It is December 27, 2018, and the highbrow district of Lagos that is Victoria Island is beset with a gridlock ahead of an open-air concert that the pop star Davido is headlining at Eko Atlantic City. Pedestrians throng the surrounding streets; forming a near impasse that extends to the venue’s entrance cordoned off with reinforced metal net, private security, and ticket-selling PR workers.
Screams rend the air as the show guards shut out, with brute force, a thick crowd attempting to breach the gate.
The confusion would intensify as some revelers yet to gain their entrance confront each other over lost valuables.
At least two access gates lead into the show arena, one for walk-in concertgoers and another for driving VVIPs. The same goes for the tickets, where one category is set aside for the regulars constituting the standing audience who smoke, dance, and stir billows of dust while craning their necks to see the performers. Entertainers on the lineup prance around the stage and occasionally throw wads of Naira bills that send the audience into a violent scramble.
Buried in this dimly lit sea of heads is a man in a wheelchair who waded through the crowd for a vantage position, yet, spends the entire showtime nudging fellow concertgoers that obstructed his view or lost themselves dancing.
Reserved for VIP ticket holders is a significantly elevated platform with chairs that offer a better view of the stage. But access to the concert venue, as with many others in Lagos, didn’t seem to factor in the physically challenged on their two-wheelers and PWDs who hardly find elevated spaces, gate stampede, and music show strife pleasurable.
Four years after, the Grammy-winning musician Burna Boy would come under criticism over his Eko Energy City concert he admitted was “abysmally” done after not even the big-money VVIP ticket could secure revelers comfort at the event that hosted an estimated 30,000 people and over 11,000 vehicles. Multiple footages from the show showed fun seekers on VVIP standing as much as their regular counterparts due to limited seats, creating a dense crowd jostling for a view. Hell breaks loose as thugs indiscriminately attack and assault attendees after the show.
The PWD discourse also resurfaced, with Debola Daniel, the physically challenged son of an ex-governor in Ogun state, airing his frustration about how Nigeria’s local shows—including Burna Boy’s— unwittingly alienate his kind.
Burna Boy would argue that Nigeria lacked the infrastructure to handle the complexities of his production taste, calling for the need to tap into investor funds towards building a world-class infrastructure for Nigeria’s showbiz.
The protracted concert infrastructure problem
A market data company, Statista, projects that Nigeria’s music industry could rake in about $44 million by 2023, with streaming revenue in Africa expected to have reached $287 million by 2022 and $484 million by 2026. The music front in Africa has grown significantly and Nigeria has remained at the crux of its Afrobeats phenomenon.
Nigeria has a huge domestic market that easily commands numbers but live music still struggles to catch on locally, especially amid the insecurity plaguing regions, business considerations, and an infrastructure gap to contend with.
Over the years, there’s been repeated conversation about the need for more purpose-built concert venues in Nigeria that are reflective of the growth in the country’s music business towards attracting more revenue in tourism. Live music is still evolving, so some local shows make do with banquet halls of popular hotels and event places designed not for concerts but for use in theatre, weddings, and conferences. Much bigger artists are left with open-air spaces.
Burna Boy’s 2023 concert was set for Wonderland in Energy City while the Davido live show was in Eko Atlantic.
A proper concert arena is supposed to have infrastructure and equipment like lighting, stage props, and designated entry-exit points that are primed for music events and that take cognizance of audience diversity based on standard practice. There are not enough of those in Lagos which is taken to be the base of many local showbiz brands. Hence, organisers bring materials to the venue, mounting them for days in an exercise that often spills into the showtime.
The Lagos Safety Commission vets event venues and issues certificates but the PWD criterion is hardly a priority.
Due to these, showbiz executive Joseph Edgar says, organisers make cost-cutting choices that exclude PWD needs.
“[Live music] is growing, so there has to be equal growth in our venues, their parking spaces, hotels, transportation, and hospitals,” Edgar points out. “For every venue state-vetted to serve as an entertainment arena, safety must be considered. Apart from clear entry and exit, there should be a sitting arrangement, fire alarms, and hydrants. You see, adequate care has not been fully given to able-bodied concertgoers, talk more of PWDs who are the minority.”
PWDs and the privileged minority
Yemi Micheal, a monoplegic journalist, is already accustomed to finding his way around social events with crutches after suffering paralysis of his left leg in childhood due to polio. In a phone interview, he said the reality of PWDs is being constantly relegated to the fringe of priorities when decision-makers plan for social events and institutions.
