Essay: Some Family Do Have Them

Spme Family Do Have Them

Tuesday, July 03, 2007 at 4:03 PM WAT

THE RANSOME-KUTI FAMILY: IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, THE MOTHER AND THE ACTIVIST CHILDREN...

BY JAHMAN ANIKULAPO

It was the weirdest of the family that first gave a hint of the root of the virus that had, no doubt, eaten deep into the soul of the Ransome-Kutis.
On a most appointed day a little two decades ago, after his dramatic session of worship in the comic-looking altar in his music kingdom, the Afrikan Shrine, he was accosted by a reporter who had been excited at the latest act from the musician's seeming endless reservoir of madness:
'Why are you changing your name from Ransome-Kuti, when your brothers have maintained the family's name?'
The legendary acid-mouthed musician took a long drag on his Three Rings cigarette, smiled, shot a direct missile of a look at the reporter: 'You go first go ask ya papa why im deh bear Joseph, Johnson, Stonehead or abi na elephantiasis be im name.'
Not wanting to let the yabbis master slip away from the question, the reporter repeated his query: 'We know of Beko Ransome-Kuti, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, why Fela go change im own name now?'
'Well as you be original winsh make I tell you small bio...'
His multitude of hangers-on and fans screamed his alias: Ogostin di tori teller...' hailing such as this usually got the man leaping in frenzy; he begins: You see, Ransome, na di name weh slave master bin give my great great grand papa. E mean say my grand grand great papa na slave, weh one master com dash another.... Ransome, gift, dash...'
More ululation followed this revelation, which though mouthed in slapstick now, was probably not a piece of news to some acolytes of the Afrikan Shrine's Chief Priest.
The man continued nevertheless: 'My great grand papa was a rebel stubborn man, as im refuse to give the slavemaster im real name after dem purchase am for market, na im the slave master kuku call am Ransome... gift weh dem give am to cover igbese (debt) weh the slave master bin owe im trade partner'.
The wird being dressd in his peculiar stage costume, stretched his hand and his customized jumbo wrap of hemp was engraved into his pretty palm. A deep pull at the massive stick, he jumped up and paced down the little passage towards the changing room at the back of the stage, the reporter and a handful of chaps in his tow, he declared with a stiffer expression, which manifested a hardened resolve: 'Me I no fit continue with that kain name, I be Anikulapo... I get death for my pocket, and person we him get that one im no fit die again lailai...'
He stepped out of the dingy room into the expanse of the hallway, where a crowd was waiting, not particularly for him, yet conscious that the Lord of the Republic, was always around to protect them against the prowling men of the police force that had laid siege to the Shrine since the dawn of the day.
Raising his famous black power salute, the screaming of 'Anikulapo-Kuti' broke out amid catcalls... the entire shrine palpitated to the rhythm of exuberant displays by the youthful acolytes, many of whom were already high on substances that included hemp and local gin....
Anikulapo!!! Varied interpretation of the name were also created on the spot .. anigbolapo - one who habours marijuana in his pocket, alokolepon (one how has enormous male genitalia.. etc.
The concert soon resumed...
***
THOUGH carved in such hilarious cadences, the impact of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's (formerly Ransome-Kuti) act was not lost on those who had made it a duty to set a store of high value by what he says; even if to a larger segment of the society, the musician must have lost his mind by his various anti-norm acts of late.
Date was 1985: It was at the launch of his most definitive album Beast of No Nation at the Afrikan Shrine on Pepple Street in the heart of Ikeja the capital of Lagos State, where he had spent all his adult life since he returned from London late fifties.
Fela had in a way given a background to how the blood of non-conformism was planted in the veins of the family.
***

