THE FAMOUS POLICE RAID ON FELA’S EMPIRE AND JOURNEY TO ALAGBON
Tuesday April 30, 1974, the Agege Motor Road, Moshalasi, Lagos residence of the Afro-beat King, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, became the hotspot of massive police presence as the law enforcement agents raided the place, turning it literally to a “Fuji House of Commotion.”
The search which began at 2 p.m. lasted for three hours, during which the police combed literally all nooks and crannies of his one-storey building and the entire compound. Tuesday April 30, 1974, the Agege Motor Road, Moshalasi, Lagos residence of the Afro-beat King, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, became the hotspot of massive police presence as the law enforcement agents raided the place, turning it literally to a “Fuji House of Commotion.”
The Afro-beat king himself gave a vivid description of the situation, when he said that more than 200 soldiers accompanied the police to raid his home.
The arrival of the police, according to him, triggered off a large scale pandemonium, as members of his dance organisation ran helter and skelter, shouting “police have come again; they have started beating us.”
At that point in time, he said he was talking in his sitting room with some black activists from Ghana, on the emancipation of the Black people from their sad state.
As he emerged from the sitting room, he said he saw fierce-looking policemen, using his vehicles as a platform, to jump over a three-foot wall into his compound, from different directions.
According to the musician, the leader of the police team, Superintendent Ibrahim Ahmed, warned him: “Fela, we know you; we don’t want any trouble from you; this is a raid, so, don’t resist.”
Fela said the witness stated further: “Fela, I know you, but you don’t know me. I’m not a bad person; this raid is on instruction, left to me, I wouldn’t do it.”
He added that when he complained that the search warrant did not contain the magistrate’s signature, Mr. Ahmed said: “Don’t worry, it does not matter. It’s in order.”
As he sought to know what would happen if he refused to sign the warrant, Fela said the superintendent replied: “You will be taken to the station, locked up and your whole premises garrisoned until you are ready.”
Consequently, in the interest of the band and his employees, Fela said he had to sign the warrant which read: “Fela Ransome Kuti: Indian hemp, stolen property; immoral dealings.”
Pronto, the iconic Afro-beat king was arrested and bundled into a police lorry. The police did not, however, stop at that as they hounded a considerable number of girls, most of who were just barely dressed, into the police van.
When on the second day the world was greeted with the news that wraps of Indian hemp were found in Fela’s sitting room during the raid, it then dawned on the teeming mass of his supporters and lovers of his music, that Fela might this time around, be in for a hell of a trouble.
Wraps of Indian hemp were also alleged, by the Interpol boss, Ibrahim Alta, to have been found in Fela’s private room as well as in the wallet of a man who was arrested with him during the raid.
The police boss disclosed that the raid on Fela’s home was necessitated by persistent reports of hemp peddling and drug addiction in the premises.
In a development interpreted as deliberate and calculated move to seal every perceivable way of escape against the musician, Alta also alleged that the girls estimated at 24 in all, who were picked up during the raid, were under-aged.
Most of the girls, he explained, were employed as singers and dancers, while only two were cleaners.
He said he personally interrogated the detainees, who confessed that they lived under Fela’s roof, without the consent of their parents, adding that eight of them were clamped into small room in Fela’s house.
The Interpol boss described such scenario as detestable, saying that it was absolutely wrong to expose such impressionable youth to immorality.
He said Fela and his other colleagues would appear in court to answer to charges of hemp peddling, just as he would also answer whatever charges that arose from the probe into the circumstances in which the under-aged girls came under him.
The police, he expressed, would contact the parents of the young girls by all means, to come forward for their children.
He stated further that Fela and others would not be allowed bail and that police would remain on duty all night, to be able to conclude all necessary investigations before going to court.
While in detention, Fela was reportedly seen lying on a scrap of papers at Alagbon yard.
