Thursday, October 15, 2020 4:09 pm
Today, 15 October, 2020, marks 33 years after Captain Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara died. Born on 21 December 1949, he died on 15 October 1987. He was President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. The man popularly called “Africa’s Che Guevera” was murdered by his closest friend, Blaise Campoure who was later thoroughly abused at a concert by Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the Afrobeat star.
According to Hon. Francis Agbo, House of Representatives member: “Thirty three years ago, the revolutionary Thomas Sankara, then Head of State of Burkina Faso, was assassinated by a team of very jealous and rapacious elites who were to put the country in reverse gear! And till date, that country’s economy is in a comatose and there is no sign that it is about to recover from its socio-economic and political downturns!
The conspirators may have killed his body but have laboured in vain to kill his revolutionary mind as many Burkinabes are still proudly Sankera in mind, body and soul.
The biggest consolation/ lesson in the betrayal of Sankara is that while he is making the revolutionary world proud on the other side of the divide, his killers are wallowing in anguish and oblivion on planet earth!”
In a 1993 interview Fela, revealed how he encountered and abused Campoure and other issues. In fact, Fela and Sankara were good friends.
This magazine asked Fela to explain what he meant by Direct Revolution, he answered: “I beg wait now. Wetin you know self. The third revolution is a direct one, nack the nail on the head straight. Me I fit yap anybody even Babangida. I yapped Campoaore straight to his face in Burkina Faso. I yap Obasanjo, Abiola, Yar’Adua, name them. Na straight I go hit them gbosa.
And on why he abused Campaore, the Afrobeat legend fired back: “You people want to hear story. Come to think of it, I was lucky to have escaped because it was a serious matter I did not know o. Because I was ordered out of Burdina Faso. On my way back, the plane that was to take me to Lagos stopped in Cotonou and we took buses back to Lagos. The police in Cotonou were just looking at me. They could not imagine how anybody fit go to Burkina Faso stand in front of Compaore and spit at his face and still come out safe like I did. Meself , he be like say I don begin craze small.
Fela further revealed what happened: “I was invited to play for Campore. When we got to Burkina Faso, the airport was empty, no single soul was there, they then began to search us. Me I come realize say this search de dangerous because the Igbo wey I carry on that trip reach two cartons of beer. So I call one of those wey take us from Lagos I said look if this searching continues me I go go back. He said no problem even if bomb dey them go allow am into the country. You know wetin surprise me pass, when we reach stadium there were no people. They laid out a new carpet, they put us in First Class Hotel, gave us four special cars to use, two Toyota seven-seater buses and two Mercedez Benz cars for my use.
“But why do they have to do that? The riddle is up till today I no know why they did all these. Look at it this way, Government invite me for a show, but people wey dey stadium no reach 2,000. Can you believe they paid me 5,000 pounds cash before we left Lagos? Na their government lottery sponsor us go. Na them get money pass anybody. I was surprised because I enter the place and the place dey empty.
Read the full interview below, entitled:
Throwback: Fela’s prison interview with TheNEWS in 1993
The late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the Afrobeat legend, lived from 15 October 1938 to 2 August 1997.
Fela, throughout his career, was a target of persecution by the military authorities. For this, he was harassed, arrested, docked and jailed.
In March 1993, four editors of TheNEWS magazine were sent to Ikoyi Prison by Justice Olugbani of the Lagos High Court, where they spent one week over an alleged ‘criminal libel case’. A dividend of the detention was being incarcerated in the same prison space with Fela, who was then facing a murder charge.
The editors decided to interview Fela on his life, Nigeria and the spirit world. The interview, the most comprehensive that Fela ever gave, was published in the 5 April 1993 edition of TheNEWS. Fela spoke about his life, music, struggles and sufferings.
There was a day he was invited to Burkina Faso by President Blaise Campoure. Fela, in the stadium, poured obscenities on the president. He narrated:
“I was invited to play for Campore. When we got to Burkina Faso, the airport was empty, no single soul was there, they then began to search us. Me I come realize say this search de dangerous because the Igbo wey I carry on that trip reach two cartons of beer. So I call one of those wey take us from Lagos I said look if this searching continues me I go go back. He said no problem even if bomb dey them go allow am into the country.
“You people want to hear story. Come to think of it, I was lucky to have escaped because it was a serious matter I did not know o. Because I was ordered out of Burkina Faso. On my way back, the plane that was to take me to Lagos stopped in Cotonou and we took buses back to Lagos. The police in Cotonou were just looking at me. They could not imagine how anybody fit go to Burkina Faso stand in front of Compaore and spit at his face and still come out safe like I did. Meself , he be like say I don begin craze small.”
Below is the full interview:
Inside Ikoyi Prison where he has been in detention since January 1993, Fela reflects on his life, the nation and the spirit world.
What is life like behind bars?
This place na different world. I beg, I beg, I beg, in this place people don’t talk, they just look. I mind my business here. I meditate, I try to rediscover myself.
Meditation apart, what other things do you do in prison?
Of course, I dey think now. But I prefer to keep it to myself, not to tell you people. If I discuss my meditation with you, that means I am not meditating. You see I don’t think about outside. For me, once I enter here I don’t think about outside again, outside prison, otherwise you’ll go crazy simple.
Don’t you miss freedom?
Yes, now. I have always been free. I am not free here. Finish. But I still like it here. You don’t know anything. This is the best prison in Nigeria. Go and try Maiduguri or Benin prison.
Are you saying there is no way you can be free while in prison?
Teach me now. You are in prison yourself, go and open the gate and go out if you can. Look what I am getting at is that it is only my mind that is free. My meditation here is spiritual.
Do you miss your favourite pastime – watching television?
Yes of course. I watch television a lot for many reasons. I watch the control of human beings on television. For example, you don’t know that words have roots in spirituality.
How can that be?
If the measurement of knowledge is the ceiling up there, anything that falls below it, is the amount of ignorance somebody has. So, your question how can that be is a question from the mind of an educated man. The Yoruba meaning of education, incidentally, is someone whose mind has been trained and locked with a key. You are that kind of person. Knowledge is how your mind expand reach.
English words even have a Yoruba essence; are you not saying all these because you are a Yoruba man?
NO I know what I am saying. You should not have said “ how can that be.” You should have said “can you explain?” because that kind of question can only come from a foolish man who gets moustache like you. That is what we call M.P. Moustache Problem. Hitler who is one of the most wicked men according to history also has moustache like you people. What you people don’t know is that Yoruba is the secret of the spirit, that is why the Pot was given to Oduduwa to put at Ife. When you hear America, it means ye shall find wickedness in Yoruba and that is why there is so much wickedness in America. When you hear Russia, the real meaning in Yoruba is rush-into-suffering. Really there is nothing called Europe, it should be Europa, it means Yoruba. It is all elliptical variants of Yoruba language they are speaking there. When you hear London, for instance, that was the beginning of the power in Europe. The British was the first to colonize the world. They got the power from Ife. That was where London got the name from L-o-n-d-o-ni from Ooni, which again means crocodile.
