The inevitable rise of Marlians in Nigeria

The inevitable rise of Marlians in Nigeria

“A Marlian must love a controversial lifestyle, not giving a f**k what anyone says about you. A Marlian must have no mannaz!” – Urban Dictionary

Levels of Marlianism

A Marlian is defined as a free thinker who is opposed to rules and law enforcement. They are perceived as outsiders, morally corrupt and delinquents. There are perhaps 10 things that can help you spot a Marlian; no belt, no underwear, marijuana-smoking, drug-using (e.g. cocaine, codeine and tramadol), frequent clubbing on weekends, dreadlock or scruffy hairstyles, nonchalant attitude to institutions (educational or employment), heightened sexual desire (including masturbation), lack of fear, and of course a Naira Marley fan.

You will find Marlians across all strata of the Nigerian society, in lower-class neighbourhoods as well as within the middle and upper-class neighbourhoods of Ikoyi, Lekki, Abuja and nationwide – and this is why they are of great concern. Educators, parents, religious leaders and politicians across the country are worried about the delinquency and moral decadence Marlianism is budding and encouraging. How did this A-list artiste grow a fan base into a seemingly notorious micro-nation?

Olè l’everybody. Eni ilè mó bá ṣá ni bàráwòSoapy by Naira Marley

Naira Marley is the self-proclaimed President of the Marlian Nation and the pioneer of Afro-bashment genre of music. He is a 25-year-old Nigerian artist who was born in Agege, Lagos State (a predominantly low-income neighbourhood) but grew up in Peckham, United Kingdom (another predominantly low-income neighbourhood). While in Peckham, he was a music producer but in 2014, he recorded the song ‘Wed Juana’ with his friend Max Twigz which ended up being a hit.

Naira Marley, the B-list artist already with a following, grew even stronger within the UK and Nigeria community when he recorded ‘Issa Goal’ with Olamide and Lil Kesh – this became the unofficial anthem for the 2018 World Cup.  Coca Cola made it official by signing the 3 artists alongside Simi, Slimcase and Falz to remix the song and renamed it ‘Naija Issa Goal’.

The early adopters of Naira Marley are those who genuinely appreciate his artistry, his use of melodies, his musical compositions, raunchy lyrics and his distinct vocal texture. They genuinely appreciate the Afro-bashment genre of music that combines elements from Dancehall, Afrobeats, Trap and Hip-hop.

In 2019, Naira Marley released a song titled ‘Am I a Yahoo Boy’ featuring Zlatan and got into arguments with fellow artists, Simi and Falz, on why cybercrime is not a crime. A few days after, Nigeria’s anti-graft agency (EFCC) arrested him alongside four other friends, who were released a few days later. Naira Marley was charged with credit card fraud, he was released on bail, and the case is still ongoing. The arrest of Naira Marley by EFCC was what grew and emboldened the Marlian Nation.

All apart from a Certificate opens doors

With the arrest of Naira Marley, came the rise of the Marlian Nation. People especially the youth, formed a movement that was furious with the arrest of Naira Marley by the EFCC. The same EFCC that has failed to arrest and charge the many politicians that have embezzled money from the country. Yet, they arrest Naira Marley, an artist just trying to make money from his passion and talent, an artist that is seen as a hero who although lives a notorious lifestyle is speaking the truth and calling attention to the injustice in society. This picture people painted likens Naira Marley to Fela Kuti who called out injustice in his music and lived a notorious lifestyle filled with drugs and sex. This picture earned him more fans and grew the Marlian Nation.

After his arrest, Naira Marley continued to live up to the expectations of his Marlian Nation by releasing music that reiterates the point that:

  • ‘cybercrime is a form of reparation of the wealth stolen from Africa’,
  • the Government is made up of ‘the corrupt elite’ who have caused a failed nation,
  • he was unfairly punished for freedom of speech and calling out ‘the corrupt elite’,
  • Marlians should not live up to the moral standards defined by culture, religion, their parents nor the Government.

Rather Marlians should live for themselves, and live according to new standards that he, the President, displays wholeheartedly through his lifestyle. With this, and without their parents’ support, consent nor influence, they will be able to rise from grass to grace as he did.

“Issa Goal was the song that introduced him to the mainstream audience, Japa was the one that convinced us that he was anything but a one-hit flash in the pan, but his arrest by the Economic Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] is proving to be Naira Marley’s biggest moment yet.”

The rise of Generation Z

This troubled nation the Marlian movement thrives in is particularly lived by those born between 1996 and 2010. i.e. Generation Z.

