Nigeria’s New Tribes: Marlians, Movements and Music By Ibrahim Faruk

The year 2019 was a watershed moment in Nigeria’s history as it marked 20 years of interrupted democratic rule. However, beyond the elections, series of events held the attention of Nigerian citizens at various moments as the elections faded into memory.

In the months and weeks leading to the election, the political class, especially the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Muhammadu Buhari and the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar in the 2019 General Elections built communities of supporters and a wide fan base, more popularly called ‘Buharists’ and ‘Atikulated’ respectively

Despite the importance of the elections, the most notable movements in 2019 did not occur in the political arena. They happened in the music or entertainment industry. The rise of the artiste Naira Marley’s fan base called the “Marlians” is probably the most notable ‘new community’ and citizen or fan movement in the country

The rise of the artiste Naira Marley’s fan base called the “Marlians” is probably the most notable ‘new community’ and citizen or fan movement in the country, probably closely followed by Big Brother Naija Tacha and her Titans fan base or the increasing conscious Alte Movement in the music industry.

Since his arrest for seeking support for internet-related advance fee fraud, also known as ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ Nigerian rapper Azeez Fashola who is popularly known as Naira Marley has become a phenomenon not just in Nigeria, but around the world.

He also became a social media darling since his arrest, albeit a controversial one. After his career breakthrough in 2019, the tag name given to his fan base “Marlians” became a household name.

Citizens who identify as Marlians are springing up in homes, schools and offices (rumor has it that 80% of my colleagues are Marlians) across the country. Marlians have remained united in their love and support for Naira Marley, will move mountains in support of their ‘Supreme Leader’ and the ideology they share.

Naira Marley uses music which plays a central role in communicating the needs and interests of the public. Music is a transcendent force that shapes culture and allows musicians’ access to the grassroots, political elites, and the mass public. An examination of the ‘Buharists’ and ‘Atikulated’ campaigns reveals that none of the candidates were able to leverage on music or seek endorsements from these emerging Movements.

An estimated 4.5 – 5 millions Nigerians turn 18 (the constitutional age of electoral franchise) each year. This translates to between 18 – 20 million potential ‘new voters’ from the 2019 General Elections to the 2023 General Elections. This age cohort is popularly known as Generation Z (or Gen Z), the demographic born between 1996 and 2010. The eldest member of Generation Z — is just 24, and yet the group’s dominance is already being felt (suspiciously many Gen Z’s are also Marlians or part of the growing Alte movement as well).Members of Gen Z are true digital natives: from earliest youth, they have been exposed to the internet, to social networks, and to mobile systems.

Political parties and civil society organizations can no longer afford to ignore these new tribes either in seeking to increase their political education or their engagement with the state. Similar new tribes (not individual organizations, but by movements) have over the past years engineered sweeping social change. While these new tribes might speak a different ‘language’ from the traditional forms of engagement, we cannot afford to lose these new tribes and the lessons we can learn from engaging with them.

Ibrahim Faruk is a Program Manager with Yiaga Africa’s Governance and Development Program. He can be reached on fibrahim@yiaga.org. He tweets via @IbrhmFaruk