Rebellion... the virus started with the grandfather -- Josiah Jesse (1855-1930), streamed into his son, Israel Oludotun (1891-1955), who infected his wife, Olufunmilayo (1900-1978), and both passed it on to their own daughter and sons (Dolupo (1926-2006), Olikoye (1927-2003), Olufela ( 1938-1997), and Bekololari (1940-2006)... and now it has been injected in the grandchildren... who already are passing it on to their own children - the fifth generation of the Ransome-Kuti family.
In a sense the family started out on a class suicide mission - they stooped from the pinnacle of societal pedestal of comfort and affluence to fraternize with the flotsam and jetsam of the community. And in this unusual move they had always been regarded as outlaws, anti-norms, rebels and those to whom the society has to be circumspect. But that was only to the high and mighty whose myth of super-humanity they had shattered. To the mass body of the poor, helpless and hapless in whose service they deployed their services, the family remains an eternal hero, and even if their offspring do not step deep into the dangerous trenches of activism, the reverence for the Ransome-Kuti remains etched in the deep of the sand of history.
***
The rebellion, if it could be termed so, or humanism if it can be rationalised so, is the plank on which the family erected its legend of being. And as history of the struggles of the varied generations of the family would show, the rebellion are in three formalistic dimensions o cultural nationalism,
o social-political activism and
o humanitarian activism.
Remarkably, the most rambunctious of the family's activism -Socio-political - was taken from the unusual source, their mother.

CULTURAL ACTIVISM, AND NATIONALISM...
It all began with Josiah Jesse.
JJ had been born June 1, 1855 at Igbein in Abeokuta to a weaver, soldier and community diplomat. An early convert to Christianity, it was in the new faith that he began his rebellion. He had queried the established order of worship, wondering why the growing body of native converts still had to be made to relate to a Lord that seemed so distant to their cultural norms and expectations. He chose the strongest weapon, the language of communication in the church. As catechist of the Gbagura Church, he gradually moved his people to appreciate that there are traits in their cultural norms that are compliant with the Christian faith; particularly that their language, songs and drums are not evil, and in fact could serve as instruments to glorify the Lord.
This essentially was not to the total comfort of the church hierarchy, which thought that such a treatment of the faith at an early age of the mission could, in fact, mortgage the future of the church; particularly as there was then still a strong resistance by some influential members of the society - nameky the Ogboni cult -- to the new faith, leading to what was described as half-hearted acceptance of the gospel among the natives.
Thus the Rev JJ Ransome-Kuti faced difficulties in his service to the Lord and the Church. However, though the leadership loathed aspects of his operation he was an irresistible factor in the advancement of the Church. He was progressive. He had moved the congregation from their usual open-air location into a building, which he succeeded in mobilising the community to construct. He had also improved the quality of the Church music, even if in that process he had changed the content and performance context of the music, which earned him reprimand from the hierarchy of the faith. He had also established the Church as central to the progress of the society in the way he mobilized the flock to render service to their community. In this context, unlike in other places where the faith often sat as foreign intrusion to the life of the community, JJ made the Church to be part of the society.
But this too was not to the comfort of the Church top echelon... his activities was seen as capable of dragging the Church into some perceived contentious practices in the society. But then the congregation swelled by his innovation, and this at least gladdened the conquistador vision of the Church's headquarters in Europe.
For these feats he was popular among the flock, and irresistible to the Church.
However, after his ordination as a Deacon in 1895, he was moved out of the centre to a remote part of the Church district, Sunren-Ifo, about 60 miles away. Though the Church said it needed JJ's unique wisdom and capability to help restore peace in the community that had been turned chaotic in the aftermath of a war, the motive for the movement was said to have been spurred by the need to exile his nuisance from the centre, where the Church had been making remarkable progress.
However Rev JJ made his mark in the Sunren-Ifo after an initial turbulent starting in which he had many clashes with the strong influential forces that had taken hold of the soul of the community. His radical disposition too had launched him into the trenches with the converts who saw his radical ways as anti-norm, especially departing from the practice of his predecessors in feeding on the largesse provided by the congregation. He had continued his mission of uniting the Church and the Society, and this brought him into repeated conflicts with the authorities as well as the Community governance.
JJ's reputation as a competent leader of people grew with his ascendancy in the church hierarchy. Gradually he was pushed up the political ladder. In 1903 he was asked by the Abeokuta District Government to, in addition to his new role as the superintendent of the Abeokuta Church, act as its representatives in times of emergency. He made a success of the role, and this helped in pushing his profile in his missionary work. The congregation grew even as he advanced his objective of transforming the traditional mode of worship in the church, of course amidst great resistance by the leadership.
JJ's radical deployment of the Church to challenge some set attitude of the society led him into conflicts with not just the community but also the traditional institution. Notable in this stead was the incidence around 1908 when he literally compelled the traditional ruler of the tyown to allows Christians use the umbrella as against norms that reserved the right for only the king. This caused upheaval, leading to protestations by other members of the community as well as disquiet among some members of the Church who felt that the Priest was bringing the church into conflict with the sacred traditional institutions. The action eventually led to an attack on JJ himself in which he was severely injured.
Until his death on September 4, 1930 at age 75, JJ Ransome-Kuti remained a double-edge radical, reforming the church out of its tradition and challenging societal norms - both making him a hero and as well a virus.

