In an interview with Femi Kuti I previously published on my blog, I indicated the Nigerian Government had closed The Shrine, the home base performance space of Femi Kuti. The Shrine is still closed, and a petition is now being circulated to reopen it. Here's the petition, if you would like to sign it, go to this website.
To: the Governor of Lagos and the Nigeria’s Minister of Justice
THE NEW AFRIKA SHRINE, NIGERIA’S LAST BASTION OF LIBERTY, CLOSED BY THE AUTHORITIES
Throughout Africa today there are many western-style theatres, mainly built by the Chinese, Africa’s latest colonizers-in-waiting. But only rarely are they administered and operated as cultural centres, open and accessible to anyone other than the bourgeois minority in their SUV’s and Mercedes limos.
A notable exception to this rule existed in Lagos Nigeria until last week, that is, when it was forcibly closed by the authorities giving less than 24 hours notice and claiming “noise nuisance, illegal street trading, indiscriminate parking, blocking of access roads and obstruction of traffic” as their justification.
The New Afrika Shrine was built and operated by Femi and Yeni Anikulapo Kuti, the eldest son and daughter of cultural icon, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who built the original Shrine in the seventies, which endured until shortly after his death in 1997 when it, too, was forcibly closed by the Nigerian authorities.
Both the old and new Shrines were much more than just music venues. They were a refuge for the homeless and dispossessed, acted as a focal point for dissent and were consequently a thorn in the flesh of the ruling elite. Fela used the stage to launch eloquently savage diatribes against the corruption and mismanagement that was rife in Nigeria, one of the world’s leading oil producing countries, and was a hero to millions for the biting, non-compromising social commentary contained within his lyrics. In the seventies and eighties people flocked to the Shrine to hear Fela’s latest harangue of the country’s leaders and marvel at the powerful music and spectacle produced by his singers, dancers and musicians. Millions, not just in Nigeria but across the African continent, bought his albums and his tours in Europe and America attracted huge audiences.
Fela paid the price for his brutally frank and widely publicized condemnations of the government and his fierce defense of human rights by being constantly harassed, arrested (more than 200 times) and often savagely beaten, none of which ever diminished the continuing force of his attacks.
Following his death and the forced closure of his beloved Shrine, Femi and Yeni resolved to re-build an even bigger venue on a nearby site and used their share of income from the global sale of Fela’s albums with which to do so. They were determined to maintain their Father’s legacy and considered the heritage of shelter, support and advocacy as being the most valuable contributions they could make towards the development and creation of a united and democratic African republic.
Against all the odds, and despite constant harassment from the authorities, they have successfully continued to the Shrine open for almost a decade and have developed a large and faithful following, as well as providing an effective refuge for disaffected youth and the dissemination of preventive information in defense against the Aids pandemic. Femi and his band, The Positive Force, have graced the stage and kept alive the spirit of dissent and social commentary as the backbone of his work. He and Yeni have acted as host to the ever-increasing number of world-renowned artists who have made the pilgrimage to the Shrine and participated in the Felabrations which take place each year on the anniversary of Fela’s birthday. Despite the global recognition of the Kuti family (a musical about Fela is about open on Broadway and a Hollywood film is being made of Fela’s life and work) and their work as three generations of social reformers, the authorities have maintained their opposition and have taken every opportunity to obstruct the continued operation of The Shrine. This has included countless raids, often in the middle of the night, including beatings and harassment of the many homeless youth who seek shelter there, now once again exposed to the elements.
Now, of course, The Shrine is closed, according to the authorities, permanently. However, after making this pronouncement in writing just a few days ago, they have this morning stated that it may re-open tomorrow. This can, alas, not be viewed as any kind of victory. On the contrary, that a ‘permanent’ closure can be turned around in less than a week only shows that their decision-making process is completely arbitrary. This cat and mouse game, which has been going on for almost four decades must come to an end. When Fela died, the upper echelons of Nigerian government sent letters to the family that were not simply expressions of condolence but were eloquent testimonials to a great man. The present authorities must finally admit that Fela Anikulapo Kuti is Nigeria’s best loved son and accept the earnest request made by the Executors of Fela’s Estate, Yeni, Femi and Kunle Anikulapo Kuti, to:
1. Once and for all end hostilities and harassment.
2. Permanently re-open the Shrine
3. Create the necessary decree to establish and maintain The New Afrika Shrine as a National Heritage Site in recognition of the invaluable contribution made by the Kuti family to the cultural life of the nation.
To assist this process and make clear to the Nigerian authorities that the Kutis, for almost a century have enjoyed the respect and admiration of not just Nigerians or even Africans, but people of conscience around the world, please add your signature to this petition in support of this proposal, to be forwarded to the Governor of Lagos and to Nigeria’s Minister of Justice.
2nd June 2009