lived for over a year in the Shomolu area of Lagos State before I left Nigeria in 2021. I chose Shomolu due to its closeness to Ikeja, where I was working at that time. Shomolu – the acclaimed printing hub of Lagos State was a fertile ground for the recruitment of miscreants and thugs for any purpose. You don’t need to find them, they will locate you on their own. Some of the area boys were in the habit of begging me for small amounts of money, regularly ranging from N200 – N1000. One day, one of them asked me if someone had offended me and I would want vengeance. I said no. He was like “If anybody ever crosses your path, tell me and I will deal with the person”.
Since I’m an easygoing person, I never found any use for these young men. From the day the offer was made, I realized how easy it would be to raise a deadly gang in Shomolu. Imagine if I was a politician with unlimited access to millions of Naira, these men would unleash fire and brimstone if I so wished. Months later, there were a few political campaign events on my street, and I noticed these uneducated youths policed the events after their palms were greased.
Thuggery/hooliganism is a lucrative business in Lagos State. It is more of a survival strategy that residents can easily switch in and out of in the event of seeming danger. It is so rife that even the middle class of Lagos brags about being “mad”. Madness gives them some sort of street credibility and societal acceptance.
Since the massive success of the NURTW chairman of the Lagos chapter Musiliu Akinsanya aka MC Oluomo in Lagos, several street urchins have gotten the motivation to build their profiles and grow in influence to attract very lucrative “political jobs”. Since elections in Nigeria are about the politician who cheats the most using hardened on-field political thugs and probably inducing the electoral commission – INEC to steal the mandates of worthy candidates. So the thugs and the politicians are one big family that forms a part of what is called the ‘political structures’ of Lagos.
A similar account of this story was told in the blockbuster movie – Gangs of Lagos. These gangsters have different factions that are controlled by the strongest men in that locality. The most influential groups win the juicy ‘political contracts’ during the general elections, and their leaders gain celebrity status overnight through notoriety. The leaders of these groups are merchants of violence used for dirty jobs like violence, aggression, intimidation of political opponents, kidnap, and eventual assassination if the need arises.
This model of political structure which encompasses the political actors, security operatives, religious leaders, thugs, and other technocrats, is also being copied by music artistes. They frolic with cultists to garner confidence and a sense of security on the streets, in a bid to dominate their contemporaries. The backing of these cultists helps you to step on toes without any consequences. I want to believe that it was on this ground that singer Azeez Fashola aka Naira Marley collaborated with the celebrity thug, Samson Erinfolami Balogun aka Sam Larry.
Naira Marley was beginning to make money but lacked power. Due to his personality, questionable past, and style of music, he needed that power and influence to replicate his feat in Peckham, UK. Sam Larry is rumoured to have a large network of street thugs that could cause unrest without asking questions.
Sam Larry is undoubtedly a man of “influence” and his future in his chosen career is very bright. For a stark illiterate who could barely express himself in the English language, he is quite successful. Despite having no entertainment skills, he loved fame and wanted his fair share of the limelight. He has over 600,000 followers on Instagram. He has pictures with the President of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, the Oba Elegushi – Saheed Ademola, the governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and other dignitaries we only see on TV. He reportedly claimed he works with the Oba Elegushi which the latter expectedly denied in a circulated press statement.
Sam Larry came in handy when the former signee of the Marlian family – Promise Ilerioluwa Aloba, popularly known as Mohbad decided to walk away from the record label. Sam Larry would declare him persona non-grata on the street. His faceless boys would physically attack him on sight. Mohbad in the last interview before his death also claimed to have been blackballed by Naira Marley and his entertainment contacts to hamper his musical career.