Even the name, Windsor Castle palace in London which got burnt last November, is not English, it is Yoruba, from the Yoruba word, Iwin-so meaning the witches talking. Look at the word soldier. It means Isoluja in Yoruba. Again look at the word Police, it means po. They take that word from the dirtiest place, po-potty. Latin was the most treacherous of the European languages that was why they canceled it quickly.
Is Democracy a possible experience in Nigeria?
Yes. You see Democracy like hospital are very latest developments in the white man’s country. They still have a mixture of Yoruba and English together, like hospital for example. They say h-o-o (spit) and spittle, that lowest form of treatment of human beings. People say they go there for treatment but don’t go there. Many people in this country are possessed. Some of them are like those birds lekeleke, (egret) they fly, they are possessed. That is why each time everybody says Babangida should go. I have always maintained that Babangida cannot go. I said so, because he is possessed like the rest of us. He has to stay. The forces in him will not let him go. That is the point.
Can’t he decide to hand over?
No. Look he must play his film finish. Na contract. He must finish his part.
Can’t you predict when IBB will finish playing his part?
Me? I no fit predict. When he finishes he would pack his things and leave. He is the last of this age. We are entering a new age, the age of Aquarius, the age of Water. Our leaders are the last layers of the people that are treacherous to the Africans. Otedola is the mark of that time to remind people of that age. The name means treachery becomes greatness.
But what happens if Chief Abiola becomes the next President?
Wait now make him take over. He don jump there now his eyes go see a lot.
What does this aquarian age signify?
It is the age of good over evil. People will start to know themselves. All the stooges that were supporting the white man to sell Africans during the slave trade are back now as human beings. Those are the ones ruling all states in Africa. That is why Babangida could easily sell Nigeria and call is SAP. That is what Rawlings did to Ghana, Mobutu did in Congo, they all sell Africa and call it SAP. They sell the people, sell the land, sell the whole country. They’ve sold us. SAP means Selling Africans People. It is in my song. That is SAP. They promised Babangida that if he can go by January they would not let dollar pass 20, but as he has stayed, they told him they cannot wait, the Naira is N35 to one dollar now. By next month it is going to be N40, by the time Babangida goes it is gong to be N50.00. That is what Abiola wants to be President of. He go see wen . That means na him then go stone then, no be “Babangida.” Because Nigerians cannot survive as things are going. That means we will have to be buying bread at N100 by August. That is why Babangida cannot go. If he goes he will get more trouble more problems. He don tire, but he cannot go. There is nowhere for him to go. All these things are happening na him sign the money go. It is time for all these troubles to show.
You seem to have become deeply spiritual of late. Why is this so?
I have since discovered that the secret of this world is with the Rosicrucian’s, the Free Masons, House of Amorc, Ogboni’s and all the societies of this world which all the top people of this country belong to.
How come you know all these?
I was given the gift to know from up. I got my spirit on 25 June 1981.
How did it happen?
That one na long story. It is because the Rosicrucians hold the key to the understanding of life that you cannot get their books to buy outside. You have to be a member. And to be a member, my brother, it is difficult.
But the late Awolowo was a member.
Yes. Awo was sent by ISIS to this world, the God of ISIS. It is from isis Genesis came, Genesis is not the beginning my brother, it is Yoruba word. ISIS is white man’s transition of Isi. Isi is the name of the African woman that is the goddess of the whole world. Na him dey control this world, world called Isi…But the Oyinbos choose to call her Isis. Gene is an African world. Gene is Mid-West is god, Ogene and Gini in Yoruba is cat, powerful, Ogini. Ogini and Ogene means god the cat with nine lives. So Isis power has cat. So the gini of Isis is Genesis which people call the beginning.
But all these are not in the Bible?
My brother you can read the Bible but the best books to read are the Rosicrucian books. You can’t get those books to buy. That means there are two separate institutions in this world. If you go to England there are Rosicrucian schools where special children go and those books are there for those children to read. These same children go to Cambridge and Oxford and they rule England. That is how England is. The secret is not Bible. How can it be with Bible, when Adam and Eve born two children, Cain and Abel and they are men. How did they procreate, my brother? And later Cain killed Abel, wetin come happen? Na wa o. I beg, I beg. You see when I talk about the spirit world like this I know wetin I dey talk. I get reason why my life be like this, why I suffer. They born me through the person wey I suppose come through Reverend so I go know everything well well to question them from the beginning to the end of the Bible. My brother it is all tricks. Wayo.
Did you discover these things when you were in school?
A: No, na through Astral travel in 1981. It has since made me understand the world better. For example what people call mother or Iya in Yoruba is nothing other than punishment (iya). The Yorubas know what they are talking about men. The Yorubas get sense pass anybody. Why it is that mothers force their kids to do what is against the spirit of those kids. They force them to eat, especially those educated women. I want my child to be like me, they say, when you are growing you start to go to school, they then call you master which his nothing but mass of star. They begin to disturb. Give you figures, mathematics. Then they go on to call you mister which means you have missed your star. So everything we are doing in this world now is the negative or opposite of what is usually happening.
So how can we redeem ourselves?
It is simple, everybody go start to see his spirit. Whether you like it or not. You come see the master himself who is supposed to rule. You go see yourself how you suppose to be.
So what do you make of the on-going transition programme?
Transition means death. Don’t you know. This is why Dodan Barracks is in the middle of cemetery to remind them that the spirit of the dead people is opposed to the transition programme. Jah is the name of the spirit, isis sent to give Christians and muslims their doctrines. That is why the government has moved to Abuja because Jah has to guide them. Abuja is where Jah himself lives. You see the point.
Have you never considered going on a preaching circuit?
That is what my music is about. That is why I have the shrine. I talk about these things in the shrine on Saturday nights. Any time I go on tour in Europe I talk about it everywhere, even in Germany. The true meaning in Yoruba is Ija ma ni. They came to earth to fight. They came to fight God, that is why Germans start the first World War, the Second World war and even Third War. Look my brother everything is spirit, but education just make everybody know book, just dey waka to salary, white man’s salary.
The white man knows why he makes book, machine and Bible to fuck you up. Does it not surprise you that the people wey invent aeroplane no go school, no go university? So wetin you dey talk? Each time the Christians say Jesus Christ came to take the sins of the world, what they mean to say is scenes. He come steal knowledge. That was why when he come thief finish he come say God oh that death wey you say make I come die you fit commot am for my head. My brother he come thief, he is a proper thief. That was why he was hanged with two thieves. One for right, the other for left because they know themselves before Sango come vex take lightening quench him neck for am. Na Sango kill am. Bible itself talk say thunder strike and Sango is the god of thunder.
Archbishop Okogie may sue you for this?