Also corroborating the Interpol police boss, a police Chief Inspector, Mr. Abubakar Tsav, expressed that reports received at Lion Building, Lagos State Police Command Headquarters over the atrocities being perpetrated within Fela’s house were persistent, hence the resort to the police action.
He told the court that on the day Fela’s house was searched, 23 girls were taken from a room. He wondered how the girls, who were supposed to be sharing six rooms were cramped into one.
Earlier Fela’s counsel, Kanmi Isola Osobu, now of blessed memory, had made a spirited effort to secure Fela’s bail, arguing that the bandleader was not a man to jump bail because of his eminent status as a star of international repute.
He disclosed further that Fela’s passport had been impounded by the police, despite an appointment he had to play at an event organised by the Camerounian government in Yaounde, the following week.
He said it was within the court’s power and competence to grant bail to Fela, because the offence for which he was charged was not punishable by death.
The defence counsel said further that since his arrest in the previous week, the police had not only refused access to him by his immediate relations, but also disgraced and embarrassed them at the station.
Osobu’s plea for bail on Fela’s behalf was, however, opposed by the police prosecutor, Superintendent Michael Olajumoke, who argued that the nature of the charge against the accused was such that required time to investigate properly.
The argument of the police prosecutor was, however, endorsed by Chief Magistrate Bamigboye, who presided over the case. While observing that the prosecution’s opposition to bail was to enable the police conclude necessary investigations, which might be jeopardised if Fela were allowed bail, he, however, charged that the police should accord the suspect all humane treatment and also allow his counsel and immediate relations access to him.
Earlier, he had also opposed the plea for bail on behalf of another musician, Olusola Kolawole, on the ground that the accused had earlier attempted on April 30, to escape from police custody, shortly after his arrest.
Few days later, precisely on May 6, Fela was eventually released on bail, following persistent plea by his counsel, Kanmi Isola Osobu.
Granting the bail, Magistrate Bamigboye said that the court was out to ensure justice and that anything that would interfere with the liberty of the accused must be jealously guarded against.
On the plea by the prosecuting witness that a huge cost be imposed for Fela’s bail, Bamigboye, who granted him bail of N250, said that what was most important was to ensure that Fela was present in court whenever he was required during the proceeding and not the amount of bail granted.
At this stage, Osobu hinted that Fela had received about N20,000 from the government of Cameroun to play in Yaounde. Against this background, he reiterated his plea to the magistrate to order the release of Fela’s passport, which had been seized, following the police swoop on his house.
To this, Magistrate Bamigboye, however, replied that since he did not issue the order that his passport be seized, he could not rule that it be released. He advised that it was better for Osobu to iron out the matter with the police.
This particular day in question, as Fela stepped out of the court at the end of the day’s session, he was literally mobbed by a teeming number of his jubilant fans, who roared out in cheers and chanted some popular tunes as they carried their musical idol all the way from Surulere Magistrate’s Court to his Idi-Oro residence, in a festive scenario that attracted the keen attention of excited onlookers
However, the joy was not to last, because no sooner had Fela gained freedom by bail, than fresh charges were preferred against him.
Apart from the possession of Indian hemp, Fela was also charged with possessing quantities of poison or poisonous matter at the same time and place, with intent to use it for illegal purpose.
He was further accused of willfully destroying some quantities of Indian hemp by swallowing it, knowing fully that such quantity might be required in evidence in a judicial proceeding.
Opposing bail for Fela, Assistant Police Superintendent Francis Modi, who stood in as the prosecutor, said the nature and character of the alleged offence against Fela was a serious one.
He stated further that Fela went on to intimidate prosecution witnesses not to make statements to the police during investigations into the alleged offence against him.
Fela’s counsel, Barrister Osobu, counteracting the prosecutor, urged the court to ignore his plea, adding that the offence for which Fela was charged was not punishable by death.
“Bail is to ensure that an accused person is present in court whenever he is required to answer charges against him,” he said, adding that it should therefore not be withheld merely as a punishment as the police were trying to do.
