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Fela’s family house: Transforming from Kuti’s home to ‘Heritage Museum’

until recently, the Ransome Kuti’s Family House situated along NEPA Road, via Isabo, in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, was just a storey and stone walled building, esconsed within a fenced compound.

Despite the giant strides of the family in education, championed by Rev. Israel Ransome Kuti, the patriarch of the family and the matriarch, Olufunmilayo, an activist who fought for the liberation of women and the first female to drive a car, as well as the great feats recorded by their children in medicine, music and law, little or nothing was done to the building to show its historical  significance.

In fact, a passerby or a first time visitor to the location of the house would just take it for any other building, built years back. But whenever it is mentioned that the great Fela Anikulapo-Kuti himself lived in the particular house, people would then take a second look at the building.

Though occupied, it was learnt that the tenants were living pro bono, which probably made this house to turn derelict.

Rev. Ransome-Kuti was born on April 30, 1891 in Abeokuta, to Josiah Ransome-Kuti and Bertha Anny Olubi.

He completed his primary and secondary school education at the Lagos Grammar School and Abeokuta Grammar School respectively before proceeding to the Fourah Bay College,  Freetown, where he completed his undergraduate studies.

Upon his graduation from Fourah Bay College, Kuti returned to Nigeria in 1916 to begin his career, first as a class teacher at Abeokuta Grammar School until 1918 when he left his hometown.

He was appointed as the principal of Ijebu Ode  Grammar School for 13 years and went on to start the Association of Headmasters of Ijebu Schools in 1926.

In 1931, he was appointed as the pioneer president of the then newly formed Nigeria Union of Teachers, a position he held until his retirement in 1954. Kuti Hall, one of the halls of residence at the University of Ibadan, which opened in 1954, is named after this teacher, clergy and disciplinarian.

When Senator Ibikunle Amosun-led administration in Ogun State, unfolded plans last week to salvage the Kuti Family House and turn it into a monument, not a few people were elated. The pronouncement coincided with the 20th anniversary of the death of the Afrobeat King, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

Christened the ‘Heritage Museum’, to give the project a national appeal, Governor Amosun, took the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Alhaji Lai Muhammed to the family house.

The minister, who commended the initiative said the Federal Government would partner with the state government on the project.

According to him, the restoration and preservation of the house was more symbolic, particularly, at a time when the 20th anniversary of Fela’s death was being celebrated. He added that the project will be a model for inspiration to youths.

“It is laudable in the sense that this is one of the most positive steps to actually put our rhetorics into action. We’ve always said that one of the important assets we have is our cultural heritage, our history and this project which is going to immortalise Kuti’s family is very laudable and admirable.

“The Kuti family, as you know, represent different things to different people; either you talk about education, emancipation, music; entertainment. Therefore, this attempt by the government to immortalise the family by preserving and restoring the ancestral home is very commendable.

“This is the period we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the death of the maestro himself and I am sure this is within time to be commissioned very soon, probably next year or thereabout.

“The emphasis of this government, whether state or federal, is that creative industry must be turn to creative economy and I think this centre is going to be a good model to encourage and inspire the youths.”

Amosun said Fela’s family was one of the giants that laid the foundation of a greater Ogun State.

“We can’t call ourselves who we said we are without those giants that lived before us that laid the foundation that we are all building upon.

“And clearly, the Kutis is one of those illustrious families that conquered the world, not only Ogun State or Abeokuta or Nigeria. Indeed, sometime when I was away in the US and I took a cab, the music I was hearing was the music of great Fela himself.

“Fela was far ahead of his time. For us, it will be in our interest to let people know his origin, his root, where he was from, and somehow the way the Kuti family live. There’s none of them that is not a book and history on his own that people will love to read any day anytime.

“We are going to have museum for all of them, it is not just the Kuti family alone. We have several of them here; we talk about Baba Ogunde; great Ebenezer Obey, thank God he’s still here with us, this is just one of those things we are going to do and we are happy that next year, people will be using this and we will commission this,” Amosun submitted.

A visit to the Victorian styled one-storey building, showed that serious renovation work, to reinvent it is ongoing. The floor of the house is being beautified with tiles, while the wooden landing upstairs are still intact. Similarly, all the rooms had been cleared out and fitted with tiles, especially rooms in the downstairs.

In order to retain the antique nature of the house, the wooden pole bed, wardrobe, used by the family and wooden partition demarcating some rooms, were not touched.

Apart from the main building, the adjoining structure, which served as hostel for students of Abeokuta Grammar School, constructed by Ransome Kuti, is being given a facelift. Last week, tilers were seen working relentless to fix the place up, while workers fixing the Plaster of Paris (POP), were also busy giving aesthetic touch to the building.

The septic tank was being reworked, while the fence has been rebuilt and decorated. Also, a giant drape emblazoned with the pictures of members of the Kuti family, courtesy of the Ogun State government, hang on the frontage of the building.

The leader of the tilling and POP team, though craved anonymity, said the main contractor handling the project was not on site. He, however, disclosed that the team was working round the clock, to ensure the project finishes for inauguration in the next two months.

He further said that though some portions in the house will be left in their original state, the house would undergo major rehabilitation, to befit the stature of the Kuti family.

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