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20 years after Lagbaja’s warning on ‘Suuru Lere,’ Nigeria is in trouble


'Suuru Lere' is a song on Lagbaja's classic album, 'WE.'
20 years after Lagbaja’s warning on ‘Suuru Lere,’ Nigeria is in disarray.
In 1999, Nigerian celebrated the ‘new dawn’ of democracy that ushered in ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo. This was also one year after the death of authoritarian Head of State, General Sani Abacha.
In 2000, a 40-year-old Nigerian artist, musician and multi-instrumentalist released the WE/ME double album on Motherlan’ Music. Many feel it was his opus momentBorn Bisade Ologunde, he was popularly known as Lagbaja. The WE/ME double album was a socio-politically charged dispensary of quality music.
The WE album dropped alongside ME album. As its title connotes, it was filled with a discussion on issues concerning Nigerians as one people. He discussed unity on ‘Me and You No’ Be Enemy,’ aristo satire on ‘Nothing For You’ and youth on ‘Prayer For The Youth.’ While all those songs are still as relevant as Gbasky’s ‘Money Devotion,’ one song is more trumps them all and it’s titled, ‘Suuru Lere.’
Suuru Lere’ is Yoruba for, ‘Patience is profitable.’ Built on melancholic, yet melodious folk music, you can hear Lagbaja’s apprehension through the sonic construction of ‘Suuru Lere.’ The song is premised on a criticism of the Nigerian political elite, their corruption, abuse of power, selfishness and how it affects the freedom, liberty and legal rights of Nigerians.
On its hook, Lagbaja soliloquises in Yoruba, “Ki’lawa se? Se’jo lawa f’aye gbo? Ki lawa se? Se b’aye lawa je n’ibi. Eje a f’iyen le. K’e je a jaye ori n’ibi, T’oba d’ola, k’a maa ba wahala wa lo…” In English it means, “We have not come to the world to complain, we have only come to the world to enjoy. So let’s leave all the worries, and drink and merry. Tomorrow, the struggle continues…
Lagbaja was speaking the mind of the average Nigerian - frustrated, dejected and robbed of basic rights. Instead of fighting a lost cause or risk losing his freedom, he would rather drown his worries in a bottle, get momentary happiness, sleep and then face reality the next day. The average Nigerian is like a Gen Z kid with a history of abuse, drowning his pain in xanax.
However, the central discussion on the song - and true to its title - was a warning to Nigerian politicians to be patient. It was both a celebration of the victory over military dictatorship and a warning to the stakeholders of the new democracy. Lagbaja wanted the newly democratic state to be wary of sinking back into the lows of military dictatorship.

Present day

On May 20, 2020, the rumour was that Lagbaja turned 60. However, in a chat with Olumide Iyanda of QED, Lagbaja clarified that his birthday was in April. Nonetheless, we shall still continue.
20 years after the release of ‘Suuru Lere’ and the WE album, Lagbaja’s words still hold true. The country is stuck in the middle of COVID-19-fuelled economic mess while also drenched in several instances of abuse of power and corruption. A few days before Lagbaja’s ‘birthday,’ Nigeria got yet another instalment of Abacha’s loot.
When COVID-19 was still in its infancy, Nigeria could have nipped it in the bud by closing its borders. But until the virus started affecting the political elite, the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration seemed to either underrate the virus or think itself beyond it, so the borders remained open.
In the animated ‘Suuru Lere’ video, Lagbaja depicted the crippling lack of resources across the country in sharp cuts and newspaper cuttings. Till this day, age-old problems of insufficiency in the healthcare systems, for the common man, in the avenues of revenue for the country and in the entire zeitgeist still reigns supreme.
The country is battling insufficient bed spaces against a potential boom in COVID-19 cases. The average man suffered through a simple two-week lockdown and a crash in oil prices sent the country spiraling into an economic panic. In that same video for ‘Suuru Lere,’ Lagbaja depicted the chaotic National Assembly where chairs were being thrown over disagreements.
While that reality has since been quelled with the use of immobile chairs, the National Assembly is still a bed of improper channeling. A Social Media Bill to censor Nigerians and punish political critics has been mooted, likewise a problematic Infectious Diseases bill has been mooted to hand excessive power and autonomy to the Chairman of the National Centre For Disease Control without sufficient checks and balances.
On the bridge of ‘Suuru Lere,’ Lagbaja sympathetically sang, “Mo sorry fun gbogbo yin o, mo sorry fun gbogbo yin lokankan…” In English that means, “I’m sorry for you all (Nigerians) one by one…” If Lagbaja reviewed the tenets of the song, he would realize that his warnings were not heeded.
As an act who was birthed by Nigerian folk, he managed to survive into a pop era where he would eventually succeed and win the Best Male Act for ‘Faraway’ at the 2006 Channel O’ Music Awards. He ascended and became a legend with a lot of impact. That is in stark contrast to the Nigerian reality since then which has been one of recidivism and backwardness.
The WE/ME double album was the moment where he sealed his mainstream appeal in a country that was in the earliest stages of its pop. ‘Afrobeats’ has since taken on ‘the world,’ but the country itself is still in disarray. Even worse, children of corruption have also begun to take power.
Back to the hook of ‘Suuru Lere,’ there is no way Nigerians would not just aim to drown their sorrows in a bottle and gain momentary ecstasy that makes them forget the struggle. When they wake up in the morning, they continue again. That reality has since become a continuum. The next time you see grown people drinking away and being merry in a bar, you might want to greet them.

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