Sue who? If he hears this he go dey shake ni because he go know say na truth I dey talk. Latin is very funny to me when I hear it because I have deciphered many things in Latin. Each time the Pope talks I get amused. I laugh because I go just hear Laduke…Lakunni. Asake. (All lovely female names).
How come you like giving different meaning to names?
I give names their true meaning. Take for example the name Oyakhilome. It means Oyakilomo, that was why he was kicked out of the place because he go jam Jennifer. The name Jennifer means Ajeni Ifa, meaning Ifa is a witch. They then brought kwajafa, a disciple of Jah to replace him. All of them na spirit.
How then do you explain your love for sex?
Sex is power, if you know how to use it well, finish. If you are given the gift to know how to keep your body for that sex.
Yes, if you know how to, because all the time woman fuck you she take from you. When they are having children they pretend they are feeling pains. Na lie. They are feeling no pain. They are having essence. When you dey fuck woman she go dey cry hey, hey, hey, hey, take it easy now she go dey deceive you say she dey feel pain whereas she dey enjoy am. You can even fuck the spirit of woman. For example if I dey fuck woman here I can be fucking 10 other women at the same time while fucking that one. I will just take my mind away. She can do the same thing to me. So you don’t know? So what is love now? They (women) just call Darling, Husband, Sweety for nothing. You are not even the horse you are the band of the horse. There is so much deceit in sex. That is what Isis did to men – threw us to the ground.
But why do you hate the Bible?
Look God no dey for Bible. Everybody has the knowledge of God. One day I quarrelled with one of the people wey dey come preach for prison here. When S.K. Adebanjo, an accountant came one day, I said S.K. why you do like this, you from Ilesha, my friend you come dey preach Bible for prison. He said look Fela what other way can you teach good to people? So I said so only Bible can show you good and bad. You know fit teach good and bad with mouth? My brother the people wey bring Bible na them start violence, white people, mass killing. You think say black people no no how to make guns. We knew but we knew if we did it we will kill ourselves. That was why we restricted ourselves to bows and arrows. That is sweeter. The only way Nigeria can move forward is if everyone can know his spirit.
Many people are surprised that you didn’t take part in politics. Why?
You think say with all these things I know I go come they jump say I want do politics? Politics wey na flying politics. Na Astral politicis Babangida dey practice in Nigeria. It is crazy men. See, President sit down fly go, form two parties himself, fly go, build party offices himself, choose leader himself, write manifesto himself, register the party himself, fly go and everybody come join am. That is wuru wuru politics. All of you are flying my brother. And you people self they write about it and you say you are journalists and that you are educated. What you do is to press people down, so you are part of the system wey they press people.
Don’t you want the press to report these events?
Yes, journalists should dissociate themselves internationally from participating in falsehood. What is happening in Nigeria today cannot be politics. All those people you see wey de waste their time don craze.
Are you saying if Babangida had allowed more parties you would have participated?
I may not take part, but I will comment, I will discuss. But any journalist who comes to me for an interview now on SDP or NRC will be shocked. I will simply say I beg carry your question go. Don’t turn me into a mad man like you. If you are mad carry your madness go, because right now we are all meditating aloud. That is what I am doing here. You are listening and as you dey go out please do your duty, print all I have said word for word. Print am o. Because nothing dey inside this interview which can annoy President Babangida . So just print this thing as he dey there. I beg. Anytime I think of how Babangida rules this country I just laugh because he be like say many people de under his spell.
Look many of the things wey Babangida dey do today he would not have tried them years back. Because the mentality of people at that time was high, but now it’s low. Awolowo had to quickly commot the Oyinbo name, Jeremiah wey dey for his name at that time because they would have dealt with him. Even Azikiwe too. But look, they have spoilt the youths of today patapata. That Is why Babangida can still say he start party. It is very, very funny. Is it not funny that soldier man say him start political party? Everyone knows that soldiers are meant only to take orders, but for Nigeria, na the other way round. Na soldiers de form party and civilians like Abiola de join. Well, Abiola fit win sha, because anything can happen. In Nigeria even John Major of Britain can stand election and win without even coming here. So I beg, I beg, Abiola can win o. No be Yar’Adua, another soldier want to win recently before everybody begin shout say he don’t do magomago. I tell you, all of us for Nigeria don craze. All those Oyinbos just de watch us and they laugh at how we dey do election. They say to themselves those people are animals. Look we don craze for Nigeria. Me I know that one.
Fela, it seems you are no longer popular as before…
I beg don’t try me o. Me I no get money, I no be government but look if I call press conference na so the place go full ‘paparapa.” Me I popular. Na only me de play my kind of music. When Babangida go France the last time they were surprised, they had to ask him: Is Fela not the President of Nigeria? Babangida was shocked. Everybody know me for Paris. Most record companies can’t stand my smell abroad, even promoters because all of them are establishment people. But me I be revolutionary.
What kind of revolutionary are you?
Do you know there are three kinds of revolutions?
Number one is Naïve Revolution, there is Jagajaga Revolution and the third be Direct Revolution. Number one be for people wey go die for some people else to become president, Jagajaga na him be singing song like say you no sing at all. People like Bob Marley. If I dey sing the kind song wey Bob Marley de sing nobody go touch me. I will have no problem with the police. That is the kind of revolution Oyinbo people want. It means nothing. It is a general attack on issues. The white people know say Rasta na craze man hair. The joy of the white man about Bob Marley is that he can be used to legitimize their theory about all Africans being mad. The problem is that Africans must understand the history of Rastafarians not just copy them blindly,. For example, when Bob Marley’s manager came in the early 80s, he arrived in jeans, and T-shirt looking tattered but the second day when he de go Lagos Island to transact business I was shocked when I saw him dressed up in fine tie, fine blue shirt, felt hat looking like an English man. Even his Rasta hari was neatly packed under his hat. Till today some Rasta people no fit enter taxi. When asked, Bob Marley’s manager why he did not look scruffy that morning he said na because he dey go for business. It is a pity that the Oyinbos de use Bob Marley to legitimize madness.
You still have not explained what you mean by Direct Revolution
I beg wait now. Wetin you know self. The third revolution is a direct one, nack the nail on the head straight. Me I fit yap anybody even Babangida. I yapped Campoaore straight to his face in Burkina Faso. I yap Obasanjo, Abiola, Yar’Adua, name them. Na straight I go hit them gbosa.
Why did you abuse Campaore
You people want to hear story. Come to think of it, I was lucky to have escaped because it was a serious matter I did not know o. Because I was ordered out of Burdina Faso. On my way back, the plane that was to take me to Lagos stopped in Cotonou and we took buses back to Lagos. The police in Cotonou were just looking at me. They could not imagine how anybody fit go to Burkina Faso stand in front of Compaore and spit at his face and still come out safe like I did. Meself , he be like say I don begin craze small.
