What can Nigerian pop culture show us about the state of the country’s soul? That it is rotten to the core. It tells us that our culture glorifies wealth rather than intelligence and conscientiousness. Essentially, that it perverts the definition of success, mistaking its side effect for the thing itself. Wealth ought to be the attribute of the best amongst us — the bold, the relentless, and the intelligent. Instead, we identify it with fraud and senseless brutality. Pop culture offers a glimpse into the soul of our country, and it is rotten to its core.

The culture of every country will reflect the attitudes of its elites. If the elites achieve their status by martial skill, the society will maintain a warrior culture. When wealth determines membership in the elite group, the community may maintain a mercantile culture. Thus, warrior abilities decided privileged position in Spartan society. Abilities as bankers and merchants could determine elite status in Florence. In Rome, a mix of warrior and commercial abilities decided membership in elite culture. Warrior ability predominated commercial skills among the Romans, of course.

Every stable country must have a mix of martial and commercial souls among its elites. However, society must never let the martial souls devolve into rabid brutality, which is always a potentiality for these people. Furthermore, the commercial spirit must never degenerate into fraud.

Nigeria is in an unfortunate state where senseless brutality marks its martial souls, and its commercial people pursue fraud. The martial souls amongst Nigeria’s elites do not think twice about killing their people. The massacres countrywide in October 2020 during the EndSARS protests is a case in point. Police officers, soldiers, and state-sponsored thugs killed and maimed people in different states within a few days. Nigeria is rife with stories of businesspeople accused or arrested for fraudulent practices. In any case, nepotism is the order of the day; it is the standard way of doing business. The quickest route to wealth is seeking some connection to the government. It helps if one can pretend to be motivated by the desire to serve, of course, although naked ambition for undeserved wealth is no longer disgusting. That is the current state of our lions and foxes. The lions kill for fun, not for necessity, and the foxes’ cunning morphed into egocentric opportunism.

Consider the following lyrics from “Cashapp,” one of the most popular songs in Nigeria right now:

“Olè ni everybody ā ṣa le ma gbé tọ́ mì

Wó̩n ní mo dó̩gbó̩n si, ìwọ ná à dó̩gbó̩n si

Ko gbàgbé story.”


Everyone is a thief; at least we can’t eat our spit.

They accuse me of using my cunning to get ahead.

Why don’t you use yours too and stop complaining?

Cashapp, even though it celebrates the fraud culture now prevalent among subaltern Nigerian youths, is an indictment of the country’s elites. The singer says everyone is a thief because there is a crisis of legitimacy. The government that penalizes the illegal actions the song celebrates is itself filled with corrupt people who steal and wheel and deal with impunity. Many of our business people do not innovate. They gain and maintain their wealth through their connections to the government. Many engage in highbrow fraud. Their fraudulent activities come with fancy names like “insider trading” and “arbitrage.” Essentially, Zlatan sings in Cashapp, “why criticize the young chap in the ghetto trying to survive when you celebrate worse frauds perpetrated by the powerful?”

Consider other lyrics by Zlatan, this time from the popular song, “Hallelu”:

Ìjayà sí wọn

Ta ló fi ìgbájú gba gàrrí wọn

Èmi ni father wọn

Oṣámọ̀, 100 police kò tó soldier kan.

Ọ̀gá yín ni, ẹ gbà fun

T’é̩ba ri, e̩ yàgò fun

Ọ̀gá ni, k’é̩ye fárí gá

Seven star General

Military movement leléyī

Àwa lèyan Babangida.


They should be afraid.

Who slapped them and stole their food?

I am their father,

You know, one soldier is stronger than 100 police officers.

All of you respect him; he is your boss.

When you see him coming, move out of the way

He is the boss, no need for you to resist him

Seven star General

This is a military movement

We are the people of Babangida.

General Ibrahim Babangida has the dishonor of being the military president who institutionalized state terrorism and corruption. As Zlatan sings in “Hallelu,” many a strongman in Nigeria sees himself as a boss of some sort. He considers murder and other acts of domination legitimate because it is the tool of statecraft in our country. The gang leader and community thug and the statesman who unleashes thugs and soldiers on people are not different. The gang leader is a statesman reduced to gang leadership because of the lack of opportunity. The statesman was probably once a community thug anyway.

I do not know about others, but I have been watching the state of our country with trepidation. Regardless of what we tell ourselves, culture is essential; unfortunately, ours is rotten to the core. Our society is on the brink of collapse, but we cannot seem to see it. All of the signs are there: loss of political legitimacy, constant violence, and pervasive extreme poverty and deprivation. I do not know about you, but I see a country on the brink of collapse.

JD Candidate at Harvard Law School.