SOCIAL REFORMISM AND HUMANITARIAN ACTIVISM... Israel Oludotun personified it.
JJ would seem to have passed the baton of cultural patriotism to his son, Israel Oludotun, born April 30, 1891. Like his father, Oludotun was a reformist of seemingly insatiable appetite. He left his mark in every office he held, every institution he worked in. He seemed to have imbibed the cultural activism that underscored the rebellion of his father JJ. As a teacher he ensured that the education of the young ones had enough dose of cultural content. And as a catechist, he continued the reforms of the Christian procedures, such that much of the indigenous norms and mores found their ways into the worship and evangelisation. And for the realization of his mission, Israel Oludotun after his BA degree at the Fourrah Bay College, Freetown (1913-16) - an institution where many of West African nationalists had been trained and groomed -- became a teacher at his former school, the Ijebu-Ode Grammar School, founded the Boys Scout movement, which aimed at grooming a new set of young leaders in cultural nationalism.
He left in 1918 by which time he had sown the seed of the new leadership training through the Boys Scout, which influence quickly spread among other schools in the area.
Ransome-Kuti returned to his native home to head the prestigious Abeokuta Grammar School, and in his 22 years, he revolutionised the traditions of the school. His main instrument was to engage the cultural notions of the people in the training of the young ones. Some of his innovations did not find peace with administrators of education in the district, and in the country, but Ransome-Kuti continued. His landmark in this area was the founding of the union of teachers in his local environment, which was to drastically alter the way education was administered in the whole of Egba district. A year earlier in May 1925, Rev JO Lucas had established the very first teachers' union in the country, though strictly for those in Lagos area. Yet it was Ransome-Kuti's local effort that pushed the agenda of the union to the national menu as the fame of its activities spread. It was only natural that at the formation of the National Union of Teachers in 1931, Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti was anointed its founding president. He transformed the Union to a powerful pressure group that shaped the path of education in the country, and largely many parts of Africa. Israel is credited with having deployed his charisma, his focused activism and eloquent vision in agitating better working conditions for the teachers. Naturally he was at conflict with the colonial administrators and their political allies most of the time over the activities of the union; the virus of which also spread to other part of West Africa.

