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There's growing demand for answers about the death of an Afrobeats star

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

In Nigeria, the sudden death over two months ago of an Afropop star sparked a countrywide outpouring of grief and many questions. Twenty-seven-year-old MohBad was a rising talent in the industry, but his death triggered a nationwide conversation about the darker side of the multimillion-dollar Afrobeats industry and the treatment of artists by powerful figures. A subsequent police investigation has led to multiple arrests, including one of the country's biggest music stars. Yet months on, there are fears for the integrity of the investigation, as NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu reports from Lagos.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEEL GOOD")

MOHBAD: (Singing in non-English language).

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: The upbeat lines of "Feel Good" by MohBad now carries a more somber weight since he died under suspicious circumstances.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOBAD AND UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in non-English language)

AKINWOTU: At protests and vigils attended by thousands in September, his songs became a rallying point for justice. MohBad, originally known as Ilerioluwa Aloba, was a beloved star who'd risen from tough beginnings to stardom. MohBad left Marlian Music (ph), his former music label, last year, founded by Afrobeats star Naira Marley. He alleged in various songs and interviews that he had suffered abuse and multiple attempts on his life for daring to leave.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOHBAD: If I die like this.

AKINWOTU: In this footage posted over a year ago, he said he was being physically attacked by Marley and the label and that if he died, they should be held responsible. Marley strongly denies the allegation. Police then promised a thorough investigation, but months on, the cause of death is still unknown.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED LAGOS POLICE: The recent testimonies of the witnesses are likely of high evidential value.

AKINWOTU: The last major update came in early October at this press conference by police in Lagos. MohBad's body had been exhumed after it was hastily buried a day after he died. An autopsy had been done, and five individuals were in police custody, they said. They included a nurse who treated him shortly before he died and Naira Marley. He was arrested in connection to incidents of assault against MohBad. He was then released on bail.

TUNDE OLAWUWO: It's been two months now, and we seem not to be seeing any movement. We're not getting updates.

AKINWOTU: Tunde Olawuwo is the manager of Splash FM, one of a number of radio stations which have stopped playing Marley's songs amid outrage at his label.

OLAWUWO: In our discussions with my colleagues, how we see it is that there might be moves or attempts to stall the case.

AKINWOTU: The Lagos police have said that evidence from the autopsy has been sent to experts in the U.S. for examination. But as time passes, many question whether the investigation can be trusted.

Emmanuel Akinwotu, NPR News, Lagos.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEEL GOOD")

MOHBAD: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.