#EndSARS: How Decades-old Music Is Inspiring Nigerian Young Protesters

  • Fela’s Spirit Hovers Nation As Age-long Social Ills Become Endemic

By Shakirudeen Bankole

Music is said to be “a universal language.” But another hidden power of music may have been uncovered as the nation struggles to appease the legion of angry and frustrated youths, who are publicly demonstrating against police brutality, particularly the countless lawlessness of the disbanded Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

For the past 12 days, Nigeria has been besieged by its youths, from different walks of life, all united towards a common goal targeted at ending police brutality in the country, and to comprehensively reform the Police Force.

Even at the risk of death, as 11 youths have already been confirmed killed so far in the protest, the number of protesters on the streets continues to soar.

Some historians are already speculating that the protest could lead to a revolution if not properly handled, and warned that the youths should exercise some restraints as their demands are being met by the government.

Government has echoed similar threat, with soldiers already deployed in Abuja and reportedly harassing peaceful protesters.

An International Political Historian, Mr. Olawale Kazeem, said Nigeria is now heading towards the Libyan and Venezuelan experience, should the protests continue.

Kazeem, who claimed to have supported the #EndSARS protest, said at the same time that the youths must get off the streets before they are being labeled anti-government miscreants.

According to him, “for those of you who are endorsing the protests, it is a good thing, but don’t forget that a protest taken too far will most likely lead to revolution.

“And in most cases, most countries that have experienced revolution always wished it never happen. Because the experience is like from frying pan to fire. Libya and Venezuela are the typical and vivid example we all should learn from,” he added.

He was silent about the possibility of the government delivering on what were being demanded by the youths.

Amid the tension, the young protesters bravely soldiered on, drawing energy to not back down due to the many broken promises of the government over the years.

One of the secrets to their relentless spirit, according to findings, was the unattended pains and injustices of the yester-years in the country, as brilliantly articulated by Nigerian musicians in their songs.

For instance, the music of the late Afrobeat Legend and human right activist, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, that of Idris Abdulkareem (Nigeria Jagajaga), African China’s ‘Treat us well’, and Naira Marley’s ‘Aiye yi ole’, among others, appeared to be playing steroid on the protesting youths.

More particularly, many of the Fela’s protest songs have continued to drive the youths into a frenzy, as it appears the lengedary ‘Abami Eda’ has resurrected back from the dead, with his ghost hovering over the entire nation, seeking justice for self, and many victims, who have been unjustly murdered or subjected to one hardship or the other by the country’s “failed systems”.

23 years after his death, ‘Abami Eda’ (mysterious being), as he was fondly called, suffered a great deal of oppression from the country’s military juntas, particularly from the regimes of General Muhammadu Buhari, General Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida and late General Sanni Abacha, over his relentless resolve to speak truth to power, using his music as a platform.

Kuti, a graduate of law, who was reputed for unusual bravery and nationalistic activism, earned himself 200 imprisonments and countless brutalization, for always speaking against corruption, bad governance, absence of basic amenities, oppression, disrespect for freedom and liberty, and high handedness of government officials.

In the process of the struggle, his mother, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, a women rights activist, died following the brutality she suffered in the hands of the Nigerian soldiers. Fela’s house ‘The Kalakuta Republic’ was also destroyed by the military in Lagos.

Though Fela died on August 2, 1997 of Acquire Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), some believed what killed the Afrobeat musical legend was the beating and trauma of injustice from the government.

Idris Abdulkareem also got a fair dose of attack from the then administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo who ordered a ban on his musical track, labelled ‘Nigeria Jaga Jaga.’

The track has continued to find its way to the airwaves and now it has become a rallying song among protesters nationwide, as the musician had appeared at different protest locations around Lagos, spurring on protesters.

From Fela’s sundry anti-government lyricals to African China’s ‘Treat Us Well’ and Abdulkareem’s revolutionary tracks among other evergreen protest songs, indigenous music has helped mirror the decades-old societal ills in the country to young citizens.

The New Diplomat correspondent, who has been covering the #EndSARS protests across Lagos, observed that music is not only energizing the youth, it is also revealing how prolonged the challenges have been.

“They said we should give them time to end police brutality and corruption in the land; that was 23 years ago at the death of the great Fela Anikulapo Kuti,” one of the protesters, Isaac Joshua told our correspondent at Alausa, Ikeja, giving an inkling to why they do not have a shred of trust in the federal government’s promise.

“We are not tired. We are not going to be tired. We want justice. And we want it fast,” he added.

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