On Burna Boy And The Need For Accountability

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No stranger to controversy or causing a stir in the media, Nigerian superstar Burna Boy has been trending on social media recently after his police escorts were alleged to have shot and wounded two patrons (Irebami Lawrence and another person identified simply as Tolu) at Cubana club in Victoria Island, Lagos­, in the early hours of Wednesday, June 8, 2022. According to a preliminary report by the Bar Beach Police Division, trouble started when the singer and five police escorts visited the nightclub in the early hours of the morning. Four of the police officers reportedly waited outside, while one, identified as Inspector Ibrahim, accompanied the Grammy Award-winning artiste into the club. According to multiple witness statements, the singer was in the VIP section with three women when he spotted another woman and apparently told Ibrahim to invite the woman to join him.

Today, the woman in question, Neme Brielle, has taken to social media to recount what led to the shootout. In her statement on Instagram, the lady described how she declined an offer to join Burna Boy’s table, while her husband, who was also present, insisted that it was disrespectful for any man to make advances on his wife. Some minutes later, Burna Boy reportedly made fresh advances on the woman, which infuriated her husband further and his friends who had gathered at the club. According to Neme, this quickly escalated into a full-blown drama as Burna Boy’s security agent opened fire and wreaked havoc. The star and his crew then allegedly drove off to one of his properties at the Elegushi end of the Lekki-Epe Expressway before leaving for Lekki Phase 1 and subsequently to Spain where he was slated to host a concert.

In her thread, Neme says that she emerged from the chaotic scene unharmed but that her husband and his friend required surgeries after suffering gunshot injuries on the head and their thighs. She also added that the Cubana Groups’ chairman, Obi Cubana reached out to the victims four days after the incident. Following her thread on Instagram, Nigerians have taken to their various social media accounts to react to the debacle. While several slammed Burna Boy for parading himself as a gangster and failing to curb the situation or say anything about it, others are pointing fingers at Obi Cubana for refusing to provide the authorities with footage from the fateful night. Addressing the matter in an Instagram post today, Obi Cubana wrote:

As Regards the issues making rounds the social media, we at Cubana Group have given all information at our disposal to the legal authorities. However, we wholeheartedly sympathize with any/all those who may have been impacted by this. Myself (sic) and our group would never compromise standards, as we have confidence in the authorities to handle all. Best Regards.”

On his part, Burna Boy has maintained a lofty silence since the drama started, only coming out recently to say that even if it was reported on social media that he started Boko Haram, he would not be surprised. “Nigerian Social media can say BURNA BOY started Boko haram, e no go shock me,” he wrote on Twitter last week. Although investigations are still ongoing and Burna is not known for his tact or charming use of language, such a crass and deflective response is still rather disappointing. Troubling allegations of this nature, whether true or false, should not be taken lightly or simply swept under the rug — especially in a country like Nigeria where police brutality and injustice are already extremely rife and accountability is a myth. The fact that this is not the first time nasty claims have been made about Burna Boy or his security personnel only serves to make matters worse, and while it is true that celebrities are simply human and allowed to make mistakes, it is also not unreasonable to expect these respected public figures to conduct themselves as such.

A revered and award-winning artist that touts himself as being the ‘African Giant’ and an advocate for African unity and social justice would be expected to practice what he preaches, handling matters with some semblance of discernment. Far too often, the careless and erratic behavior of celebrities is quickly forgiven and forgotten without any real equality of consequence, and many celebrities know it. In this case, it is unlikely that Burna will bear any serious consequences for these revelations (even if they do turn out to be true); and with and an ever-growing global fanbase and a highly anticipated album on the way, it’s fair to assume that the current outrage will soon be replaced with other ‘juicer’ topics, showing how fast the news cycle spins a particular incident — with different people, ideas, and perspectives jostling for space to be heard before the cycle inevitably moves on.

Unfortunately, the sequence of events has also made the whole matter play out in a retaliatory way rather than one that seeks true accountability. On the contrary, it speaks to a time when conversations about power, accountability, and harm are increasingly used as tools to simply ‘cancel’ celebrities, bring them down or pit fans against one another, all the while forgetting the real issues at hand. Stories like this call a lot into question like the recurrent and unsettling fact that some privileged citizens outside the political class, like Burna Boy, can have as many as five policemen attached to each of them in a country where the police consistently claims to be lacking in manpower! There is also the salient question of the quality of screening and background checks that are carried out by the police in determining eligibility for police escorts by applicants. But more often than not, these conversations are only centered around individual celebrities themselves who, in the end, will continue to live their lives.

So while it is important to hold Burna Boy and other public figures accountable, care should also be taken in turning important issues into online wars that will eventually die down, rather than looking at the broader cultural and societal implications of these matters and actually addressing them. 

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