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Celebrating Fela 20 years after: Fela’s litany of charges and accusations

THE President of Kalakuta Republic and Chief Priest of Afrika Shrine, Fela has been accused of almost all the dastardly crimes in the world – and each accusation and arraignment always ended in victory for the father of seven children.

The musician once faced an accessory to murder charge, along with some of his employees. Armed robbery, abduction, currency trafficking and illegal possession of Indian hemp were also heaped on his lap at one time or the other.

Two of the most trying periods of Fela’s life as far as criminal charges go, were the airport arrest of 1984 which saw him spending many, many months in prison (from Benin to Maiduguri, which later inspired the song, Akunakuna, Senior Brother of Perambulator,’ and his adoption of the big Conga drum from Oshogbo called Gbedu by fans and the two bass guitars in a band, a novelty in music world) and the disgrace he suffered in the hands of Major General Musa Bamaiyi’s National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (in April, 1997).

In 1984, during the Iron Regime of Buhari – Idiagbon, described by many as a sadistic reign, Fela was arrested at the airport for being in possession of foreign currency which he was accused of not declaring. The epic trial, which saw Justice Okoro Idogu presiding, jailed the pride of Africa. But at the end of the day, Fela, who was transferred from one prison to another, emerged victorious but very battered. He spent the longest time in detention during this period. Many things suffered in his absence – but the course of his music changed. During Babangida’s first few months in government, the maverick musician gained his freedom. Okoro Idogu, the judge who jailed him, was a casualty of the scandal.

The climax of the humiliation Fela suffered in the hands of successive regimes was the bombardment of his home by gun-totting soldiers from NDLEA. He was arrested with over a hundred people. And his parade on national television, in handcuffs by Major General Bamaiyi brought tears to the eyes of millions of Nigerians. Fela himself was visibly shaken and embarrassed at such crude treatment. From then on, that April 1997, things never remained the same again.

His shows, twice every week, was stopped by the soldiers of Bamaiyi who occupied the African shrine throughout the period. And when they eventually vacated the place in June, 1997, Fela was already too weak to perform there.

Another trying period for the saxophonist was his trial, along with some of his employees, for the death of one Sanwo who reportedly died after being tortured at Kalakuta (Fela’s Gbemisola Street, lkeja, Lagos residence). But Fela again emerged unscathed.

Throughout his daring years, from late 70s till his death on Saturday, August 2, 1997, Olufela Anikulapo – Kuti suffered real beating, battery, harassment, detention, imprisonment and criminal charges (all put together) more than any other Nigerian.


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