Naira Marley after a previous arrest in 2019. Photo: Courtesy.

Controversial Nigerian singer Naira Marley was on August 6 arraigned in court facing charges of flouting COVID-19 rules. Real name Azeez Fashola, he was charged alongside his manager for violating an interstate travel ban meant to curb the spread of the virus.  A statement by Lagos Police spokesperson Bala Elkana said that the duo was arraigned at the Lagos State Special Offences (Mobile) Court. The singer’s woes stem from a June 13 incident where he’s accused of engaging in non-essential travel from Lagos to Abuja and back via private jet for a music festival.

"It would be recalled that on 13/06/2020 around 1400hrs, the suspect in total violation of the lockdown order, embarked on non-essential travel from Lagos to Abuja and back to Lagos the same date, through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport,” the charge sheet seen by BBC Pidgin read in part.  Marley and his manager pleaded guilty to the charges and were fined N100,000(around Sh27,00) each.

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The federal government said it had approved the flight thinking a federal judge was aboard the jet and that the approval was for "for essential purposes and not the musician."  Following the incident, the head of Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Aviation suspended the company which owns the jet from operating. The company’s CEO later apologized saying that they had confused Naira Marley’s name for Fashola Babatunde, the works and housing minister.

Naira Marley's fans outside the court. Photo: BBC.

Controversy

The singer is not new to controversy as he was arrested and held for 35 days in May 2019 for seemingly supporting the actions of Nigerian internet fraudsters popularly known as ‘Yahoo boys’. It began when fellow Afrobeat artist Simi castigated their actions and Naira Marley jumped to their defence saying: “If u know about slavery … yahoo no b crime.” He later urged Nigerians to pray for internet fraudsters as their ill-gotten money was circulating in the country.

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Despite the backlash, Marley further stirred the pot by releasing the provocative ‘Am I a Yahoo Boy’ track featuring Nigerian rapper Zlatan where they cast the government as ‘thieves’. The video featured Marley’s mock arrest but a day later, it became a reality as he was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alongside Zlatan and three others.