Afrobeat Culture Federator


Wednesday 29 April 2020 by Mabinuori Idowu (aka ID)

30th April 1974, Fela was attending to some guest in his house suddenly some policemen walked into the living room demanding that every one should subject them to on the spot search, they produced a signed warrant by a high court judge authorising the search and they went through the house searching every room, until they were satisfied they had what they came looking for. After the search Fela was arrested along with other persons found with him in the house. The police claimed they recovered some weed suspected to be “Indian Hemp” from the house, and all the arrested persons from the house were taken to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at Alagbon Close on the Lagos Island.

At the CID headquarter Fela was detained in a cell named KALAKUTA by previous occupants, and he was latter charged to court for possession of prohibited substance suspected to be “Indian Hemp” and “abduction” of juveniles. The last charge was included, because of teenagers arrested along from the house. After his release from police custody, Fela would chronicle police methods of torture in the song titled ALAGBON CLOSE. It was also the beginning of Fela using visual art designs to illustrate his message on album covers ‘Alagbon Close’ album cover, was the first of the series from the artist Ghariokwu Lemi - one of the pioneers of visual illustrations in Nigeria.

Ghariokwu Lemi my friend who introduced me to Fela did a great job with the album covers. On the Alagbon Close album cover, he tried to illustrate the message of police brutality in Alagbon CID jails and how Fela came-out of their jail still strong. Painted originally in poster colour, Lemi decrypted a scenario that had a rocky background with Fela’s Kalakuta Republic home standing solidly on the left and an Alagbon CID jailhouse in the last stage of decay with a broken chain. Half part of the chain still attached to the left wrist of a dancing Fela triumphant over a capsized police patrol boat tipped over by an enormous whale. His friend from the National Association of Patriotic Writers and Artists (NAPWA), Kanmi Isola Osobu a trial lawyer offered to defend Fela.

Osobu appeared before the judge, and he pleaded that since “the charges against Fela under the Nigerian law was a bail-able offence” he demanded the judge, to grant Fela his freedom pending the period it took to prosecute the case. Despite objection from the police lawyer the judge granted Fela bail pending subsequent court hearing of the case. Another member of NAPWA and President of the musician association, the drummer Bayo Martins signed the bail bond for Fela’s release. Meanwhile, with all the publicity the case generated among the Nigerian press there was a huge crowd waiting outside the courtroom, and immediately after Fela was granted bail he stepped out of the court room into the hands of a huge crowd who carried him and his lawyer Kanmi Oshobu, shoulder high dancing through Lagos streets from the Apapa court house to his residence - a distance of about twelve kilometers.

The female members arrested along with Fela, were however ordered by the judge to be detained in a juvenile home pending the determination of their respective ages. Fela’s position regarding the juvenile charges was that he was not contesting the fact that some of the female members of his household were by law underage however, he had never gone to induce them away from their respective homes rather they all came to him of their free will. Most of the parents and guardians of some of the girls, on hearing of the police raid went to the CID headquarters to identify their wards. But most of them returned home disappointed as the girls refused to be identified with the names given by their parents.

Even in cases of physical identification, they all refused to answer to the names giving different names to the police. Like earlier mentioned in a society where there is no national identity card, how could the police ever think of making any legitimate identification of any of the arrested? Another point the government failed to look was that Fela was providing for many of these so-called delinquents, who without places like his probably would have ended-up as destitute or prostitutes. Some of them as children were not cared for by their parents or guardians. Others as we have seen came from so-called respectable homes with “white” Christian values as education background. With the changing times, some of the children found it difficult to communicate with their parents a kind of generation clash, forcing them to leave their respective homes for places like Fela’s.

Instead of recognising and probably emulate his example spending his money to keep these young folks off the streets, they accuse him of abducting teenagers. Forgetting most of the youths around Fela had problems with their parents or guardians hence they chose to seek refuge around the musician, who did not question them why or how they chose to leave their respective homes. Moreover, he let them do whatever pleases them as long as they did not disturb the next person. After he was released from police detention, he named his house KALAKUTA REPUBLIC - after the police cell he was detained in at the CID quarters in Alagbon Close. He also erected a ten foot high barbed wire fence, to prevent anymore unexpected raids - a new innovation to an erstwhile quiet Lagos family home. Prior to the police raid Fela’s home had it’s door always open to friends for ages, now security guards were placed at the entry persons coming into the house needed to be identified and cleared before entry – a complete departure from the past.

Meanwhile, it was obvious to the police that they could not make the charges against Fela stick since the latter had made it public that his house was open to everyone. As a public place, anybody could have come to his home with the weed suspected to be “Indian Hemp.” As such, the onus was on the police to find the owner of the illegal substance allegedly found in his home. The media coverage of the arrest and court appearance of Fela, plus his heroic return home made it imperative that the police had to act again if they want to convict Fela in a law court. FOR MORE INFORMATION READ FELA, PHENOMENON & LEGACY

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