Fela: The Voice of History the Future did not Heed

Fela using music as a tool for Political Activism

Fela Anikulapo Kuti was as prominent a music legend as he was a political activist. He did both simultaneously by using his music to offer a voice to political views usually unexpressed at the time for fear of backlash from the authoritarian Nigerian government.

This voice was critical of the authoritarian government, the political figures that facilitated it; as well as the impunity that characterised Nigeria’s political landscape at the time. These political figures, usually with affiliations to military governments wreaked havoc in Nigeria by driving her to austerity through mismanagement and misappropriation of funds.

Fela in his songs was brazen enough to mention names of these perpetrators. In “Coffin for Head of State”, he referred to the military government headed by General Olusegun Obasanjo (1976–1979) as looters because of the mismanagement of the oil-based revenue of Nigeria. This government was characterised with looting of public funds and bogus inquiries that followed. Also, in “Beast of No Nation” he pointed out the gross violations of human rights as well as extra-judicial killings experienced in Major General Mohammadu Buhari’s military government (1983–1985).

Naturally, an objective person would reason that experience matters and will try to prevent history; especially of the aforementioned kind repeat itself. Sadly, the Nigerian populace is a forgetful one and easily beguiled. Interestingly, the same political figures that Fela fervently criticized and warned against represent half of the democratically elected presidents of Nigeria’s ongoing 4th Republic. These leaders of despotic military governments that wreaked havoc in Nigeria in the past have come under the guise of democracy to seek election into office.

First of such is General Olusegun Obasanjo who had two tenures of 4 years each; running from 1999–2007. The former military ruler had suddenly gone through some form of “transformation” into a “democratic one”. The 8 years of his democratic government bore similar characteristics with his military government. Yet again, in this new democratic government, Nigeria’s resources were pillaged and the coffers left in ruins. One of such instances is the controversial $16 billion power project which yielded no results whatsoever. This is evidenced by the underdeveloped and the dilapidated state of the power sector.

Cover Art for “Beast of No Nation” with General Mohammadu Buhari, the then military Head of State (1983–1985) depicted as a beast

The second military leader turned “democratic president” is Major General Mohammadu Buhari. He has served one term of 4 years in office (2015–2019) and yet to complete another term of 4 years which is to run from 2019–2023. The first term of his democratic presidency was characterised with economic recession and gross human rights abuses. These human rights abuses bring to memory those experienced during his military government (1983–1985). His democratic government has also witnessed major clamp downs on media. Several journalists have gone missing or have been wrongfully imprisoned. Other instances of abuse of office include: occupation of the National Assembly by the Department of State Services (DSS); abuse of court processes and right to fair hearing as gotten in Omoyole Sowore’s case.

With the above stated, it is clear that Nigeria did not learn from history as portrayed by the likes of Fela as they repeated the same doomed past by recycling inept leaders.

I see things happening around me and decide not to stay quiet. I have a voice and this voice must be heard.