Police in Nigeria have detained the Afrobeats star and record label boss Naira Marley for questioning over the death of the fast-rising singer MohBad last month.
MohBad death’s in unexplained circumstances on 12 September at the age of 27 led to an outpouring of grief among his fans and sent ripples through the multibillion-dollar Afrobeats music genre.
Three months earlier he had sent a petition to Nigeria’s main criminal investigation department alleging assault and threats to his life by his former boss Marley, with whom he had been feuding after leaving his label, Marlian Records.
On Tuesday, Lagos state police said they had taken Marley into custody to help with their investigation into MohBad’s death. Marley, who has previously denied any involvement in the death, earlier wrote on Twitter that he would be meeting with police “with hopes for the truth to be uncovered and for justice to prevail.
“It’s important I do my part for Imole,” Marley said, using another name by which MohBad was known.
MohBad died in a hospital in Lagos after reportedly being admitted with an ear infection and was buried the next day in accordance with Yoruba customs. The cause of death was unclear and police subsequently exhumed his body to conduct an autopsy, the results of which have not yet been released. A coroner’s inquest is due to resume on 13 October.
Since MohBad’s death, fans have marched through the streets of several Nigerian cities calling for a thorough investigation. Spontaneous memorial gatherings have also been organized in London, Canada and the US, and the #JusticeforMohBad hashtag has gone viral on social media.
Tributes poured in from abroad from artists including Cardi B, Nicki Minaj and Meek Mill, and the La Liga football club Càdiz honoured him by hanging a football top in their changing room before a recent match with the number 27 and his name printed on it.
MohBad signed to the Marlian Music label, founded by Marley, in 2019 but ended his contract last year. Since his death, videos have emerged in which he accused people from his label of harassment and cheating him of royalties.
Marley has called the claims “lies” and said before his arrest that he did not “have a hand in the death of MohBad, either directly or indirectly”.
The Afrobeats genre, like Reggae and Dancehall before it, has resonated in west Africa and with mainstream audiences around the world. Nigerian artists such as Burna Boy, Davido, Wizkid, and Rema have scored big hits and played to sellout audiences at concerts and music festivals. The genre reached a milestone this summer when Burna Boy became the first Afrobeats artist to top the UK charts with I Told Them.
Observers have long spoken, however, of a dark side to the industry. With 70% of Nigeria’s 200 million population aged under 30 and youth unemployment a big problem, music is often seen as the only pathway to a fulfilling life. The quest to “blow” – street slang used to describe hitting the big time – can trap budding artists from underprivileged backgrounds into deeply lopsided recording contracts with unregulated music labels and vampiric promoters, industry insiders have said.
A bill submitted in parliament calling for the establishment of a commission to investigate alleged bullying and harassment in the industry to regulate labels has had a first reading.
MohBad, who was brought up in Ikorodu, an underprivileged, working-class neighbourhood in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub, had to pause his education for two years because he could not afford school fees. His blend of catchy and streetwise “Afro-Adura” rap – as in 2020’s hit single Ko Por Ke (KPK) – delivered in a mix of his native Yoruba and pidgin English, chimed with audiences.
His mother, Olumiyi Abosede, alleged that in his final days “my child will be crying all the time. They will be beating him whenever he goes for a show. He will tell me ‘Please do not allow them to kill me’.”
The case has become a litmus test for Nigerian police in the eyes of many young people, three years after the brutal suppression of the EndSars against police abuses.
The Lagos state commissioner of police, speaking to #JusticeforMohBad campaigners, promised to use the singer’s death to change the negative narrative about law enforcement agencies. Idowu Omohunwa said: “You are looking for justice, I’m paid as a policeman to deliver justice, so there is a meeting point, we are in the same boat.”