I was invited to play for Campore. When we got to Burkina Faso, the airport was empty, no single soul was there, they then began to search us. Me I come realize say this search de dangerous because the Igbo wey I carry on that trip reach two cartons of beer. So I call one of those wey take us from Lagos I said look if this searching continues me I go go back. He said no problem even if bomb dey them go allow am into the country.
You know wetin surprise me pass, when we reach stadium there were no people. They laid out a new carpet, they put us in First Class Hotel, gave us four special cars to use, two Toyota seven-seater buses and two Mercedez Benz cars for my use.
But what is the surprise in that?
But why do they have to do that? The riddle is up till today I no know why they did all these. Look at it this way, Government invite me for a show, but people wey dey stadium no reach 2,000. Can you believe they paid me 5,000 pounds cash before we left Lagos? Na their government lottery sponsor us go. Na them get money pass anybody. I was surprised because I enter the place and the place dey empty.
Why is it that you don’t play your old tunes at your concerts?
Well I play a unique music, music for me na mission, no be entertainment. Once I don record something for record he don finish be that. Bye, Bye, my music na gift, that is why nobody fit copy am. I came to this world for a mission, that is why I must keep moving forward, not backward.
Recently there were stories that you were dying, that you had rashes all over your body. Are you now better?
Those people like you wey de write all those things are ignorant. This girl in Sunday Punch newspaper wrote in January that I was sick, that I get rashes but where are they now. You can see my skin, show me the rashes. What happened then was that my body was going through some metamorphosis which I came to prison to complete. See my face my wrinkles don dey disappear. By the time I complete all these, I go shed my skin and I go come look younger. I don’t use western medicine.
You hardly bath everyday in prison. Why?
I don’t see any reason why I should bath everyday because to bath is to look clean, and even outside prison na because of sex I dey bath. I bath every three days.
What do you miss most in Prison?
Sex. Well I am getting out of it. It no longer bothers me. I have overcome it for now spiritually.
Is it true you did not co-operate with police?
Why must I co-operate with them, na me establish them? When they arrest me police go say make I write statement but I have always refused because I am not obliged to write statement if I no want write. Chikena. Look everything I get to say, me go talk am for court.
There is a way you and Wole Soyinka share some radical streak. Why is this so?
Na you sabi. Me I no dey read Soyinka. I tried to read The Man Died I quickly put it down. I would not go beyond the first page, heavy grammar, heavy Oyinbo. But he is my close cousin, in fact, he is my second cousin, He is okay.
Has there ever been a time you’ve felt like committing suicide?
Yes. One day I felt like committing suicide. I just dey tired. That was shortly after they did not register Movement of the People in 1979, but I come dey read for inside book say if you die you go still come back. I come dey read books about African power. I come dey scared of death. Once I went to Ajilete, a village near Abeokuta where they come give me one locally made bullet-proof vest to wear with charms on it. The juju man said once I wear it, nobody fit shoot me. So I go buy goat I wanted to test it. A man near my house had a gun so I borrowed the gun, not knowing the man gave us a blank bullet. We shot the goat but it did not die, I was happy. I then told Beko, my brother and Professor Olikoye to believe in charms. You know Beko now, he then said he would believe only if he tries it. He then called on Dr. Ore Falomo who had a double-barrel gun. Falomo is a good marksman, he come shoot, tear the goat to pieces, I say hey me I no do again, so I would have died if to say I go take am face police. I returned it quick, quick.
Why don’t you make your two brothers, discover their spirit like you?
They don’t believe things easily. Many times I don call Beko into my room to tell am say my body de change. Like my heart beat wey dey show for my hand. Wetin Beko talk? He talk say it is natural people de get am. I am very special person o, I no dey breath for heart, look at my hand you’ll see as the thing dey breath. When I tell Beko in 1981 he come go send for Hindu for Ghana. He came, see me, he say I don craze, Beko’s friend from London Observer came, saw me, spoke to me and went back to write am say I don craze. Na when they charge me for Armed Robbery case that people begin see say I no craze. After this I saw the spirit. Na only my brother Professor believed me. One day I go meet Koye I yap am. He talk say the whole thing be rumour. So I told him a lot of things which he believed. I talk to him for two hours he had no option. When I talk to him finish he talk truth, he say Fela science would win. This is one important truth. Now me self I don know say there is a war between creator and science.
In a book by Carlos Moore titled Fela: This Bitch of a Life, you said so many disparaging things about women. Do you still hold them to be true?
Many of my thoughts have expanded. The man talk say that book was my autobiography. Nonsense! It couldn’t have been. It only contains one third of what we can call autobiography. I know the secret of women, but I have not known the secret finish. Then I was only scratching the surface. I was only getting ready the surface to be scratched, now I have scratched the surface. I have seen the inside of women. All women belong to one planet called Zakhalon. Na them cause jealousy into man. Women should be looked at as stones.
Have you been composing new lyrics in Prison?
Yes, this morning. I just dey tell these boys what came to my mind. Last night, a new music
How do you write your music?
It is easy. I write constantly.
Is it on paper?
No in my head.
What if you forget?
If I write music now and I forget that means it is meant to be forgotten and that it does not catch fine. If I write something and he no stick that means he no be number be that. In the 70s, I used to write a lot. I used to write at least 40 songs a year, every week. In all, I have written about 10 tunes in all. Music comes to me naturally. I don’t see what is happening to me as song yet because is writing music, for me the first sentence is what I need. Once I see the first sentence I’ll complete the rest. Like the music chop and clean Mouth. It took about one whole day to get it. In putting my lyrics together I make sure it must be one I have never used before. First, I get the idea like I want to sing about this, once I get the idea other things would get into place. Let me correct myself. I don’t get the idea, I am often informed by high forces
You must have some regrets?
Wetin I wan regret. I am a strange person, I dey different that is why I was born in the middle of October. The only sign wey no get blood na Libra, scale be the sign. They come born me for 15th at 11:30pm in the night. My life is meant to be imbalance. I no regret anything.
So what music should we expect next?
The next would be BBC, Big Blind country . The next album after Under Ground System.
With all the big big money you dey make why you no establish studio for Nigeria?
See this one. You don’t know anything. It is stupid for an artiste to open studios. Only recording companies do it because every two years new equipment come in while the previous ones dey obsolete. It is cheaper to hire it. Hiring a studio is only $4,000 instead of building a $2 million studio, nobody dey own studios any longer. It is out of date.
You are to be ejected out of Shrine. What will you do now?
Please commot make I hear now. Nobody can drive me out of Shrine. It is impossible. All what is happening is what me I dey call gbegbegbe. We are going to fight it in the Appeal Court. That one go take two years, then depending on the judgment we could proceed to Supreme Court which would take another five years. By the time we finish either of us go don tire patapata.,
But why no relocate shine?
God forbid bad thing. Only me know the power wey dey Shrine. Have you ever heard of where they relocate Shrine? African Shrine for that matter. I beg, I beg, I beg, I beg leave me o.
But you have not been paying your rent?
