Thank you, Fela!

Daily Trust - - BUSINESS -

Love him or hate him, Fela must be up there among the saints. His cre­den­tials: lib­er­at­ing the minds of peo­ple all over the world; proph­esy­ing; gift­ing the world with an un­prece­dent­edly fresh genre of mu­sic; preach­ing about so­cial jus­tice and peace; un­qual­i­fied love of fel­low hu­man be­ings; and leav­ing a legacy of artis­tic ex­cel­lence.

Yes, he was con­sid­ered weird, un­con­ven­tional, even a moral con­tam­i­nant; how­ever, his­tory will be in­fin­itely kin­der to him than to all his tra­duc­ers and op­po­nents put to­gether.

The world al­ready knows so much about Fela the mu­si­cal ge­nius who cre­ated Afrobeat. It is the less high­lighted as­pect of Fela - his hu­mane­ness, his loy­alty to friends and huge in­tel­lect - that I re­mem­ber and cel­e­brate to­day, 20 years af­ter his death. Every­one who had a per­sonal en­counter with Fela has an anec­dote to share. I have many. But to­day, I sim­ply want to high­light the great man’s hu­man­ity and sin­gle-minded loy­alty to friends.

As pres­i­dent of the stu­dents’ union at the Univer­sity of Ife, I had promised the stu­dents that my ex­ec­u­tive would bring Fela to de­liver a lec­ture and there­after per­form live dur­ing the stu­dents’ union week. Some scuffed at the prospects; how could the stu­dents’ union af­ford Fela’s fees? I knew I had a chal­lenge. I chose to visit Fela af­ter one of our many demon­stra­tions in La­gos against gov­ern­ment’s lack of di­rec­tion

“Ah, Wole! Wetin they pur­sue you?” Fela asked.

I went straight to the point: “Fela, there’s some­thing very im­por­tant that I want to see you about.” “Im­por­tant? Wetin?” By this time, all 40 of my col­leagues had man­aged to find sit­ting or lean­ing spa­ces in the sprawl­ing liv­ing room al­ready burst­ing with some of Fela’s queens, hang­ers-on, some mem­bers of the band, en­forcers and others. As usual, Fela or­dered food for my com­rades from the nearby “Mama Put’ joint. Trays were brought in with plates of pip­ing hot rice, stew and meat.

“Ehen, Wole. I no get time for cer­e­mony. Wetin be the im­por­tant thing wey bring you?”

“I want you to come to Ife for a lec­ture and all-night per­for­mance. But we don’t have money o”.

Fela stood up and clapped, the type of clap re­served for sur­prise or con­ster­na­tion. “ID! ID! Come o!” His hard-work­ing man­ager, Idowu Mabin­uori (aka ID) rushed in.

“You hear wetin this Long John Sil­ver come yarn me? Eh-eh (he claps again) Me, Fela, make I carry my band and my queens en­ter ex­press­way from Ikeja, pass Shagamu, pass Ibadan, to go play for Univer­sity of Ife free of charge! Eh-eh! This Wole don craze fin­ish!” He clapped again. All his crew nod­ded in agree­ment and eyed me with the kind of look that could de­pop­u­late a queue.

I gave Fela three rea­sons he had to come: (a) the need to con­trib­ute to de­colonis­ing the minds of the aca­demic com­mu­nity via a pub­lic lec­ture; (b) the need to show good ex­am­ple of self­less­ness by play­ing for poor stu­dents who or­di­nar­ily would never be able to af­ford a Fela show; (c) loy­alty to friends.

He de­bunked the three rea­sons and then sat down pen­sively. I con­tin­ued hav­ing eye con­tact with him. Then he an­nounced: “Na bad luck to get friend like you. If na so I dey play free ev­ery­where, wetin we for dey chop for this house? This na whitemail, not black­mail. Now you go be­gin say Fela mu­sic na for only peo­ple wey get money, abi? Yeye man! See your big head! I go c-o-m-e!”