But this generation [Generation Z] is also seething with moral passion and rebelling against the privatization of morality so prevalent in the Boomer and Gen-X generations… But the people in this movement have a sense of vocation, moral call, and rage at the injustice that is a legitimate rejection of what came before” – David Brook, New York Times

Generation Z (Gen Z) consists of those born between 1996 and 2010; currently between ages 24 and 10 years old. Their parents mostly fall within the Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964), Generation X (1964 -1980) and early Millennial (1981-1995) generations.

Gen Zs were born during the dot com era and were raised on technology, the internet and social media. They witnessed the election of Barrack Obama, gender equality, sexual orientation equality, shared family responsibilities, and collective volunteerisms.  However, they were born into a deeply troubled system, a time of worldwide terrorism attacks, war, gun violence, Arab uprisings, oil spills, effects of climate change and a great recession.

As such, for them, diversity, self-expression and individuality are valued in their lives. They are actively engaged in politics and public discourse, they are calling out injustice, brokenness or wrongness around the world and are using technology as their handheld speakers. They believe it is up to them to take the actions that Millennials were too timid to take. They stay informed and as such are cynical about religion, politics, sexuality, relationships, education, capitalism, and security. 

For Gen Zs, nations around the world have been ruled by ‘the corrupt elite’ and now it is time for ‘the pure people’; those who are calling out injustice, brokenness or wrongness, to fight for the rights of the rest of the ‘the pure people’, end wars, terrorism attacks, gun violence, repression, economic recessions, and restore their nations to glory.

Why should we care? The threat of the Marlians is real. They are loud, they are bold, woke and are unapologetic. Besides, Nigeria’s median age is c.18 and our age structure indicate over 25% of our population belongs to Gen Z, i.e. 1 in every 4 Nigerian is a potential Marlian – see graph below (Source: CIA World Factbook). Globally, as of 2018, there were 2 billion Gen Zs, making up 32% of the world’s population

Naira Marley’s content is raw, his actions are lewd and Gen Zs love it! They love that his music is no longer about a moral call in the nation that they have seen no one around them uphold. He is bold, unapologetic, real and is seen as the purest living in a society controlled by ‘the corrupt elite’. Having the dichotomy between ‘the pure people’ and ‘corrupt elite’ is an environment where the Marlian Movement thrives.


Populism is not a style, it’s a people’s rebellion against the iron grip that big corporations have on our country – including our economy, government, media, and environment” – Jim Hightower

Populism is the belief that society is divided into two groups; ‘the pure people’ and ‘the corrupt elite’ (or in some cases the Government), and these two groups are against each other. Populism splits people within nations against one other where the enemy isn’t outside the nation but within the nation. Another challenge with Populism is that it is combined with authoritarianism (Evo Morales rule in Bolivia), lack of political decorum (Brazilian President and Amazon fires), use or manufacture of crises to justify a call to revolt (US President shutdown of the Government in 2018-2019), dismissing critiques (Philippine President and opposition senator Leila de Lima) and nativism (Brexit). Populist leaders are said to be ‘the pure people’ who are fighting for the rights of the rest of ‘the pure people’.

The Great Recession of 2008, rising inequality, perception of unfairness, globalization, multiculturalism, digitalization, climate change and the rise of China are some reasons which have allowed more Populist leaders to thrive and win elections around the world.

In Nations where Populist leaders have not thrived and won elections, ‘the pure people’ are looking to influencers who have Populist ideals, which include but are not limited to anti-politics, anti-intellectualism, and anti-elite, for direction.  Ideals that influencers such as Naira Marley and we can also argue Tacha and MC Oluomo paint as their ideals.

Tacha is a Nigerian Instagram star who allegedly planned her kidnapping and was a controversial housemate on Big Brother Naija in 2019; controversial because she was unapologetically bold, blunt, saucy and a bit unbalanced. Just short of the top 5 positions, she was disqualified for being physical with her housemate. This altercation created a greater fan base for her, called the Titans. She was seen as someone who deserved the position because of her ‘realness’ as well as ‘pureness’ but was deprived because of the ‘corrupt elite’ who make rules they cannot uphold and who act in unfair ways. 

Mc Oluomo is the chairman of the Lagos chapter of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). Mc Oluomo is seen as the peacemaker among bus drivers in the State and is said to have impacted so many people’s lives. The elites do not understand how an ‘uneducated thug’ and a union can have so much control and power in the State. But ‘the pure people’ are all for him! They believe he is the only one within the transportation system, which is largely controlled by the Government, that can fight on their behalf against the Government.