That is not true. I want to pay, they say they no want. They refuse rent, no be say dey want money. They just want Fela to leave. Well, when it reach time for shrine to commot you go see. if the Binitie people know wetin good for themselves dey go settle.
Who suggested the name Shrine?
Na Kanmi Ishola Osobu. Kanmi’s point was that we should have something meaningful. Then I used to call my place where I play Afrospot.
How come you changed from High Life Jazz to African music?
It was my friend Sandra who caused it in 1969. I was lying in bed with her one day when I made a statement that afterall na white man teach us everything. She was furious. It was as if I take hammer knack her head. Didn’t you learn anything in school? She said. I tell am say that was what I was thought in school. Na him she stand up go inside drawer carry one book give me. It was the Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley.
So she enlightened you?
Na Sandra show me road. When I read that book I was sparkling. I said what? Yeah! Malcom X talk. I speak men. That was in 1969. I come become stupid straight. I said so I dey take white man sense think all this while. After this book I come Lagos and bought more books. Come dey find books to read, I read history of the Yoruba by Johnson. But I find his history to be recent. Johnson was vague nothing to hold. He talk but he no talk better thing. At a point I had no book to read. Then I decided there was no God anywhere. I say God no dey. That time I come dey preach that God no dey, there is nothing like God na him Reverend Johnson come meet me for house, he’s Bishop of Cathedral. He come fight me that day for about two hours. Me I come dey quote Evolution for am by Darwin. I come support am with analysis from Dr. Leakey and Mrs. Leakey. Then, one day Johnson said he has another good book Black Man of the Nile by Ben Jochannan. The book was heavy. The first paragraph sent me crazy. I come dey start to buy books because the books I read indicated references.
If you love Africa so much, why did you refuse to participate in Festac 77?
My involvement in the Festac Palaver is very interesting, it all had to do with Prof. Nwachi. He was the co-ordinator / secretary. He was the former Director of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA). If you know wetin he do for this country, you go salute him. They invited him from America where he was a Professor of African History, University of Washington. He came to the Shrine one day to listen to my music and yabis. After I finish he came to me and said so someone like you is in this country? Why is nobody listening to you? He come say make I come see am for NIIA. When I met him again he told me he wanted to organize an African week. Kanmi Ishola Osobu lawyer who was with me turned to him and said. Prof. I hope you know what you are doing? Because it seems you are playing with your job? Nwachi quickly replied, “Yes I am capable of understanding my job Mr. Osobu.
So we come sit down, plan am. Na so we scatter that place for one week. There was dancing the final day. I had a show called “When cock chase hen and he catch am. The dance wey then dey dance.” Na him we print handbills. We come him the place upside down, I carry my girls go. Exactly two weeks after government set up an inquiry for Nwachi head. During the enquiry they come show am my poster. What nonsense is this, he was asked. Is this your definition of International Affairs. Mr. Nwachi, they asked. All that was in 1975. He was thrown out straight. They commot Nwachi patapata. But he was called back later as secretary general of Festac. It was at that point I come show them. The same week he resumed, he called me again, he take me round as the great African philosopher on African History. I read well for that time. He took me to his office and told me Fela you are coming here next week. They beg me. They write me to take part in Festac. Me I don decide say I go take them play. Well I told Nwachi I don’t want money but he should make sure they make available all African history books in our bookshops and schools during that week.
I told Fingesi this. That time Americans don dey year my name say I be fire brand. So Nigeria want me to perform by all means. My condition was simple. Make all history books available in major shops in Nigeria. Nwachi called me one day and took me to the Guinea Ambassador who was in Federal Palace. He also tried to convince me to perform for Festac, Na him I come open up for am. I come lecture am for two hours. I say you self, you were chauffeur-driven from Ikeja Airport to Ikoyi when you arrived and you passed through police check-points where they beat people and collect bribe what did you say? Or were you blindfolded? I come dey give am those yabis dey go. He come beg me to leave. He said okay please go. At the end I gave bullshit to everyone of them. The thing come pain Obasanjo pass others. That is why those wey dey in government come burn my house a week after Festac.
Did you read about Major Jokolo’s interview where he said Danjuma is the unknown soldier who burnt your house?
I read it. I am not ready to go to court based on that. Na God go punish all of them. They will pay me compensation by force. If them no pay their sons or great grandsons will pay it. Just dey watch o, Na go I go sit for my house jeje and they would bring it.
You seem to be full of yourself. What makes you think they would come and beg you?
Look each time I look around I realize say na me alone be the only Africans we remain for this Revolution wey I de fight. The only Revolution for this world be that Malcolm X Revolution, since then nothing fundamental has happened. When I look round I weep for all those big names of prominent blacks wey, fight in America in the 60s and 70s. They’ve all abandoned the struggle. I saw Angela Davis seven years ago, she had changed. Being a revolutionary is a hard road to travel men, but I dey patapata there. Me I no be Zik of Africa or of Nigeria but I be Fela Anikulapo Kuti International. That is my identity. I pity Obasanjo. After the Festac Colloquim they come put together a book on the papers delivered but wetin happen. Obasanjo collect am, sign am and throw all the fine, fine ideas inside dustbin.
What makes you Fela International and not that of Nigeria?
Na me commot Acheampong for Ghana. I was in Ghana at the time Ghanaian students were demonstrating. K.K. Yope wey de do Astrology for paper was with me. Na me bring K.K. to Nigeria from Ghana. He was in a Catholic seminary. He graduated as a Reverend. He worked in the catholic Standard newspaper. It was from there I sent for him to meet me. The Ghanaian police dey look for him so I said make he hide for my hotel. When I dey come Nigeria I bring am along, Na K.K. organize student leaders from Takoradi technology, Cape Coast University, Legon and Kumasi. He called four students from each University. In all they were 12 of them. I talk to them for two hours. I talked sense into their heads. I said if you want to fight government go to radio station, seize the place, in fact close the university down yourself. Don’t allow government to close it down. The third day them carry out my instruction. Trouble break out for University. Students come close down their individual university. They say they no go go back until Acheampong leaves. Na so Acheampong was forced to leave.
Did Acheampong react?
Of course, they come face me for hotel, they come raid my hotel for Igbo, hemp. They came on a Monday morning as we were about going to the studios for our recording. Them come arrest me for studio say they want to go and search my room. I push them out, fuck you I said. But I eventually followed them. As them dey push me, I dey beat them. You know Ghanaian police are not sharp unlike Nigerian police. When they see say I no wan cooperate they also decided to yap me that I be original hooligan from Lagos. As them dey search my wardrobe they come find one red mat wey resemble the one wey those traditional medicine men dey use. As them carry am they took a second look and became scared. Quick, quick, they drop am, I was eventually pushed out of Ghana. I caused so much problem them deport me at last. I fought Ghanaian police to stand still. My girls beat them up, my boys joined me. When you don fight Nigeria police before you go find say Ghana police be small thing. All these were in 1978. Later some Lebanese people come beg me to stay. But I said I have to go back to Lagos to marry 27 wives. After that I came back it was when we arrived Ghana that we were told I could not enter.
