Audu Maikori) to support their causes, EiE seemed like the right partner for a 2baba intervention.

But Mr Idibia was not alone. He showed his industry leadership position when he got colleagues like Burna Boy and Davido pledging (via Twitter naturally) to physically support the cause. Even Ekiti state governor, Peter Ayodele Fayose who himself failed to see the irony in his playbook, promised to support the march. He was promptly turned down by EiE.

If 2baba received support from a good percentage of the populace, he was equally vilified in some others. Dissenters queried his moral right to organise such a momentous movement and before long he was being dragged publicly for his colourful private life (the children from several mothers). It may have hit the artiste many now tout as a future legend close to home when former Plantashun Boiz band member, Blackface entered the fray by promoting an article penned by a suspicious academic.

Naturally government types weren’t pleased by what they read as an anti-Buhari statement and the vocal ones amongst them went to town. Buhari’s Personal Assistant (social media), Lauretta Onochie challenged 2baba to a live television appearance, directly questioning his intelligence and capacity to reason at such a level. Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, in another one of his loosely guarded statements dismissed 2baba’s protest as an expression of wailers still smarting from the loss of the last election cycle. The Police, through the Lagos state Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni expressed their reservations, announcing an outright ban one moment and then pledging to provide security the next.

Won’t back down

It was a perfect storm that 2baba conjured up by announcing his involvement in the protests and before long every Tom, Dick and Harry wanted a piece of the planned rally, for better or for worse. By the time 2baba pulled a surprise move by announcing a cancellation of the protest on Saturday evening because ‘’after due consultations, it has become clear that the One Voice Nigeria protest scheduled to hold in Lagos and Abuja on Monday the 6th of February is under serious threat of hijack by interests not aligned with our ideals,’’ he demonstrated a failure of understanding. That the momentum had since moved beyond him and settled on the frustrations, bitterness and missed opportunities of the past year.

2baba was merely a bystander in what he erroneously considered his own party and while Nigerians were content with letting him galvanise the populace, the movement wasn’t necessarily his to lead. Or cancel. EiE swiftly put the word out that the show must go on, even as Mr Idibia retreated to lick his wounds and the rumour mill went into overdrive on the reasons for such an abrupt withdrawal. He has denied being a guest of the Department of State Services (DSS).

The morning of 6, February dawned bright and early and Lagosians converged at the national stadium in Surulere, kick off point of the protest march. In the nation’s capital, another crowd converged at the Unity Fountain in Maitama.

Protests were also held in Ibadan, Port Harcourt and Uyo. With 2baba out of the fray, it fell to Adamolekun’s EiE, together with a sprinkling of famous names like Omoyele Sowore (Sahara Reporters), Charly Boy and Seyi Law to galvanise the mood in Lagos. In Abuja, #BringBackOurGirls advocate Aisha Yesufu alongside past chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu were at the forefront.

Even though 2baba was absent and had withdrawn his support, dispatches from the frontlines revealed a separate picture. In a particularly symbolic clip that made its way round the Internet, protesters in Lagos marched and sang along, word for word to E be like say, a politically charged single from Idibia’s sophomore album Grass 2 Grace. Featuring ragga/dancehall singer, Soul E, the song is a candid straight from the heart missive to the political class.

Exhausted and disillusioned by decades of broken promises, 2face wails in the song’s final verse, I dedicate this one to all of the shady politicians/ Wey go promise and fail and make the people live in harsh conditions/ I dedicate this one to all of the shady politicians/ Why don’t you change your ways.

 

Rebel music

It was fitting and not altogether unsurprising that even though Idibia chose to turn tail and run, his song still found a way to soundtrack the movement. And it could as well have been any other song from 2baba’s impressive discography. Since going solo in 2004, 2baba has retained his working class roots by waxing music that connects with the masses, speaking to a wide range of relatable experiences. His most famous song, African Queen is a charming love song and 2baba can make the party starters with the best of them, but like the late Bob Marley in whom a great deal of his influence can be sourced, 2baba has always stayed connected to the roots.

His landmark solo debut, Face 2Face was mostly a pop spiritual affair, with songs that went straight for the crucial feel good factor but retained a certain unheard of quality to the recording. Face 2Face’s lyricism is simplistic, sometimes overly so, but almost never shallow, as 2baba discussed themes of love, loss, hypocrisy and heartbreak, set to OJB Jezreel’s iconic work.

If 2baba was reluctant to go all out on his first record, for fear of alienating audiences, he had no such reservations for the second merry go round. Grass 2 Grace is his most political record yet as it spoke to a fresh generation discovering their voice through music.

Released as his final obligation to  Kennis music, the record houses something for everyone irrespective of class, political leaning or tribe. There is a sweeping campaign for world peace (One Love,) a message of encouragement to hustlers and strivers out there (No Shaking), a clap back at haters that manages to be respectful (As you see me so), and a rallying cry on the state of ruin that the political establishment has sunk the country into (For Instance).

