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20 years after Fela: Yesterday’s message as today’s reality

Fela’s musical excursion in which we are juxtaposing his messages of yesterday with the reality of today cannot but lead us to two of his unreleased but Afrikan Shrine electrifying numbers – Country Of Pain (COP) and Government Of Crooks (GOC), although we’ve briefly touched on the later in the second part of this series.

While COP comes off as a mid-tempo melodious beat, GOC on the other hand is forcefully fast-tempo, the gyration to which requires more rigorous movement of the limbs. Quite importantly both have messages that resonate as if they were actually meant for today and not yesterday.

As was customary with Fela, they also explored a variety of themes that serve as manifestation of the failures of Nigeria as a state. But what COP and GOC also presented was Fela in his best elements at social commentary, prophetic warning and interrogation of government policies that undermine the essence of what is now fashionably called good governance.

The story has been told of how Fela was taken aback by the sight of hundreds of youths wearing beautiful gowns during a television news program. He had promptly inquired from members of his Kalakuta commune crowded before the TV what it was all about and he was told it was a graduation ceremony of the Lagos State University. ‘All these people dey graduate, where dem go get job’ he was said to quip in response.

The outcome of Fela’s further reflection on what he saw on television on that occasion informed the following revealing lyrics in COP:

‘If you no careful, you go become driver

 Molue driver, University certificate

Molue driver, I say if you no careful

You go become driver, molue driver

University certificate, molue driver

You go become house girl, molue driver’

He then wondered:

‘I must to see ooo, I must see

 I must see ooo, I must see

The place copy copy go carry us reach

I must see’

For Fela, the copy, copy, element is about the refusal of our leaders to be original in their thinking, stop following the western way and run an educational system whose products would be of benefit to the society. In this regard he had also sang in Colo Mentality thus: ‘I say you be colonial man, dem don release you long before, but you never release yourself’

Fela’s prediction about graduates becoming drivers (ask Dangote whose company once revealed that PhD holders were among thousands of graduates seeking driving jobs and ask the Lagos State government) has come to pass with millions of young ones yearly graduating into unemployment while brain drain is hitting hard even in the educational sector, the health sector, etc, as those who have jobs are being economically suffocated out of the country to seek meaningful existence elsewhere.

Yes, running away is not the ultimate solution but there is a limit to which blames can be heaped on those trying to avoid the various pains being inflicted on the people by successive governments which actually formed the crux of COP. And so Fela sang:

‘There is government pain, for everybody

There is soldier pain, for everybody

There is police pain, for everybody

There is pain of pain for everybody’.

If Fela were to be alive today perhaps he would modify the lyrics of COP and add this extra verses:

‘There is boko haram pain, for everybody

There is Badoo pain, for everybody

There is kidnappers pain, for everybody

There is ATM pain, for everybody

There is GSM pain, for everybody

There is bad road pain, for everybody

There is flying pain, for everybody’

For Fela, all the pains constitute bad things because of which Zombies always want to rule Nigerians: ‘Because of these bad things, zombie wan be oga, how zombie go be oga, zombie na zombie o’. 

Now, in looking at the second number under examination here, we can pose the argument that it is because we keep having governments of crooks that we remain in pains.

With the amount of documented monies either allegedly looted but yet to be recovered or established as looted and already recovered – which EFCC put at $2trillion (about #400trn at current exchange rate) according to news published on Vanguard News Online, February 3, 2016 – we should now be complaining much louder than Fela who sang further:

‘Why I no go complain o, why I no go complain o

Why I no go complain o

Stealing dey go up and down

Stealing dey go left and right

E bami lu agogo o (help me ring the bell)

Stealing up and down

Stealing left and right’

But if we have to do justice to Fela’s memory we should go beyond complaining to take actions to stop the pilfering of our commonwealth. After all In ‘Original Suffer Head’, Fela said if we want to reject suffering we must fight for it, while in ‘Just Like That’ he admonished: ‘Right now, think now, act now, suffer must to stop, just like that’.

Suffer won’t stop just like that if we do not take mass actions to stop corruption and its major roots such as privatization, sometimes deceptively described as public-private-partnership, the end result of which is always the transfer of public resources into private pockets while there is lack of visible progress as we have seen in the power sector. It is not accidental that Fela’s main focus in GOC is the issue of privatization. Hear him in part:

‘They want to sell our property away…..

The property of the people of the country…

They call it privatization

Another English name for crookedness be dis

One thing all of them must know

Government na peoples property…’

Now that even members of the ruling class are admitting to the failures of privatization, the Labour movement and the trade unions should have no excuse but embark on mass actions to stop the continuous sale of our common heritage. In this country we have seen good roads constructed by direct labour; we have seen our engineers perform feats; we have seen our Doctors whether here or abroad perform medical miracles; we have seen our technologists make inventions, etc, and so 57 years after independence there is nothing impossible in having a people or public system of ownership of the commanding sectors of our economy under the democratic management and control of Nigerian workers and professionals across the various sectors. Replacing privatization and its twin commercialization with nationalization along its own twin, public democratic ownership, is a duty we owe Fela as humanity in Nigeria and internationally marks this year’s Felabration with the theme: ‘The Prophecy – Fela Lives’.

Arogundade is the director of the International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos.
T: @lanreipc


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