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Reuben Abati: The Two Faces of Tuface



Tuface’s decision to lead a protest to register the dissatisfaction of Nigerians with the performance of the incumbent administration and to reiterate the value of government’s responsibility to the people was his finest moment as a citizen and artiste. But it is also now, with his Jammeh-like volte-face, his worst moment. His transformation into a champion of democratic values and voice of the masses brought him added stardom and value. His retreat has turned him into a revolutionary manqué. He deserves our understanding and sympathy.

When on 24th January Tuface (Innocent Dibia) announced that he was going to lead, under the umbrella of the Tuface Foundation, a mass protest against the economic policies of the Buhari government, he immediately attracted public interest. A multiple award-winning musician, a naturally talented stage performer and author of at least two evergreen songs: “My African Queen” and “If Love is a Crime”, TuBaba, as he is also known, sounded like he was moving from art to politics, and seemed ready to answer to the true calling of the artist as the conscience of the people.

Artists and creative persons have always led protests and lent their voices to progressive causes. That much is the case in the United States at the moment, where artistes have raised their voices and joined protests to remind the “insurgent in the White House” that America is a land of freedom, democracy and justice and not bigotry and tyranny. Here at home, Fela, and his cousin, the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and others as well, have shown the power of creativity and stardom as a veritable vehicle for social change and justice. Artists and their art, and their movement from stage, or the printed page, to the public arena of action have always saved humanity, by humanizing man. This has been the case from Sophocles, all through time and history to Olanrewaju Adepoju, Beyonce and Kanye West.

But activism comes with a price. Tuface obviously didn’t bargain for that. He received enormous support. His announcement of the February 5, later February 6 protest energized the angry, frustrated Nigerian base, and drew our unrelenting “children of anger” back into an overdrive on social media. The international community also became interested, waiting to see the effect of a protest driven by star-power in Nigeria. It was coincidentally a season of protests across the world: in the Gambia, there had been protests against Yahyah Jammeh with a positive outcome, in the US, the UK and elsewhere, Donald Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries and his misogyny led to protests on both counts, and in the case of the former, a Federal judge has given a ruling that has resulted in the suspension of the ban. In Cameroon, concerned citizens are protesting over discrimination against English-speaking Cameroonians. In Romania, a sea of protesting citizens has just had its way. There is all around the world, right now, a resurgence and affirmation of people power, be it Brexit or left-wing activism in Europe. Individuals and groups lead such moments in history- what makes them different is the fire in their bellies and their readiness to command the revolution, at great personal risk.

It looked initially as if Tuface had that burning fire in his belly, but he couldn’t make that leap between self-preservation and the risks of rebellion. He had appeared on television. He spoke confidently about the need for real change in Nigeria. He encouraged Nigerians to come out en masse to support the movement. He even announced the colour and dress code of the protest. His wife stood by him and she, too, talked about her husband’s convictions about national progress and good governance. Each time Tuface appeared in the media, during those five minutes in the sun, he looked bright and determined. But everything changed late Saturday evening. The recorded video of Tuface’s volte-face, announcing the cancellation of the Feb. 6 protest showed him looking dispirited, broken, ashen, as if he had been shaken up and chastised. He looked unsettled with his scraggy, uncombed beard. It is not difficult to know when a man’s balls have been squeezed.

Tuface actually deserves our sympathy. He must have gone through a lot of pressures that broke his spirit. His capitulation makes us appreciate even better the heroism of those who always stood up to dictatorships. His example is indeed a great lesson…And I mean that positively for the fact that…Despite the massive support that he received, he also received a lot of discouragement. An old ally of his, some guy appropriately called Blackface was one of the first persons to blacken the idea of the protest. Some Nollywood, belle-forever-face-front-chop-money-money-finish-carry-go characters also opposed Tuface. Some musicians too, although in the long run, Tuface was able to mobilise the support of every section of the Nigerian community at home and in diaspora. By Saturday when he poured cold ice on the whole thing, the protest had even grown beyond him, much larger, with others seizing the initiative and turning what he had thought would be a small show into a nationwide and diaspora event. At that point, Tuface was no longer the singer of sultry songs, but the symbol of a rebellion. The enormity of that potential must have frightened him. He didn’t have the courage to see it through. Leadership is about courage. A coward can never lead a rebellion.