“You go to shows and everyone stays in the same place when there should be a space meant for PWD. Also, people who ride wheelchairs don’t climb stairs or easily get on stage. It has to be a leveled place. There has to be an access gate for PWDs only. Some disabled persons don’t have people to help them mount their car, alight, or push their wheelchairs into the venue. In the absence of these, many of us just stay home and watch the show on TV,” he said.
Only a fraction of PWDs is socially active and have disposable income to spend on shows but Yemi insists that there is still a need to account for these privileged few. “A lot of these guys are bogged down by depression,” the journalist adds. “They struggle with survival matters, family issues, and congenital problems. I’m among the small fraction of PWDs who are socially active. So I sweat it out at parties, enjoy myself in social events, and work no matter what.”
As of 2020, the number of PWDs in Nigeria was estimated to be at 27 million, although no reliable source stipulates how this spreads across each of the 36 states. Nigeria is a signatory to the UN’s Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD). Visual and physical impairment are among the prominent conditions PWDs grapple with.
The business appeal of PWD inclusion in concerts
Princess Okereugo, an OAP who organizes local shows, stated in a phone conversation that concerts exclude PWDs out of oversight. In her argument, the radio host however says it would amount to segregation if separate sitting arrangements are made for them. “Nigeria itself hardly highlights the PWDs, so it’s very easy for show people to lose sight of them. It would take more than show organisers to stimulate this much-needed inclusion,” she adds.
“I did a 2021 concert, at which time Victony was still in a wheelchair. If I’m being honest, I didn’t think about his needs until he came. It would have been nice to have a ramp that pushed him up. I felt bad and had to placate him.”
But Joseph Edgar has a contrary opinion. The showbiz executive argues that it is not appealing business-wise to do additional expenses in modifying a 2000-person concert, for example, to include say 30 slots for the PWDs without being certain they would attend and without access to reliable data on the category and number of PWDs to expect.
“What is the population of PWDs via-a-vis concertgoers? Let’s be serious for once. Does it make business sense for me to spend ₦6 million to remodel my hall and only five PWDs would come for the show? No!” the showman says.
Edgar thinks achieving PWD inclusion in concerts without state-backed social intervention measures is impractical.
“Government can come in and insist five people must enter with their wheelchairs and it would pay for their tickets. That way, it becomes a social service. For that, as an organiser, I must have the ramp and the PWDs must go in first and exit first. There can be tax incentives for me. But the validity of this conversation relies heavily on being able to predict just how many PWDs there are, on the basis of which organisers can then begin to make decisions,” he said.
He cites safety as a disincentive in making room for the physically impaired fans to attend big-name shows that are prone to stampedes. The showbiz executive opts for the idea of miniature non-profit concerts targeted at the PWDs.
A need for investment, state regulation
Major concerts held locally are indeed prone to violence, with cases of security breaches and rape often reported. A stampede could also ensue as armed security operatives wade in to manage conflict and ward off thugs or robbers. This poses a serious security risk for the PWD who gets caught up in the crowd and whose safety isn’t prioritised.
One option would be for regulatory bodies like the safety commission to strengthen its terms and processes towards making PWD inclusion a condition for granting permits and necessary certifications needed ahead of major shows.
Contemporary businesses are increasingly seeing the long-term social good in applying the ESG principle to their analysis process, beyond profiting. A 2000-slot show might be small but there could be a threshold at which these showbiz moguls are expected to make a number of special seats available or create a kind of leverage for the PWDs.
Dare Dairo, the general manager at the Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs (LASODA), shares this opinion.
“We’ve engaged with show promoters but their understanding of PWDs is parochial. They never take us seriously. It only takes one such organisers to include PWDs and you’d see that the bandwagon effect kicking in,” he notes.
“Cobhams Asuquo is visually impaired, yet performs at shows. If they invite him, would they make excuses for his disability? There are people who are better than him in terms of musicals but they’re never been given a chance.
“You don’t need data to make room for PWD. That’s escapist. Just ensure accessibility based on a universal design!”
On the gaps in Nigeria’s concert infrastructure, lack of purpose-built arenas, and how these trickle down to exclude PWDs, state intervention should focus on creating a business environment that attracts private investor funding.
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