On this day 40 years ago, Fela’s Kalakuta Republic was burned down by ‘unknown soldiers’

Posted on February 18 2017 , at 11:12 am
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  • The site of the demolished Kalakuta Republic on Agege Motor Road, Lagos is now occupied by a school, named after his original surname: Ransome Kuti Memorial Grammar School.

Fela at home in Kalakuta Republic.

On February 18, 1977, a battalion of soldiers descended on Kalakuta Republic– the sprawling compound where Afrobeat icon Fela Anikulapo Kuti lived.

By the time the day was over, the building was in flames, the man locked up in jail and his 78-year-old women’s rights activist mother Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti laying critically injured from being tossed out of an upstairs window during the rampage.

Fela’s unending squabbles with successive military governments in Nigeria is stuff of legend: he openly mocked them mercilessly in his songs. He lashed out at them without fear and coined disparaging terms to describe their reign.

His last record before the events of February 18 was titled ‘Zombie‘. As the name implies, it was a brutal caricature of the military hierarchy. It mocked the ‘obey the last order’ orientation of the military.

The song was popular among the frustrated citizenry who had endured a bloody civil war only a few years before but now had to contend with the high handed-handedness of a military government.

At the same time, Fela’s blatant refusal to see the government of the day as legitimate did not go down well with the General Olusegun Obasanjo-led government. As if to rub it in further, he named his communal compound as a republic; independent from the Nigerian Republic.

A typical day of dancing and rehearsals at Kalakuta Republic.

And Fela did as he pleased, breaking every rule of ‘constituted authority’. He lived openly with over two dozen women (who he called his ‘Queens) and smoked his beloved weed without fear of being censured.

On the morning of the 18th, his compound was overrun by one thousand soldiers who had come to ostensibly arrest Fela for harbouring under-aged girls in his commune.

In the hours that followed, he was pummeled by the soldiers, his female associates raped and his mother flung out from a window. She would die later from injuries sustained from the day’s events.

In the following days, the government set up a board of inquiry to investigate the Kalakuta attack. Eventually, it was said to have been carried out by a group of ‘unknown soldiers’.

Not one person was indicted for the arson, rape and murder. Fela wailed and railed on ‘Unknown Soldier’, his dirge to remember the day by, as well as on ‘Kalakuta Show’.

The site of the demolished Kalakuta Republic on Agege Motor Road, Lagos is now occupied by a school, named after his original surname: Ransome Kuti Memorial Grammar School.

The Afrikan Shrine in Ikeja where Fela lived and performed till his death in 1997 may have enjoyed government attention in the last decade but is now a shadow of itself, compared to when Fela held court there or when former Lagos governor Babatunde Fashola assisted in renovating it.

Fela’s social activism remains unmatched. The destruction of Kalakuta Republic was not the only price he paid for being a government critic; he was jailed countless times before he died.

Fela and popular lawyer Tunji Braithwaite on one of his numerous court appearances.

In recent weeks, his name has been brought up in the light of pop singer 2face‘s call and pullout from a series of protests. Many Nigerians have criticized him for not being as courageous as Fela.

But here is thing: there can never be another Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Every February 18 should remind us of that.

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