By Joseph Edgar…
Last weekend, the the Afrobeat icon was celebreated all over the country and in some parts of the world. For me, the highlight of these celeberations was the two hour documentary showed on the American Televison station BET. This documentary followed Fela’s birth to his unfortunate death from the dreaded AIDS, taking us through his musical journey, touching ever so lightly his politics and at the end you will agree that he was truly a musical legend.
This discourse, however, would delve more into his politics, his activism and the impact it had on society and our politics. Fela was an uncompromising figure. As soon as he came in contact with the ideologies of the radical black movement in America, he changed the direction of his music and began using it as a force for social change, railing against the government and the system, drawing their ire and reaching global prominence with his style and his unabashed hatred for poor governance and corruption.
But what real impact did his crusade make? In fact what impact on society did all these social activism have on our lives even if we are looking at it from both the qualitative and quantitative angles. I am afraid to say little or nothing as we continue to see corruption unleashed at all levels of authority.
For me, Fela’s type of activism was indeed at best pyrrhic. It was all noise with no real putative and measurable impact. After studying this enigma, one would be forced to say that his was an irritating distraction from the real war against corruption and societal ills.
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Yes, his PR damage to the corrupt regimes was incalculable, but did it bring down the system? Did it lead to societal change? Did it lead to regime change? I am sorry to say NO and there lies the folly of Fela’s atrocious type of activism that we are saddled with in the country. If you look at the wider spectrum of social change activism, from his late brother, Beko Ransome Kuti, to the legal genius that was Kanmi Osobu to Tunji Braithwite, they only succeeded in popularising themselves with empty rhetoric’s that did not in any way lead to any meaningful or concrete change in attitudes or in the way we run our system. An exception could be only the great Gani Fawehnmi, and maybe Femi Falana, who used their perfect understanding of law to achieve some level of change. Even that has not been substantive and far reaching.
Basically there was no Rosa Parks kind of momentum, no Martin Luther King massive disruption of an entrenched system of segregation which led to concrete achievements in the areas of adult suffrage, women and minority empowerment, desegregation in the educational system to mention just a few.
Our activists all, except maybe Adams Oshiomole who performed creditably well as Governor of Edo state, the rest were total failures in trying to transcend the streets and into power. Gani Fawehinmi failed woefully at the polls, Fela crashed dramatically at the polls and even the Nigerian Labour congress which used to be the bastion for opposition could not succeed with its ill-fated attempt at forging a Labour party.
For Fela specifically, his failure could not be taken too far away from his personality. He was seen as a caricature by serious minded people who although loved the rhythm of his songs and the powerful lyrics consigned him to just side attraction that only interest you on a Friday night. His message, however, resonated on the masses, those who were dislocated from the system, who apart from the tendency of morphing into a mob flow were dim-witted and unable to effect a real social change at the levels where it matters the most.
His bohemian lifestyle and excessive drug intake was an impulsive pull on the social rejects who needed his support and guidance in social deviancy. For them, the railing against authority was just that, a war cry of kindred spirits who felt disenfranchised by the system but who also were really not interested in regime change but where the next splif was coming from.
So was fela a Fraud? My people I’m afraid to say that the answer is nearer ‘yes’ than ‘no’. He was more of a fraud if you look at his stated claim of rising political consciousness and effecting regime change using his music. He failed woefully in this, and a cursory look at his life would reveal that he only used the political message as a mask to continue in his hedonistic lifestyle which damaged a lot of young lives, thereby inflicting an almost fatal damage on genuine agitation. Fela lives!
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