He was here first

Before 2baba arrived on the scene, the biggest and most bankable names at the time were relics from the eighties and nineties who were coasting along on prior successes. As the lead singer of the Plantashun Boiz, Idibia was the heartthrob that stirred a spark once again in teenage girls and boys. He enjoyed a fine run with two studio albums under the guidance of Nelson Brown, then one of the most important moguls in music but it remained to be seen if a new generation could do music and make it work.

In this regard, 2face seized advantage of the pioneer status that stared him in the face and his relationship with the then red-hot Kennis music helped establish him as the first real superstar of the present music wave.

Back in 2006, a sophomore album by 2face Idibia was far from a sure thing as the music industry was just reorganising itself once again following the sad slump of the nineties. There were hit singles, one hit wonders and the occasional smash album, but it remained to be seen whether a new wave artiste could do music for the long haul by achieving back to back album successes. 2baba did just that.

Grass 2 Grace was released two years apart from the debut 2face album and it was an instant smash as song after song spoke directly to the Nigerian situation. 2face Idibia was now a bonafide superstar and had opened up another viable career path; that of working musician.

R&B star Praiz in an appreciation of Grass 2 Grace said this in a 2013 interview, ‘’I remember after his first album we were all watching to see if it was a fluke. Could he really follow up that success? Could artistes really make music a legitimate career out of music? And with the arrival of that album, (Grass 2 Grace) he laid the groundwork for all of us working today. That is when we knew it could be done.’’

Records are sketchy but Grass 2 Grace has been reported to have moved millions of units and the record brought 2baba more honour as he became the first Nigerian artiste to win the UK’s Music of Black Origin (MOBO) award for Best African Act, setting the stage for eventual wins by compatriots D’banj, 9ice and Wizkid. Because of 2baba and Grass 2 Grace, the likes of Psquare, Sound Sultan could make music comfortably.

2baba has carried this pioneering burden credibly and has done his bit to make the path smoother for those who came after him. Billed as the nicest man in show business, 2baba is the person who despite his status and considerable achievements manages to still appear as self-effacing as he was on the onset of his career. Nobody has an unkind word to say about 2baba and even when he has not exactly minted superstars after him in the way that a Banky W has, he has made some effort with Dammy Krane and Rocksteady.

A veteran of seven studio albums, 2baba’s journey to the top of the food chain hasn’t been without stress. He may have opened up his industry to the rest of the world via his African Queen single, added to the soundtrack to the 2006 Monique B-list vehicle Phat Girlz, but he’s had his own share of career lows..

His first independent effort, The Unstoppable was unbelievably anemic, it hardly halted anything and almost sunk his entire career amidst rumours of an artistic and personal meltdown. It was the international reissue two years later that set 2baba’s career back on the path of profitability. The songs, Only Me, a soulful contemplation on the fickleness of life and Implication, a scorching feet stomper powered the record to triumphs at the Headies and MTV Africa Music Awards. His 2014 experimental album, The Ascension was far from the crowning glory he’d hoped it would be.

Be there

A man of few words, 2baba has always preferred to let his music do the talking for him. Public appearances are popular for his shy smile and a simple refrain of ‘’nothing they happen!’’ But on the music he bleeds. Man’s unfair treatment of his fellow humans are particular favourite topics for 2baba and he has never hesitated in taking this advocacy beyond the music.

In the run up to the 2015 elections, 2baba via his 2face foundation, teamed up with Young Stars Foundation and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) for the Vote Not Fight- Election no be war campaign to discourage electoral violence among the youth.

In 2009, 2baba was appointed an ambassador of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and two years later, he produced Man Unkind, a hard hitting manifesto on the effects of illegal and fake drugs.

To celebrate his 38th birthday in 2013, 2baba embarked on a peace tour across the nation decrying violence of any kind and promoting harmony. While making an appearance on Rubbin’Minds to promote the campaign, the most decorated Nigerian musician of his generation was queried by the host Chude Jideonwo on the source of his moral justification to lead such a mass movement considering his privileged status.

2baba replied ‘’I work hard for my money and I am not going to apologise for making money. But I will have to apologise if I don’t stand up for something.’’

That is definitely something to think about, especially now that it has become cool to bash 2baba for his seemingly unforgivable act of cowardice.

From conscious music to peace walks, protest marches and other subtler, non-specific acts of activism, the man has always been present and his heart has always been in the right place. He may have miscalculated the consequences of going full throttle and playing in the big leagues, and his bubble of privilege may have clouded his complete grasp of the hard, untiring, unsexy work that pure activism really is, but on the ongoing project of nation building, 2baba has a track record better than most. He has always stood up to be counted.

Shame that he couldn’t go all the way this time.

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