by Adewale Alabi
When the #EndSARS/#EndSWAT protest started, no one particularly saw the need for foreign support. As time went by, local media platforms seemed to turn a blind eye to the protests; hence Nigerians made sure the social media space was abuzz with the hashtag #EndSARS and updates on the protest to draw the world’s attention to the plight of young Nigerians.
Many foreign media houses and individuals took note of the trends and started reporting on the protests and also lending their support to the cause. A notable individual who consistently maintained his support for the cause was Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter. Other foreign personalities like Justin Beiber, Trey Songz, Nigerian-British actor, John Boyega and a host of others also lent their voice to the protest.
As the protests got heated, Nigerian singer, Tiwa Savage, did a video on social media calling on artists and organizations around the world to help out in any way they can. She went on to call on Beyonce, as well, to use her platform to elevate the issue. Obviously, this led to attacks by some fans of Beyonce who felt she did not have to say anything.
Beyonce was silent during the incident but finally spoke out earlier Wednesday. Right after the soldiers had massacred several people at the Lekki toll gate, Beyonce released a statement on her Instagram page condemning the act, stating that she has been working with some youth organisations which people can find via her website.
Rihanna also put up the symbolic, bloodied Nigerian flag from the Lekki protest and captioned it #EndSARS.
In as much as these celebs have no direct power over the Nigerian government, many felt their silence was a form of betrayal and asked why they had to speak out after people had died. Beyonce, in particular, got a lot of condemnation online as many felt her silence was particularly upsetting since she had always infused the African/Nigerian culture in her music visuals.
Twitter user @vincentdesmond_ is one of those who feels Beyonce and Rihanna spoke up a little too late. In his tweet he wrote;
Everyone who waited till yesterday to speak can fuck all the way off imo. From Beyoncé to Rihanna. Fuck all the way off. Because niggas begged you. And it took that massacre for you to even give a fuck? fuck all the way off.
— desmond who is famously gay. (@vincentdesmond_) October 21, 2020
Other people, however, felt it was not necessary, and nobody should blame Beyonce for not speaking out because her helping behind the scenes was enough. Twitter user @Silence_isloud wrote;
Y’all wanted Beyoncé to speak out not knowing she was helping behind the scenes. Do y’all want her to be flashy or not? Cuz at this point it’s getting kinda scary. What about y’all other faves? What have they done?
— Glocktober ?✨ (@Silence_isloud) October 21, 2020
Truth be told Beyonce, and other celebrities do not need to speak before a government listens to its people, it is pertinent to note, however, that visibility and drawing international attention to issues like this helps in curbing excesses of the government due to the international scrutiny on their actions. So, Beyonce and Rihanna speaking up is important, and Nigerians calling them out for not doing so earlier is warranted.
To have Beyonce’s mother, Miss Tina Knowles, put out a statement, defending her daughter and stating that ‘internet activism’ is not the way to go, added salt to an already gaping wound. Beyonce’s statement also suggests that she was working behind the scenes with ‘youth organisations’ to provide food and shelter when really all Nigerians asked for was her voice. She’s loud enough in showcasing our culture; Nigerians expected that same energy in showcasing our grief. So for dear Miss Tina to speak to Nigerians, who were still traumatised from having to watch their fellow Nigerians murdered, in such a condescending manner was a particularly distasteful moment. In her words;
“For all of you couch internet activist, don’t flatter yourselves She never does anything she does not want to do!!!! Your noise is like that of a small gnat irritating yes! but weak not powerful! God Bless you though,” Tina wrote on her verified Instagram page.
Furthermore, is Beyonce’s statement suggesting that she had been ‘partnering with youth organizations to provide shelter, healthcare, and food to Nigerian citizens’ before the time Tiwa Savage called her out? Which youth organisations? Apart from the Feminist Coalition and Connected Development, there have been no other credible bodies collecting funds for the #EndSARS protests. They’ve been transparent with the funds received, and at the time Tiwa Savage made a public call-out nothing suggested that a huge superstar had made a large donation. Particularly, what did she mean food and shelter? Were we hungry, or did the protesters need homes? Was it an earthquake we suffered?
Celebrities now seem to run under the cover of working ‘behind the scenes’ to explain away their silence and honestly, it doesn’t suffice anymore. If the past few days have shown us anything, it is the power of ‘internet activism’.
It took the Lekki massacre for us to hear Beyonce and others speak out finally, and we wish we didn’t have to wait that long. In conclusion, we need to cancel celebrity worship. The platform we give them and the expectations we place on them, they always fall short. Because they are humans, and when they do fall short, it is on us to call them out- even if they are Beyonce.