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Celebrating Fela 20 years after: Intimate details of death – By Olikoye and Femi

As the news of Fela’s death broke on public radio and television, panic, anxiety and suspicion reigned. Is he dead? Is he not dead? How did he die? All these questions and other details about the death and last days of the classical music legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti were put to rest by his elder brother, Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti and first son, Femi at a press conference on Sunday, August 3, 1997.


PROF. OLIKOYE RANSOME-KUTI: Fela is barely dead for 24 hours and you cannot expect us to have all the arrangements for his burial within 24 hours. But we are determined to ensure that Fela’s responsibility would be taken care of.

Tell us in brief the family’s frantic efforts to save Fela before he finally gave up.

OLIKOYE: We took Fela to a private hospital in Victoria Island and the usual medical procedure was carried out. His condition was diagnosed and all the treatment necessary to revive him was put in place. My opinion is that Fela left it too late for us to be able to do anything to reverse his condition.

When did Fela actually discover that he had AIDS? What was his reaction?

OLIKOYE: Fela’s condition was so serious that when he finally agreed to go to hospital, by the time the diagnosis on AIDS arrived, he was in no position to comprehend the diagnosis. So, I don’t really know that he knew he had AIDS.

At what point was it discovered he had AIDS?

OLIKOYE: The diagnosis was made while we took his blood and examined his urine during the last ten days or so.


What are the chances that any of the wives may have contacted AlDS?

OLIKOYE: I cannot tell you. It would be in their interest to go for voluntary test.

For the safety of public health. Don’t you think it would be better for these women to be tested.

OLIKOYE: Whatever I say from now on is my own personal view. This is a subject that would be discussed by the whole family. So, I would like to exonerate the family on whatever I say in answer to your public health question. There is no doubt that AIDS is spreading rapidly in our country.

My information is that the government efforts to prevent AIDS in our country is most and at this margin inadequate. I believe that the government is letting this country down in the fight against AIDS.

I have seen countries in which AIDS has been neglected among the population. I was on a UN job to a country last month and 30-40% of the population tested positive to HIV. I asked about the government budget for the fight against AIDS and I was told that in some states there is probably no allocation.

In LUTH, I went to find out whether there are some cases of AIDS or not. They said 12 cases a year, about 7 years ago. But now, one can see about 300 cases a year in LUTH. I visited a country in the past month and on 50 beds in that country, every bed was occupied by an AIDS patient.

No figures has been published in this country concerning the prevalence of AIDS. We don’t know how many of us have AIDS and we are pretending as if we don’t have AIDS in this country. The sooner we take AIDS seriously, we are all in grave danger of dying of AIDS. I am telling you we are all in grave danger. I have not seen any sign that this country is serious about the fight against AIDS.

So we face a very serious problem in this country. My brother whom I love very much has died of AIDS. I don’t want you to lose yourself or your loved ones in the fight against AIDS. The pretence in this country is too much. When we start dying of AIDS, you would get the shock of your lives.

And those people who died most are those within the ages of 20 and 40, the productive members of the community. Those of you here are the ones who are most exposed to AIDS. Don’t leave this place sniggering about Fela, the same fate can befall many of you in this room.

I would like to add more, his daughters said that we have to come out with this information because we believe if Fela were alive, no matter how serious his condition, he would have told you because he fought for the welfare of the people of this country.


We have not found out whether he (Fela) left a will or not. We don’t really know.

The family decided to make the information (that he had AIDS) public because by the time we got the diagnosis Fela was in no position to decide one way of the other.

FEMI KUTl: My father or Fela has never kept anything wrong with him a secret so if it was diagnosed he would have let everybody know because anything wrong with him he never hid from public.

OLIKOYE: You know AIDS testing in the world today according to WHO is voluntary. Nobody can force you to go for the test. I am sure if I find out there will be facilities in Lagos where you can go and voluntarily test yourself for AIDS. The decision is with wives and the people in that house now. It is up to them to decide what they will like to do regarding AIDS testing…

No, No, I told you that because you all know yourself that Fela, method of treatment in the past has always been traditional way. And that is what I meant but since we took him to the hospital we have applied only the western, orthodox way of treatment.

FEMI: Good talk o and you will get good answer. You sef you know Fela. Nobody could ‘tell Fela what to do. Fela is not the kind of person. When I came back from my European tour, Fela was very ill. When we met him he could not move from the bed. We begged him, we talked to him. And Fela would have used his last blood if he did not want to move from that bed, nobody can move him. People suggested that we put something to make him sleep, to do this Fela is not the kind of man you can cheat in this life, if he does not want to move you cannot move him.

I will give you an example. Fela was in Italy and police wanted to arrest him. They said he should walk to the vehicle he was naked because they met him sleeping with one of his wives. They walked to the door and told him he was under arrest and that he should put on his clothes. He (Fela) said haven’t you heard of me in Nigeria. If they want to arrest me, they have to carry me, you will carry me. He told the policemen since you came and met me naked, you have to carry me naked. So they carried him naked from the hotel to Italian Prison which was about 5 kilometres away. Naked, in the cold winter. That is Fela for you. There was no way anybody in the family could move Fela. Fela had his own belief. Fela believed in the traditional medicine, Fela believed in Africa way of doing things. The man is a strong hearted person, you cannot change his mind overnight. And the family is standing now because we find it necessary to tell the public some things …

Our arrangement so far is for the people to participate in this general arrangement but our arrangements are just unfolding. When we come to final decision, we shall issue a programme for Fela’s burial as soon as it is completed.



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