Fela And The Nigerian Dociety
Today, I remember Fela Anikulapo Kuti (15 Oct.1938-2 Aug. 1997) in a very special way. As the Scripture says, “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house”. It does not cease to amaze me why the authorities had to hound him down for saying the obvious facts of the socio-econo-political situation of Nigeria. Facts that were so obvious that even the blind could easily see them. Facts that were so obvious that every home, indeed everyone, talked about them. Much more amazing was the docile complicity of the traumatised larger society whose pains and agony Fela voiced. Hounded like a common criminal, the docile Nigerian society stood by or better still, like the proverbial levite in the Good Samaritan story, they passed by on the other side unconcerned, unperturbed, undisturbed and unworried. Yet Fela was fighting their battle and dying their death. A good man that was born at the right time but in the wrong place. How I wish he was born in the northern part of the country! No one would have been able to cage him like his kinsman did before the Nigerian foreman finished him off. The talakawas for whom he lived and died, sang and remonstrated would have caused no small havoc during the razing of Kalakuta Republic by the Obasanjo and the infamous frame-up by the Abacha juntas.
Forget about his personal idiosyncrasies and outlandish behaviour. How much better were those who appeared in conventional apparel and with socially correct attitude? Fela wore bizarre pants and freakish apparel but he dared the establishment and stared terror in the eyes. To many undiscerning minds, Fela was a bad influence. He smoked ganja. Yes, he smoked marijuana! Was that the most heinous evil anyone can commit against the society? Our leaders that appeared in impeccably starched uniform and billowing immaculate agbada, who to many were idols, and for whom many prayed to God to give them such national and international figures as their own children stole us blind. They beguiled us and milked us dry. They betrayed our trust in them. They converted their fiducial power to personal assets. More heinous than Fela’s igbo. Whitewashed sepulchres. Wolfish sheep. What a shame of leaders! There was and still is no end to their rapacious stealing and egregious brigandage.
But Fela campaigned against corruption, he campaigned against skin bleaching (another form of corruption), he campaigned against government inefficiencies, he campaigned against zombieism, he campaigned against democracy of brigandage, he campaigned against colonial mentality. He campaigned against so many atrocious deeds by the governments. He demystified the military hubris by ascribing the uniform to ordinary tailor’s work. His songs were blistering crusade for social justice, egalitarianism and democracy. He was a human rights activist per excellence. He served the docile society brilliantly. He served his generation commodiously and meritoriously. A prophet was in our midst and we knew not. Long after he left, his divinely-inspired lyrics are still ringing true. Wish to God that one day a radical President will posthumously honour him with a national award. He deserved no less.
For me, the most fascinating of his music was Shuffering and Shmiling. In the timeless musical craftsmanship, he highlighted the plight of ordinary Nigerians in their daily labour and frustrations: overcrowded transport, query in the office occasioned by lateness to work caused by transportation inefficiencies, and daily retirement into a home without electricity and other basic necessities. He juxtaposed the suffering of the masses with the smiling of their religious leaders who feed fat on the Widows’ mites of the masses. He berated the mental docility of a people that deluded themselves with the delayed gratification of a compensatory heaven when their religious leaders were taking their own rewards, succulent rewards, in the here and now. Oh my God! Fela left too early, damned too early. He did not wait to see the religious leaders ride in jets. Private Jets! He did not wait to see religious leaders establishing their own private universities. Sure his bones will rattle in grave on hearing all these. As the religious leaders become stupendously rich, the army of the poor and needy continues to increase. I thought all their tithes would end up in Jerusalem. No, how naive.
There is a conspiratorial nexus between religion and government, visible to only those who have the inner eye to see. It is an evil connection. The governments oppress us and our religious leaders keep us in check from revolting, from rocking the boat. How many religious leaders openly castigated government inefficiencies and corruption like Fela did? How many pastors and imams berated the government for mass poverty and pervasive criminality like Fela did? Rather, the religious leaders kept mute in an unholy alliance with government. They preached to us and not to them. They killed in us the innate revultion to oppression and subjugation. They killed in us the natural propensity to confront our oppressors. They emasculated us in the name of God. The more poverty created by the government, the more people that seek solace and sanctuary in churches and mosques. The government keeps the religious leaders in business and the religious leaders in turn keep the government in business.
Not everyone that goes to church or mosque wants to serve God. That’s why they are neither serving him in spirit nor in truth. Many are there because the economic situation is callous, unforgiving and unbearable. Let a more responsible government emerge today with our industries roaring back to life, with (at least) 12 hours of electricity daily, with cheaper food, affordable housing and efficient transport system, I bet you, our churches and mosques will be empty by half. So you see, our governments and our religious leaders are making merchandise of us. Jointly and severely, they pulverise, weaken, enfeeble and finally de-societize us. Unfortunately the rich among us don’t care any more. Opulence and comfort have benumbed them to the suffering of others. Having escaped the poverty trap that has ensnared them for years, they live in their own sanctuary of opulence in the midst of pervasive squalor. The rich don’t care, the religious leaders don’t care and the governments don’t care. Worse still, we the victims don’t care.
So, we stand by in supine impotence, too religiously timorous and too politically timid to act. Afraid to die we suffer and smile, afterall a living dog is better than a dead lion. We forget that with or without the shackles of oppression we shall surely die one day. We are yet to learn that it is better to die trying to break the shackles than to live docile in its eternal bondage. An unfulfilled life is a worthless life.
Seriously speaking, a people that appropriate more than their fair share of docility and lethargy in matters of socio-econo-political existentialism have descended, far down, below the minimum requirements for such an elegant and capacious name – society, and thus can only be called a dociety for want of a better nomenclature.