But we should struggle to understand his situation. He was accused of having seven children from three women, which is an absolutely stupid point. An artist does not have to be a saint. We relate to their art and their engagements with society on the basis of the positive value that they bring forth. It is also possible that Tuface received pressures from his multiple in-laws, and even the Baby Mamas defending their stakes in his life. The official wife must have been accused of trying to encourage him to get into trouble so he could get killed and she alone can sit on his estate. The Baby Mamas and all the in-laws must have called to remind him that his children are still very young and he needs to be alive to be their father and so he should think twice before going to use his chest to stop Nigeria Police bullets. Family members, to whom he is obviously a breadwinner, must have advised him to stay with his singing and dancing and not get involved in politics. They would remind him how Fela’s mum got killed and how Fela’s house was razed down, and how every artist who dared the Nigerian government ended up in exile or in prison or with a strange motor accident.

The Nigerian government was of course unhappy with the planned protest, and the idea of it created enormous confusion in Abuja and Aso Rock. While the office of the Acting President spoke about the right to protest and the government not having anything against the expression of fundamental human rights, the Office of the President on vacation made it very clear that the would-be protesters are enemies of the government of the day and sore losers. Those two seemingly contradictory impressions from Aso Rock can only point to one thing: high-level intrigue within. That is probably why the Nigeria Police kept shuffling: we don’t approve of the protest, we do, we don’t, we beg. The timing says it all also. With the President out of the country, and the plan of the protesters to welcome him with a Trump-like protest from Abuja, to Lagos, Port Harcourt, Uyo and Akure, and in parts of the Western world, the damage would have been incalculable. And Tuface would have been held responsible for leading the sabotage. No Nigerian government since 1999 has benefitted from any mass protest. The anti-third term protest hobbled the Obasanjo government. The Jonathan government never recovered from the pro-fuel subsidy protests of January 2012. Tuface and his planned protest had set the stage for a similar prospect for the Buhari government.
What Tuface imagined was a clean-hearted civil action would have resulted in absolute panic, with some informal voices in and around government doing dangerous analysis on ethnic and religious grounds. Reckless hypotheses such as the following: (a) “so, as Baba hand over this thing to Osinbajo so, the only thing his Christian brothers think they should do is to organize a protest in Baba’s absence?” (b) “You don hear say Osinbajo’s office say people have right to protest? So, Baba cannot even travel on vacation again. Walahi, these Yoruba people cannot be trusted.” (c) What are these security people doing? If they are loyal to Baba, by now they should have invited that Tuface, and ask him about the two SUVs that Akpabio gave him and his wife when they got married. They should show him strong evidence that the SUVs were bought with Akwa Ibom state government money and he should pay back the money or get ready to be sued for being an accomplice in a case of diversion of public funds. (d) Or you could have some people affirming the narrative that was put out by the APC and friends of the government of the day viz: “this is the PDP at work. Tuface must be an agent of PDP. Why are our own APC people sleeping? Baba no dey around, they want to pull down the country. So, Tuface is now working with Ayo Fayose of Ekiti, to embarrass Baba? This Osinbajo, can we trust him?”

By pulling the trigger at this time, Tuface simply put a lot of people under pressure and placed their jobs and loyalty at risk -no doubt about it, they must have come after him with a sledgehammer to stop and discourage him. Clear evidence: a counter-revolutionary #IstandwithBuhari protest has already been announced to last for two days. The Tuface revolution that has been abandoned by its main motivator teaches us more lessons about the dynamics of power in Nigeria and the temperament of the resident power elite. Will the protest now take place on February 6, without Tuface? Or will everyone hold fire and down their tools of anger? What is certain, however, is that Tuface is likely to sit at home tomorrow with Anne, his temptingly pretty wife by his side, watching the latest episode of Big Brother Naija on TV, with chicken and salad before him, and a bottle of wine, and one of his hands, innocently setting the stage for the amorous prelude for child number eight. With his wife telling him: “don’t worry yourself dear, Nigeria is not worth dying for. Who wan die make e go die. You have tried your best, my darling husband!”.
That is how many would-be heroes become anti-heroes, and their dreams die a-borning. If the protests go ahead on February 6 as many are threatening, nonetheless, Tuface would lose a lot. If it doesn’t go ahead, he would still lose.

