By Lanre Arogundade
Were it all about the altercation between Seun Kuti and a police officer, an aspect of which was captured in a video clip that has severally trended, he would by now have been charged to present his case or defence.
As Seun Kuti’s lawyer, Mr.. Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, SAN, said, the Police has even done part of the job by stating their own side of the story in the media on what allegedly transpired. What was therefore left was for the Police to prepare its case and await what would be the advice of the Lagos State Director of Public Prosecution to whom the Magistrate Court directed that the matter be referred because the court opined correctly that being the accusers, the Police shouldn’t be the prosecutors.
However, as it is well known, there has been a macabre turn of events since then. The Police went back to the same Magistrate Court to extend his detention by another four days, which expires today. Based on speculations that the Police may take him for blood or psychiatrist test and considering two searches on his residence, it cannot be ruled out that the development may get more bizarre.
There is now the real fear that Seun may not be able to make his scheduled foreign tours with his Egypt 80 band with the attendant problems that may pose for his business and musical career and international reputation. On the other hand, the denial could also provoke international uproar as in those saner societies, they would wonder why he is being unjustly detained over a bailable and trial-able alleged offence.
This appalling situation might have been encouraged by the way and manner some have gone about expressing their views on the matter. As Mr. Olumide-Fusika said during an Arise News Television interview last week, there are those who have simply gone into lynch-him mode. Yet, in the final analysis, we are supposed to be dealing with a case of assault between two people. In this regard, it is extremely preposterous for anybody to have suggested that the incident was unprovoked.
That may be the impression created by the video clip. But media and communication experts would argue that single clicks harbour the danger of promoting single narratives. Often, you see what someone wants you to see in order to promote certain opinion or shape peoples’ judgement.
Since one is an afro-beat musician and a son of the famous Fela, and the other, a law enforcement officer, it is not surprising that this development has grabbed headlines. Yet, it does not mean that the circumstances that led to what is trending do not deserve reasonable attention. That is why it is important to urge the Police to allow the law to take its course over the primary matter that led Seun Kuti to voluntarily report himself to the Police.
Talking about the two characters in this saga meanwhile, it is actually a form of irony that they got embroiled in altercation in the first place. Fundamentally speaking they are both victims of an unjust system. It takes some dialectics to understand this and it is my hope that this is one of the lessons of the university of life that would further enrich Seun’s political world view
If there is any family whose young ones would grow up with one form of disdain or the other for Police brutality, it would be the Kutis. From Fela’s mother, nationalist and women’s right fighter Olufunmilayo to Fela himself, and his younger brother, Beko, the assaults on the family are stuff for the legends. As in every human clan, the way each and every member of the family would react to the pain would be different. To borrow the words of Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former Governor of Anambra State, some might elect to carry their placards in their hearts. Others may openly express their resentment.
The older Kutis witnessed the razing of Fela’s Kalakuta by the army on the orders of the Obasanjo regime. The Kutis matriarch, Olufunmilayo aged 77 was thrown out of the window, had her legs broken and subsequently died. Beko’s offence was that his clinic was located inside Kalakuta. He not only lost the entire clinic to the inferno, he too was maimed. During his later life involvement in the struggles against military rule, Beko was subjected to more brutalities. Fela’s ‘Unknown Soldier’ captured it all.
Seun’s mother, Fehintola, was one of the wives of Fela who lived under the same roof with him and doubled as a singer in the Egypt 80 band. Giving that circumstance, Seun could not but have been raised in both Kalakuta (the later one that is) and the Afrika shrine where as a toddler he showed early interest in multiple musical instruments such that before the age of 10 he made his debut by leading the Egpyt 80 band to render one of his father’s more popular albums. Guess the name? ‘Sorrows, Tears and Blood’.
“Every body run, run, run; everybody scatter scatter; police dey come, army dey come, several minutes later Police don go away, army don disappear, dem leave sorrow, tears and blood, dem regular trade mark”.
As I wrote in two of my books – ‘Fela: Yesterday’s Message as Today’s Reality’ and ‘Breaking Your Head With Coconut (Akowe’s Journey in Student Unionism) – if our generation was encouraged by such songs to pick the gauntlet of struggle, and among others, fought against Police and military brutality as students’ union activists, it could not have been surprising that a Seun Kuti would join ranks with the #EndSars protesters as an adult. Either as a baby on his mother’s back, a kid prancing around Kalakuta or as a young member of the Egypt 80 band, Seun was first-hand witness of police brutality against his parents, siblings, band members and other associates of Fela.
Yet, while from the colonial to the present times, the Army, the Police, etc are designed as instruments of the state to subjugate the people, the rank and file soldiers and policemen are themselves victims within these instutional systems. They are made to live in derelict barracks, work in dehumanising environment and earn poverty wages. They end up being active players in a vicious circle of injustice. They see others as privileged and hate the fact that you and I complain, and indeed abuse them for collecting bribes at check-points when those who stole billions are reverred or worshipped. Because the Police provide security for our rulers, they know better about how corruption in government has ruined the Nation and put it in auto-reverse.
It is the above knowledge that informs why activists and unionists, particularly we socialists, while fighting against every act of Police brutality also demand for union rights for the rank and file and improved welfare for them. That is why I said earlier that both Seun and the police officer involved in the matter at hand are, in a sense, victims who should be waging collective struggle against a system that brutalises all.
Finally, while it is normal and welcome for activists or critics to be subjected to higher level of scrutiny in their public conduct or misconduct, they should however neither be subjected to mob justice nor denied what they normally demand of others in similar circumstances; which is that whoever is alleged should be allowed to freely defend him/herself in a law court. Power Show, which again Fela sang about, cannot and should not be the alternative.
Lanre Arogundade, journalist, human rights and press freedom activist is a former President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and a former Chairman of the Lagos State Council of NUJ.