Fela was jailed in 1984 for having in his possession the sum of
‘£1,600 pounds meant for the entire band of 26 persons, at the
Murtala Mohammed Airport, on their way to Europe for a
He was tried by a Judge, Okoro-Idogwu and sentenced to prison
for a period of 5 years under Major General Muhammadu Buhari.
Buhari’s draconian law then states that no Nigerian should be in
possession of more than £500, but
exemption of course was given to military personnel and to those
who have earned the foreign exchange legitimately. So, if all the 26
member band were to hold £500 each, they sure would have had
£13,000 legitimate money.
Fela was at the Airport with his manager, an European, Rikki Stein,
who also had in his possession papers to show, Fela earned the
said money legitimately from a previous overseas tour.
Yet, despite all these glaring evidences, Fela was prevented from
going for that scheduled trip, his son
Femi and the rest of the band however made the trip and it was a
The government of Major General Muhammadu Buhari in the
meantime had other ideas, namely this –
Fela, their vocal critic must be sent to jail.
Quickly and Sharply arraigned in court, the judge promptly
sentenced Fela to a 10 year jail term on 2
counts, but to serve the terms, concurrently for a 5 year jail
sentence. That was September of 1984!
Fela was to be adequately punished and transfered to Maiduguri
It was on an auspicious day in August of 1985 ….. Nigerians woke
up to the broadcast of General
Dogonyaro in which this historic words were uttered:
The Nigerian public has been made to believe that the slow pace of
action of the Federal Government headed by Major-General
Muhammadu Buhari was due to the enormity of the problems left
by the last civilian administration.
Although it is true that a lot of problems were left behind by the last
civilian government, the real reason, however, for the very slow
pace of action is due to lack of unanimity of purpose among the
subsequently, the business of governance has gradually been
subjected to ill-motivated power play
considerations. The ruling body, the Supreme Military Council, has,
therefore, progressively been made
redundant by the actions of a select few members charged with
the day-to-day implementation of the SMC’s policies and decision.
The concept of collective leadership has been substituted by
stubborn and ill advised unilateral actions, thereby destroying the
principles upon which the government came to power. Any effort
made to advise the leadership, met with stubborn resistance and
was viewed as a
challenge to authority or disloyalty.
Thus, the scene was being set for systematic elimination of what,
was termed oppositions. All the energies of the rulership were
directed at this imaginary opposition rather than to effective
The result of this misdirected effort is now very evident in the
country as a whole. The government has started to drift. The
economy does not seem to be getting any better as we witness
daily increased inflation. The nation’s meager resources are once
again being wasted on unproductive ventures. Government has
distanced itself from the people and the yearnings and aspirations
of the people as constantly reflected in the media have been
ignored. This is because a few people have arrogated to
themselves the right to make the decisions for the larger part of
the ruling body.
~Brigadier Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaro, in the Coup Speech that
overthrew Buhari On August 27, 1985”
And shortly after IBB took over, same Judge, Justice Okoro-
Idogwu that sentenced Fela, found his way to a hospital in
Maiduguri, where Fela had been admitted due to the harsh realities
of prison sentence in the harshest environment.
Either by acts of commission or omission, covert or
consciousness, conscience or overt, justice Okoro-
Idogwu made straight for Fela’s bed where he tendered an apology
to Fela, and according to Fela, “the judge don beg o”!
As we were all made to believe, the judge confessed that the
government of Major General Muhammadu Buhari prevailed on
him to jail Fela at all cost… Fela did nothing wrong but his hands
were proverbially, tied!
With this Revelation and the relief that the people felt from being
liberated from the tyrannical rule of
Muhammadu Buhari, the new ruler, General Ibrahim Badamasi
Babangida, promptly ordered Fela brought to the Benin prisons and
a few weeks later had him released to the joys of the Good people
of the federal Republic of Nigeria….
The aftermath of this inglorious episode in the history of this
country was the release of one of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s most
endearing and profoundly soulful songs, a critical as well as a
mega commercial success that earned Fela a Grammy Award