Afrobeat Culture Federator


Wednesday 19 February 2020 by Mabinuori Idowu (aka ID)

Thanks to the invitation from Benoît Hické, I finally saw Carlos Moore’s film ‘My Friend Fela’ directed by Joel Zito Araùjo at the La Gaîté Lyrique in Paris. The image of Fela presented in the film portraying him as a violent, paranoid and contradictory man, makes me ask the question: is Carlos Moore a true Fela friend or is it his way of settling old scores? This question becomes more pertinent, if we consider his experience with militants and activists like Malcolm X in Paris stressing the importance of security vigilance and also with Maya Angelou in New York.

We all are aware, that the infiltrations of resistant groups and movements by government agents are as old as time. Particularly Black resistance and liberation movements such as the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League), National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), Black Muslims or later Nation of Islam, Black Panther Party or BPP (originally the Black Panther Party for Self-Defence), etc. Though I don’t agree with all she said, however Sandra Izsadore’s positive reaction to the possibility of Fela’s organization being infiltrated by the CIA is reassuring despite the attempt to down-play in the film the infiltration of Fela’s organization by security agents as paranoia.

The question of “settling old scores” comes to mind because among other issues raised in a cassette audio tape recorded and sent to Fela by Carlos Moore in 1982, he affirmed that from information he received from some members of Africa 70 Organization, he too was accused of being a CIA agent. Fela, to my knowledge never said nor suspected Carlos Moore of any collusion with any government agents, thus it would be interesting for him to give names of members of Fela’s organization that affirmed this accusation.

Before going into details with the issue of the infiltration of Fela’s organization by security agents, I want to quickly touch on Fela’s so-called contradiction “denouncing violence, while he used the same method within his organization.” For the right or wrong reasons; corporal punishments has been part of most Africans growing-up. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” has always been the dogma and yard-stick of child up-bringing for many generations – it was not different with Fela as he often affirmed talking about his education.

Talking about his relationship with his parents, Fela said “…contrary to the general opinion, we were all not too close to our parents especially my father. My parents treated us more like boarding house students, than their biological children. The beatings I Fela alone received from my father and mother individually is about 3,000 strokes of the cane. Every time, I always get beaten for doing one thing or another.” To my father he was only trying to instil in you some sense of discipline” Fela would rationalize as if defending the iconic Priest. Fela’s father would admit in his school, any kind of school drop-out or expelled student from other schools without demanding for testimonial of good conduct.

In fact, Abeokuta Grammar School was well known because of his father’s ability to control all kinds of rascally student regarded as beyond control or redemption by other institutions. When his father died, Fela said: “I did not really feel his departure because he was god-damned too strict with his students - his children inclusive. His strictness would have appeared to have created an alienation of affection in our relationships. To me at that time, despite the fact that I cried I was almost thanking God that the man died. If not for anything, I was sure to have my peace from any more floggings.”

If one may ask, without corporal punishments what other options are those who criticize its use to maintain law and order in Kalakuta proposing? General Beating (GB) as it was called was reserved for those who broke the rules. Yeni and Femi his older children too had their tastes of GB. Remember we had all sorts of people with different education backgrounds living in Kalakuta – children from well educated homes, street thugs and hoodlums and later drug junkies. Fela allowed all kinds of people around him; I guess he did this believing like his father, that there is no one that cannot be reformed given the opportunity. He usually trusted people for whatever they were until such person proved to be the contrary. He gave everyone he came in contact with, the opportunity to prove them before making any judgement of the person.

On the issue of the infiltration of Fela’s organization by government agents, we all are aware that an invitation to perform in an international setting for an artist subjected to all sorts of deprivations including being banned from performing in his country is a golden opportunity. Though Bob Marley was not banned in Jamaica, the invitation for him to perform in Harare at the Independence of Zimbabwe was a great boost for his career and the Rasta revolution. As we are about to discover, Fela’ message was not destined for the Africans shores alone as thing were turning around him despite the hard-times forced on him by successive regimes. Shortly after the change in Nigeria to a civilian administration in 1979, he was invited with his band to headline the annual Italian Communist Party Festival – DE UNITA.

He was billed to perform with his band Egypt 80 in key Italian cities - an opportunity to internationalise his struggle. The festival would have afforded him the opportunity to link his Pan-Africa struggle back home, with the International Communist Workers struggle and this international setting I believe, would have enhanced his political standing. Considering the “insiders” warning from Minister Louis Farrakhan of America’s Nation of Islam during a chance meeting at the lounge of Mainland Hotel, being part of the events that led to the Nigerian Army attack on Kalakuta in 1977, an international political statue for Fela would not go well with any Nigerian government - the new civilian regime of President Shehu Shagari inclusive.

Fela was convinced the Nigerian Govenment; in collaboration with American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), tried to set-him-up with marijuana traffic in-order to discredit him politically as a “drug trafficker”. The role played by Susan Findlay, an African-American helped convinced him of the CIA theory. During our interrogation of Susan Findlay, we found-out she had gone the previous week to the United States, one of us in the room asked her if she was paid to set-up Fela, she denied it vehemently claiming she worked alone. We asked her if her trip to America was connected with a re-call by her CIA handlers for briefings. She denied this too, saying she went to leave her toddler daughter in her mother’s care.

Though it was clear to us she was not telling us all she knew, we had problems dealing with the situation. Despite the trouble she had created for Fela and the rest of the group, planting 43.5 kilos of marijuana in seven suitcases given to Fela’s wives, her African origin did not permit Fela to hand her freely to white police whom he considered could treat her in a racist manner. Susan on the other hand, wanted to be handed over to the Italian police - saying she was ready to admit ownership of all the suitcases. Immediately after her arrest, the American Embassy provided her a lawyer that represented her during the process in an Italian court. On our return flight back to Lagos in what looked like coincidence, Fela was sitting next to a Lagos State Commissioner of Police who claimed he was returning to Lagos from vacation in Italy. Coincidence or not, there was no doubt of an international conspiracy to sabotage Fela’s tour in Italy.

Unfortunately Fela’s state of mind; influenced by all these incidents from these period is what Carlos Moore and others refer to as when Fela Anikulapo Kuti was mentally unstable. I can understand Fela’s attitude during these events in Kalakuta, even if I was not in agreement with his choice of inaction. Consistently subjected to harrowing and anguish from successive regimes, betrayed and deserted by trusted friends, his organisation infiltrated by security agents, exploited and used by lawyer friends like Kanmi Ishola Osobu and Tunji Braithwaite, considered as trusted advisers who on earth would not develop a paranoia? Like he sang years later in the song Underground System: “while growing-up to trust is what I was educated with, but since my adulthood to find people to trust is difficult”, I believe that all these let downs; plus the continued combat against a repressive system, pushed Fela to adopt the “spiritual façade” to protect himself in the last two decades of his life.

Though I am not a professional psycho-analyst; and I do not have any medical record from a doctor who has had the opportunity to examine Fela during the “spirit saga”, despite all these I still believe he was not crazy. With a hind-sight it was clear to me he was only disillusioned with the Nigerian people who sat arms-crossed while the system did everything to destroy him. I had the privilege to watch Fela perform on several occasions since our parting of ways and from my observation, his artistic genius was still very much intact.

Finally, the most glaring proof of the inaccuracies projected in Carlos Moore’s film ‘My Friend Fela’ directed by Joel Zito Araùjo, is his presentation of the New Africa Shrine constructed by Femi in the year 2000 with the Empire Hotel Africa Shrine, where he was presented to Fela in 1974 by the Nigerian film maker Ola Balogun.

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