Uwa Erhabor was Fela Kuti’s personal aide, friend and confidante. He wrote the book Kalakuta Diaries, giving the public a detailed insider’s view of Fela’s Kalakuta Republic.
Mr. Erhabor was in Abuja a couple of weeks ago for the Nigerian launch of Kalakuta Diaries. While there, he let it be known that he plans to get the ball rolling on charging former President Olusegun Obasanjo with crimes against humanity.
I had an in-depth conversation with Mr. Erhabor on a range of topics from Obasanjo to Fela to the political landscape in Nigeria.
AO: Congratulations on the book launch in Nigeria.
UE: Thanks. I don’t have a publisher in Nigeria at the moment; my publisher is in the US. I’m working on getting a Nigerian publisher.
How is Fela being received these days by the powers that be?
(laughs) Every Tom, Dick and Harry loves Fela now. Even the people who stood against Fela love him now. Of course it’s only after he’s dead. It’s a shame that Fela is not alive to witness all this. The Nigerian government shamelessly tried to put Fela’s mother’s face on money. Can you believe that?
I heard. I wasn’t surprised.
Crooks are using Fela’s name to steal money. Fela was a staunch Pan-Africanist and socialist. He wouldn’t stand for any of this bullshit going on in his name. The corruption and hypocrisy in this contraption called Nigeria is too much.
The corruption seems so brazen these days.
Look at Obasanjo; he’s gallivanting around, painting a moral picture of himself. He’s now crusading against Goodluck Jonathan, a man he personally selected and put on the PDP ticket with Umaru Yar’Adua. Obasanjo is now supposed to be the voice of morality. He’s pointing and wagging his finger at everyone but himself. How can you have a holier than thou attitude towards those you are worse than? Obasanjo is the father of corruption in Nigeria. He has no moral ground with which to criticize anyone whatsoever. There is so much hypocrisy from that man. People have short memories in Nigeria. Obasanjo should be rotting in prison. Remember the Haliburton bribery and corruption scandal?
I certainly do, but refresh the memory of TIA readers.
Obasanjo was bribed with millions by Haliburton. Someone else took the fall. Obasanjo is now going around condemning corruption. What kind of rubbish is this? It’s madness that a man with this kind of baggage and unresolved crimes is given press and free reign to move about. Nigeria has had a lot of corrupt leaders, but Obasanjo takes the cake. His corruption is unparalleled.
You’re looking to bring Obasanjo up on criminal charges. Tell us more about this.
Obasanjo should be in prison. He’s been getting away with atrocities and crimes against humanity for far too long. Under Obasanjo’s civilian rule, the massacres at Odi in Bayelsa State and Zaki Biam in Benue State occurred. Odi was razed. Women, men, old people, they were all killed by the Nigerian military on Obasanjo’s command. There has been no accountability. No one has been charged for this mass murder of innocent people. These were unarmed civilians, not militants.
I’m working on gathering signatures from Nigerians and the international community so that we can put forward a case to the ICC (International Criminal Court) at The Hague. An investigation needs to be opened for the massacres at Odi and Zaki Biam. Obasanjo needs to be brought to justice. When we get a million signatures, we will present the case to the ICC for the innocents Obasanjo has killed.
It’s alarming that these massacres occurred under Obasanjo’s civilian rule.
Remember what Fela said about democracy?
He called it demo-crazy, demonstration of craze.
Under Obsananjo’s civilian rule and so-called democracy, we witnessed demonstration of craze.
I have ties to the Niger Delta, so I know about Odi. However, most Nigerians outside the region don’t seem to know about these harrowing events. I’m always met with blank stares when I bring it up.
They don’t know because Nigeria is a colonial contraption. No one knows what really happens in other parts of the country. Many parts of Nigeria have zero visibility. Something Awolowo did right was raise visibility for the western region and Yorubaland. He created infrastructure.
Awolowo pushed for education. I believe he started the Nigerian Tribune, which is Nigeria’s oldest newspaper.
Unfortunately, leadership in the northern part of the country didn’t do the same for their people. Illiteracy is highest in the north. With the exception of Murtala Muhammed, they haven’t had real leadership. The level of backwardness in some parts of the north is so shocking that it has to be by design.
I do wonder how space can be allotted to politicians like Ahmed Sani Yerima who marries underage girls and tries to introduce bills to marry children under the guise of Islamic jurisprudence. One could argue that someone like Yerima is an anomaly, but the reality is that he has viable support. He’s not a village elder on the fringes. He was a two term governor of Zamfara and he is now a senator. In a sane world, the people of Zamfara should have run him out of town.