On several occasions, Sam Larry could be seen threatening the life of the hapless Mohbad. He stormed the set of a music video and tried to use a whip on Mohbad, if not for the timely intervention of a music colleague, Zlatan. Even when Mohbad tried to seek refuge under the banner of the police, it was an effort in futility. This is expected of a failing state like Nigeria, where there are strong men and very weak institutions. So weak that it was alleged that Naira Marley, an alleged drug peddler and consumer used the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, to arrest Mohbad. He was purportedly tortured and he started experiencing memory loss after his encounter with the law enforcement agents. Today, Naira Marley who cherishes marijuana is the face of the NDLEA. We play too much in Nigeria.
I don’t want to believe it was Sam Larry’s intention to eliminate Mohbad. If so, he could have done it without putting his face out there. I feel it was about making life unbearable for him and ensuring he crawls back to Naira Marley. Naira Marley needed to prove a point to Mohbad that he is the king of the streets like the lyrics of his songs portray him to be. Sam Larry also needed to prove to his close ally – Naira Marley that he is up to the task. As pressure mounted, all the underhand tactics of Naira Marley and his team appeared to have taken a toll on his health.
While Mohbad’s death is unfortunate, I believe justice will never be served. As at the time of writing this piece, there is no cast-iron evidence linking Naira Marley’s team to his eventual demise. The circumstances are based on conjectures that one might need an Excel spreadsheet to track. The Nigeria Police appears to be waiting for the trends to die a natural death. The founder of the online news platform – Sahara Reporters in the person or Omoyele Sowore, believes Mohbad’s enemies, the police and the politicians belong to the same WhatsApp group. Governor Sanwo-olu who jumps on any trending issue like the Hilda Baci’s Cook-A-Thon exercise has equally looked away. Sam Larry appears to be a sacred cow. He is like the son of the soil who can’t be sacrificed to appease the soil, even if heaven falls. This is why some sort of vigilantism is being adopted here. The court of public opinion has taken over the case. The worst they can do is ruin the reputation of the Marlian family. Naira Marley doesn’t appear to care or he is pretending not to. Sam Larry seems worried. This negative public perception of him is bad for his career as a thug. If he is blacklisted by the general public, no politician or public figure would want to identify with him in the future. He is a man who is obsessed with the camera, lights, and action coupled with social media validation. How would he survive?
Nigeria isn’t new to unresolved murder cases. From Dele Giwa to Bola Ige and Funsho Williams, the list is long.
Mohbad’s demise is synonymous with the death of singer Davido’s uncle – Isiaka Adeleke in Osun State (April 2017). Mohbad and Adeleke trusted quack nurses who administered injections to them. The coroner in Osun pinned the death of Adeleke, a very popular politician tipped to be the next governor, on the nurse. The nurse obviously had dodgy credentials. But the Adeleke family wasn’t having it. They felt his death was politically motivated. Mohbad’s father is looking in the direction of the unnamed nurse. Although social media users believe his suspicion is an act of cowardice.
Mohbad was hurriedly buried like a Muslim in an undersized coffin they had to bend his neck to fit into. The absence of an autopsy makes the issue more complicated than necessary.
The drama around the death of Adeleke was very messy. A couple of names were thrown around by conspiracy theories until the consumers of the news felt they had had enough. Adeleke’s brother – Ademola Adeleke aka the ‘Dancing Senator’ capitalized on his brother’s popularity to step up his political career. He undeservedly danced his way into the Nigerian senate, and later the governor’s office. He attained greatness despite his lack of charisma, leadership qualities, and credentials.
The world will move on from the Mohbad gist. His toured protector, Zlatan is already trying to milk the moment by dropping a seeming tribute to Mohbad. He would be hoping it helps re-invigorate his career which appears to be low on protein.
Thuggery in Lagos will not end, as justice will never be served. The Mohbad episode is just a microcosm of the larger Nigerian society where the principle of ‘might is right’ is prevalent. In 2017, the African giant, Burna Boy allegedly contracted armed robbers to go after his colleague Mr 2Kay. Mr 2Kay was baptized with fire. Burna Boy was briefly arrested and released. Nothing was ever heard about the case to date. There is nothing new under the sun.