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MUSIC-NIGERIA: Afrobeat King Falls Foul of Drug Enforcers

Toye Olori

LAGOS, Apr 29 1997 (IPS) - Afrobeat musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti again has fallen foul of Nigeria’s National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), roughly one year after he was detained briefly for possession of cannabis.

Fela and 107 members and supporters of his music group were arrested early April for possession of the drug, commonly called ‘Indian hemp’ here, at the Afrobeat King’s shrine in Ikeja suburb. The others were released later but, according to Fela’s lawyer, Femi Falana, but the 58-year-old musician spent 14 days in detention before being released on bail last month by a local judge. He is scheduled to reappear in court on May 28.

Fela, along with members of his group, had been arrested last year by the NDLEA for the possession of 10 kg of hemp but he was released for counselling. This time, the drug enforcement agency appeared anxious to make him an example. Soon after he was taken into custody, NDLEA Chairman Gen. Musa Bamaiyi paraded Kuti – in handcuffs – and his followers before the TV cameras.

“Following a raid on Fela’s home last year, with a sizeable quantity of prohibited drugs recovered from him, the agency had made fruitless efforts at rehabilitation,” Bamaiyi said. “Based on our assessment of the posture of Fela, the agency has now realised that a drastic disease needs drastic surgery to get a proper cure.”

The NDLEA boss said his agency had exercised much restraint over time, but an intelligence report had compelled it to take more drastic action against Fela and his entourage.

“We can no longer hope against hope. Fela seems, from all indications, to be enjoying his action which has wrecked so many lives and we at the agency are now poised to redress this misdeed, once and for all,” Bamaiyi said, “Regrettably, Fela has remained unrepentant in his habit. His followers seem to be on the increase daily.”

Asked on TV by Bamaiyi, “If you (were) the president of this country, would you allow an agency like the NDLEA in this country?”, Fela countered: “Yes, but I would redirect their activities to curb dangerous drugs like cocaine, heroine and other white man’s harmful drugs.”

Looking emaciated but unruffled while the NDLEA chairman cross- examined him in the presence of journalists, Fela said he believed hemp was not a drug: “It energises. I smoke this grass because it is an artistic phenomenon. It makes me eat well, have a good composition and makes me sleep well with women.

Fela married 23 of his female dancers on the same day in the mid 1970s when security officials tried to arrest them in the shrine for prostitution. Most of the ‘wives’ have since left the shrine.

He told Bamairi “This grass is not harmful. It is medicinal. I have been taking it for 40 years and I can tell you that it is good. I know that cocaine and heroine are bad and I don’t take them and neither encourage people to take them”.

Bamaiyi retorted: “You called Indian hemp ‘grass’ but it is animals that eat grass”.

“Animals don’t eat this kind of grass,” was Fela’s response.

Observers believe the musician might be in serious trouble this time due to the discovery of minors in his shrine. Those shown on TV by the NDLEA included several teenage girls, one as young as 13. Some of them said their parents did not know they were living in Fela’s house.

The NDLEA boss charged that “Fela has unleashed an unbridled reign of terror on the minds of unsuspecting youths long enough and the activities of his followers now call to question the ability of the agency to live up to expectations.”

Fela’s activities, he added, “have held innocent souls hostage and with the gloom now pervading their lives, they are doomed if the agency fails in its sacred responsibility of rescuing their enslaved souls from his clutches.”

Fela argued, however, that the under-aged girls working at the shrine were not employed by him, but by some of his dancers, mainly as vendors and the NDLEA has come under fire from lawyers and human rights groups for hauling the musician before the cameras. Lawyer Fred Agbaje said in a statement that showing the detainees on TV was unconstitutional.

“The NDLEA was wrong in parading in public Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and 107 others for alleged possession of Indian hemp.” he said “Fela has not been found guilty … in law. How is the NDLEA boss, without scientific/legal proof, sure that what he found in Fela’s house or shrine were legally prohibited drugs and that they were actually owned by Fela?”

Agbaje argued that even if the drugs were found on Kuti, the reasons advanced by Fela himself for their possession were legally tenable and wholly convincing.

The unregistered National Conscience Party (NCP), led by human rights lawyer Gani Fawehinmi, also issued a statement criticising the action. The NCP said it believed Fela was being maltreated not for drugs but “for his anti-establishment songs and their radicalising influence on the youths of this country over the decades”.

“Fela is being dehumanised by the NDLEA for using music as a means of mobilising public opinion against oppressive military dictators over the years. We, therefore, see Fela being chained as respresenting the radical movement and the masses of this country in chains of political and economic bondage,” the NCP said.

Fela’s lawyer, Femi Falana has filed a suit against the NDLEA claiming about 1.17 million dollars for unlawful arrest.

 
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