THE MOTHER, FUNMILAYO, ENDOWED THE FAMILY WITH POLITICAL AND CIVIL ACTIVISM.
Whereas the more famous Ransome-Kuti brothers may imbibed cultural reformist and visionary philosophies from their patriarchal heritage from JJ down to his son, Israel, their more known forte, political activism, was no doubt a bug from their mother, Funmilayo, who was born 1900 to the Thomas family of Abeokuta.
In fact the narrative had been provided by the weird being of the family, Fela himself, when in response to a question in 1985, on why he seemed to speak less of his father, he had said,
'My Papa that one im miss road, he say im be churchman deh worship one oyinbo man with biabia... me na my mama I know, that one im be winsh,.. im show dem gaddem yeye rulers pepper'.
And when the woman died in 1978, following injuries she sustained in the Fela versus Soldier fracas, Fela broke down in tears on recollecting the impact his mother had on his life... 'That woman weh dem kill so, na the soul of revolution gangan na im dem exterminate so'.
Some commentators had reasoned that the death of Funmilayo, did a permanent damage to Fela's psyche, and even affected the movement of his music. One, he became more militant, a deviant and gradually intolerant of what he perceived inanities in the system, especially if such were authored by his favourite subject of derision, the political/military elites. His music lost its musicality and became more of political pamphleteering, in sound format.
An insight into the political sagacity of Funmilayo is provided by the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka in his childhood recollection, Ake, The Year of Childhood, when he captured how Mrs Ransome-Kuti had led a group of women including his own mother, to invade the palace of the then Alake of Egbaland, to protest certain policies that they thought were inimical to the interest of the womenfolk.
Soyinka a cousin of the Ransome-Kutis was a student in Rev. Israel Oludotun's Ab eokuta Grammar School, and in recollecting the enigma of the strict disciplinarian fondly called Daodu or 'D-a-o-o-o-o' by his bemused wards, offered sufficient clues on the difference between the activism of the man and his wife, Funmilayo whom he dubbed 'Beere', also a teacher in the same school. He recalled how at a time the then principal, Ransome-Kuti had journeyed abroad, a group of women had begun massing around his equally tough wife.
'It was informal gathering which began with three or four women, then increased in numbers', wrote the famous author. 'They met, discussed problems which had to do with the community and matters relating also to their homes'.
He continued, 'They were all Christian, wives of 'professionals' - teachers, pastors, pharmacists, and so on. When they were not discussing problems of sanitation, the shortages or rise in price of some commodity, plans for some kind of anniversary, their absorbing concern appeared to centre on the plight of young women who were just entering a phase of domestic responsibility. Over and over again, came the observation that 'they don't know what to do'; they seem not to know how to take their place in the society...'
Enlightenment, protection of rights, defending the helpless... these about sum up the ideology of the revolution planted by Mrs Kuti and her dream-sharers. And these are the traits that would manifest in the activities of not just Fela and Beko, but in the four Ransome-Kuti siblings, including Dolupo, the first girl, and Olikoye, the professor of medicine, who though least interested in politics radicalised administration of health affairs in the country, with significant influence internationally too.
Significant also is Soyinka's hint of how the Rev Ransome-Kuti helped to broaden the target group of his wife's growing class of self-aware women. The women had started mostly as wives of 'professionals', which meant they had all obtained certain degre of education...
Wrote Soyinka, 'Daodu was strolling past the 'Group' (at the regular meeting then) one afternoon when he stopped to listen. Then he interrupted: 'You know, you women have quite good aims but you don't seem to know how you want to implement them. You've been meeting now for some time and all I see all the time are 'onikaba' (gown wearers). The people who really need your help are the 'arosos' (wrapper wearers), yet they are not here. Forget the problems of social graces for newly weds. Concentrate on the 'aroso'. Bring them in your meetings. They are the ones who need your help'.
It is clear from this that both Rev Israel Oludotun and his wife share a passion for helping to lift the veil of ignorance from the faces of all classes of people, particularly the lowly placed. This is a sort of class suicide for a family that by virtue of its education and social attainment ought to be aristocratic.
The activities of the children, in their divergent manifestations reflect this predilection to speak for the voiceless and mobilise them for collective actions - a trait that is at the base of Beko's human/civil right commitments.
Perhaps most instructive in the shift of baton between Funmilayo and her four children is yet another narration by Soyinka of how eventually the matriarch of the Ransome-Kutis 'was empowered to give notice of a demand for the abolition of tax for women, both to the District Officer and the Alake of Abeokuta and his Council of Chiefs".
According to Soyinka, who by virtue of his own mother whom he dubbed Wild Christian, being an influential member of the 'Group' had done much of the errand running for the women, the meeting at which the mandate was given to Mrs Ransome- Kuti lasted late into the night with each of the members presenting examples of the maltreatment they had lately been receiving from the tax officers to justify why an urgent action needed to be taken by the group.
'On the following morning at breakfast I heard, for the first time, the expression Egba Women's Union...', which was to carry the banner of the protestations not just against indiscriminate tax but also all other forms of unfair policies against the women.
The fame of the Union spread round the country and beyond leading to the series of invitation to Mrs. Ransome-Kuti to attend various conferences overseas. She had the opportunity to draw international attention to the plight of women in the hands of colonial rulers and their cohorts in the ruling class. Ostensibly she had drawn attention to the various exploitations, which the colonial policies or the action of their men in the colony was inflicting on the people. She became quite unpopular with the ruling class, the same way that his children, especially the two politically inclined were to become to the various military and democratic regimes.
There were several attempt to stop Beere, including clandestine campaign ion the media to break her hold on the group of women but all failed. Rather she grew in stature among them as a sort of messiah. The climax of her activities led to the women openly confronting the Alake of Egbaland in his palace - a strange development particularly for a group of women. The incidence in which the women deployed all their weapons of blackmail including baring parts of their bodies, has been variously termed the Egba Women Riot, the women revolt etc.. and consequently, the Alake was forced to flee his throne and proceed on exile.
***

