By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
I picked the line which I have used to title this essay from the lyrics of a popular track composed and recorded by a popular Nigerian musician. For some inane reason the track is always favoured by radio stations. It has wide acceptability to the young people of the day, especially the millennials who believe, like some of the characters of American writer James Hadley Chase that ‘you are dead without money! This day I was visiting at one of the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospitals when the words came blaring into my ears from a beer parlour in the vicinity. Inside the hospital were young men and women, in-patients, who were being treated for substance abuse. Of course, we know what role money plays in the drug business, whether for the consumers or the peddlers. Yet, someone was saying to them to hide their face because of no money! Well, I should not take the line out of context. Yet, because it is the most prominent (and most important line?) of the track, it does call for interrogation, sort of.
As an artist, specifically, as a poet and dramatist, trained in the history of criticism and art of creative writing, I acknowledge the freedom of writers or singers to freely express their ideas, without let or hindrance. To legislate on what an artiste should say or how to say it, impinges on artistic freedom and defeats the very idea of freedom of expression. As we know, artistic license refers to the leeway accorded an artist in ‘his or her interpretation of something and is not held strictly accountable for accuracy’. But freedom or artistic license carries an obligation. It raises the question: how free is freedom? An artiste ought to promote timeless values which could make a change in the lives of some listeners.
The import of the line is clear. If you are not rich, hide your face, be invisible. I was so disturbed about the line that I posted it on my Facebook page. I got some very poignant and anecdotal responses. One came from a mother, Maria Efunbo Lawson-Adeyeba. I will quote it in full: “My son asked me one day to buy something for him. I told him I didn’t have money. The next thing he said: “if you no get money, hide your face”. I thought that was very rude and I cautioned him against that. He told me it was just a song. But I was very upset. It was the first time I heard the song, but I did not like what it implied”. The second response by Efe Camilus Ovo Agabi expanded the subject. He wrote: “Another line that is threatening our ideals is ‘School na scam, though they are all products of the collapse of our institutions”. Abiola Lawal clinched it all when he added his own reaction: “The first time I heard this, I nearly collapsed. ‘School na scam’. Who says things like this? Emmanuel Duru made a general comment on the state of music in the land: “All those yeye, nonsense lines of jargon called modern lyrics make no sense and our people like it so! What an irony! Elder David Ebireri responded thus: ‘It’s the cash nexus! It’s the mirror image of your society. It is the same mentality that underlines ‘get rich or die while trying’.
The two lines of the lyrics in question are therefore like a call to arms for the Nigerian youth – if you no get money hide your face’ and ‘School na scam’. A call to get rich quick, by fair or foul means. A call to money ritual. A call to 419. A call to yahoo yahoo! A call to warped values. Let us begin with ‘if you no get money hide your face’. It promotes the apparent primacy of wealth, of money over any other values. It reduces character. It reduces morality and truth in relationships to little or no significance. It is this spirit that drives our young people into the fast lane. When a popular artiste makes it into a song, he promotes the very wrong idea. Nobody preaches poverty. No one also condemns wealth particularly when properly acquired. But the wealth mentality currently in vogue in Nigeria reduces every other thing to nonsense. There are other lines from the young singers which mean nothing. Gone are such lines as ‘I’ve been searching for true love’, or ‘I want you to be mine forever’, or ‘Any man can be a fool! In fact, we no longer get iconic lines from contemporary songs! I remember once when my mother-in-law was visiting and she heard the song ‘This ikebe go put me for trouble o’ and she commented: ‘so it’s ikebe (Urhobo word for buttocks) they now use to sing a song on radio? This world is finished!
It is this mentality that led to the rather scandalous and foolish line ‘school na scam! How can education be a scam in the 21st century? It is through schooling that the nation has produced great men and women who have gone on to excel in their chosen fields across the world. I can bet that line is a reference point for some of the young ones who simply want to make it quickly through the educational system. Another contributor to the discussion observed: ‘Stupid indeed. It is this line of music that is responsible for the high level of moral decadence that is prevalent in our contemporary society. The music fuels idiocy and perpetrates immorality. Decency and decorum have been replaced by unquenchable appetite for the get-rich-quick conundrum. Very sad indeed’. Yet another responder Chief Otonye Amachree observed: ‘It’s the hype. There’s hardly any Nigerian musician who does not quarrel in the lyrics. They are either cursing, swearing or dehumanizing women. And yet their largest fans are the females who don’t care about the wordings debasing them but are ready to wriggle their under bodies in the most gymnastic manner. Pity is the word for the music industry’.
We should tell our youths that wealth comes through labour or hard work. Not the fast lane. It could mislead the young ones. This is the view echoed by Francis Ewherido: ‘The song has the capacity to mislead and cause depression for feeble minds.’ You should aim to be wealthy by being a guy man. The example set by political leaders should not be followed. Young men and women are developing programmes and software applications elsewhere in the world. Our youths here are patronizing babalawos and false prophets to get rich. It is this mentality that made a graduate of Lagos State University Ojo and his mother kill and eat the heart of a student of that university in order to be rich. We should rather promote the narrative which encourages hard work and patience on the way to wealth acquisition. Bongos Ikwue ‘You can get it if you want; but you must try and try’, reggae star Jimmy Cliff once sang.
The Censors Board should invite and encourage our artistes to remember the nature of their environment. As I have repeatedly impressed on my youthful audiences, ideas, not money rule the world! Wole Soyinka is not a billionaire but nobody in the universe can ask him to hide his face when Bill Gates shows up. JP Clark will not hide his face because Dangote is around. Chimamanda Adichie will not hide her face because Otedola is spraying money. Professor Toyin Ogundipe Vice Chancellor of Unilag will not hide his face because Mike Adenuga is spending money! We have to get our values right! Siagware, my people say!
-Eghagha, Professor of English, University of Lagos, can be reached on 08023220393 and email@example.com