Every Other Day, Disorganized In the Chaos of Nigerian Concerts, We Only See Ourselves

To understand how Nigerians imagine and practise accountability, look at our music concerts.

Afrobeats is enjoying a zeitgeist moment. As of 2020, according to PWC, Nigeria had the second-fastest growing entertainment and media consumer market in the world. The music industry has been a key driver of this growth. At the same time, Nigerian artists have achieved increasing international recognition with Tems, for instance, bagging a Golden Globes nomination for her collaboration with Rihanna and other prominent producers on the 2022 track ‘Lift me up’, a song off Marvel Studio’s Black Panther Soundtrack. Additionally, this year, Burna Boy and Ayra Starr emerged as Spotify’s most-streamed artists in the ‘sub-Saharan Africa’ category.  

Locally, music remains an integral part of Nigerian culture, and is often a good reflection of where our society is, and perhaps where it wants to be. This is why recent discussion over the conduct that artists display during concert performances (such as not showing up on time) is an interesting, but ultimately disappointing, metaphor for how Nigerians engage in accountability in public service delivery. 

A SHARED EXPERIENCE—FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE 

With the rise of music streaming services, concerts and music tours have become a major source of income for Nigerian artists. More so, according to a study conducted by the British High Commission, music festivals and concerts account for approximately 15 percent of the Nigerian festival scene and, as such, are a value add to the Nigeria’s economy. When properly utilized, these concerts can provide multiple revenue streams such as ticket sales, concessions, and sponsorships.  

However, with tickets becoming more expensive in Nigeria, so are the costs of hosting a concert. Nonetheless, despite the continuous rise in ticket prices and the prevalence of counterfeit and duplicate tickets, numbers indicate that the audiences are still willing to pay to see their favourite artists. 

Through access to large audiences, concerts can typically provide sponsors with a lot of exposure. Direct sales can also help sponsors recoup their sponsorship fees. Audiences have fun as well: concerts serve to fulfil a need in Nigerian popular culture, which is very much about celebrating life and promoting community. Technically, everyone can win but this hardly happens. Instead, we have allowed a notorious disregard for audiences by concert organizers to continue for too long; concert-goers are being neglected and it appears that no one is holding Nigeria’s show promoters accountable. 

Nigerian concert culture, specifically how concerts are organized, managed and reacted to, speaks to the wider culture around public delivery and accountability in Nigeria. There have been recurring instances of artists arriving late for their shows or failing to appear at all and these instances have been local and international. Recently, Wizkid was accused of ‘ghosting’ his headline show in Ghana and reportedly kept the audience waiting for about 12 hours, leaving fans upset. Scenarios like this reflect poorly on the artist and the industry in Nigeria in general, because it demonstrates disrespect for the audience’s time and often significant financial investment. 

Consider, also, the Forum show headlined by Asake earlier this month, in Birmingham, UK. Doors were meant to open at 7:30 p.m. as stated on the tickets. However, videos posted on social media showed a swarm of people forced to wait in the cold for hours beyond this time, with stampedes occurring in and out of the venue. Some fled the area for fear of being trampled. Nearly six hours later, after the dust had settled, Asake arrived. Another set of videos showed the artist and his team being booed shortly after his arrival. 

‘Aside from the obviously deficient organization, Asake’s performance was just not that great,’ one event attendee told me. ‘Perhaps it was the live band. I’m not sure what was wrong, but I just wasn’t feeling it.’ Many others took to social media to express similar sentiments, stating that Asake’s well-known catchphrase—‘Mr Money no dey waste time’—is clearly a fallacy. 

Amid the social media complaints, Asake tweeted a picture of him flaunting a stack of dollar bills. After much backlash, he issued a statement exonerating himself and claiming that the delay was caused by the promoters ‘for reasons best known to them’. 

It warrants asking: in situations like the foregoing, how we can hold artists and promoters accountable? How do attendees find restitution without resorting to making sure the artist trends negatively on social media? Are there government agencies to complain to? If so, what are the measures or regulations put in place by these agencies to hold all involved accountable and thereby prevent the recurrence of these issues? 

One such organization is the Performing Musicians Employers’ Association of Nigeria (PMAN). PMAN was established in 1984 to protect the rights of performing artists while also regulating the practice of music and entertainment in the country.  

PMAN should serve as a checkpoint for the behaviours of artists, their managers, and show promoters, imposing sanctions as necessary and acting as a line of defence against potential threats to the legitimacy of the Music and Creative Industry as a whole.  

However, nearly 40 years later and PMAN is still stuck in its embryonic stage. The organization appears to be similarly afflicted with internal governance challenges. It is also yet to issue a statement on recent incidents, leaving little room for optimism that it can serve as the industry’s watchdog.   

THE POLITICS BEHIND THE SCENES

Private promoters organize and fund a lot of the concerts in Nigeria, and they heavily publicize these concerts on radio, TV, and social media. To help concertgoers choose which concerts to attend and to stop fraud and other types of corruption, promoters of these events are required to give clear information about the performers, locations, and ticket prices.  

In countries with more robust entertainment industries, independent festivals receive direct government funding because they are recognized as crucial to the development of society, the economy, and the arts. Institutions in the UK, for instance, such as Arts Council England, have funds specifically set aside to support privately run carnivals and festivals across the country. In contrast, it appears that the Nigerian government has little to no connection to our music festivals. Official festival policies are not currently available in the public domain or have not been made public. Therefore, there are no explicit policies to refer back to when mistakes are made. 

Beyond funding, another consideration for mitigating concert mishaps is having established policies regarding public gatherings. Since the lockdown, most UK venues have been forced to close at 10 p.m, after which promoters or artist managers face fines. This policy was initially introduced to limit social contact and the possible spread of COVID-19. However, currently, the policy serves as a ‘last line of defence’ for venues against possible tardiness by performers. Unfortunately no such policy exists in Nigeria. As a result, an artist can arrive at the concert they are headlining hours later than expected and face no significant legal consequences. 

PERFORMER TODAY, PRESIDENT TOMORROW…

This lackadaisical approach to accountability we find within concert organizing is also evident at the highest levels of governance. Many Nigerians have lost trust in the government and its promise of change. We have grown complacent towards failed service delivery not only in the music industry, but also in the government. It is hard to imagine how concert promoters can be held accountable when the government (the regulators themselves) has been allowed to act uninhibited in other areas.  

Organizations with clear policies must govern concert organizers and their shows. The Association of Music Artists Managers of Nigeria (AMAMN) hosted its first member training series in July 2016. This training session taught show promoters and artist managers the ‘ABCs of Artist Management,’ including how to design their income streams. But after this session, there was only one other such training session held in 2018. Since then, there has been no news of subsequent trainings. These seminars should happen more frequently to prevent concert mishaps. Furthermore, entertainers and their managers must learn to be transparent with one another and must hold one another accountable for their actions. 

That said, the artists and managers are not always to blame for poorly managed concerts. Venues and sponsors also play a role. In a 2020 interview with Premium Times, AMAMN president, Obasijuade Adedokun, stated that show promoters often invest their own money in promoting an event while waiting for sponsors to respond. This, he claims, presents a significant challenge to him and his colleagues, prompting these promoters to cut corners and pursue illegal means of covering costs and generating revenue.  

Venues and sponsors should be aware that by doing little to enable well-organized concerts, they risk not only getting bad press for themselves but also contributing to Nigeria’s already pervasive culture of unaccountability. Finally, Nigerians must wake up and demand change by holding artists, their managers and collaborators accountable for their actions, not just by ‘calling them out’ on social media, but also by informing the authorities and agencies and ensuring that adequate compensation is taken rather than simply offered

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