Core Marlians; Source:

The truth is MY TRUTH

The ideal leaders for Gen Zs are those with populist views, who believe they are fighting against a common enemy, ‘the corrupt elite’. For example, in Saudi Arabia, Crowned Prince Mohammed bin Salman began an anti-corruption purge where princes and the richest man were arrested. He has restructured the political scene and changed how much power royals have. He is revamping the economy and ensuring that the Republic is not solely dependent on oil. He is changing the Republic’s views on the definition of Islam and modernizing their social life.  But even within countries without Populist leaders, more can be done to appease this generation and ensure they are not being influenced by ‘immoral influencers’ such as Naira Marley.

Leaders of these nations need to be authentic, transparent and show they have a higher purpose for their nations and their people. Leaders should be bold, impactful, modernizing laws and ensuring liberation in all spheres of governance.

Working with the National Orientation Agency, the Gen Zs should be provided with opportunities to contribute to policy creation and conflict resolution. Within educational systems, courses and training that feed into their worldviews should be incorporated. The National Youth Service Corps is a great platform to get the Gen Zs together to create the change they want.

The most important thing for leaders is to allow Gen Zs to speak their truth, leaders should listen to their truth and include it in the fabrics of society.

From Curses to Gifts

Marlians are predominantly Gen Z who are about 25% of Nigeria’s population. They have come of age and will own the future thus the Business world can no longer ignore them. As a business, opportunities abound from tapping into this eclectic demography. Because they are bold and see the truth as only ‘their truth’, they will respond positively to brands that provide personalisation and high levels of authenticity. Also, based on their tendency to not conform, their approach to entrepreneurship will likely be to create niche and/or disruptive businesses. Digital will be the predominant mode of reaching them, either as customers or employees and preference will be for a flexible work model as employees.

For Governments, the approach taken by UAE’s Leader – Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) can help. Upon sensing that his country faced the likelihood of its young citizens falling for radical Islam, in 2014, he established the military draft, mandating young Emiratis (18 – 30years) – who are granted free housing, education and health care – to endure a year of boot camp and hard work. The draft also brought together people from different emirates and social classes in a way that rarely happened in the past. Outcomes of these include the National Service is credited with reducing crime rate by almost 75% in youths, improving their time management abilities, and promoting national identity and good citizenship. In Nigeria, the NYSC is a good platform for this, though it requires reforms. Combining its efforts with those of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) will go a long way in turning Marlianism into a positive force. And who else to recruit as an Ambassador but Naira Marley!

Naspire’s Verdict!

Nigerian parents, Governments, religious leaders, and educators are worried about the moral decadence the Marlians are living in. However, the problem lies more with the Government, Parents, Religious Leaders and Educators themselves, who are mostly Boomers and Gen Xs. They have not given the Marlians an authentic leadership, for them to look up to. They preach morality yet embezzle, are corrupt, cheat, are unjust and most of all are leaving behind a broken nation with no infrastructure nor amenities for them. The assumption that everyone is negative is the true danger of Marlianism and it does not have a real positive driving force.

Naira Marley is a graduate in Business and Business Law and estimated to be worth over 1 million dollars! The Marlian Movement is not crying out against intellectualism nor education nor wealth – as their leader is educated and wealthy. They are crying against moral hypocrisy, authority complex, and the stifling of curiosity as well as independence but using drugs and sexuality as their tears because it will get society’s attention. When Nigerian parents, Governments, religious leaders, and educators focus on fixing the core of the outcry, the tears will vanish.

The nomenclature of the ism may change but unless they fix these fundamentals, Marlian rebellion will not vanish. Once they start discussing and fixing the core, we beg to question whether Marlianism will stand the test of time!

Populism splits people within nations against one other where the enemy is not outside the nation but within the nation. However, during these uncertain times where the COVID- 19 virus is rampaging the world, the forces ‘corrupt elite’ and ‘pure people’ that hold Populism seem to be shaking at their foundation. COVID-19 has given nations, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic class, political views, a common enemy.

In nations such as the United States, where the realization of this common enemy took a while, we see dire consequences. The nation is the worst hit in the world with over 400,000 cases and over 13,000 deaths. Recent warnings from their Populist leader, Donald Trump are not being heeded because initially, their President indicated that he is not worried about the virus and then a month later accused the Democrats, ‘the corrupt elites’ of coming up with a hoax to distract the nation.

With over 1,400,000 cases around the world and over 84,000 deaths, Populist leaders in countries such as Italy, United States, United Kingdom and so on, are urging their citizens to listen to these elite experts such as doctors and the World Health Organization.

Which leaves the question; in the face of real danger, will Populism stand the test of time?