THE THIRD GENERATION, THE MOST INFLUENTIAL
The enigmatic influence of the matriarch of the Ransome-Kuti family on the four children is very profound, perhaps helped by the fact that she spent the longest time with them. 23 years after her husband passed on when the children were still relatively young while - (Fela was just 17 and Beko the last born, 15 in 1955 at the death of Israel), Funmilayo hanged around the children, shaping their cognitive structures, their socio-political sagacity and reformist's consciousness.
Olikoye on his 70th birthday declared: 'Our mother was no doubt the most influential in our lives. She was a very strong, determined woman who believed there is virtue in struggle for the betterment of the society and the comfort of your fellow men...'
Perhaps the greatest virtue underlining the works of the Ransome-Kuti siblings was a sense of responsibility to the welfare of the society in which they live. They believed that they owed the society a service to ensure its betterment and sustenance of good values and secured future. Their gospel was to guarantee every member of the community a tolerable level of comfort and well-being.
Dolupo, the only girl but eldest child, who's lesser known of the four, made her own impact in her nursing profession. Aside her often referenced eccentricities, including the refusal to wear shoes and rather walk bare-footed, she was known to be full of human kindness. She was known to insist that services of the government hospitals be made affordable to every member of the community, and most of the time free to the needy. In her world there were no classes in the society, everybody was equal before the creator. Thus she worked assiduously to dismantle the famous affliction - 'bigmanism' - of the Nigerian system. She was also reported to be fond of prowling the streets to pick up destitute for free medical services, which made her on collided many occasions with her superiors and authorities of the hospitals where she worked.
Until her death on January 6, 2006, Dolupo had filled up the role of matriarch of the family which the mother vacated 29 years earlier in 1978. And she bore this remarkable semblance to the mother. At her funeral, there was a suffusion of tributes not just by the well-placed dignitaries but many ordinary people who had benefited from her gesture of insisting that government institutions' services must be put at the reach of the masses who could hardly afford to cater for their needs. A famous action she took when her immediate younger brother, Koye, became health minister was to write him a public letter that if he had no intention of guaranteeing free primary healthcare to the poor of the country, he had no business taking the oath of office. Quite a lot of people frowned at her decision to send copy of the letter to the media, when she could have made it a 'family affair.' But such a counsel failed to pitch that action against the antecedent of the family.
OLIKOYE: Though often sniggered at by his own brothers for being publicly non-committal to political and civil rights activism, and being politically naïve to the point that he could take a ministerial appointment under a most contemptuous military regime, Olikoye's trajectory in public service is silver-lined. He was a pro-people administrator, who like his father, mother, brothers and even sister, insisted that the ruler must at all time uphold the tenet of their contract with the people - ensure that community wealth serves the need of the collective, rather than greed of the privileged individual. All his years at the United Nations Health bureaucracy, he was reputed to have helped shaped policies that guaranteed safe comfort zone for the needy of the world. While he served as Minister of health under the Ibrahim Babangida military administration, he stuck out of the cabinet whose soul was generally believed to have been carved in treasury looting and misrules.
Almost two decades after he left office (died in 2003), many still wonder how he managed to get away with his impressive reform policies, which drastically altered the destiny of healthcare delivery in the country. His plank was primary healthcare delivery, which he hoped would help make medical services available and affordable to a larger mass of the people. The policy helped to liberalise the administration of health in the country by redirecting its orientation from an elitist predilection. Upon his death, Babangida described Olikoye as a lonesome pro-reform enigma who believed that every man should strive to swim by his own self-resolved tide.
OLUFELA: Ostensibly by the virtue of his vocation and militant, well confrontational, disposition to activism, Olufela, remains the most influential member of the Ransome Kutis. And intriguingly by his act of changing his name to Anikulapo-Kuti, he was the one that could have helped eclipse the name that had become a part of the long, winding, drama-filled script that is Nigeria.
Fela was more than an activist, he was a revolutionary by inclination and disposition both in his psyche and character, even if his method was engraved in adventurism, sometimes weird and crude. And he is surely the most confrontational; and intolerant of the shenanigans of the ruling clan - very much in the tradition of his mother. It might not be simplistic to say that since he was the professed favourite of his mother, and one who lived longest with her, and whose serial confrontation with the security operatives eventually led to the mother's death, they both shared a deeper passion for distrusting the system.
Fela elevated outlaw to a virtue and compelled - not by force - a multitude to be a part of his movement of non-conformists. He had no sympathy for the law crafted by the rulers whom he regarded as corrupt, inept, anti-people oppressors. He deployed his creative sensibility and skill to achieve his objective of mobilising the people to self-realisation and possible action. He could be declared an astute politician who was, however, reluctant to live according to the law skewed by the centrifugal forces in the society to govern conduct of public affairs.
Was Fela dreaming an Utopia? It was most unlikely. Was he thinking of sitting in the state house as leader of government? He did not even equip himself for that role? And that was quite a distance from his objective. But he did form a political party, Movement of the People, MOP. Fela was essentially, an interventionist who deployed the civilising principles of the arts to etch his agenda in the psyche of the people.
