Nigeria: Performance artists face new, unexpected charges
Performance artist Jelili Atiku, along with five other artists, appeared in court on 7 March 2016 for their first hearing related to a public performance piece staged on 14 January 2016, which led to their arrest four days later. At the hearing, the original four-count charge was changed to seven counts, unbeknownst to the defendants and their lawyers, along with new language, including references to the group acting as a cult and acting in conspiracy, reported Daily Nigeria News on 8 March 2016.
Originally the six artists were charged with disturbing the peace, intimidating the public, distributing publications likely to provoke the public, and the management of an unlawful society. However, now the charges include threatening the life and property of local chief Oba Moruf Adekunle Ojoola and his chiefs, unlawful assembly for purpose of causing a riot and the unlawful assembly in which dangerous weapons were thrown at the chief’s palace.
All six defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges. The judge doubled the bail for each artist from 100,000 to 200,000 Nigerian Naira (about USD $1,000) and set the next hearing for 4 April 2016. According to Freemuse sources, the bail requirements were met and the artists were not taken back into custody.
Freemuse joins other international human rights organisations in the call for a free and fair trial for Jelili Atiku and the five other artists, and the ultimate dismissal of the case against them.
“Artists are well within their right of artistic freedom to produce and perform art, even if it is critical of people’s actions and policies, regardless of their social, cultural or political status in society,” Ole Reitov, Freemuse Executive Director said. “Freemuse is deeply concerned by the conduct of the Ejigbo Magistrate Court and the changes made to the charges without informing the artists and their legal counsel.”
On 14 January 2016, Atiku performed a piece called ‘Aragamago Will Rid this Land off Terrorism’ that featured him and the other artists dressed in red and black plastic walking through the streets of Lagos throwing out pamphlets that included English and Yoruba prayers, along with information and internet links to information concerning allegations against the chief for recent property and development deals.
The artists were arrested on 18 January 2016 after the chief filed a police complaint and were held for two days in Kirikiri Medium Security Prison after being released on bail. The artists were set to appear in court originally on 1 February 2016, but the hearing was postponed to early March.
Atiku is set to receive the Prince Claus Award on 8 April 2015 from the Dutch ambassador in Nigeria.
** UPDATE: According to Nigerian newspaper The Guardian the 4 April 2016 hearing has been postponed to 25 April 2016 **
Photo is a screen grab from the YouTube video of Atiku’s Aragamago performance
» The Guardian – 9 April 2016:
Case against Jelili adjourned again
» Daily Nigeria News – 8 March 2016:
Jelili Atiku, five others back to prison ahead of trial
» City Voice – 7 March 2016:
CORA Nigeria seeks dismissal of charges against performance artist, Jelili Atiku
» The Nation – 31 January 2016:
Jelili Atiku: Not just about the arts
» Artsfreedom.org – 27 January 2016:
Nigeria: Artist arrested for political performance piece