Did they arrest you?
No, they only insisted I could not enter with my wives, my boys, all of us come sit down for floor for airport. They realize that I be real thing. I take out my cigar, I dey smoke, KLM come, the Ghanaian authorities asked if they could carry Nigerian Airways come come. The Pilot come say yes he fit carry us. I shout say yeh Oluojigbo. The Ghanaian authorities felt relieved. We come pack our things for plane. The thing wey pain me be say just as we enter the plane, the door was closed and the police come dey make fun of me by the window. I felt like spitting on their faces but I could not wind down the windows;
What did you do?
I beg relax. I come open my bag and selected the biggest wrap of Igbo. The thing big gan. I come light am I dey smoke the thing for the centre of the plane. The whole place became stuffy and the Pilot had to send someone to me to tell me to stop. I was mad. I come send message to am say if we reach Lagos. His eyes go see pepper. I tell say I go beat am. He was scared, he now began to send message to me begging me. By the time I reach Lagos I dong forgive him.
It was when I got to Lagos I realized I no get house. My eyes come clear. My people come say where we go go now. That time my money don de finish. We had to move in with JK Braimah in his flat in iIkeja. I thought I would spend six months, but I come spend seven years. That coming back from Ghana just cool me. About 100 of us come pack go for one small flat. We make use of every available space, toilet, corridor everywhere. The house get two bedroom and one sitting room. He occupied one room, and I occupied one. After a while people began to move out of the other five flats one by one. Once they realize say na Fela dey the flat, they began to pack out one by one. My bread come de buttered. We just moved into other flats until I took over the house completely. Na one Adekambi Adesanya get the house. He say make I pack out, he carry me go court but I say I had no where to go, in fact I refused to show up in court. The magistrate, Ademola Kuti, now a judge in Abuja, had to bring the court to my house to sit when he didn’t see me; I tell him even if you say make I go I no go to anywhere because I have no where to go. I really dealth with all of them.
But you were ejected eventually.
Yes, when I go prison, idiagbon and those people come drive out my women from the house. the landlord still came to meet me on my sick bed in the hospital to yap me. He called me a useless man.
Have you been to Ghana since then?
Yes, Na Rawlings lift the deportation order. He invited me to play in 1982 but I stayed from Monday to Thursday no see the man for Accra. I dey look around for him. I did not see him not until Friday night 9:00p.m. When police come raid my hotel for Igbo, hemp, and foreign currency. I abuse them. They came, entered, searched them no see anything. My friend Hindu was with me. He said I should leave Rawlings alone if not I will have dealt with him. Hindu called Rawlings a spent show. See how today, see what Rawlings has become today. He don spoil Ghana.
So what do we expect from you when you are released?
Well my case don pass brief case he don become luggage. He dey heavy gan. As you can see, the police are bent on prosecuting me. They just wan deal with me sha by all means. Out of the nine witness they have, seven of them are police officers. One witness no even exist. I beg, I beg I beg my case don pass ordinary case. They just dey play politics with my case. I will survive it. I am a survivalist anyway. Prison don make me tough. I beg leave me alone, me I done tire to talk. Let me go back to my meditation.
What Took Fela to Prison
Many Worries of Fela
ICONOCLASTIC musician , Fela Anikulapo –Kuti , reviews his life and ideas
By Seye Kehinde
FELA Anikulapo-Kuti, leader of the Egypt 80 band sat cross-legged in a yoga-posture on a mat that late morning in his underpants. With his back against the wall and a roll of Three Rings cigarette burning away between his fingers, he rendered oodles of yam to the delight of other young inmates who crowded round him. it was in his solitary cell in Ikoyi Prison.
Like a spiritual leader offering homilies to his flock in a question and answer bout, Fela engaged them. They were spellbound. From the way they nodded intermittently, it was evident they enjoyed every bit of this message. This, afterall was the vintage Fela. Daily, he makes it a duty, shortly after he rises a little before mid-day, to rub minds with his closed unit of prison friends. Often, the four members of his band who are also in prison with him are always present. Unlike other inmates, he plays no games and infrequently fraternizes. But he never fails to regale those who care to visit him in his cell with the details of his latest spiritual discoveries.
For Fela, this is an easy way around boredom, which has enveloped his life since 21 January when he was arrested. That day, a police officer from the Ikeja General Investigation Department of the Police had walked up to Fella at his 7, Gbemisola Street, Ikeja, inviting him for a chat over the death of Adesanwo Sokoya, his technician of 16 years. Unknown to the trumpeter, it was to be a long trip marked by periodic stops. First, at Ikeja Police Station, then the notorious Panti Police Station and now Ikoyi Prisons.
The nature of the charge against him keeps changing. When he was first arraigned before Chief Magistrate G.A. Kelani of the Yaba Magistrate Court on 25 January, 1993, he was accused of having conspired, together with four others, to kill Adesanwo Shokoya by beating and flogging him to death. Femi Falana challenged the competence of the Magistrate Court that ordered the remand of Fela and his men on the ground that Kelani had no jurisdiction to try a murder charge. Bail was sought and granted at the High Court on 5th March. But just as Fela stepped outside the Ikoyi Prisons on his way to Igbosere High Court to sign his bail papers, he was re-arrested and taken to Panti Police Station. To everyone’s shock, a fresh charge was filed at the Igbosere Magistrate Court where he was now charged with attempted murder of one Nwonna Odey.
More astounding still was a new two-count charge of conspiracy and murder brought against Fela and the four men. Clearly, too, the prosecution sought to build a stronger case against Fela over the death of his band electrician. The proof of evidence filed along with the charge by Lagos State Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Mr. Bode Rhodes-Vivour, stated that Fela gave N6,000 to three of his workers, including the late Sokoya, for some jobs at the Afrika Shrine on Pepple Street, Ikeja. He was said to have been dissatisfied with the quality of work done with the N6,000 and Fela allegedly ordered the three men to be taken to his Gbemisola Street residence also in Ikeja, where he had their hands and feet tied. They were kept at the upstairs balcony without food and water for three days, the prosecution alleged.
The prosecution further alleged that on the third day, Fela ordered that the three workers be brought downstairs for further interrogation after which they were allegedly ordered to be given 48 strokes of cable cane each.
The four co-accused men were said to have held each of the three men one after the other to be administered with the strokes of the cane by two men who are aid to be at large now. The prosecution narrative them alleged that, the late Sokoya collapsed at his 30th stroke. The four men were said to have continued to cane an unconscious Sokoya until he stopped breathing. The two men who had earlier received their own strokes of the cane, said the prosecution fled the compound during the pandemonium which ensued and reported the case to the police, who arrested Fela and took the late Sokoya’s body away.
