Nigerian musician Omah Lay has described the two days he spent in Ugandan detention as, “Some of the toughest of my life that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”
Lay was arrested December 13 alongside fellow musician Temilade Openyi (Tems) and their management teams. They would be released on December 15 after a heated campaign online and through diplomatic channels between Uganda and Nigeria.
The musicians were arrested for allegedly holding an illegal concert in the country and flouting restrictions on public gatherings put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. Uganda banned music concerts in March 2020 as the country instituted lockdown to combat the spread of the disease.
Lay said he had been treated, “like a common thief.”
He said he had not knowingly disregarded Uganda’s laws. He said, “Before we came out to Uganda, the show promoters confirmed and proved to us they’d secured all the clearances which of course included Covid 19 compliance.” Otherwise, “I wanna clarify that putting you in harms way was never my intentions!”
He said the concert had been conducted in Munyonyo, Kampala with the full protection of the Uganda Police which then turned around and arrested him after outcry in the country. This outcry was led by Ugandan musician Moses Ssali aka Bebe Cool who had protested prior to the concert.
Bebe Cool’s dismay was supported by popular dancehall musician Cindy Sanyu who decried the fact that while Ugandan musicians had not been able to perform for their fans in nearly nine months, foreigners were being allowed to.
Bebe Cool and Cindy Sanyu attracted the most vitriolic abuse from supporters of the Nigerian artists, once they had been arrested.
Lay and Tems thanked their families, fans and Nigerian diplomatic service for quickly coming to their aid. Lay tweeted, “Big shout out to the musicians, the celebrities, fans (Again and again), my family, my friends, my Label, The Nigerian Mission in Uganda, The Presidency, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Madam Abike. Thank you all so much!”
Tems said, “I’m truly saddened the attendees could have been exposed to Covid-19. I would never have participated had I even had the slightest knowledge that the event would not meet standard operating procedures and put Uganda’s citizens at risk. The seriousness of Covid-19 requires responsibility from everyone as a world citizen, a responsibility I take seriously.”