When you search the name 'Azeez Fashola', which is the real name of singer Naira Marley, you would find multiple links between the singer and internet fraud. That alone is a red flag. And if it doesn't raise the tiniest bit of alarm in you, well... .it should!
As I write this, Naira Marley is holed up with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria's watchdog for all crimes related to internet fraud. He is in custody because he was arrested at his home during a raid last week. He was picked up alongside his colleague, Zlatan Ibile, who has been let go on "administrative bail." Naira, however, is locked up and would be charged to court.
"There is overwhelming evidence against Naira Marley; so we can't afford to release him on administrative bail like Zlatan and the three others," says EFCC Spokesman, Tony Orilade. "That Zlatan has been released does not mean they have been discharged and acquitted. Naira Marley is still in our custody and will be charged to court soon and we will make the charges known in an official statement soon," he said.
Marley's team, on the other hand, denies this accusation. In a counter-statement released, his management admits that incriminating evidence was discovered on an 'item' seized from the singer, but the gadget does not belong to Marley. "Items retrieved were borrowed so he can upload music, videos and record whilst visiting Nigeria," the statement says.
But that isn't enough to get Naira Marley out. Word on the streets says the EFCC has found the perfect scapegoat to use as the defining case in their fight against internet fraud, which has grown popular in Nigeria over the past 10 years and enjoys an unhealthy level of sympathy from Nigeria's teeming youth population. According to them, Nigeria isn't providing employment for her young people, so internet crime gives the people the chance to pick up the slack. This view has become extremely rampant, with evidence shown in public spaces during any debate about it.
Naira Marley's troubles are self-inflicted. He jumped on an admonition by Simi against internet fraud to justify it and effectively make himself the poster boy of crime. Battled veteran rapper, Ruggedman, who tried to speak wisdom against his criminal evangelism, was mocked as a "down-going" artist. Swelled by support from comment sections and celebrities indirectly egging him on, he collaborated with Zlatan Ibile to release a song titled, 'Am I a Yahoo boy.'
Naira Marley was living a great life before this. His single "Issa Goal," was the soundtrack for Nigeria's efforts at the 2018 World Cup. Coca Cola licensed the record and made a remix which interestingly features Simi. He's also followed up with a couple of singles and collaboration. Relatively, he was having a good time, living it up, and eating his rice. He should have just continued to sit there and eat his rice.
That wasn't to be. Naira Marley now faces a long battle to extricate himself from the crime. He has been paraded as a criminal, and his name plastered everywhere as an artist tied to a heinous crime. If he eventually walks away from this, what happens to his career opportunities? Would we say his prospects for corporate collaborations, brand sponsorships, and performances will now be limited, if they don't entirely blacklist him.
He should have just sat there and eaten his rice. A lot of Nigerians who have spoken out against Naira Marley aren't enraged against Yahoo. They are angry at Naira Marley for being loud. Yahoo is a crime, regardless of how many sympathisers it gets. It is a criminal offence which has thousands of victims both at home and abroad. Championing it publicly when you have links to it is self-sabotage. You are placing a target on your back. EFCC is clearly confident in what they have against him and are looking to make an example of him.
What's the moral lesson to be learned here? A simple one will be to observe great table manners; don't talk while eating. Food crumbs attract attention; nobody wants attention to the food rolling in their mouth, whether legal or illegal.
For Marley, no one knows how much his mental exercises right now will be ruled by regrets. What could have been? Why didn't he just look the other way and continued on his path to success? Why isn't the game just the game this time? And finally, he would have to answer the question that he is so proud to use as a peg for his art:
"Am I a Yahoo boy?"