He was the child of his mother.
BEKOLOLARI: Though in orientation, Fela's activism is closer to Beko's, the brothers differ in the strength of sacrifice they were ready to make. It could be argued however, that of the family, it was Fela that completely abandoned the Ransome-Kuti's aristocratic heredity, a total renouncing of his elevated class to intervene in the life of the masses of the people from among them. Others, including Beko, who probably spent more time on the street marching and protesting against iniquities in the social and political system, than he ever spent in his clinic as a medical doctor, looked in from up there, or from the outside of the community. This is probably why Fela's influence is more deepening in the public psyche, even among the puritans who despised his lifestyle of express sex and drug. Well, his robust music, soaked in rambunctious politics, helped a lot to spread his influence and will in future, ensure that his influence is not dropped in the abyss of the forgotten.
Beko though as omnipresent in the public eye as his weird brother, Fela, arguably had the diciest start and credential in activism. Of course, he was looking in from up-there/outside; he never like his brother, renounced his privilege background. He fraternised with the mass of the people, fought for them, pounded the streets with them, shared their pains and frustrations, but he did it from his comfort zone - which in any case is an understated fact about many of Nigeria's robust civil activists' clan.
On this course, he and Fela were never in agreement. At his many Shrine-speak, Fela could be heard sniggering at Beko's 'ajebota's (spoilt/privilege child) inner disposition: 'Ha, that Beko na craze colomentality man. Im deh fight for the masses, but im fit chop for buka or shit for public, or smoke igbo for street?' Fela declared on an occasion when Beko was arrested after yet another street protest. This comment ricocheted a similar Fela's yabbis of his dear younger brother when Beko took up the job of Chairman of the board of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH... 'Im no get business for that kain oyinbo medicine centre, and working for these yeye government sef', he had said, reaffirming his denouncement of orthodox medicine as capable of saving the Blackman from ailment.
Beko himself was to say of Fela in an interview: 'that one, he is a crazy fellow, it was frustrating growing up with him. He was always up to one thing or the other. We argued over everything, and we were at loggerheads all the time. He used to make fun of me and say 'Mr Logic... do you think you can address everything with logic'.
Beko's statement is instructive of the fundamental difference between the two brothers - incidentally however, the two dimensions re deducible from the character traits of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti's brand of activism. For Fela, struggle means getting into the trenches and doing the 'roforofo' (rough, possibly violent) fight - matching the enemies gut for gut, brawn for brawn, no matter the risk and cost to your personal safety and comfort; for Beko, the struggle must toe the line of ideology, it must be logical on concept and execution. 'I am that kind of person who is very concerned about my environment. As long as I lived, I will continue to engage in the struggle to make sure that my society, that my environment, is better.' says Beko shortly after the sickly man came out of hospital following another bout of illness.
In another interview, Beko gave an insight into his own unwritten pact with the people: 'Our people must realise that things will not change on their own. The kind of people we have in power today are very ruthless people who care less about the ordinary citizen. Unless we are prepared to fight real hard, they would one day wipe all of us completely out from the shores of this land. We must also realise that the consequences of fighting, in remaining in the struggle is not as bad as engaging in the struggle. We shouldn't be afraid in fighting for our collective rights, happiness and survive'.
Bekololari, a pace away from his brother, Fela, believes in the collective struggle. He would not form his own party or institution through which to fight, rather, he would identify people who share his dream of redeeming the environment from the claws of forces of darkness, and form a collective to give the struggle wider appeal and a tighter muscle. The problem he ran into in this choice, and which must have gravely undermined his influence and as well tormented his hapless, frustrated soul, is that in his collective of fellow travellers, were to be found activists of credentials; those who were part of the very rot he sought to clean. He had among his close friends and fellow fighters, roguish members of the ruling class, pseudo-human rightists, pretentious ideologists as well as ex-criminals whose main agenda is to rake in hard currency from he donor agencies. He did not discriminate, or did not seem to know how to turn people down once the precept of the struggle is well stressed to the collective.
This is perhaps what Fela referred to as his over-addiction to 'logic'. And surely why he never really was close to the legend of civil and rights activism, Gani Fawehinmi, who was indeed his neighbour in the Anthony Village part of Lagos. It was also certainly why Beko was seemingly flirtatious around the civil society organisations, which saw him literally hopping from one organisation to the other. Even at the time of his death on February 10, 2006, Beko was embroiled in a battle with the Pro-National Conference, PRONACO, a body he had worked very hard to help firm-footed for the purpose of compelling the government of Olusegun Obasanjo to stage a truly representative and purpose-driven national dialogue towards resolving the many incongruities in the federation. He had also run into conflict with the very unexpected quarter, his cousin Wole Soyinka, who had to issue a public declaimer of a rally that Beko's faction of the PRONACO had staged in Ibadan where Soyinka was advertised as a speaker.
His inability to abide by inanities of others, even of his closest associates, earned the hush-hush criticisms of his being dictatorial in his opinion, resentful of opinions that did not emanate from him, intolerant of other people's interest, and overtly self-loving.

