‘STATE OF THE NATION: WHAT WOULD BARRISTER HAVE DONE?’ BEING A PAPER DELIVERED BY CHIEF TUNDE BUSARI ON OCCASION OF THE ANNUAL GET-TOGETHER ORGANISED BY THE BARRY BLACK VOTARY FANS, THIS DAY, DECEMBER 11, 2021 AT LAFIA HOTEL, APATA, IBADAN, OYO STATE.
Despite the fact that analysts, particularly those who have bias for music of the late Dr Sikiru Ayinde Balogun famously known as Barrister, often find it difficult to refer to the fuji musician in the past tense during talk or a paper as this, the incontrovertible truth is that he is six feet below the earth surface. In accordance with the natural law, he is dead and gone forever, leaving behind his musical legacies in the body of innumerable works, majority, if not all, of which are timeless pieces which still capture attention and attract patronage of fans and many other lovers of indigenous music. You would, therefore, agree with me that the event of today here is one of these legacies credited to his name. I must state unequivocally that Barrister is more than a topic of debate on origin, evolution and development of fuji as a distinct genre among Nigerian music. Arguably, he is personification of the genre given the fact that no other musician in history had waxed an album and named his brand fuji music before Barrister did in the first quarter of 1970s. To this end, it is a needless exercise to roll up shirt and skirt in readiness for fight over place of Barrister in history of fuji in Nigeria and world over. Admittedly, to his fans like you and more than 10 other fans groups existing on and offline, Barrister is a god who is worshiped across the world on daily basis. Therefore, it is a risk for anyone to attempt to spit on his tomb, for doing so will attract a reprisal, which the person may not imagine from arsenal of his foot soldiers. It is needless to say that no other late musician in history of Nigeria command the same post-humus celebration as Barrister does 11 years after his transition on December 16, 2010.
Let me begin with a declaration that to precisely predict what a human being will do in future lives only in the realm of assumption. In other words, whatever I will say here of Barrister’s actions and reactions to the current state of Nigeria should be taken for the sake of argument because as a human being he might have undergone some transformations, which could probably have contrasted what he had stood for in the past. And it is noteworthy that Barrister sang about this phenomenon in a track wherein he examines the late Head of State and Commander-In-Chief of Nigeria, General Murtala Ramat Muhammed who was assassinated during a military coup de tat anchored by the late Colonel Bukar Sukar Dimka on February 13, 1976. In his cd titled ‘Democracy’, which he released in 1998, Barrister sings intellectually that if General Muhammed had not been killed and, thus, made a national hero, may be, he might have derailed and ended a villain and a contemptible ruler, type of which the nation would never pray to have again. Save for time and space, perhaps Barrister could have reeled out names of African rulers such as Mobutu Seseseko, Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe, who rose to power on a populist agenda but ended as despots who turned table against their nationals and turned themselves and their families to state itself. They ended their respective lives in ignominy and their names remain on the wrong side of human history till this morning.
Having said that, there is evidence that Barrister would not have disappointed expectations of his fans who saw in him a consistent advocate for ordinary citizens, in spite of his elevated status in society. It cannot be argued sustainably that he belonged to proletariat class. No! He broke wall of poverty before he clocked age 30 in 1978. In order words, by the time he disengaged from the military in 1976 as a sergeant and concentrated in his music career with a regular release of albums and performances at live shows at social gatherings, he was living a relatively comfortable life with trending automobile and rich wardrobe comprising latest wears and shoes. And for a hardworking person, who was progressively developing and updating his music to expand his patronage, it is needless to predict his future financially.
Was Barrister a social critic?
Social criticism is a form of academic and journalistic interrogation, focusing on sociological issues in contemporary society, in particular with respect to perceived injustices and power relations in general. This simple explanation by Wikipedia, an online knowledge bank, which offers free service to curious readers, captures what Barrister was, as regards his regular intervention in government-public relationship. He would not keep mum and allow things to degenerate when government policies were biting public; he would rather raise alarm and offer suggestions to remedy the situations. However, he was not a Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the Afro-beat legend, who seems to have picked a career in music for only one purpose, which was to do battle and give successive Nigerian governments sleepless nights. He played that counter-force role till he passed away on August 2, 1997. Another unpredictable side of human life was that some officials of governments in a bad book of Fela, allegedly always found their ways to his shrine where they enjoyed his live performances from dusk till dawn.
