This is the week of Felabration, dedicated to the life, music, and struggles of the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the Afrobeat legend who would have been 81 on Tuesday, 15 October. He lived from 15 October 1938 to 2 August 1997.
Fela, throughout his career, was a target of persecution by the military authorities. For this, he was harassed, arrested, docked and jailed.
In March 1993, four editors of TheNEWS magazine were sent to Ikoyi Prison by Justice Olugbani of the Lagos High Court, where they spent one week over an alleged ‘criminal libel case’. A dividend of the detention was being incarcerated in the same prison space with Fela, who was then facing a murder charge.
The editors decided to interview Fela on his life, Nigeria and the spirit world. The interview, the most comprehensive that Fela ever gave, was published in the 5 April 1993 edition of TheNEWS. Fela spoke about his life, music, struggles and sufferings.
There was a day he was invited to Burkina Faso by President Blaise Campoure. Fela, in the stadium, poured obscenities on the president. He narrated:
“I was invited to play for Campore. When we got to Burkina Faso, the airport was empty, no single soul was there, they then began to search us. Me I come realize say this search dey dangerous because the Igbo wey I carry on that trip reach two cartons of beer. So I call one of those wey take us from Lagos I said look if this searching continues me I go go back. He said no problem even if bomb dey them go allow am into the country.
“You people want to hear story. Come to think of it, I was lucky to have escaped because it was a serious matter I did not know o. Because I was ordered out of Burkina Faso. On my way back, the plane that was to take me to Lagos stopped in Cotonou and we took buses back to Lagos. The police in Cotonou were just looking at me. They could not imagine how anybody fit go to Burkina Faso stand in front of Compaore and spit at his face and still come out safe like I did. Meself , he be like say I don begin craze small.”
Below is the interview In part:
What is life like behind bars?
This place na different world. I beg, I beg, I beg, in this place people don’t talk, they just look. I mind my business here. I meditate, I try to rediscover myself.
Meditation apart, what other things do you do in prison?
Of course, I dey think now. But I prefer to keep it to myself, not to tell you people. If I discuss my meditation with you, that means I am not meditating. You see I don’t think about outside. For me, once I enter here I don’t think about outside again, outside prison, otherwise you’ll go crazy simple.
Don’t you miss freedom?
Yes, now. I have always been free. I am not free here. Finish. But I still like it here. You don’t know anything. This is the best prison in Nigeria. Go and try Maiduguri or Benin prison.
Are you saying there is no way you can be free while in prison?
Teach me now. You are in prison yourself, go and open the gate and go out if you can. Look what I am getting at is that it is only my mind that is free. My meditation here is spiritual.
Do you miss your favourite pastime – watching television?
Yes of course. I watch television a lot for many reasons. I watch the control of human beings on television. For example, you don’t know that words have roots in spirituality.
How can that be?
If the measurement of knowledge is the ceiling up there, anything that falls below it, is the amount of ignorance somebody has. So, your question how can that be is a question from the mind of an educated man. The Yoruba meaning of education, incidentally, is someone whose mind has been trained and locked with a key. You are that kind of person. Knowledge is how your mind expand reach.
English words even have a Yoruba essence; are you not saying all these because you are a Yoruba man?
NO I know what I am saying. You should not have said “ how can that be.” You should have said “can you explain?” because that kind of question can only come from a foolish man who gets moustache like you. That is what we call M.P. Moustache Problem.
Hitler who is one of the most wicked men according to history also has moustache like you people. What you people don’t know is that Yoruba is the secret of the spirit, that is why the Pot was given to Oduduwa to put at Ife. When you hear America, it means ye shall find wickedness in Yoruba and that is why there is so much wickedness in America.
When you hear Russia, the real meaning in Yoruba is rush-into-suffering. Really there is nothing called Europe, it should be Europa, it means Yoruba. It is all elliptical variants of Yoruba language they are speaking there. When you hear London, for instance, that was the beginning of the power in Europe. The British was the first to colonize the world. They got the power from Ife. That was where London got the name from L-o-n-d-o-ni from Ooni, which again means crocodile.
Even the name, Windsor Castle palace in London which got burnt last November, is not English, it is Yoruba, from the Yoruba word, Iwin-so meaning the witches talking. Look at the word soldier. It means Isoluja in Yoruba. Again look at the word Police, it means po. They take that word from the dirtiest place, po-potty. Latin was the most treacherous of the European languages that was why they canceled it quickly.