A LINK TO THE PAST

To every generation of Ransome-Kuti, its own virtues and authored philosophy of activism, or legacy of intervention in the social, political and cultural orderings of the environment or society. However, the greatest virtue the members shared is the concern for a better, progressive environment, a more humane community of man and a well-defined path to the future.
These virtues are encapsulated in Beko's description of the nature of their parents -- the second generation: 'What you could read from both parents was a genuine concern for their environment. My father was very good at music and he composed numerous songs. He composed Egba National Anthem. He was not necessarily thinking of Nigeria; he was thinking in terms of Yoruba nationhood. When my father died, my mother carried the Nigerian vision a bit further, which was why she joined the National Council of Nigerian and Cameroun Citizens, NCNC, because NCNC of that time was the one group focusing on the concept of one Nigeria, whereas the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC and Action Group, AG were more interested in a federations of the Regions. She transmitted from 'One Africa' to 'One Nigeria'. But in her last years, she had become disillusioned.'

THE FUTURE SPEAKS
Disillusionment!
Sure this was no portion of the Ransome-Kuti dynasty of activists, certainly not of the third generation, aptly represented by Fela and Beko. They both died of ill-health. They died fighting. They expired on the struggle... not exterminated by the struggle.
Perhaps this was the looming sign that the family is not resting yet on Project Better Nigeria, Better Humanity.
For what the future portend for the family in the scheme of struggle. The words of members of the fourth generation provide the guide:

DOTUN RANSOME_KUTI, son of Olikoye Ransome Kuti:
Yes, the burden of the struggle, which our parents championed is on us... It is something that every Nigerian should share for a better society. So in my own little way as Dotun Ransome-Kuti, I'll try and do my own bit. I don't think the death of Beko, the last of the brothers, will end the involvement of the family in the struggle for a just and better society. You could see that already some of us the children are involved in some form of activism or the other. We still have people like Mr. Femi Anikulapo-Kuti. He's doing it in his own little way. I know Mrs. Nike Nedum, who had gone to jail with her late father and she'd always stood by her father. She's doing it already in her own way. I can't say anything of myself, but I know of those two. You don't just say I want to be human rights activist. You have to feel it after you have the conviction. Our dynasty has got to a point where we hold tenaciously whatever we believe in and stand by it till eternity. The fact that your father was an engineer is not a guarantee that you will be an engineer... I don't know what my daughters or my sons will be. They might decide to take up that struggle. I can't talk for other people. I've never been politically inclined. It is not because I don't have any views or things like that. But I don't think I have that push to be rapped up into public arena.