The torch of protest that he has lit may not burn on the streets of Nigeria; it is burning already in the minds of the people. He may have chickened out, but he has already achieved the goal of his initial plan. He has by lending his star power to an anti-Buhari protest, expanded the population of angry Nigerians. He has given voice to their anger and fears. His withdrawal from action will not excuse him. Whatever anyone tells him, in the long run, he would still be punished for his bravery and cowardice on both counts. He should not be surprised if for the next few months, he doesn’t get invited to any concert, or performance contract, or if he gets to perform anywhere, he could be booed off the stage. He should not be surprised if his phones stop ringing, or if it rings at all, he could be told: “call me on what’s app I beg, I don’t know if they are monitoring your calls.”
Let no one blame Tuface. His stage name Tuface is the name of Janus: the two-face Greek god, who looks in two directions. When it mattered most in his career, Tuface Idibia answered the call of his name!


  1. LagosismyHome

    February 5, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    While Mr Abati writes well he needs a lesson in how to summarise. His write up are usually way too long , life is busy as it is

    • Lorenz

      February 6, 2017 at 7:38 am

      It can’t be anyone’s fault that you have a short attention span.

    • pita

      February 6, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      wooooow!!! thats under d belt bro!!!

    • Amaka

      February 6, 2017 at 10:27 pm

      I don’t blame Tuface o. Death is not easy o. Is that God’s plan for his life right now. Everyone is just talking. Why not put yourselves in his shoes. If na your brother or husband nko. Jesus died for the world. That is the will of God and we can see results. All ye people who are disappointed at Tuface, sorry please. He has started an awareness. Just follow.

    • #MadeInNaija

      February 7, 2017 at 9:11 am

      Spot on!!!!

  2. derami

    February 5, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    in other news; is it true that BuBu is no longer coming back today abi tomorrow? Naija i hail thee

    • Truth

      February 5, 2017 at 6:27 pm

      According to instablog9ja on Instagram, a facebook user (Nkena Nwokocha)claims that the DSS picked 2baba before the cancellation of the protest… probably the DSS made him to cancel the protest on gun point. In the video you can see he couldn’t face the camera. According the facebook user, 2baba has been able to say exactly what happened with him and the DSS that picked him. If he loves Nigerians, he should tell us what happened. seems the facebook post has long been deleted. Check instablog9ja for details and Comments about that and secondly have you heard that the president is no more coming back tomorrow, he has written to the National Assembly asking for the extension of his vacation… can you imagine that? We are in trouble in this country. The presidency is not telling us the truth of what is happening to buba, whether he is alive or dead. The truth shall surely come out. We are watching.

    • Truth

      February 5, 2017 at 6:30 pm

      *** 2baba has NOT been able to say exactly what happened between him and the DSS

  3. Ajayi Oluwabukola

    February 5, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    The ending cracked me up, na wa . 2face was def threatened, what a shame. To think people used their power as citizens to elect Buhari and he is now doing this. Wow!

    • Shazy

      February 5, 2017 at 6:39 pm

      Yeah, the end of the article did it for me.

  4. skyhigh

    February 5, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    i don’t know if this piece is to castigate him or console him….why bring his wife into it though?

  5. John

    February 5, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    Tuface f**ked up. His concerns seem genuine but unnecessary. The people wanted a voice like his to support their course. But the protest is not over. I will be at Surulere tomorrow to protest. Let the cowards come arrest me or hijack my peaceful protest. One love.

  6. Ela

    February 5, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    Interesting article… Until I got to the end. Thoroughly put off. I still commend him. Of the lot of you who have walked the corridors of power and had the opportunities to make real change happen, everyone has walked predictably: opting for self preservation among other vices.

    If anyone is going to point a finger at or mock Tuface, you (or every other person whos ever held a nigerian political office, and who’s voice has not been heard for anything truly relevant except critiquing) are the wrong person…

    Once again, well done Tuface. We understand…

  7. Ada

    February 5, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    Ermm, kinda good article but Abati has no moral currency to write this so he should shut up and retire already from writing all his articles abeg. We have seen you finish. Poor 2baba. He should not have entered this activism thing half heartedly. To be an activist is to be in it to the bitter end, come slaps, abuses or blows. It is to be a matter if push comes to shove. That’s my only fault with him, but his heart has always been in the right place. I remember his song, e be like say dey don de tell us anoda story again!

  8. Ela

    February 5, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    Getting even more upset. When you finally decide to say ‘something’ ), the issues at hand, the people’s pain, many unanswered questions are not your focus… You analyse and breakdown Tuface?!! He’s the issue??!! Seriaslyy!!!

    • Gloria

      February 6, 2017 at 8:54 am

      Yes. He who puts his hand on the plough mustnot look back come rain or sun.

  9. nnenne

    February 5, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    And of course, Nigerians will forget yet again!
    Just give them a year or two and they will forget!
    History keeps repeating its again and again.