What I just did above was attempt to make a distinction between focus of Barrister’s lyrics and that of Fela, in terms of their social activism against government. Barrister can, therefore, be seen from perspective of a patriot, while Fela is also no less because his critiques were based on social justice. But some visible contradiction in his personal lifestyle of unconventional appearances and consumption, tend to scare, if not irritate, an average conformist parent to make his path a no go area to their children. In order not to slip into digression, let me state here that Barrister saw an average Nigerian, who struggles day and night to make ends meet, as part of him because of his rag-to-rich history. There was no time he was carried away by glamour and opulence, which his hard work had fetched him, to turn his back at the downtrodden masses of this country. Even when he had many fans and patrons among the ruling class, that privilege never tampered with his conviction to tell truth to power and risk their continued patronage.
For instance, when he was seen as beneficiary of top members of the then governing National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the aborted Second Republic, he entered studio shortly before the August 1983 general elections and released an album titled ‘Nigeria’ wherein he challenged and cautioned the President Sehu Shagari administration to rule with fear of God over their economic policy which had made life miserable to ordinary citizens. In the elpee, he warned and threatened the government and waited for consequence. He sang:
Ta ba dake
Ta o ba soro
Ki mama i se pe ago
Awa lo logbon
Ao lagbara ni
Eyin ta wa yan sibe ti e lagbara
Oselu Nigeria, e beru Olohun obaa
(if we keep mute, it is not that we are a fool; we know we have wisdom but lack power. You that we bestowed with power should rule us with fear of God)
Going further, he deployed a subtle threat:
A ti r’omoba to deru ri
A ti ri’wofa to doloro
To dolola o
Apadasi buruku o ni kan wa
(We have seen a prince who ended being a slave; we have conversely seen a servant who rose to noble class)
He also went further with a reminder of the Day of Judgment when every soul, according to him, would account for deeds on the surface of the earth.
E ranti ojo ikehin
E saanu wa
Enika o ni gbin alubosa laiye o
Ko nitohun o kefo
Iyen ti daju
In my book titled ‘My Journey With Barry Wonder’, I refreshed readers’ memories on picture of Nigeria before Barrister recorded that album. I relied on a veteran Journalist, Mr Dan Agbese who recalled, “Salary arrears piled up. Primary school teachers bore the brunt of this unfortunate development. Only a few states, notably Lagos, Sokoto and Kano were able to pay primary schools teachers. Almost all the other states had to close down primary schools for as many as nine months because teachers refused to continue to work on an empty stomach.”
What would he have done?
Arguably, in the history of Nigeria, there has never been a time as this when clamour for restructuring and ethnic agitation was as loud as the nation currently witnesses. With the ongoing ordeal of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) leader, Mr Nnamdi Kanu and Yoruba nation advocate, Chief Sunday Igboho, there is no doubting the fact that tension roars in every corner of the country. Nigeria of today is no longer Nigeria where all ethnic groups co-existed without any flash of suspicion. Now, a section of the country is freely accused of an ethnic cleansing agenda as evident in an intense fear inflicted on the nation by gangs of bandits who strike at will with a reckless abandon. Before this administration came to power on May 29, 2015, there was only Boko Haram insurgency, causing untold havoc in the North-eastern part of the country. But in the last five years, kidnappers have sneaked in and complicated the insecurity of the nation to the extent that public office holders, their families and traditional rulers were not spared. In Ekiti State, for instance, at least two traditional rulers were reportedly abducted only to regain freedom after certain terms were met.
And going by the alarm which he raised in his ‘Precision’ and ‘Controversy’ released in 2005, Barrister would have done a follow-up release, even before the development degenerated to the almost hopeless situation we have found ourselves today. In the cd of my reference, he narrated his traumatic dream which led him to alert the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration on danger of playing God over Nigeria’s affairs, also calling on them to be wary of situation whereby the nation goes to another civil war. In his usual manner of composition, he proffered two suggestions to avert the impending danger, One, he called on Nigerians to embark on fervent prayer sessions. Two, he made a case for convocation of national conference where all issues would be debated and resolved. Although President Obasanjo administration did not touch the conference option, President Goodluck Jonathan, which Obasanjo helped to the Presidency after the death of the late President Umar Ya’Adua in 2010, convoked the conference in 2014 in what looked like hearkening to Barrister’s voice. Sadly, Barrister was no more alive to witness it. If he had not passed away four years earlier, he would most probably have sung about it, especially on failure of government to implement the confab recommendations.
I also recalled what a prolific politics writer, who currently works with the Tribune titles, Mr Taiwo Amodu, told me as regards this topic we are examining today. According to the graduate of the former Ogun State University, now Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Barrister’s occasional commentaries on Nigeria’s system made him both a blessing and treasure to Nigeria and Nigerians, especially the working class who often are always at the receiving end of unfriendly policies like the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) introduced by General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida regime in the 80s.
