The remarkable events that unfolded at the 2018 Felabration was a good pointer that the New Afrika Shrine is not just a hub for arts, entertainment and tourism but also for politics.
In its usual fashion, the annual week-long festival to celebrate the life and times of the Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was a melange of music concerts, symposium, school debate, arts and dance competition.
It kicked off on Monday, October 15 and came to a political climax on Sunday, October 21. First, it was the visit of the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to the New Afrika Shrine. It was not his first time at the iconic hub of the legend. In days leading to the 2015 elections, he made an unlikely visit to the shrine regardless of his religious belief.
That first visit endeared him to the denizens of the shrine whom in the eyes of the leaders are the dissidents of the society.
Shelving foibles aside, Osinbajo delivered a lecture at the shrine where he canvassed for votes for President Muhammadu Buhari and received a magnanimous cheer from his audience. He even learnt the shrine lingo to aid his campaign.
It was assumed in some quarters that Buhari will leap on the opening created by Osinbajo to heal the wounds of the Kutis over his imprisonment of Fela during his reign as the Head of State.
That was not to be the case. In July when the French President, Emmanuel Macron visited the shrine, the president failed to make an appearance and left the business of hosting his August visitor to Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, who also last year made an impression on the shrine by visiting it after unveiling the headless sculpture of the legend at Allen Avenue Roundabout.
Again, Osinbajo visited the shrine to gain the votes of the populace in the upcoming elections. But things took a dramatic turn when Femi, the eldest son of Fela and renovator of the shrine openly declined to support the second term presidential bid.
Speaking in Pidgin English, he said: “Vice-president come my house say make I support am. Na him dey stand for my front now. I tell am say I no fit support am because of my papa. He say he understands, he respects my view. But he is my friend. He say he wan come shrine and I am very happy say he see say we no dey crase for here. Arararara!”
This outburst seemed to put the vice president in an awkward situation as he shifted from one foot to another, unsure of what facial expression to wear.
By now, Osinbajo should have been familiar with the ways of Fela’ s children. Like their father, they are quite vocal when it comes to political issues. Before welcoming the vice president on stage, Femi openly declared that he was not in support of any political party. Though the discussion with Osinbajo was held behind closed doors, Femi’s open rejection is bound to have a ripple effect on the crowd gathered there. Most of them breathe in every word he says. By saying no to Osinbajo, Femi has indirectly swoon his followers from supporting Buhari.
Those followers in a way will have a huge impact on the numbers of votes the president will clinch in Lagos. Nevertheless, Osinbajo was able to take control of the situation as he greeted the crowd and expressed enthusiasm that the legacy of Fela still lives. He ended his speech with the popular greeting “Everybody say yeah! yeah!”
But Osinbajo and Femi’s act was not the only political drama in the shrine. In the middle of his bravura performance, singer Davido boldly declared his uncle, Ademola Adeleke as the governor of Osun state. He declared, “shout out to His Excellency, Nurudeen Ademola Adeleke, Osun State Governor.”
Adeleke who is still embroiled in allegations of forged certificate was initially ahead by vote count in the Osun gubernatorial election held last month, until the re-run put an end to that victory.
It is interesting how the shrine which was once labelled a den of thieves and all manner of delinquents, is now a place where the government of the day seeks the votes of the populace. Credence must be given to Fela’s children who have not only sustained the legacy of the Abami Eda, but also made efforts to woo outsiders and insiders to this iconic cultural space.
This year’s event also supported by Legend Extra Stout had fans dripping with excitement from the different locations where Felabration themed event held. From the ‘Double Wahala’ concert at Freedom Park, Glenfiddich Maverick concert at the Balmoral Convention Centre to the New Afrika Shrine, the music concerts were enthralling. The last day had a very rich line-up of artistes: Tubaba, Sound Sultan, Wande Coal, Dr. Sid, Mayorkun and of course Davido, who literally brought the house down.