Bobrisky’s sentencing should make us all worried

If it can happen to Bobrisky, it can happen to any of us

Despite being outlawed by the Central Bank of Nigeria back in 2007, spraying money has been a cultural mainstay in Nigeria for decades. From weddings to birthdays to religious ceremonies, you’d be hard pressed to find any kind of celebration where performers, celebrants and party goers alike aren’t being showered with mint notes on the dancefloor.

This year, however, the law seems to be cracking down on the practice, and last week Bobrisky was sentenced to six months in jail with no possibility of a fine, for spraying money at the premier for Eniola Ajao’s new Ajakaju film premier back in March. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) first detained her on April 3, after they obtained video footage of her spraying the band with new Naira notes at the event.

In a 2022 article for the Republic Journal, writer Ayoola Oladipupo explored the cultural history of money spraying, and its origins in the 1950s and ‘60s owambe culture of the south west. “In line with the Yoruba praise culture, juju musicians would also panegyrize the highly respected members of the audience, who would almost subconsciously respond to the words of the singer and the talking drum by ‘spraying’ the performers with banknotes in appreciation of their showmanship.”

Money spraying spread from its starting point in the Lagos and Ibadan party scenes, making its way across Nigeria and becoming so mainstream, that it spurred a whole industry for “mint” notes. Its prevalence and significance as a cultural practice is what makes Bobrisky’s arrest and sentencing so concerning. 

First, there’s the hypocrisy. If the Nigerian government is going to talk about abuse of the Naira, then the call is coming from inside the house with this one. CBN criminalised money spraying because it “constitutes an abuse and defacing of the Naira.” The bank, Oladipupo also mentions in his Republic article, also believes that money spraying has contributed to the growth of an illicit ‘mint’ market, where new banknotes are sold at far higher prices than their face value. Meanwhile, thanks to government malfeasance and a legacy of financial mismanagement throughout Nigeria’s halls of power, the Naira has spent the last decade steadily sliding downward into the currency crisis that we are presently facing. That abuse of the Naira feels like a more worthy cause to pay attention to, rather than a social construct that has no bearing on the state of the country’s affairs.

In addition, there’s the myriad of other pressing issues that the Nigerian government ignores on a daily basis, such as unemployment, the cost of living, gender based violence, extreme poverty, lack of adequate services for vulnerable people and of course the ever-looming threat of widespread civil unrest due to the combination of all these factors. To come down on celebrities for spraying money, when the government coffers are reportedly filled with the spoils of their greed feels like a joke in a country where the average citizen survives on less than $1 a day. 

It’s also really important to note who is being arrested. Bobrisky has told us many times that she identifies as female, a fact that has put a target on her back both culturally and legally in Nigeria. Despite the existence of robust communities of gay, lesbian and gender nonconforming people throughout Nigeria’s history, attitudes toward queer people have barely evolved since Christian European settlers first succeeded in convincing Africans that homosexuality was unnatural. And in a country where violent queerphobia is not only socially acceptable but has also, at points, been codified into law, it’s not hard to draw the obvious conclusion that Bobrisky is being targeted. 

Meanwhile, EFCC has so far been curiously silent when it comes to other powerful men who are arguably even more lavish and excessive with their “mutilation” of the naira. 

News reports from earlier this month suggested that the state agency was planning to arraign Lagos-based business man Obi Cubana, who is well-known for money spraying. 

No further updates have been shared and based on his social media activity, he still appears to be free. 

Last week, it was announced that Bobrisky has been transferred from Ikoyi Prison, to Kiri Kiri Correctional Centre, a maximum security level prison reserved for the most violent of offenders. And if there was any doubt that this is a bigoted witch-hunt, consider the fact that the Nigerian Correctional Services have gone out of their way to disclose private information relating to Bobrisky’s gender identity and to confirm that she’s being held in a male prison. 

What’s most terrifying about her arrest and sentencing, though, is that it shows just how easily the government can arbitrarily enforce laws that had previously been so widely ignored, many people didn’t even know they existed. Bobrisky, an openly trans woman is being publicly and violently scapegoated because the expectation is that in a society built to hate people like her, no one will care. 

But while the government may be working hard to stoke the flames of prejudice so easily ignited in the Nigerian spirit, the truth is that we are all at the mercy of their self-interested whims. And make no mistake, if it can happen to Bobrisky, it could happen to any of us. 

Soon after her sentence was announced, the EFCC’s official X account put out a statement warning people to avoid Naira abuse. A poem attached to the post reads: 

Na our Naira you dey Abuse 

Change your ways, you Refuse

When the EFCC comes to Accuse 

Know say you no go get Excuse 

Ask Bob for the update to Use

This is a government institution making light of its own overreach, but there’s nothing funny about what’s happening. It’s a show of both how deeply unserious and how frighteningly tyrannical our state agencies are, and it’s something that should seriously worry us all. 

Featured Image Credits/The NATIVE