Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?………………..
I woke up in a Soho doorway
A policeman knew my name
He said: ‘You can go to sleep at home tonight
If you can get up and walk away’
I really wanna know – who are you?
Tell me, who are you?
‘Cause I really wanna know who are you.
A SONG BY ‘The Who’
Imagine Che Guevara and Bob Marley rolled into one person,
And you get a sense of Nigerian musician and activist, Fela Kuti.
Herald Sun, February, 2011.
‘WHO’RE YOU?’ was one of the titles of several songs composed by Fela Anikulapo Kuti, born as Olufela Olusegun Oludun Ransome Kuti, on 15th October, 1938, at Abeokuta, in Nigeria. He dropped the name ‘Ransome’ because, as he noted, it was a colonlal, slave name.
In 1958, Fela was sent to London to study medicine, but chose to study music instead, at the Trinity College of Music while in London, he formed the ‘Koola Lobitos’. This highly talented multi- instrumentalist was a great composer, a pioneer of Afro – beat music. He could play the saxophone, keyboards, guitar, drums, and vocals. He was also a human rights activist, a social commentator and a political maverick. Who is a maverick, and what is the origin of the word?
Samuel .A. Maverick (1803 – 1870) was a Texas engineer who owned but did not brand his cattle- as all the other farmers did. His name has been used to describe an unorthodox and independent – minded person; one who will not affiliate with a regular political party- a person who does things differently.
In 1963, Fela returned to Nigeria, and played first with Victor Olaiya and his All Stars. He established the Kalakuta Republic, and after the release of ‘Zombie’, the Kalakuta Republic was razed down. ‘Zombie’ was a scathing attack on the military where people did not have minds of their own, but only did the bidding of their superior officers- move, right, left: Attention!, Order! The structure which served as a commune with his studio and a residence for a retinue of workers suffered irreparable damage. Fela was saved by the commanding officer who stopped the beatings he was receiving from the soldiers.
Fela’s mother was not so lucky- she was thrown out of a window, and could not survive. Olusegun Obasanjo who was the military head of state at the time said the structure had been destroyed b y ‘unknown soldiers’. This prompted Fela to compose a song, the ‘unknown soldier’, in commemoration of his mother’s decease and the burning down of Kalakuta Republic. Fela took his mother’s coffin to Dodan Barracks accompanied by the song: ‘Coffin for Head of State’. In `1978, Fela came to Ghana and his song, ‘Zombie’ led to rioting in Accra: he was banned from entering Ghana.
The man who stated in a song: “If you tell a woman, African woman, no go ‘gree; she go say: ‘I beLady,” married twenty seven women and these women were his dancers.
He later formed his own political party – the ‘Movement of the People’ and announced himself as the President (of the Party).
In 1984, a charge of currency smuggling was put on him and he had to spend 20 months in Mahamadu Buhari’s prison. On 3rd August, 1997, Olikoye Ransome Kuti (Fela’s brother), ex-Minister of Health announced that Fela was suffering from ‘Kaposi’s sarcoma’ which was brought on by AIDS: he had died the day before, and, thus ended the life of the man who had disdained wealth and mocked the wealthy by putting garbage in the open booth of his brand –new Mercedes Benz limousine.
Back to the socio-political scene in Ghana, the good news is that the Legon authorities have decided to suspend the collection of tolls from the users of the campus roads, as they had previously envisaged. As the drama unfolded, it was alleged that they had bowed to pressure from government. But did the decision have any strings attached? Yes, the letter from the Ministry of Roads and Highways to the Legon authorities had specified the government’s readiness to absorb the cost of the rehabilitation of the campus roads.
In a gentlemanly fashion, the Vice – Chancellor warned at a press conference, “If the government does not abide by its promise, the consequences will be disastrous both for the University and the public”. The suspension of the tolls should be a great relief to the users of the campus roads including of course, the students. It would have been a drain on the few monetary resources of those who love to go to disco in town, the ‘non – re’ (the off campus students), their visitors – regular and irregular ones. If the tolling had been effective, some students would have suffered more than others. I would sympathise with those who would go to town during a dance, pick rough and ready girls, remove layers of mud off them, bring them to their rooms and ‘enaharo’ (push out) their room – mates and…
It is good that the impasse was resolved so amicably. The university authorities had invited unnecessary chastisement and tongue –upon themselves by going for a loan to rehabilitate the campus roads and thinking they could re – pay the loan by taxing the motorists who use them. Some people, including lawyers who were ex – student leaders, had taken the University authorities to court.
But why did the National Security Coordinator pull down the structures built by the University authorities, in such Rambo-style? There are always better ways to resolve any situation of conflict, forthright or tricky. It was demeaning, degrading, and disgraceful for Colonel Gbevlo Lartey to have put his hand into this affair which he claims to have carried out, “for the larger interest of the public.” Has the Security Coordinator studied his mandate as spelt out in the Constitution of the Republic, 1992, and the Security and Intelligence Agencies Act, 1996, Act 526. The very first Chapter of the Constitution states: “The sovereignty of Ghana resides in the people of Ghana in whose name and for whose welfare the powers of government are to be exercised in the manner and within the limits laid down in this Constitution”. He should check Part IV of the Security and Intelligence Act, 1996, Act 526, spelling out his duties and functions. What did he hope to gain by this cheap, infantile act?
People should be careful not to do things that remind us of the heady days of the so – called ‘Revolution’– when abongo boys would treat ordinary citizens like shit; when ‘instant justice’ was meted out to people who had allegedly broken the law; when Makola market was razed down because it inhabited kalabule traders; when people of the ilk of Gbevlo – Lartey could not understand why some people had pot – bellies, with more than one toilet in their houses. Some persons resisted this open display of arrogance, impunity, and macho –ism, even with their blood.
The pen, they say, is mightier than the sword; but what happens when the perpetrator has both the sword and the pen? Who do people think they are? Who are you?