Amodu said. “Were he (Barrister) alive today, he would have dropped cds which would have spoken truth to these people who are toying with lives of Nigerians and asking us to go to hell. Barrister would have told them the trouble ahead of not restructuring the country in line with the current situation, using appropriate quranic verses to pass his message to them. In fact, I am missing him so much, especially in time as this,” he said.
In alignment with Amodu’s point of view, Barrister would have released cd to speak Hausa Language backed with Quran verses to the army of recalcitrant bandits and Boko Haram insurgents in the Northern Nigeria. He would have played up his title as Seriki n waka of Kano to appeal for a ceasefire. Besides, he would have released another cd to hit at masses who are fond of taking advantage of their fellows, especially traders of consumable local articles who have nothing to do with foreign exchange but hike prices as it pleases their whims and caprices. Put differently, he would have composed another version of his track in his ‘Questionnaire’ in which he sang: Awarawa la n fiya je ra wa. (We, voters, are cause of our sufferings). In addition to that, he most probably would have paid tribute to Chief Sunday Igboho and advised him on the best way to go about his agitation, using his military exploit as guide. Similarly, he would have raised alarm on the infrastructural failure which the nation is witnessing, especially the endless traffic gridlock on Lagos-Ibadan expressway and Lagos-Abeokuta expressway. He would have charged the government to understand effects of losing productive hours on those roads. He would have also paid tribute to the federal government on the Lagos-Ibadan new railway line and made appeal to Nigerians to show more understanding, just as he did in his Current Affairs album in 1989, in which he preached patience that Ikanju o se labe gbigbona a fopolopo suuru o.
I must not end this lecture without drawing your attention to what I should call the flip side of Barrister’s interventionist stance on government policies. He must have weighed options available before he decided to pit his tent with Nigerian masses, majority of whom perhaps were not really aware of some discomforts which he endured from the authorities. For instance, after he had released ‘Nigeria’, top members of the ruling party allegedly went after him, an incident, which reportedly chased Barrister out of the country for safety. Although he would later deny his alleged attack and escape to the US, he was said to have acted a script in exchange for his peace.
He was also a victim of power struggle between a caucus of the ruling party and a female member whose rising profile in the party allegedly threatened influence of the caucus. Barrister was used as pawn in their chessboard and regretted his action after he had suffered arrest and detention at the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Iyaganku, Ibadan and Panti Street, Yaba, Lagos. However, he could not have escaped the trap because it was one set to give him a zero chance of escape. Closely related to that was a strong suspicion that his completely razed Okota palatial residence in 1996 had to do with his elpee titled ‘The Truth’ which he released in 1994. That incident was seen as a follow-up to his experience on his return from his USA Summer 94 when he needed to be advised to stay behind in the US after the tour until the coast was clear back home for his arrival. It was learnt that he had been declared enemy of the government who must be picked at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos as he touched down from aircraft. If he had been arrested like other pro-democracy activists, most of whom were detained at different prisons across the country, his career and, perhaps, his life would have been endangered. But his goodwill, even among serving officers in the regime, was said to have helped to secure a soft land for him at the end of the day.
As a community of fans of Barrister’s music, I want you to continue this form of appreciating God for having taken him when the ovation was loudest 11 years ago. That was what he actually requested from God to make him evergreen beyond his lifetime. Were he alive to witness Nigeria of today when compromise of principle for a pot of porridge is trending, especially among members of political parties, he might have been overwhelmed and indeed consumed by temptations. Of course, this line of thought is open to debate as I have espoused in the earlier part of this paper. However, evidence abound of those who could not sustain credibility, for which they were known, when carrot was thrown at them. The Ibadan incident of 1983 for which he attacked a wrong person is a pointer to this hypothesis. Even if he was not interested in doing the bidding of the party leaders, their firm grip of his neck left him with no option other than getting out of the suffocation. If his only Fuji Chamber residence had been targeted and marked for demolition to reduce him to a tenant at old age by an administration, would he have maintained his non-partisan stance or made appeal in whatever form to save his property? Government wields almost absolute power in this clime; that is, power to make, power to unmake; power to tie. power to untie; and power over life and death. But be that as it may, the Barrister I know would prefer to sacrifice material items to preserve his name, which he worked so hard to build for over five decades. It is on record that he vehemently turned down a collaborative performance by notable musicians in 1997 for General Abacha regime. Despite the fact that he had a clue of danger inherent in his uncompromising stand, he put his feet on the ground firmly as one who would not be bought over at any price. That is the Barrister I grew to know and appreciate. And the beauty of it is that, nevertheless, he later emerged the first fuji musician which the federal government honoured with a national award of the Member of the Order of Federal Republic (MFR) at a historic ceremony in Abuja in 2006. Didn’t he laugh last? Didn’t he laugh best? I am wishing you happy anniversary. God bless you all!