But these allegations were promptly denied by Fela’s younger brother, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti who had said that the late Sokoya collapsed during fracas among shrine workers. Fela has also maintained his innocence, blaming the police for his present travails. He has, since his arrest, refused to make any statement to the police.
Faced with a cascade of problems, not least of which is that of a seemingly overzealous prosecution, Fela derisively describes his condition as a “Luggage” not a “case”. In a way, he is right. His re-arrest was an evidence of serio-comical prosecution. So swift, So dazzling. He was picked up after he was granted bail and was surreptitiously arraigned before Chief Magistrate E. Ogunaike for murder at the Igbosere Magistrate Court without notifying lawyers. Even when Mr. Kanmi Ishola Osobu who chanced on the case hurriedly sought to make an application for Fela’s bail, the Magistrate told him he had to rush to Ikeja Hospital to meet a medical appointment and so he could not hear Osobu’s request. When he did later, he turned down the bail request. Then, five out of nine people listed as witnesses are police officers.
Femi Falana, a Lagos Lawyer and counsel to Fela told THeNews last week that the eagerness of the Police to prosecute Fela may not be unconnected with the sack of an Ikeja Divisional Police Officer, Achung Odung, following Fela’s complaint. Odung allegedly shot and killed a man, Abiodun Dick, in front of Afrika Shrine on 3 March, 1988. Fela, led in evidence by Femi Falana prosecuted the officer for alleged murder at an Ikeja High Court. Dick was incidentally an electrician with Fela’s band, whom the cop claimed was an armed robber. Although, he was acquitted by Justice Samuel Ilori, Fela was said to have persisted in his determination to bring Odung to book. Odung was later said to have fallen for a bail which saw him out of office. Since then, men of the Ikeja Police force have looked for every possible way of getting even with Fela.
As if this was not enough unpleasant news, Fela has also had to content with the harsh news of a court ruling asking him to quit his Afrika Shrine on 5 Pepple Street, Ikeja. Based on a ruling by Justice Inumidun Akande of the Ikeja High Court delivered on 17 March 1993, Fela was allegedly ejected out of the premises. The Binite family, owners of the house had sued Fela in 1992 for re-possession of the premises of the Shrine. But Fela challenge the claim on the grounds that he was not given any quit notice and that he was paying his rent regularly.
When the case came up last October, it was adjourned till 17 March, 1993. Even on the said date, Mr. Alade Agbabiaka, prosecution counsel and Mr. Chiemeke Onyeobi on behalf of Falana both agreed to have it adjourned as Fela was still in Prison custody. Agbabiaka then served Onyeobi a notice to produce all documents, correspondence agreements, memoranda and receipts relating to the tenancy of the property. More specifically, Fela was to produce a copy of his quit notice dated 11 April 1991 issued by Plaintiff and notice of owner’s intention to re-possess the premises dated 1 January1992.
But as soon as the court sat, Agbabiaka indicated his wish to proceed with the case. Onyeobi’s attempt to explain to the judge the agreement they have reached on the case failed. The judge simply called on the plaintiff to prove his case. Plaintiff complied. He gave evidence. His lawyer addressed the court and the judgment was promptly delivered there and then. The court order was drawn up that day and arrrangements concluded as to the taking over of the Shrine the following morning. But for the timely intervention of Fela’s lawyer who hurriedly filed an appeal the following day, the Shrine would have been sealed up with the support of men of Area F of Ikeja Police Station. It took a copy of the notice of appeal to stop them.
However, all these have not humbled Fela who is receiving his travails with an equanimity of mind, “My case has become a political case” he told TheNews. Although, he refused to be drawn into a discussion on specifics regarding the on going murder charge preferred against him, he grudgingly agreed to let TheNews into some aspects of his thoughts and life.
THE EDITORS’ JOURNEY TO PRISON
Reminiscences of a Detaine
By Akin Adesokan
The drawling drive from Lagos High Court in a nondescript Kombi bus, where eight humourless cops, armed with guns brandished Justice Moshood Olugbami’s remand order papers, ended in a cloud of dust, in front of Ikoyi Prisons. Suddenly, the policemen had found their enthusiasm, Bayo Onanuga, TheNews editor-in-chief was that day, Friday 12 March, dressed for the boardroom. His cute suit, without a sound, spelt respectability with effective pauses. His three colleagues, Dapo Olorunyomi, Seke Kehinde and Akin Adesokan also driven to the prison on the strength of the four sheets of paper, alighted with him.
With growing zeal, Corporal E. Anyanwu, Olugbani’s orderly who had insisted on 11 March arresting Kehinde (and possibly everyone else) through a warrant, herded us through the gates. As we stepped into the prison lobby, the giant gate was locked shut with a chilling finality. A brash warder ordered us to “bend down there”! among another set of new detainees. Meanwhile the case papers were being processed between policemen and prison officials.
But something snapped. The papers were defective – Olugbani, perhaps still in the throes of the 11 March overzealousness which actually peaked in the court the following day, had thought little of our actual offence, and consequently omitted it in the case papers. But Ogunmola, the chief superintendent of prison wouldn’t tolerate such incongruity. The flustered orderly was asked to go and perfect his boss’ orders. We went out of the prison’s lobby with him. The fact of stepping out again, however briefly, was somewhat therapeutic.
A cluster of tents serving as bars, Bukkas and kiosks for sellers of odds and ends occupy the last of the 75 meters that stretch from the colonial gates of the prison. There is to the right a parking shed that begs attention. Every afternoon, warders, relatives of detainees and “depositing” policemen gather under the tents to unwind.
We retired there, the four of us, with seven of the cops. Anyanwu clutched his papers and dashed back to Igbosere, to catch Olugbani, before the curtains fell on that blind day of the week.
There is something infinitely beautiful about freedom. It was in the abrupt sympathetic friendliness of the policemen inside the bar. Their boss, an inspector ordered for a Gulder. His subordinate called him for mild drinks. Onanuga, under no illusions about the prospects of the weekend promptly relaxed his suit. The tie and the coat gave way, and on his shirt, just above the scapula, a mark of love in the colour of rose stood resolute like the will of the foursome. Olorunyomi kept flipping the pages of Basil Davidson Black Man’s Burden, Kehinde held close to chest his copy of Ngugi Wa Thiogo’s Detained. Colleagues tailing us from the court soon emerged, and a symbolic merry-making foreshadowing our eventual release went on in the bar, while the orderly sniffed from chambers to chambers for the judge who issued the bend warrant, and the remand papers.
That was where, at about 3:00pm we took our diner for that day. That momentary freedom was enjoyed to the fullest.
Once the orderly returned with all appropriateness, everything became mechanical snappy. But not before Abdul Oroh, Civil Liberties Organisation executive director had rushed to his car and brought for Onanuga a copy of the week’s edition of Time Magazine. We were taken back into the lobby, called one by one and asked to surrender the monies we had on. The new set of detainees were still squatting. We moved closer to them. One could see stampede on their bodies the multiple layers of dirt and ordeal carried along from police cells. Most of them were bare to the pelvis. Bloodshot eyes. Heat and hate that were, later that night to be the source of a disconcerting experience.
