14th Lagos Book and Arts Festival: Fela Kuti’s First Manager Speaks About Him

The 14th Lagos Book and Arts Festival which lasted three(3) days-Friday,Saturday,Sunday the 16th,17th and 18th days of November respectively-  at the Freedom Park, was a recorded success. On the last day of the festival, the likes of Oba Gbenga Sonuga, Lukman Sanusi, Benson Idonije, Chike Ofili, Maadi Chikwendo,Segun Adefila and Gbemisola Kuseyi were on seat to listen to a very educative talk session with the first manager of the god of ‘afrobeat’ in Nigeria who fought all his life to ensure that bad governance was scrapped to have good candidates replace them but died fighting and could not complete his cause, Benson Idonije.

It is important to know that the event was splitted as children were put under an enclosure to play games; mature minds were however on another ground to hold a mind-opening discussion about Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Lukman Sanusi, who helped with advertising the program via on air programs on Bubbles FM, was the first to introduce the event. This was followed by a brief history of the Freedom Park. The Freedom Park was named after the struggle some important human rights activists went through.

The likes of Nnamdi Azikwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Enahoro were imprisoned on the ground before it was converted to being a park. This reformation was said to have been initiated by Sir Gbemisola Kuseyi. Not long after this captivating history, the Crown Troupe of Africa,led by Segun Adefila was introduced to perform before the king and dignitaries present. There was a beautiful performance of one of Fela’s songs.  Three books about Fela as written by Carlos Moore( This Bitch Of Life), Benson Idonije (Dis Fela Sef) and Chike Ofili (Fela’s Rearrangement) were reviewed randomly during the talk session. After inviting the ‘father of Showbiz Journalism’ in Nigeria, Femi Akintunde Johnson, Chike Ofili was called upon alongside Benson Idonije.

Most of the questions in this session were however directed to Sir Benson Idonije because he was very close to Late Fela. They shared a lot ‘including a room’. When asked if he felt threatened by Fela’s uproar and creativity, Benson Idonije in his words said,’Fela wasn’t a threat until the government felt threatened by his music and activism. Fela was jailed almost every month.

Throughout his lifetime, Fela went to court for over three hundred and fifty times(350). I think it’s a record that hasn’t been beaten’. He goes ahead to say that ‘afrobeat was a gateway for today’s hip-hop. It is good that they are however making more money than those who actually initiated it. Which is why the like of Femi Kuti are not even as popular as they are in other countries.

The fact is,what Fela lost during his struggle to make things better with included his mother and properties have been gained through the internalization of his music’. The moderator went ahead to ask about how the name ‘Egypt 80′ came to be and Benson Idonije,being the first manager answered that,’in the evolution of Fela’s music, he got to know that civilization started from Egypt and so he decided to change the band’s name from being KOOLA LOBITOS to EGYPT 80’.

He went ahead to say that ‘as at the time I met Fela,he was not ‘radicalized’. We started being friends when he walked into the radio station I worked with in Ikoyi in 1963. When I met him, he wasn’t even smoking. He respected me as the band manager and listened to me until he traveled to America and got back in 1970. He became unmanageable’. When asked about why Fela got married to 27 ladies in 1978, Benson Idonije says ‘Fela explained to me that his marriage to the twenty-seven (27) ladies was as a way of compensating these ladies for standing by him through the struggles and also as a way of being surrounding by all that he wanted so that he doesn’t go out to sleep with women.

I quite agreed with him’. Benson Idonije read an excerpt from the book which was supposed to be launched this year to mark 15 years after Fela’s death. This book contains close encounters with the afrobeat initiator. To be launched in the first quarter of year 2013. Comments and questions were received from the audience and the event ends with recitation of poems.

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