Osobu further urged the court to consider Fela’s background as the leader of an international band and the fact that he was the son and relation of illustrious Nigerians.
In her ruling, the trial Magistrate, Mrs. Omolara Denton, said it would be necessary to remand Fela in custody for one day to enable the police collect his stool for analysis by the government chemist, as part of their investigation. Consequently, Fela was returned to the police custody till the following morning.
But just as the hemp charge was going on, later development saw the case of child abduction taking a centre stage.
This, indeed, could not have been totally surprising when considered within the contest of the statement by Mr. Abubakar Tsav, who expressed that the various police commands in Lagos State were inundated by persistent complaints that their daughters were being taken to Fela’s house for immoral purposes.
In a scenario which seemed to corroborate whether rightly or wrongly this reportedly widespread accusation by parents of the immoral use of their children by Fela, a woman, who said she was the mother of one of the girls allegedly abducted, created a rather embarrassing scene, as she was seen shouting outside the court, while attempting to drag a girl out from Fela’s car. She alleged that the girl left the house three days ago and that reliable sources told her that she was in the musicians’s house.
During the scuffle between the woman and the girl, the magistrate, Mr. T. A. Adelana, ordered that the lady be brought to the court for contempt.
Later at the resumed hearing in Fela’s seven-count charge of possessing Marijuana and abducting girls, defence counsel, Kanmi Osobu had protested vehemently against the attitude of the prosecuting police officer, CSP Olajumoke, who, he had alleged, had earlier intervened in the scuffle.
He said CSP Olajumoke threatened Fela by saying to him: “You will suffer for this.” He described the threat as something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, adding that the safety and liberty of Fela was at stake.
Denying the allegation on Mr. Olajumoke’s behalf, a member of the prosecution, Superintendent of Police A. A. Waziri, said that Mr. Olajumoke was only trying to offer protection to Fela by intervening.
Waziri said that the woman, on seeing her daughter in Fela’s car, became tense, adding that under such condition, Fela’s safety could not be guaranteed.
A particularly dramatic dimension was the case of one Beatrice Agwu, a Lagos transporter, who told the court that she was thoroughly beaten and assaulted and pushed out of Fela’s residence on the day she went there to recover her missing daughter.
She said that on the day in question, which was sometimes in May, 1973, Fela ordered some of his boys to bundle her out of the house.
She said she headed to Fela’s residence when she received a telegram that her daughter was missing from her school in Abeokuta.
The woman said she succeeded in recovering her daughter from the company of some boys she saw in Fela’s van a week after the incident in his house.
She stated further that after recovering her daughter from the club, Fela came personally to take the girl from her house by force, adding that an attempt to resist Fela failed, as she later left all hopes of recovering her daughter to God.
Also testifying, Managing Director of a pharmaceutical company, Mr. A.O. Agwu, recalled that he was thoroughly beaten in Fela’s house when he went there to recover his daughter’s belongings.
He said he had gone there in company of his wife, daughter and two friends, including a female army officer, after he was granted permission by the police to go to Fela’s residence.
Led in evidence by Deputy Superintendent of Police A.A. Waziri, Agwu said that on arrival at the house, his daughter, Ibe,, entered one of the rooms to collect her belongings. He said immediately she entered, three persons (two men and a girl) emerged from the opposite room and started pushing him and his companions out.
Agwu said that when the daughter came out of the room, the girl, who was among the three that were pushing them, forcefully grabbed the bag she was carrying from her.
He said as the pushing continued, another man who was bearded, came from outside, adding: “a man, who in this court now, then gave an order that we should be beaten up.”
At this stage, the police prosecuting officer DSP Waziri, sought the permission of the presiding magistrate that the witness should identify the man that gave the order. Mr. Agwu then identified the man, who gave his name as “Fale.”
Defence counsel, Mr. Kanmi Isola Osobu, objected on the ground that the man identified by Mr. Agwu was not bearded as earlier said in evidence.