YENI RANSOME-KUTI, performing artiste, designer, daughter of Fela

I share ultimately my father's vision for a better society. My father and his siblings were not fighting for something that's not real. Rather they were fighting for something that's so real. Unfortunately, in their lifetime, the vision did not come to pass... I have the courage to sustain and carry out the struggle. It is the means to carry out the struggle that I don't have. For instance, I'll never accept to serve government or go into politics as it's obtained today. This is 'chop chop' politics. I don't believe in such politics. I can't stand a situation where somebody does something that's obviously wrong and you say we should leave the person by covering him up. I don't believe in that. I believe in being straightforward. I cannot practise 'boju-boju' (shady) politics. I can only deal with people that are honest, because I'm more interested in the betterment of this society. An average youth wants to leave Nigeria for Europe and America. But I believe we should stay here and do something to make ours a better society. My beliefs and ideas are positive force and not radical, because radical is a negative word. They are positive force particularly concerned about changing this country. Unfortunately, I didn't know how to go about it. I started in our own small Africa Shrine. The orientation of our people is wrong now. We don't believe in hardwork again. To me, I look at the shrine with the view that if I'm running a state or a country how would I succeed if I cannot run this shrine properly... My brother, Femi, does the struggle through his songs. Our music has satirical Lyric, trying to reshape the society. Femi started Movement Against Second Slavery... I dream of a society where there will be light, water etc. I wish for a society where we'll be light, water good road, good food, safe and secured etc. when a man is well-fed, he can always think of better ideas to move the society forward. But if he is hungry, the reverse is the case.


FEMI ANIKULAPO KUTI, Musician, son of Fela (he founded the Movement Against Second Slavery)

My music and my life have always been channelled in the direction of struggle for justice and a better society. I don't think I'm afraid of anybody... I'll forever confront injustices that come my way. The struggle for African liberty and total emancipation can only be won collectively, not by an individual. If people are not concerned that for more than 40 years after independence, we don't have light, no good road, so many poor people in the streets, etc, that's getting dangerous. As an individual and as educated as we are, we can't understand that simple fact, only for us to just sit at home and pray, pray, that's the individual's business... There's nothing to be afraid of as far as I'm concerned. I'll continue to do what I'm doing and I'll do it to the best of best. My son will do the same. He's trained in that direction. His son will do the same. It will be the history of Anikulapo- Kuti... I'm not preparing him, but I'm just teaching him the truth. I've been telling him about his grand father. I played his songs for him as much as possible, even my own music. He knows what I'm doing. He knows probably 90 per cent of everything in my life. I have no secret for him. He knows the truth. Now it's for him to use his intelligence to decide, which one he is going to uphold and how he's going to handle that. I can only teach him what I know. So, I teach him as much as possible day-by-day, second-by-second, as much as I can. So, if I'm not here tomorrow he will be able to handle his life. He's prepared for the future. It's his duty to uplift the family name. He has to do better than me. Because the family has a name to protect.

Mrs. NIKE NEDUM (nee Ransome Kuti) daughter of Bekololari

Struggle cannot be passed on genetically. Like I said earlier, it's the responsibility of all Nigerians to seek to hold their leaders accountable to be forthright and consistent in defending what they believe is their rights. If we continue to wait for people because they're from a certain family then not much is going to get done really. It will be the struggle of the lone. I feel concerned about issues and I try as much as possible personally to stand by it and defend whatever I feel strongly about. But I don't think it's the responsibility of the Ransome-Kutis. The fact that my father and his siblings did so, I think it was not a design or a plan that was agreed by them. It just arose by the nature of their character. Whatever role the next generation of the Ransome-Kutis plays will be defined by individual's perception of the society and how they deal with it. Obviously it won't be as if we are sitting down somewhere to hold a meeting and say the next generation must continue the struggle. They just found themselves in circumstances that made them to stand up for what they believed in. I think it is a spirit we should expect from all Nigerians not just the Ransome-Kuti family. If we want a better society in our country, it is a thing we should expect from all Nigerians. People can have expectations you can't stop them. The events as they unfold will determine whether their expectations can be met or not.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Taken from EyinOdu

Preemptive: The Quest For Peace And Civilised Humanity

ROLE OF THE MEDIA IN PROMOTION OF CULTURE AND TOURISM