by Tolu Ogunlesi (originally written in 2008)
for Fela Anikulapo-Kuti: 15 October 1938 — 2 August 1997
‘In the last military regime I was the only one to speak out against the government and the army. Anything could happen in Nigeria. If they get to the point that everyone trying to rule the place isn’t making any headway they might drop their guard and ask, “Fela, do you want to rule us today?“‘
– Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, in an interview with Peter Culshaw (Observer Music Monthly)
Politics is a strange world. And the last few years have thrown up all sorts of surprising stuff. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a man whom we had all grown used to as action-hero, suddenly reinvented himself as a vote-seeking human being, and successfully abandoned the movie-set for the soapbox (not like there’s much of a difference between the two anyway; both require excellent acting skills).
October 2007 saw Argentine first Lady, Senator Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner democratically replacing her husband as President. (A famous American couple is currently trying to do the same).
Last year the world marked the 10th year of the demise of Afrobeat icon Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, one of Nigeria’s greatest cultural exports. In 1979 Fela tried running for the Presidency of Nigeria, on the platform of “Movement of the People”, a party founded by him, but had his candidature turned down by the powers-that-be. In 1983 he tried again, but it was yet another short-lived adventure.
Not long ago I couldn’t help wondering: were Abami Eda alive today, (he’d have been 70 this year) would he have put aside his sax (and weed) for good, and picked up the ballot box again…
May 29, 2011
“I, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, do solemnly swear by the Spirit of My Mother, by the Black Republics of Nigeria and Kalakuta, and by the glorious power of a million fresh wraps of igbo that…”
The Chief Justice would have none of that.
“Your Excellency, Mr. President-elect, that is not acceptable. You will have to repeat the words that I say, exactly as they are,” he said, firmly.
Apart from that minor drama, and the fact that he refused to use either the Bible or the Koran, the swearing-in of the President-elect, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti went on as expected. As expected, that is, of the swearing-in of a rebel, revolutionary and music legend, as President of the most populous black country in the world.
The event, at the Eagle Square, Abuja, looked more like a Global Music Hall of Fame investiture ceremony, with guest performances by Michael Jackson, Bono, and Miles Davis capped up by a rendering of Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense by the President-elect himself.
Fela surprised everyone by appearing in a three-piece Savile Row suit, with an ankara bow-tie to go with it. Those who had expected to see the Black President in his trademark tight-fitting, half-unbuttoned shirt, flared trousers and bare feet must have been disappointed. There were whisperings that Fela had begun to be carried away by his unexpected success as a politician.
The next day’s papers splashed pictures of the historic occasion beneath screaming headlines. Some chose to call him Fela Ransome-Kuti, digging up the un-African name Fela had long since repudiated. They might have done this to taunt the new President, or might simply have felt that Fela needed a new identity as President.
The Daily Star said: Fela is Dead. Long Live President Ransome-Kuti.
The Ransome-Kuti name evoked images of a privileged, distinguished, genteel upbringing, far from the angry, ganja-smoking, phallus-waving, rebellion-loving Anikulapo.
“Mr. President, someone on the line for you”
“Who? Fela unclasped his saxophone from the band around his neck and placed it on the desk.
“His Excellency, Fernando da Silva, President of Sao Tome and Principe”
“Fernando da Silva? That name dey sound familiar. Glastonbury, 1986, I jam with one rock band, de drummer na one Fernando Silva… damn good drummer, im fingers jus’ dey do faka-fiki-faka-fiki on the cymbals like water… Hello Mr. President…”
“Hello your Excellency, the Black President. I am calling on behalf of the people and government of Sao Tome and Principe, to congratulate you and the people of Nigeria on your inauguration as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
“Thank you, Mr. da Silva. I was just telling them here that you share a name with a drummer I once jammed with in Glastonbury…”
“Excellent memory you’ve got, Mr. President. That drummer was me. Small world, heh?”
“Interesting. Maybe we should meet soon for a studio session”
“I’m a bit rusty now, your Excellency, but I won’t turn down such an opportunity, if the affairs of state allow”
“Good. Just yesterday at the inauguration I was telling First Gentleman Clinton that he should be expecting my invitation for the Independence Day concert…”
With his well-known uncomplimentary views regarding ‘Dem-all-crazy”, would Fela have instituted a new form of government? And what kind of economics would he have practised? Felanomics – an African interpretation of socialism? Would marijuana have replaced oil as Nigeria’s biggest foreign exchange earner? What roles would women have played in the Fela cabinet? Would D’Banj have become Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, releasing presidential press releases as kokolet-suffused musical videos? Would the national anthem have been remixed into a 20-minute Afrobeat song?
What of the Nigerian Flag? Would we have seen a redesign – a giant wrap of marijuana in the centre of the white strip between the twin-greens…
Alas, we will never know…
Long live the King; long rest the Black President