Intellectuals, artistes and human rights advocates seize the opportunity of this year’s week-long activities of Felabration, a celebration of the life, music and politics of the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, to reflect on the goings-on in the polity. Will the powers that be listen and make corrections?
By Funsho Arogundade.
Activities for the 2015 Felabration started fully on Monday 12 October 2015 with musical performances at the New Afrika Shrine. The annual international music festival will parade a variety of music stars from within, and outside the country. It will run daily till Sunday 18 October, with daytime carnivals, road shows on major streets in the Lagos axis and epic musical performances.
Aside Sandra Iszadore, who arrived Lagos on Friday with her husband, Bryon, some of the top acts slated to perform at the festival are Third World, international reggae group, London Afrobeat Collective, the Newen Afrobeat Band from Chile, Seun Kuti and Femi Kuti. Also expected to rock the Afrika Shrine stage include Olamide, Modenine, Iyanya, Waje, Saheed Osupa, Timaya, Oritsefemi, Burna Boy, Kiss Daniel, Remi Aluko, Olu Maintain and Adekunle Gold.
Also, part of the activities was the seventh edition of The Fela Debates held at NECA House, Alausa CBD, Ikeja, Lagos on Monday. It attracted many intellectuals, human rights activists and artistes. That day, Nigeria was described as a highly privatized nation where citizens pay for everything that naturally should have been the responsibility of the state. This was the submission of Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, director general, National Human Rights Commission during the event.
Speaking as one of the panelists on the topic “Human Rights as My Property”, Odinkalu pointed out that many Nigerians have lost faith in their country’s institutions. “Nigeria is fully privatized. Everything is damned privatized. The richest people in the system are civil servants. They own almost everything in Abuja, and you ask yourself the question: how do we run a country like this? How can you say human rights is your property when everybody is exploiting the poor? The poor driver who cannot afford a living has to pay school fees for private education for his children because public schools are not functioning. Everything is fully privatized. We are all being made to pay for the profit margins of those who are using the state to make private profit,” he stated.
Odinkalu said in Nigeria, many do have human rights as their properties but they are simply not enjoying it. And this is grossly violation of human rights. “The difference between owning something and enjoying it, when it matters, is quite important…Are we enjoying human rights when we need it? For me, that question is about two things: State capacity and individual/civic capacity. Does Nigeria have the capacity to provide the kind of protection that we need? And do we as citizens have the capacity to claim our rights at the point that we need to and we must?” he asked.
The Human Rights Commission boss pointed out that the issue of state capacity is about the institutions: the Police and the bureaucracy but the citizens seem to have lost faith in these institutions. “Nobody wants to go to court because they believe they can get their problem sorted out without the bureaucracy. Some people will violate your rights and look into your eyes and tell you to go to court. But court is no longer the answer to most Nigerians and because they have lost faith in the court, then vigilantism is rising,” Odinkalu stated.
He however enjoined Nigerians to see human rights as an item of identity more than a property.
“In this part of the world, property is not just an item you transfer with a market value. It is also an item of identity. Human Rights is not just a property, it is also an identity. It is the identity you bring to everything you do. In view of this, do you want a people or do you want a tribe? Do you want a country or do you want a little piece of tribal homeland? Do you want a country with values or do you want a country of vigilante? he submitted.
Odinkalu’s submission tallied with that of Sandra Iszadore, one of the speakers and American friend of late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who berated political leaders using religious and ethnicity sentiments to divide the ignorant citizens and benefit themselves. “I don’t understand this ethnic division prevalent in Nigeria where someone would say I am Ibo; another would say I am Hausa and the other Yoruba. But all I see is black people. We are one. Collectively, we can achieve a lot because I see Nigeria freeing the whole Africa. We can achieve that if we jettisoned ethnic divide and greed,” she told the audience at the symposium to herald the 2015 edition of Felabration, a celebration of the music heritage, life and times of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
Sandra, who described herself and millions of blacks in the Diaspora as “a displaced Africans that were stolen from Africa to the western world”, noted that the west is totally dependent on Africa for resources and to sell their modern technology. “I know the riches are here. And since the riches are here we should be seeing people living a better life like those in England, France and Dubai. But what we see is the opposite. That means the political leaders are destroying our properties which are the human rights,” she said.
Ayo Obe, foremost lawyer and rights activist, also highlighted the lack of awareness of many of their rights. According to Obe, one of the leading campaigners for the #Bringbackourgirls, people need to be helped to have a full grasp of their rights.
In his contribution to the debate, Kunle Ajibade, executive editor, TheNews/PMNEWS and the last speaker, took the audience through the memory lane with the referenced of Fela’s 1978 Berlin concert with his spell-binding performance of the song “Pansa Pansa”. Ajibade, who titled his presentation “Community Organised as Propeller of Human Rights”, drew inspiration for his contribution from Article 29 Section 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible”.
“There is a sense in which this section supports the logic of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti in ‘Beasts of No Nation’. What is that logic? That you should not wait for tyrants, dictators and corrupt leaders to dash you human rights,” Ajibade told the attentive audience. He pointed out the malaise of under development that Nigeria has been dealing with for some time, noting that the country is underdeveloped not because there are no brilliant, very talented people within and outside the country or because there are no abundant material resources but because “we hardly use the potent power of the collective to transform ourselves from obedient subjects to responsible citizens.” The foremost journalist reiterated the kernel of his delivery that Nigerians will not have a good society if citizens don’t wake up to their obligations and get themselves organised in their communities for good causes.
Earlier in his opening speech, Olasupo Shasore, SAN, who stood in for Babatunde Raji Fashola, immediate former governor of Lagos State, as chairman and moderator of the debate, described the topic, “Human Rights As My Property” as a very engaging subject. He also emphasized on the need to build and strengthen institutions to help protect citizens against their rights being stolen and asked for more investment in the promotion of law.