IN their otherworldly disturbingly novelistic life where they stood backing each other and pointing their arms and fingers in the opposite direction, Awo stood with his head still intact, with his owlish spectacle and his trade mark “Awo cap” but Fela in his “yellow fever” jumpsuit is without a head. His head had been chopped off, beheaded by an artistic executioner—a sculpture.
I am not writing fiction. If you think this is unreal or I am just imagining things, then you better come to the big roundabout at the junction fusing Allen Avenue and Obafemi Awolowo Way, all in Ikeja, and you will see the two opposite Nigerian icons from different divides, standing like next-door neighbours, backing each other in a world of two odd statues.
As I was driving round the two statues of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the chief priest of Afrobeat music Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, my mind went back to January 9, 1993, when as the editor of Weekend Concord, my paper carried a front-page story on a so-called lunatic who set Awo’s statue on fire at this same spot.
In those days, we used to look at journalism from talking points and from one “BIG STORY” perspective where we took one “trending” story and examined it from different perspective. In the case of Awo’s burnt statue, every reporter was assigned to look at the story from a unique angle. For example, my then talented young reporter Femi Adesina wrote a piece titled “The Travails of Awo’s Statue”, then Eric Osagie, another young star reporter went about interviewing spiritualists and came with a story: “Why Awo is Angry.” Another young, creative reporter Sunday Umahi who is now dead, went to interview Fela and got a story about Fela saying: “If I know the man who burnt Awo’s statue, I will dash him N100.”
Yet another reporter Nicholas Adheji went and interviewed a sculptor and came up with a story: “A Sculpture Speaks On How Statues Are Made.” It was the good old days of good journalism when we used to be young and creative, when we used to have fun practising journalism with a literary bent.
I was going through my old copies of Weekend Concord and I was laughing all the way as I opened one page after the other. Today, let me take you back to the good old days.
In Page 2 of the “Big Story” Femi Adesina wrote: “A man said to be a lunatic took a deep look at Awo’s statue and maybe he didn’t like what he saw. He then doused it with kerosene. He struck a match to it and the statue began to blaze merrily. It was like Christmas time all over again and the statue was razed to the ground, the Lilliputian size, the face they said did not look like Awolowo’s all burnt into ashes.”
Eric Osagie who went to talk to spiritualists on the burnt statue talked to Godspower Oyewole and Gabriel Okonzuwa the two top spiritualists of the era. He reported: “Top Nigerian spiritualists have reacted to the burning down last week of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, located at the Awolowo Way/Allen Avenue roundabout, Ikeja, by a man strongly believed to be insane. Like Julius Caesar’s wife who dreamt of her husband’s statue spouting blood and interpreted it as evil omen, they believe that the incident is a strong pointer to the fact that all is not well between the highly-revered sage and the country.”
According to Godspower Oyewole: “What happened is not an ordinary thing. A mad man burning down the statue of a national figure! It can only mean one thing. And that is: Awo is unhappy with the way things are currently going on in this country.”
Oyewole pleaded with Osagie to “give me five minutes to go into communication with the spirits” adding that “this is a serious matter.” After twenty minutes in his consulting room, Oyewole came out with a fat, red book and broke the news of his communion with Awo in the spiritual realm. Said he: “Awo says he is angry. Awo says he is not happy that everything has collapsed in this country. He is not happy that Nigeria has not been able to conduct a presidential election. Three times we have tried, three times we have failed. And everything looks hopeless. The man is unhappy that the common man can no longer feed. He is worried that Nigerians are hungry and the leaders are turning a blind eye. And one way of expressing his dissatisfaction with the state of affairs is through the burnt statue.”
Gabriel Okonzua in a separate interview similarly said: “Awo is saying that he is disappointed in the country which is in shambles. Awo says he is disappointed that people he had faith in have become so selfish and self-centred. That they have fallen short of his expectation. They have forsaken the masses whom he loved so much. Awo says he wants Nigeria to shine and be a leading example to other countries of the world but then, seeing what is happening makes him unhappy.”
When Sunday Umahi met Fela, he was “sprawling on a giant mattress spread on the floor of his living room while recuperating from a fever which hit him following his strenuous shows at Christmas.”
Fela told Umahi that the sight of statues littering almost everywhere in Lagos makes him sick. “I sigh angrily when I see them,” Fela said. “I don’t look at them twice. They constitute an eyesore and should be made away with.” Asked about his reaction to Awo’s burnt statue, Fela said he was happy to hear the news. Umahi reports: “Fela said he was somehow relieved to hear that one of these statues which always made him sigh in disgust has been burnt down. Raising his voice and gathering the wrapper he used in covering his body up to his neck region, Fela threw another missile, a totally unexpected one. He said: ‘If I know the man who burnt the statue down, I will dash him a hundred naira for nothing at all.’”
Umahi continues: “Then he smiled broadly. One white man who was sitting on the floor with him peered intently at the reporter. While two young and beautiful women watching a video film, chuckled to themselves. The only person who laughed at Fela’s big joke which the musician said was no joke, was his son Femi. But Fela believes that the burning of the statue was not accidental. For him, it was part of what he described as a ‘season of transition’ which all Nigerians are witnessing today.”
“What is the meaning of transition?” Fela asked. “Transition means death. This government knows that and that was why they call their thing transition period. Everything is dying because we are in the era of transition. That is why this year this country is going to be in a big mess… “The time of erecting statues and monument for our gods and goddesses are gone. People who are really important don’t need monuments when they are dead or still alive. So I don’t accept the concept or what is now the norm of erecting statues or monuments for leaders…I won’t like anyone to erect a statue for me. No one should do that for me. It won’t make me happy. I know I won’t die. Erecting statues does not make a leader great. Only his works can testify for the leader. Always allow the deed of your leaders to speak for them.”