Northern leadership doesn’t answer these questions. How do you explain it? How do you explain the lack of infrastructure and development? In the 54 years of Nigerian independence, leadership has been firmly in northern hands most of this time. Outside of Obasanjo and Jonathan currently, it’s been mostly the north ruling. Why then is the north in the shape that it’s in? The way things are, northern leadership either made a conscious decision to not do for their people or they simply don’t care. Some parts of northern Nigeria looks like you’re stepping back in time.
Poor infrastructure and development is a major problem in the north.
What has northern leadership been doing for the past half century? How can you be in leadership for decades, yet the masses of your people remained in squalor the entire time? Who else had the power to fix it? Something is wrong. I conclude that northern leadership and elites want it this way. Infrastructure is poor, education is poor, illiteracy rates are the highest and there are no jobs. Development of citizens has clearly not been the main agenda for northern leadership through the years. I think they want a subjugated and foolish population because they are easier to control and so they can continue to steal money. Northern elites and their families aren’t the ones suffering. It’s the northern masses who are. The northern masses get angry at the wrong people, usually people not from the north. When the masses get upset at someone or something, they riot with displaced anger.
Speaking of riots, there were deadly riots in 2011 in the north when Buhari lost. Hundreds of people were killed. People I know living in the north who witnessed the post-election riots in 2011 and the Miss World riots years earlier have expressed to me their fears of violence erupting after the 2015 elections. Those not from the north are making contingency plans to go back to their hometowns just in case. Those who can afford it have standby plane tickets to the US or England just in case. Politics seem secondary to them at this point; they are mostly worried about violence erupting after the elections.
I understand their concerns.
What’s the future for Nigeria?
Everything comes full circle. Personally, I’m not sentimental about this contraption called Nigeria. It’s a farce constructed by British colonialists. I’m from the Kingdom of Benin. Nigeria could split and it wouldn’t bother me. The idea of “one Nigeria” is a myth. Anyone with eyes and common sense can see that we are not one.
I wish this wasn’t the case, but political views seem to move along regional, ethnic and/or religious lines. There are exceptions to this rule, but I can’t deny my observations.
Nigeria is not one, but has it ever been? No one who studies the history of Nigeria to the present can reach a conclusion of a united Nigeria. In the past, ethnic minorities in southern Nigeria endured leader after leader that took them for granted. Decades of marginalization and exploitation has forced them to be politically vested in Nigeria. It opened their eyes and made them realize that they too have a stake in the country, considering that their oil wealth is what keeps the contraption going. The people are frustrated. Niger Delta militants exist because of that frustration. Nigeria would be nothing without the oil in the Niger Delta, but the people living where the wealth is have nothing to show for it. After years of exploitation of their land, ethnic minorities in the south aren’t quiet anymore. They are more vocal because they are fed up with all their wealth going into the hands of westerners, northern oligarchs and corrupt politicians who control their oil resources.
There is also a lot of talk about APC [All Progressives Congress] and PDP [People’s Democratic Party], but I personally don’t ascribe to either political party. PDP or APC, it makes no difference. Most of the people in APC are defectors from PDP and other parties. They moved over to APC for political viability and better chances as an opposition to PDP. That’s it. It’s not because they are moral. Some of the same crooks from PDP are now in APC. How exactly are they different? If PDP is a den of corruption and APC is comprised of PDP people who just moved over, then what makes APC clean? They talk about change, but it’s the same suspects shuffling around.
Why do some Nigerians not see it this way?
As I said earlier, Nigerians have short memories. Look at Obasanjo again. All the shit Obasanjo has done is too long to list. Obasanjo is a killer. He’s a mass murderer. He breaks the law with impunity, just rampant lawlessness and he has yet to pay for anything he has done. Only in a country like Nigeria can someone like this be considered an elder statesman and be allowed to parade himself around as a moral crusader. It’s madness. The corrupt are championing anti-corruption. This bastard Obasanjo tried to kill Fela. His soldiers threw Fela’s elderly mother out of a window. When she died of her injuries, Fela took her coffin directly to Obasanjo at Dodan barracks. Obasanjo ordered his men to kill Fela, but Mamman Vatsa intervened. Vatsa saved Fela from certain death.
The song “Coffin for Head of State” details Fela delivering his mother’s coffin to Obasanjo at Dodan Barracks
Mamman Vatsa was killed some years later, right?
That’s right. Babangida executed him. He was allegedly plotting a coup to overthrow Babangida’s government.
What’s next for you Uwa?
Apart from working towards bringing Obasanjo to the ICC, I’ll be in the US promoting the book early this year.
Thank you for your time.