/ 29 June 2020

Speaking out against D’banj

D'banj Performs At The O2 Academy Brixton
D'banj performs on stage at the O2 Academy Brixton on August 25, 2019 in London, England. (Robin Little/Redferns)

Her name is Seyitan Babatayo. She is a final year student at the University of Lagos. In December 2018, she attended a party at the Glee Hotel in Lagos. That evening, she said, a man let himself into her hotel room while she was sleeping. She woke up and asked him what he was doing. He raped her.

His name, Babatayo said in a Twitter thread earlier this month, is Oladapo Daniel Oyebanjo. He is better known, of course, as D’banj: the multi-award-winning, multimillionaire Afrobeats star, and one of Nigeria’s most recognisable celebrities.

Just days before Babatayo went public, D’banj had posted messages. expressing solidarity with women who had been raped – this was part of Babatayo’s motivation for speaking out, she said.

It took D’banj nearly two weeks to respond to Babatayo’s allegations. He did so in a letter published on Instagram on June 15. In it, he denied all the allegations, accused Babatayo of lying and demanded 100-million naira ($257 000) in damages.

And then, on June 16, Babatayo – not D’banj – was arrested. “Four armed policemen stormed into my apartment, and arrested me without a warrant,” she said in a statement released on June 24. “They seized my phones, other personal effects and detained me in the police cell overnight.”

Babatayo was not charged with anything, although she was made to sign a gag order. The next day, she was released from jail – and into the custody of D’banj and his team. She was made to spend the night in a location chosen by D’banj’s team, she said. “I was isolated from my family, coerced, pressured and intimidated in person by D’banj and his team to retract all statements and to announce that my testimony was a publicity stunt.”

D’banj has not responded publicly to these specific allegations, and his team did not respond to the Mail & Guardian’s requests for comment. On Instagram, the pop star posted a video of himself singing a verse from from his hit Olurun Maje, which begins: Some people dey want make I cry Some people dey pray make I die, why?

It was captioned: “Innocent until proven guilty…STOP SOCIAL MEDIA TRIAL. SAY NO TO RAPE AND HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION.”

Friends to the rescue

When they stopped hearing from Babatayo, her friends became worried. Not only was she not in contact, but her tweets accusing D’banj were suddenly deleted, and replaced by new tweets in support of the artist. They swung into action to find her.

Ayodele Olufintuade, a writer, reached out to her feminist networks. Through a contact in the police, they traced Babatayo to a police station. A lawyer, Ayodeji Osowobi from the Stand to End Rape Initiative, stepped in to help, and was able to secure her release from custody.

“It’s weird but she wasn’t charged with anything. She was just picked up and we later heard, interrogated, then her social media platforms accessed and all her tweets deleted. It was like a badly scripted mafia saga,” Olufintuade told the M&G.

Group of men known as Men Against Rape hold all-male awareness walk against rape, sexual and gender-based violence at Ikeja in Lagos, Nigeria on June 11, 2020. (Adekunle Ajayi/NurPhoto)

What happened next, according to Olufintuade, was even more sinister. “Her second abduction was as weird as the first. The last we heard of her was that she’d been released to her lawyer. We panicked the following morning because she had an appointment to meet with the Lagos Police Public Relations Officer but we couldn’t reach her. And when we eventually did, a male voice was in the background screaming at her, asking if she was still in touch with ‘those people’ – us, I assume. It took a lot of work but we eventually tracked her down to D’banj’s manager’s house in Ikoyi. From what we heard, immediately as she was released from the police station she had simply been picked up by D’banj’s manager and detained overnight.”

The M&G reached out to D’banj’s manager for comment, but received no response. Nor did D’banj’s management firm, CSA Global, respond to requests for comment.

Kiki Mordi, a prominent journalist, had been working with Babatayo to help her tell her story. She first raised the alarm about Babatayo’s arrest and reported abduction on social media. She told the M&G that Babatayo had previously sought assistance from the police. “This is not the first time she’s trying to make an official police case.

She tried to make one a couple of weeks ago and she wasn’t allowed because the policeman said she didn’t have a case and they laughed at her and chased her away from her from the office,” Mordi told the M&G.

Public backlash

There has been a huge public backlash against D’banj in the wake of Babatayo’s allegations. Nearly 25 000 people have signed a Change.Org petition asking NGOs and brands to disassociate themselves from D’banj.

It has been widely reported that D’banj is a United Nations Ambassador for Peace, but a UN spokesperson confirmed to the M&G that this is not true, and that the artist “has nothing to do with the United Nations”.

D’banj is an ambassador for the ONE Campaign, an anti-poverty group. “ONE is aware of the allegations against D’banj and monitoring the situation closely. We believe in justice and accountability, and it is crucial that this matter is investigated thoroughly and transparently,” executive director Edwin Ikhouria told the M&G.

The allegations against D’banj come in an atmosphere of increased awareness of and activism against gender-based violence in Nigeria. The brutal rape and murder in May of Uwaila Vera Omozuwa, a 22-year-old student at the University of Benin, sparked outrage across Nigeria and precipitated a national conversation on the subject.

Other high profile figures have also been implicated recently: this month, tech entrepreneur Kelechi Udoagwu shared her story of being harassed, allegedly by Kendall Ananyi, the chief executive of internet provider Tizeti; and actress Sylvia Oluchy accused Nollywood director Lancelot Imasuen of sexual assault, prompting the Actors Guild of Nigeria to set up a dedicated telephone line for survivors to report sexual harassment, assault and rape.

This article first appeared on The Continent, the new pan-African weekly newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here