The grand opening of the Kuti Heritage Museum in Abeokuta, Ogun State opens another chapter in a government’s effort to celebrate the heroes and heroines of history and popular culture, says Yinka Olatunbosun
“That was where Fela’s parents were buried,’’ Pelu Awofeso, an award-winning travel and culture journalist who volunteered to drive the Lagos-based journalists from the hotel to the old Ransome Kuti family house in Isabo, Abeokuta said. As the Land Rover galloped along the speed bump right before the white-coloured Anglican church where the tombs of Late Reverend Isreal Oludotun Ransome-Kuti and Mrs. FunmilayoRansome-Kuti were laid, a passer-by with an urge to be an unsolicited tour guide repeated Awofeso’s words in Yoruba. We thanked him.
We would later encounter more persons like him. Clearly, the Isabo residents are proud to be associated with an important part of history. That day, the once-abandoned Ransome Kuti family house became Kuti Heritage Museum. Most of the residents abandoned their activities to stand along corridors and rooftops to witness this historic event. Renovated by the architect and grandmaster of urban art spaces, Theo Lawson, the building has become a tourist attraction, housing a restaurant, a lush garden, and was thoughtfully rebuilt with wheel-chair friendly entrances.
In the past few years, some journalists have put the house in spotlight, lamenting over the decaying infrastructure while appealing for government’s intervention. Fortunately, the plea fell on listening eyes. The Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun acknowledged the role of journalists as societal watchdogs during the unveiling ceremony which was part of the 2019 African Drum Festival in Abeokuta.
“Indeed, our heroes will never die. We need to preserve their legacies in order to keep historical matters evergreen in people’s memories,’’ Amosun said. In the same vein, a senior consultant to the Governor on Culture, Mrs. Yetunde Amusan called the event “a fulfillment of a promise’’ made by the state government to celebrate iconic sons and daughters of Ogun.
The matriarch of the Ransome-kuti family, Yemisi Ransome-Kuti who sang the classic song “Ise Oluwa’’ before making her remarks, observed that the museum stands for the values of integrity which the family is known for. The Ransome-Kutis’ home was where Dolu, Olikoye, Fela and Beko were raised. A huge influencer in today’s pop culture, Fela’s music and philosophy had been traced to the activism embodied in his mother, Funmilayo -the heroine of universal suffrage for Nigerian women and the first woman known to drive a car in Nigeria. She was also the first African woman to visit China, the USSR, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Yugoslavia and East Germany during the cold war.
Fela’s father, Rev. Ransome-Kuti was the principal of Abeokuta Grammar School with a reputation of a strict disciplinarian who didn’t spare anyone deserving of the rod as the Nobel Laurate, Professor Wole Soyinka recalled.
“I was able to escape to Government College, Ibadan which was called a school for the “aje butters’’ where there was no-beating rule,’’ he said.
In hindsight, Prof Soyinka thought the discipline was essential to his character formation adding that “when a cane is necessary, use it.’’
A special wing of the one-storey building is most likely to be a literary hub as it was the part of the house where Mrs. Ransome-Kuti held adult education classes for the Egba women. Pictures of Fela, Femi, Seun Anikulapo kuti were among the prominent ones on a permanent window display. Fela’s music which was projected from the surround sound system set the mood for the event that Isabo residents will live to remember.