That was all my ac­com­pa­ny­ing stu­dents needed to hear. They broke out in a wild cel­e­bra­tion. ID whis­pered to me that the con­ces­sion I just got was noth­ing short of a mir­a­cle. To cut a long story short, Fela stormed Ife in style and de­liv­ered one of the most in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­lat­ing lec­tures ever heard in Oduduwa Hall in front of thou­sands of stu­dents, lec­tur­ers, work­ers and Ife towns­peo­ple. He capped his visit with an un­for­get­table mu­si­cal per­for­mance which many of us still rel­ish till this day.

Fela was a good man with a lov­ing heart. That is the other side of the weed-smok­ing, anti-es­tab­lish­ment mu­si­cian you need to know to have a full pic­ture.

Sev­eral years later, when Beko Ran­some-Kuti, Fela’s brother, called to in­form me that Fela had cho­sen me to be the chief launcher at the un­veil­ing of his new al­bum, “Beast of No Na­tion”, I ac­cepted with glee, but sug­gested that Prince Tony Mo­moh, who was then Min­is­ter of In­for­ma­tion, be the chief launcher while I would co­launch. Fela launched into his play­ful tirades and lec­tured me that he didn’t need gov­ern­ment’s money and didn’t want peo­ple think­ing that Mo­moh had brought Ba­bangida’s money to launch Fela’s new record. In such mat­ters, you couldn’t win with Fela.

Trust Fela, he also in­sisted that Femi Falana (PRO dur­ing my ten­ure in Ife) be the MC. And Femi was in­deed mer­cu­rial as we (Yours Sin­cerely, Mo­moh, MD Yusuf, Frank Okonta, Rasheed Gbadamosi et al) launched the al­bum and set the stage for the live per­for­mance of: “Many lead­ers as you see dem/ Na dif­fer­ent dis­guise dem dey-oh/ An­i­mals in hu­man skin ….”

Now that Nige­ria is fight­ing cor­rup­tion in high places, our re­frain might as well be taken from Fela’s chart­buster - Au­thor­ity Steal­ing: “Au­thor­ity steal­ing pass armed rob­bery/ We Africans we must do some­thing about this non­sense….”

Thanks for ev­ery­thing, Fela!

De­cent work must guar­an­tee min­i­mum and liv­ing wages for the work­ers - wages that are paid as at when and due. De­cent work means work that is se­cured and done by free work­ers who are en­ti­tled to form trade unions and en­gage in col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing to pro­tect their rights in the world of work. De­cent work de­liv­ers a fair in­come, se­cu­rity in the work­place and so­cial pro­tec­tion for fam­i­lies

The World Fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions (WFTU) is the old­est trade union fed­er­a­tion es­tab­lished in Paris on 3 Oc­to­ber 1945. To­day it has 92 mil­lion mem­bers in more than 126 coun­tries of the 5 con­ti­nents in­clud­ing Africa.

Thanks to its mem­bers of the Pres­i­den­tial Coun­cil in par­tic­u­lar, Com­rade Leke Suc­cess, Vice Pres­i­dent, WFTU and Gen­eral Sec­re­tary of Ho­tels Work­ers Union Nige­ria and Gen­eral Sec­re­tary, WFTU, Com­rade Ge­orge Mavrikos who tasked yours com­radely with a re­flec­tion on “Dig­ni­fied Work for African Work­ers”. There are quotable quotes on work for those who still care about dig­nity of labour. The Yoruba have a po­etic say­ing: ise lo­gun ise - work is an an­ti­dote to poverty! The motto of the North­ern re­gion un­der Sir Ah­madu Bello was; Work and Wor­ship, not one or the other but both! John Lenon the mu­si­cian in the 70s ob­served that: “Work is life, you know and with­out it there is noth­ing but fear in­se­cu­rity”. Voltaire, the leg­endary French poet noted that: “Work spares us from three evils; bore­dom, Vice and need”. “With­out Work, all life goes rot­ten” so goes a re­ceived wis­dom by, Al­bert Ca­mus, Al­ge­rian born philoso­pher and au­thor.

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