They Sang about Police Brutality, We are Still Living With It


Vanessa Obioha writes that the timeless songs about police brutality, corruption and bad governance by veteran music duo of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti to Majek Fashek resonated recently during the #EndSARS Protest as a harsh reminder that the country is still enslaved to the aforementioned hydra-headed monster

The recent protests and violence that rocked the nation for two weeks conjure sonic messages of veteran music artistes. From Fela Anikulapo-Kuti to Majek Fashek (both dead), timeless songs about police brutality, bad governance, religious and ethnic divides that continue to threaten the unity of the country resonate with the EndSARS protest that escalated last Tuesday and Wednesday; shooting of unarmed protesters by security personnel and destruction of state-owned properties respectively in Lagos state.

Since these unfortunate incidents, the nimbus in the country is a mixture of grief and ire, but it is a harsh reminder that the country is still enslaved to the corruption and inhumanity of their leaders. The following songs are timeless pieces that reflect the current mood of the country.

Zombie: in his lifetime, Fela dedicated most of his music to activism. He often sang about the military, the existing rulership in his time, boldly condemning their abuse of power and hostilities towards citizens. In ‘Zombie’ the lead track on his 1976 album of the same name, Fela made a mockery of the robotic nature of the police and army. He likened them to Zombie, a person held to resemble a walking dead. That is, a will-less and speechless human who supposedly died and has been supernaturally reincarnated. In his interpretation, the soldiers and policemen were controlled and had no will of their own. They do what they are asked to do as he depicted in his chants: “Turn left, turn right, fall in, fall out…”

This depiction rightly fit into the armed security personnel who opened fire at unarmed protesters at the Lekki tollgate on Tuesday. The operatives whose identity is still clouded in ambiguity behaved in a manner that suggests they were will-less souls, armed and instructed to destroy innocent souls. A zombie has no emotions, he has no soul. He is controlled by forces beyond him. He is not bothered about the consequences of his actions as long as he delivers. The zombies Fela sang about unfortunately are still living with us and dealing with us the same way they did in the past.

Sorrows, Tears and Blood:

“Seven minutes later,

All don cool down brother,

Police don go away,

Army don disappear,

Dem leave sorrow, tears and blood.”

These lyrics from the 1977 song ‘Sorrows, Tears and Blood’ from the Afrobeat legend captures the mood of Tuesday night as images and videos of protesters hurt by the unknown soldiers flooded social media platforms. For many, it was difficult to accept the realities they were looking at: cries of pain and helplessness from wounded protesters, voices of desperation and despair calling for their loved ones.

Like Fela boldly vocalized, this is the regular trademark of the police and army. They confuse and leave behind tears, sorrows and blood. They bring heartaches to people who were justly exercising their fundamental rights, campaigning for a better Nigeria.

Fela also criticised the cowardice of his generation; their timidity to confront police abuse like the young generation did with the #EndSARS protests. He lashed out at them for being too concerned about their social and family upkeep more than speaking against the injustices meted on them by those in power.

“So policeman go slap your face,

You no go talk,

Army man go whip your yansh,

You go dey look like donkey.”

It is this kind of brutality perpetrated by the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad that triggered the #EndSARS movement again which unfortunately was seized by hoodlums to cause mayhem, eventually leading to the death of some of the peaceful and defiant protesters.

Unknown Soldier: In the past few days, the question on many lips is: Who gave the order to shoot at protesters at Lekki?

In a recent interview on CNN, the Lagos State governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu claimed that footage obtained showed that the soldiers were present at the Lekki tollgate where the incident occurred.

Following that revelation, the Nigerian army released a statement that indicated it was invited by the state governor to intervene in the ongoing protests after violence was reported in many parts of the state leading to the imposition of curfew. The Army also denied shooting at the protesters.

The back and forth allegations are reminiscent of Fela’s song ‘Unknown Soldier’. A sort of tribute to his mother — who was thrown downstairs from the storied Kalakuta Republic in the 70s after soldiers destroyed the property and wounded inhabitants, including Fela, in retaliation for his mockery of them in ‘Zombie’, — Fela sang about the injustices meted to citizens and how the government heaps the blame on an unknown entity.

The chorus ‘Unknown Soldier’ is a metaphor that captures the similar tactic of the military and government. Like most critics have pointed out on social media, the conclusion of the Lekki shootings will be “unknown soldiers carried out the attack!”

Police Brutality: Majek Fashek was another musician who produced a timeless piece on police brutality. The seventh track in his 1988 debut album ‘Prisoners of Conscience’, the late reggae icon described the actions of the men in uniform as insanity.

“Them dey loot,

Them dey shoot,

Them dey kill all leaders of tomorrow.

This their insanity has caused a lot of disunity in our community”

These words reflect the actions of the armed men who opened fire at the unarmed protesters on Tuesday. At dusk, they opened fire at the leaders of tomorrow. They left thugs who hijacked the protest to vandalise properties and shot at those who’ve been conducting peaceful protests. Indeed, it is insanity!

Religion Na Politics: In ‘Religion Na Politics’, the late music icon attempted to blur the dividing lines of religion, ethnicity and politics. He referred to those who use such factors to create discord in society as fanatics while preaching oneness and unity.

A remarkable trait of the #EndSARS protest is the unifying voice of the protesters. They dumped their religious and ethnic disparities and embraced oneness in protesting for a better Nigeria. A Nigeria where tribe or religion will not be a yardstick to measure one’s relevance.

Pictures of Muslim protesters praying on the protest ground while the Christians faithful guard them were a sign of the peace and unity they were clamouring for until purveyors of disunity and chaos infiltrated their movement. The vandalism carried out by thugs has further fuelled the widespread conspiracy theories of sectionalism.

But like Majek rightly pointed out, ‘I and I is one.