I was bred under the military and had lived most of my formative years knowing nothing like civilian rule. For me, killings and murder were the norm as many more had died or disappeared without a trace. It had become my reality.
My first encounter with Fela and his music left me a little confused. It wasn’t the type of music I had leant to love as n 80s baby, growing up in an era when hip-hop was born. His songs were very long and he seemed to complain a lot and abuse people. I thought he spent more time talking than he did actually singing. It surprised me even more, knowing that he was a graduate of music and played musical instruments with a lot of ease.
But my elder brother wouldn’t stop playing his songs in the house. As a very young pre-teen, I couldn’t complain so I had to sit there even when I didn’t want to. One day, I decided to do the one thing I had never done whenever my brother played Fela’s music, which was listen. I sat and actually listened to the lyrics of ‘I.T.T. (International Thief-Thief)’ and I found myself laughing so hard half the time. The first thing that hit me was how he seemed to be saying the same things those adults would complain about in my family sitting room whenever they visited, but this time, in a clearer way that made it easy for even a young mind like mine to relate. I officially became a fan at that point.
All of these happened while I was in primary school and those are years in anyone’s life when using music to teach, made everything easier. Right around that time, one that sounded like a folk song was pretty popular in my school. It had something to do with Dele Giwa and there being a bad occasion on the 19th of October 1986 “when they killed our journalist”. I recited that song for many years without even knowing what the song meant. When I eventually knew that it was about a journalist that got killed, I still didn’t think it was a big deal. I was bred under the military and had lived most of my formative years knowing nothing like civilian rule. For me, killings and murder were the norm as many more had died or disappeared without a trace. It had become my reality.
Growing older to actually understand the story left me with more questions than answers. Why would a journalist be killed? Why kill him so tactfully like he was the head of some mafia group, with a letter bomb? Why does everyone claim to know who the killer is yet no one is able to do anything about it? Journalists are always in harms way, whether literally or not. Yet, a journalist’s death will always raise eyebrows, especially one that was obviously murdered.
This year marked the 15th anniversary of Fela’s death. In the usual tradition of recent history, ‘Felabration’ has been in full gear this past week to mark what would have been his 74th birthday on October 15th. His family, friends, entertainers and anyone who cares, gathered at the shrine to celebrate a life that is the stuff of legends. It is the least anyone can do to celebrate a man whose words even if 30 years old, still ring true today. It was also quite impressive to see a museum finally open in honor. In a country where something as life changing as our civil war is not even taught, you and I know that many kids will grow up not knowing a thing about Fela and his music. This museum will hopefully help to fill some of that gap.
But in spite of all that, the one thing we need to do to celebrate Fela, is sadly till left undone. Nigeria is still a crawling nation filled with a lot of ‘international thief-thief’ people in leadership. Fela will be rolling in his grave today hearing stories of governors stealing and getting life injunctions from prosecution; and ministers allocating oil blocks to themselves while trying to blame the ordinary Nigerian for the problems in the petroleum industry and the attendant subsidy issues. Things are still quite messy in our land and all that Fela sang and fought for still remains.
Dele Giwa on the other hand, would be more directly hit. 26 whole years since is death, no one has been brought to book for his murder. His killers probably still walk free and possibly still call the shots in our country today. As Nigerians marked the anniversary of his death 2 days ago, I was even more saddened by what had become of his baby, ‘Newswatch’. A magazine, which thankfully even after his death, continued to be relevant and remained a voice of reason through the dark years of the military, into the recent years of democratic corruption, had suddenly been shut down because of dirty politicking and ego trips. It is a sad reflection of how low we have sunk in most facets of our lives today; and all the actors in that episode must be ashamed of what they have done to Dele Giwa’s legacy.
In a week when we should be celebrating 2 icons that lived and died almost literally for Nigeria, it is scary to see that neither of them would be wearing a smile if they were here today. We have come a long way without really learning anything. It is not because we don’t have anyone to teach us, or history to learn from; but simply because we have all collectively refused to do better. It is an indictment on all of us and accepting that, will be a first step to recovery.
Rest in peace Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Dele Giwa.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.