What lessons are there to learn from the life and times of late Fela, especially now that Nigeria is 50 years?
I think it’s evident that Fela played a leading role in protest music in Nigeria and it’s obvious that he was concerned about some of the problems that are still there till today. Talking corruption, authority stealing, ITT and others. He talked about simple issues like power, water and really I think that in the 70s when he sang about ‘No water, no light.’ Isn’t it just incredible that almost close to 30 years after, we are still facing more or less the same problems? So, I think he spoke in his time and his songs still speak for him. The most critical thing we learnt from him is that we all should be angry, we all should be outraged by the current situation of our country. And it is a challenge to those in leadership position, that why are we here, why can’t we be there?
So, what’s the way out of all these?
We should challenge our leaders. We need to say a lot more. Right now, we are faced with a situation where a lot of people who are discredited in the previous administration are coming back, people who obviously have nothing to offer because they had opportunities and they are coming back and we are still trapped in that endless circle of the same old people coming back, I think it’s time for us to say no. We need a fresh people, we need new leaders, we need people who will make a difference.
Nigeria at 50, the security issue is still a problem, kidnapping here and there and the day of celebration, people were killed in a bomb blast in Abuja. As a former Attorney General of Lagos, what will you say concerning the security situation in the country?
There is a major problem with security in this country and it stems from the fact that we are addressing the issue of security from a totally wrong end. Policing everywhere in the world is local. You cannot have police force for N150 million people controlled from Abuja. We must have local police, we must have state police or community police. How will you have a policeman posted to Ebonyi State from Katsina, he doesn’t speak their language, even if there is a conspiracy against him, he wouldn’t know, let alone a conspiracy against other people in that locality. So, we are attacking the problems from the wrong end. There is no Inspector General of Police, no matter how good he is who can solve the problem of security of this country unless we change the structure. We need to change the structure or we continue with one single monolithic federal police controlled from Abuja.
In your address, you said Fela was able to deconstruct complex issue for the masses to understand. Can you shed more light on that?
I think one of the things Fela did brilliantly was been able to reduce a complicated thing into just one small bite. For example, look at what he had to say about our law enforcement agents brutalizing people while they do not recognize the fact that they are paid to serve the people. He said something simple like, ‘Uniform na cloth, na tailor dey sew am,’ and that immediately tells you that if they bully you, you are only allowing a frightening human being hiding under a uniform to bully you. He is just a human being, the uniform is just fabric, it is the quality of an individual understanding what he is supposed to be doing that makes the difference between someone just wearing a uniform and someone rendering a service of the law enforcement agency. Fela just has a way of simplifying the most complex ideas and making them to be acceptable to everyone.
With the way you spoke about Fela, it shows you love his songs so much. Tell us some of his songs that you can memorise off hand?
I can’t memorise them, but I remember many of his songs. Look at Zombie and the like.
Do you have any chance of meeting him while alive?
Oh yes, many times. I came across him. He came to UNILAG several times.
*This story was first published in Encomium Weekly on Tuesday, October 19, 2010