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Peruzzi’s Actions Hinders the Free Press and We Must Make a Stand

A few years ago, I started attending a forum sponsored by an international NGO for journalists. I -and I suspect, other journalists, most of whom cover politics for newspapers- always look forward to the event. Not just for the free food but also for the serenity of the space; the brainstorming processes, listening to colleagues in other fields talk about their work with so much zeal. It was a revival of some sort to me and I was always moved and inspired. We were only two journalists who write pop culture. The idea of the forum was to come up with ideas to better cover the government. Many journalists talk about choosing not to cover certain stories because of “fear for their lives.” To be honest, I always thought perhaps they were not going over it the right way.

Then on Monday, the most horrifying news found its way into the press and my Twitter feed. A Twitter influencer Pamilerin, who is famous for his commentary on pop culture -according to an eyewitness account- had been assaulted by musician Peruzzi over amongst other things a Twitter poll he set up in January that insinuated singer, Teni the Entertainer was a better artiste.

I was horrified by the news. And I afterwards become immediately slightly scared. I wondered what I would have done if it was I or a friend of mine in that situation. Who would I have called?

His label mate and boss, musician Davido took to social media like many others to air his views on the issue:
“I apologise to you @ThePamilerin on behalf of my brother and artist @Peruzzi_Vibe. He was wrong for putting his hand on you but people need to realize that we artiste are human beings and we see everything! You said some harsh words to my brother and sometimes this thing dey pain,” he tweeted. The singer Peruzzi has also publicly apologised for what he calls “very wrong” actions via Twitter.

But the latter part of Davido’s wannabe apology of a Tweet had struck its core and I can’t look away. We all must question it. It has provoked a question that all Nigerians must ask ourselves as we try to grapple with what our industry is tuning into. How do “human beings” behave? as Davido’s defence was “…People need to realise that we artiste are human beings.”

To think that anyone thinks its fine to slap a Twitter free thinker over post you don’t like is riveting. To also discover that there are people, that think that some people might deserve physical assault over free speech on social media is more horrifying.

This sadly happened in a time when journalist in the international scenes are still not over the alleged murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul late last year. Before that, in June last year, 5 journalists with the Capital Gazette were gunned down at work by a man who didn’t like their coverage. These stories are distasteful.

This is not a tale in any way of two guys who after having a great time at a concert in Lagos unwind by trashing out old scores. What we have witness is the birth of an assault on free thoughts and free speech that if we all do nothing will fester deep into our culture. It is a slap to the modern world freedom of the press that Nigeria is gradually agitating for.

This is a true story and it didn’t happen in a book or a movie. It actually happened: And as American politician puts it; “The nature of grotesque things is that you can’t look away.” At what point do people begin to think that this type of behaviour is what free thinkers deserve, is what journalist deserve for having the tenacity to tell a truth and maybe not get it absolutely right sometimes and get it right some other times, without fear.

Peruzzi might be the first celebrity to actually physically assault a social media freethinker but others before him has threatened to do it and sadly with support from other celebrities and fans. I do hope it’s the last but fear it might not be. I dread a time when “artiste” come to believe its right to walk into radio stations with their bodyguards and assault DJs who don’t play their songs and presenters whose barb they don’t like, or journalists on their way to their homes after a long day covering events over a write-up from years ago.

We are treading new spaces, in newer times. Now is the time to decide what the future will actually be like. Should we scrap pop culture commentary or should we not? Should freethinkers and free press become a story of once upon a time to be told only in history classes? Or should we demand a diverse view and allow people do their jobs which includes pursuing a story and holding powerful people to account in an environment that is always conducive and safe. Peruzzi actions hinders the latter and we must all pick a side.

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