  10. Mummybobo

    February 5, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    Anyhow sha, tuface or no tuface will the protest still hold on mondat

  11. Mummybobo

    February 5, 2017 at 9:56 pm


  12. NG

    February 5, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    At least no one will sing the song of change ever again in my ears with regards to freedom of expression for Nigerians. Naija behold your change government! Shame on all immature minds that got hoodwinked by the hollow deceptive change song. I do fee superior to many of you that got sold the dummy so easily.

    Tuface can retreat for good or to re-strategise in the face of obvious threat. Threat is a hallmark of this fraudulent administration. The problem with Nigerians is that you play double standards and expect things to still work fine. You were all alive to witness that the young lawyer that sued Buhari on his certificate and who had Femi Falana lead a houseful of SANs against him suddenly and without reason took off from the case. Did anyone doubt he was threatened? Did many not rejoice at it? So why will you have a problem with another? That is the hallmark of your government.

    Anyhow, since no one is telling us what is happening to Buhari, it is as well Tuface recanted. Better not play into the hands of the enemies of Nigeria who see ruling as their birthright, never mind that they are ruling us into the ground of underdevelopment and backwardness. Before they will use Tuface as an excuse to stop Osinbanjo in case Buhari can no longer continue in ruining Nigeria.

  13. chijioke

    February 5, 2017 at 11:28 pm

    All dz protest&call 4 counter protest is geared towards salvaging nigeria 4rm d pit of lack&under-development she is in abi?let’s not fool oursef people,wen I heard dat bubu isn’t coming back,I knew d stage is set 4 d real change!! It is either we as youth call 4 pastor tunde bakare’s model of “fiscal federalism” or we shld forget abt dz country(if we’v not read dat master-peice of an article,we shld pls google&read it)its not abt buhari or gej,if we like,we shld go get barack obama to rule naija,it won’t stil change..d change lies in true fiscal federalism(bakare’s model)

  14. Victor Adegoke

    February 5, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    Dr Reuben Abati! Despite your eloquent and journalism practice. You were also part of the last administration that wasted a lot of resources, especially the ones meant for our soldiers. Even though Tuface protest was cancelled,he still made a point which drew the government’s attention. We respect Him for that.

  15. #MadeInNaija

    February 6, 2017 at 12:02 am

    Uncle Reuben, you ended your good article with a shade at Tuface. This is quite unfortunate. We all know the capability of Security Agencies during any protest march not sanctioned by FGN. If you are in doubt go and ask IPOB. Nnamdi Kanu is still in Kuje and life and has the world ended? The great Zik’s catch phrase was suru lere…..You cannot do gra-gra with PMB. We all are displeased by the leadership of PMB and APC. Let us in our daily activities protest against any form of corruption, kidnapping, rape violence against women, ill-gotten wealth, mob/religious killings, bad governance etc. There is enough time to build a formidable team against PMB in 2019. I stand with Nigeria and may God bless all Nigerians.

  16. mama zee

    February 6, 2017 at 9:40 am

    its interesting how we can make decisions without thinking things through and in another hand, we don’t know how words can either make or break us. we can’t tell what tuface is going through but either way it can’ be easy for him. nice article bro Ruben but it was way too long. long live Nigeria

  17. Ifeyinwa Atuanya

    February 6, 2017 at 10:16 am

    Reuben Abati is a good writer

    He saw everything from different angles and he put them in writing

    I don’t Reuben Abati personally

  18. Ifeyinwa Atuanya

    February 6, 2017 at 10:17 am

    sorry know Reuben Abati personally

  19. pita

    February 6, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    jannus personified,now giving the stick to anoda person…….! i wld rather roll, with d 2 faces of 2face rather than taking candy from your numerous treacherous faces!!

  20. Whocares

    February 6, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Well, isn’t Mr. Abati just full of shit? I find it hilarious that some people are blaming tuface for not going ahead with the protests in light of the veiled and unveiled threats. Should we not be more worried that we as a people who claim to live in a democratic cannot protest against our government without punitive repercussions? Mr.Abati took pen to paper, wrote this quasi intellectual bs addressed that very important issue in a cursory manner, yet went on to dissect a person’s character in 1500 words or more.Shior, kelebe, tue!

  21. Ayo

    February 6, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    Do we realise this is Abati vs Idibia round 2. How I wish Banky W will do another excellent clap back at Abati this time!

  22. Nwafor Emmanuel

    February 6, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    Brilliantly composed and humorous.
    TuFace has done his best. Let us do the rest.

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