The Ejigbo Magistrate Court cleared performance artist Jelili Atiku and five other artists on 18 July 2016 of all the criminal charges against them stemming from a public performance piece staged in Lagos in January 2016, reported civil society organisation Arterial Network on 22 July 2016.
“We are very pleased to learn that the charges against Jelili and the rest of the artists were dropped after this case has gone on for seven months,” Ole Reitov, Executive Director of Freemuse, said. “The case against the artists should never have gone to the courts in the first place, forcing the artists to go through the anxiety of a lengthy legal process; and they should never have been detained for simply practicing their right to express themselves with their art.”
The decision was reached after a judge advised in late June 2016 that both parties – the artists and local chief Oba Moruf Adekunle Ojoola – should explore a peaceful resolution on their own, if possible, “given the family ties” between Atiku and the chief, and adjourned the hearing until 18 July 2016 to hear the outcome of the talks.
As part of the amicable resolution, the artists would work with the chief to “pursue peace in the community” and the chief will promote arts and culture in the community.
“I am happy that other Nigerian artists and members of the public stood by me while it lasted,” Atiku told Nigerian outlet Punch, “I have just discovered what it means to be united in common interest. I owe my freedom to the total support from members of the creative community and other Nigerians.”
The artists’ release comes after the Arterial Network team took on the case and was supported by several local and international organisations, including Freemuse.
“This is a victory for artistic freedom; not only in Ejigbo or Lagos State, but the whole of Nigeria,” Arterial Network said in a press release. “It shows immense progress for freedom of expression in the country.”
On 14 January 2016, Atiku performed a piece called ‘Aragamago Will Rid this Land of Terrorism’ that featured him and the other artists dressed in red and black plastic walking through the streets of Lagos throwing out pamphlets that included English and Yoruba prayers, along with information and internet links to information concerning allegations against members of the local Ejigbo royal family, including chief Oba Moruf Adekunle Ojoola, for recent property and development deals.
Soon after the performance Ojoola filed a complaint with Nigerian police and the artists were arrested on 18 January 2016 and detained for four days, facing a series of charges, including disturbing the peace, intimidating the public and distributing publications likely to provoke the public. Judicial proceedings had been going on ever since.
Photo is a screen grab from the YouTube video of Atiku’s Aragamago performance
» IFEX – 3 August 2016:
Jelili Atiku: “I use my body as an instrument in my art”
» Art Africa – 25 July 2016:
Jelili Atiku: A win for freedom of expression
» Arterial Network – 22 July 2016:
Nigeria: Court strikes out the case against performance artist Jelili Atiku
» Punch – 22 July 2016:
Court strikes out case against performing artist
» Asiri Magazine – 30 June 2016:
Jelili Atiku’s case; magistrate advises amicable resolution
» Arterial Network – 29 June 2016:
Nigeria: Possibility of amicable resolution for Jelili Atiku?
More from Freemuse
» 11 March 2016: Nigeria: Performance artists face new, unexpected charges
» 27 January 2016: Nigeria: Artist arrested for political performance piece