Fela was jailed in 1984 for having in his possession the sum of ‘£1,600 pounds meant for the entire band of 26 persons, at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, on their way to Europe for a scheduled concert.
He was tried by a Judge, Okoro-Idogwu and sentenced to prison for a period of 5 years under Major General Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari’s draconian law then states that no Nigerian should be in possession of more than £500, but exemption of course was given to military personnel and to those who have earned the foreign exchange legitimately. So, if all the 26-member band were to hold £500 each, they sure would have had £13,000 legitimate money.
Fela was at the Airport with his manager, an European, Rikki Stein, who also had in his possession papers to show, Fela earned the said money legitimately from a previous overseas tour. Yet, despite all these glaring evidences, Fela was prevented from going for that scheduled trip, his son Femi and the rest of the band however made the trip and it was a great success.
The government of Major General Muhammadu Buhari in the meantime had other ideas, namely this – Fela, their vocal critic must be sent to jail. Quickly and Sharply arraigned in court, the judge promptly sentenced Fela to a 10-year jail term on 2 counts, but to serve the terms, concurrently for a 5-year jail sentence. That was September of 1984!
Fela was to be adequately punished and transferred to Maiduguri prisons. It was on an auspicious day in August of 1985 …… Nigerians woke up to the broadcast of General Dogonyaro in which these historic words were uttered:
“Fellow Nigerians…. The Nigerian public has been made to believe that the slow pace of action of the Federal Government headed by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was due to the enormity of the problems left by the last civilian administration.
Although it is true that a lot of problems were left behind by the last civilian government, the real reason, however, for the very slow pace of action is due to lack of unanimity of purpose among the ruling body; subsequently, the business of governance has gradually been subjected to ill-motivated power play considerations. The ruling body, the Supreme Military Council, has, therefore, progressively been made redundant by the actions of a select few members charged with the day-to-day implementation of the SMC’s policies and decision.
The concept of collective leadership has been substituted by stubborn and ill-advised unilateral actions, thereby destroying the principles upon which the government came to power. Any effort made to advise the leadership, met with stubborn resistance and was viewed as a challenge to authority or disloyalty.
Thus, the scene was being set for systematic elimination of what, was termed oppositions. All the energies of the ruler ship were directed at this imaginary opposition rather than to effective leadership.
The result of this misdirected effort is now very evident in the country as a whole. The government has started to drift. The economy does not seem to be getting any better as we witness daily increased inflation.
The nation’s meager resources are once again being wasted on unproductive ventures. Government has distanced itself from the people and the yearnings and aspirations of the people as constantly reflected in the media have been ignored.
This is because a few people have arrogated to themselves the right to make the decisions for the larger part of the ruling body. ~Brigadier Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaro, in the Coup Speech that overthrew Buhari On August 27, 1985″
And shortly after Babangida took over, same Judge, Justice Okoro-Idogwu that sentenced Fela, found his way to a hospital in Maiduguri, where Fela had been admitted due to the harsh realities of prison sentence in the harshest environment. Either by acts of commission or omission, covert or consciousness, conscience or overt, justice Okoro-Idogwu made straight for Fela’s bed where he tendered an apology to Fela, and according to Fela, “the judge don beg o”!
As we were all made to believe, the judge confessed that the government of Major General Muhammadu Buhari prevailed on him to jail Fela at all costs… Fela did nothing wrong but his hands were proverbially, tied!
With this Revelation and the relief that the people felt from being liberated from the tyrannical rule of Muhammadu Buhari, the new ruler, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, promptly ordered Fela brought to the Benin prisons and a few weeks later had him released to the joys of the Good people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria….
The aftermath of this inglorious episode in the history of this country was the release of one of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s most endearing and profoundly soulful songs, a critical as well as a mega commercial success that earned Fela a Grammy Award nomination – Beast Of No Nation!
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