According to him, “the man who ordered that we should be beaten was one of the three persons who were first pushing us out of Fela’s corridor before the bearded man joined them from outside.”
He, however, told the court at a later session that Fela was not around the premises on the day he was thoroughly beaten.
He said after the incident, he went home with his daughter and later reported the matter to the Force CID, Alagbon Close, Lagos. It was after this, that Fela reportedly came personally to his house to take the girl away.
Another prosecution witness, Mr. Onuma Awa, who was the house boy to Mr. Agwu, the father of Ibe, told the court that he was slapped by Fela when he tried to prevent him from taking away his master’s daughter from their residence.
He said he had asked the girl where she was going and refused to answer.
Awa said as he held the girl to stop her from going away, Fela reacted by slapping him angrily.
He stated further that on Fela’s arrival, he heard him call Ibe, who responded and went to meet him. He said he followed her and none of them answered him.
According to him, during the row between Fela and himself, the crowd that gathered had tried to stop both of them from fighting. The scenario soon attracted the attention of Ibe’s mother, who came down and asked Fela: “Have you come again?” He stated further that it was the crowd who had gathered that advised Ibe’s mother not to fight with Fela and thus prevented the situation from degenerating to a showdown.
However, the high point of the abduction drama was that on that momentous day, Wednesday, September 4, 1974, Fela had cause to smile, as Chief Magistrate D.C.A. Bamigboye, ruled that there was no evidence before the court that he abducted the two girls, Ibe Agwu and Norah Akhetuamen.
He remarked further that no evidence pointed to the fact that Fela either induced or persuaded the two to leave their parents’ lawful custody.
He quoted a legal authority, as he argued that it was a fundamental principle which conformed with known customs and usages of most civilised races, that the custody of a child laid with the father, until he renounced it through death or a court order.
Apart from the foregoing, he remarked that Ibe’s father, Mr. A.O. Agwu, was abroad on August 2, 1973, when the girl was allegedly abducted by Fela.
He contended that Ibe had clearly denied the statement of her mother, Mrs. Beatrice Agwu and that of her houseboy, Onuma Awa, that on August 2, 1973, she was taken out of lawful custody by Fela when in actual fact, it was convincingly proved that she was already in the house of the Afrobeat king at the time mentioned by her mother.
The only evidence in respect of the alleged abduction of Norah, according the magistrate, was that it was only alleged that she was taken away from home by her friend, Wosilat, on April 28.
But even at that, there was no available evidence that Fela knew of the circumstances in which Norah left her parents’ home nor was there evidence that she was directly or indirectly induced by Fela to leave home.
The chief magistrate said it was clear that the ingredient needed to prove the charge of abduction against Fela had been neglected to the detriment of the prosecution’s case in this respect.
But while the Afrobeat icon enjoyed the freedom of an acquittal on charges of abduction, it was quite a different tune in respect of the three counts of alleged hemp possession on which the chief magistrate ruled that Fela had case to answer.
He observed that the bedroom in which some quantity of hemp was allegedly found was not being used by Fela at least on April 30, when the police searched the place.
The chief magistrate noted further that it was Fela himself, who opened the bedroom with a key, before the police went in and allegedly recovered the suspected hemp later.
“It is therefore to be presumed, subject to any other evidence to the contrary, that at the material time, Fela had exclusive control of the room,” Bamigboye said.
The chief magistrate rejected Fela’s statement to the police at the Force CID on April 30, to the effect that he knew he was being unnecessarily victimised and persecuted and said: “I am of the view that this cannot be accepted as a complete answer sufficient for his defence.”
It was this harrowing detention experience of the Afrobeat icon that led to the waxing of two records; “Alagbon Close” and Expensive Shit, each of which turned out to be a chart buster in the music firmament.
Keep faith with the next edition of Historical Flashback on the conclusion of the hemp charges.