The High Priest at the Shrine is Against AIDS
By Steve Aborisade
Unlike most shrines in Africa where only the initiated can venture, this one accepts the uninitiated. It is also miles away from the picture that most people conjure up of shrines. Here, unlike Okija (a shrine in the Eastern part of Nigerian noted for human sacrifices), no demand is made for such obligation. All you require to witness the festival of the tribe is a N400 ($3) offering at the entrance to the hut. Nevertheless, you definitely must be ready to cope with thick, hazy smoke of marijuana which can easily pass as the festival rites of passage. And generous sight of luscious flesh from scantily dressed damsels and an unruliness that appeared to be orderly, and of course, beautiful music and perfect choreography from the maidens of the altar.
The narrative will be incomplete without mention of the free flow of alcohol – please, welcome to the New Afrika Shrine, Agidingbi, Ikeja Lagos where the high priest is Femi Anikulapo Kuti, first son of the Abami Eda (the weird one), chief priest and President, Kalakuta Republic, the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Time is 12.30AM.
Fela died in 1997 of a disease he never accepted existed. But Fela’s family did Nigeria a favor. The family announced that the icon died of AIDS and that was in 1997, at a time when even medical doctors in Nigeria doubted that AIDS existed. When his brother, the late Prof. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti announced that he died of AIDS-related illnesses, most of his fans and infact, majority of Nigerians did not believe. AIDS actually came late into the reckoning of our people, the first case was reported in 1986, some years after the disease was first identified in Africa, and the virus was not widespread. This lax gave Nigeria a false sense of time, allowing for denials. Then, it was difficult seeing anyone dying of AIDS. Even when Fela died, Olikoye was reported to have recounted: “Fela’s doctor came to me and said, what should I write as the cause of death? And I said what did you find he died of? She said it would be too terrible to write it - AIDS is such a shame. So I asked her, are you going to forge a death certificate?”
In July of 1997, one of Fela’s dancers-turned-wife, Alero Obutu-Kuti also lost her life to the disease. In a report of Inter Press Service filed by Remi Oyo, January 18 , 2000, Alero was admitted at the general hospital in Lagos for AIDS-related complications. “Kuti, 43, with two children, says her illness, for which there is no known cure, is worsening”. “I am afraid I am going to die.” Alero Kuti disclosed her status in November of 1999.
Femi was soon to inherit the legion of Fela’s fans that continue to miss their hero dearly, and was daily proving that he is capable of continuing where daddy stopped. With his band, the Positive Force, he had established a distinct identity for himself, while still drawing largely from his father’s goodwill. He once declared to patrons “I can’t do what my father did, I can’t act like my father to support the way you are ruining your lives.” A visit to the Shrine will confirm if Femi is able to keep his words.
What is certain is that Femi’s Shrine is probably the only spot in Lagos where marijuana or Indian hemp can be openly used without the fear of arrest by the police. Like most clubs, the Shrine is also populated by girls ready for fun at the tap of the fingers.
The new shrine is also a departure in terms of clientele - the people you find mostly are undergraduates of universities, upwardly mobile professionals, visiting tourists, and then the usual crowd in most clubs.
As a UNICEF Ambassador, Femi continued to speak about AIDS. “Everyone who is sexually active must take full responsibility for their actions and health and use condoms to protect themselves and others,” he once remarked. As such, free condoms are handed out to Shrine patrons as they pass through the entrance. Once inside, an enormous sign warns them: BEWARE: AIDS IS REAL.
Although some of the die hard patrons still don’t believe Fela died of AIDS, many now use the condom. Femi allows NGOs to come into the Shrine for HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns. One group that frequents the Shrine for this assignment is the Treatment Action Movement (TAM) in collaboration with the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and they also give out free condoms. In almost all his shows, Femi dedicates a track to educate the audience and fans alike about HIV/AIDS and this is having positive impacts, if measured in terms of condom sales. A lady who operates a kiosk outside the Shrine admitted that condom is one of the items that moves most, after cigarettes and the different brews of hot drinks.
The opinion expressed by some concerned party is aptly captured with the view of a commentator who remarked thus “in the presence of heavy booze, a sexed atmosphere, influence of hard drug which is freely and widely used and girls hanging to be laid-all predisposing conditions for sexual laxity, how can Femi’s songs about AIDS prevent AIDS?”.
[ Back to Top ]
[ Back to Features Home ]