The four of us were asked to stand at one corner, where a warder, who was to become friendly in the next days, put us through a funny frisking.
We were lumped with them and told to sit on the bare floor, along a narrow passage that led nowhere. We were now in records office, where two convicts “records boys” whom we later knew as Alade and Joe, helped in certain registration businesses. As the day wore on, new guests arrived; some fresh and unruffled, others outrightly disheveled. We had been sitting there for some two hours. That was when boredom walked jauntily into our midst, quickly displacing freedom that still hung at the side way.
When the “in charge” (another term for an officer running the present shift) had crowded the hole to his contentment, he now began calling us one by one. Alade, some overzealous fellow, instructed everyone on being called, to answer “yes sir”. The person so called first has his height taken, then he is called upon to give personal details such as age, home town, next of kin, offence in question, physical features and so forth. They removed our wallets and watches. The rationalization is to prevent in inmate committing suicide, by swallowing a wrist watch. But the idea is to deny every detainee a sense of time. That over, all of us, numbering about 28 were told to move out into the courtyard. From now we would be receiving order.
The courtyard was expansive, almost the size of a conservative football pitch. Consciously or otherwise, we broke into groups: professional, ethnic and even generational. Some fellows, arrested perhaps for the same offence, sat together, on the plastered floor of the courtyard. Two men with whom we later shared things sat together, their backs to the wall. Dusk was approaching. Some sort of celebrative mood caught on within the “yard” (as the whole Ikoyi prison is called).
We went and sat at the opposite side of the yard, facing the two gentlemen. Soon, a prisoner in knickers brought three pails of Dawavita, soup and water. He served the four of us a plate, saying “Na your food be dat o”. We said nothing. One huge man who stood by looked at us with a mixture of derision and mild surprise. When he saw that we ignored the food, he motioned to the ‘waiter’, “Leave them, he said, “hunger never catch them.”
(The soup, one later found out was without salt or pepper. The inmates call it “shapa.” It is either ground soyabean mixed with oil, or garri mixed with water and sprinkled with oil. Or even groundnut soup without pepper or salt. The beans, served every morning, had neither pepper nor salt.)
At that moment Fela Anikulapo-Kuti incarcerated since January came along, pulling at a roll, of his usual Three Rings cigarette. He discovered we were journalists, so he made a vague joke about some journalists writing on what took him to detention, “So una too don come here, but me, I no mind o”.
But he facilitated things. He got someone to provide four mats. Then he said, “Dis Welcome cell, (pointing) na first port of call. But make you try no go General Cell o. Because that place, unh e stink small.” And he flashed his mischievous grin.
Dusk fell fatally like a withered leaf. As we trudged towards Welcome Cell, the hovering feeling that we were bound for hours, days even, for spatial shacklement, rode heavily on individuals whose basic idea is to expand the frontiers of human freedom.
Welcome Cell, according to Fela was the first port of call. But Kayode, the gangling inmate, in the dead of the night when individual sorrows became enough reason for reflection, called it “The last Bus Stop. His voice sounded so grave in that silence punctuated by heavy snoring of other inmates. But Fela’s logic stood to tradition. The practice in Ikoyi prison is to keep every newcomer however high or low, in that cell for the first night. This is point of equalization, the leveler terrain.
And we entered the cell, all 32 of us at a go, to join seven people who had been held since the past days. The first natural fear at that instance was of being manhandled by hardened criminals. Prison experiences are replete with tales of how some old inmates demand the newcomer’s dues through knuckles. But as we entered that cell, something interesting happened. Facing us in the midst of the 16-foot long, 14-foot wide room was Joseph Banjo, a computer operator with TheNEWS. According to him, he had been detained since the previous Tuesday on an issue that concerned him at his former place of work. In the Welcome Cell, however, Joe had become the provost (name given to the most senior inmate at every level). He had all other inmates under his stamp.
Our mats were there. But the place was too crowded. Thirty-nine people in a room of that size was barely tolerable. Welcome Cell itself has all the marks of depravity and evil. The walls are blackened with several layers of human dirt since the prison was established in pre-independence days. The floor is plastered with concrete sod. The iron-gate at the entrance is made from stern steel in use when the British were still running our country. The same goes for the sole window, through which interested prisoner could peep at will. Both the lavatory and the urinal are located right inside the cell.
Joe was a competent provost. He made that place, however, small in relation to the crowd, somewhat bearable. Newcomers were called upon to narrate the incidents that led them to prison. It was such an exciting night, in spite of the stench of body odour and human waste. The detainees (some were actually convicts) were telling their stories amidst the heat and the heavy snoring of the tired ones. One fellow drank a bottle of Coke, couldn’t pay and somehow was handed a month’s sentence. Another, a plumber, stole a sink worth N2,000 and got stuck. One yet stole a computer screen at Ojuelegba because he had decided to “Runpa” no more. And so forth.
We watched them throughout. It was difficult sleeping. The cell was so stuffy it was only logical to pray for occasional breeze. Breeze, fresh air did come of course, but always with the odour of unwashed bodies and a foul pail under the lavatory.
No pastimes lasted for too long. Not even reading. Boredom was becoming a convenient entity. But nature always manages to win, somehow. We slept at last, one after the other, but woke up long before dawn.
Things got better in the morning. The cell was decongested. We were taken out, rechecked and, save the four of us , the two men who sat facing us yesterday, and Joe, all the newcomers were distributed into new cells. Fela went about the prison yard, only on request though, in his red shirt, trousers and shoes. He was always clutching a packet of Three Rings.
Some inmates peeped through the window in the morning, saw us rather well-dressed and eating food brought from home. Drinking bottled water. They stopped and watched us some more. One of them said, “Na dis people dey chop our money o.” We had to correct them, revealing our identities. That honest disclosure was to beget some kind of warm relationship between us and the inmates, especially the Awaiting Trial Men (ATM) most of whom have been incarcerated for several years for the most absurd of offences. Imagine a man kept behind bars since 1986 for failing to pay for the two parrots he bought. A boy was thrown into jail by his father because he had gotten beyond control. Many foreign nationals, without home or relatives here, have become citizens of Ikoyi. Yet, the informed view is that Ikoyi is just a minor headache. Elsewhere, it is migraine.
Tuberculosis patients have a special ward, centrally located. From the window of Welcome Cell we could see the inmates of TB ward, mostly gaunt, decrepit young men, aged with want and physical waste. Most of them have no drugs, no money to buy drugs. Still they are fed on the “shapa” soup, given the normal beans ration through a hole-in-the-hinge.
But there were wards which, because we were ourselves detainees, we could not visit. Such wards as Borstal, General Cell, B Ward, D Ward and their appendages still remained mysterious, secured in the old myth about the prison being a republic of regimentation.