Suffering and smiling: the Nigerian way

The uptick in the appreciation of Fela in Nigeria when juxtaposed against what ordinary Nigerians have to endure, gives pause for thought.

As Felabration week approached (October 9-15), the Lagos State Government announced its plans to honor the 20th anniversary death of the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a man beloved by locals, and foreigners alike for his musical genius and his explicit political stance, which often marked him as unpopular among the government. In fact, many of his song lyrics taunt the government’s policies as well as the almost unbearable reality many Nigerians faced. Songs like Zombie and Suffering and Smiling amongst others detail the grueling reality for the average Nigerian who is reported to earn less than $2 a day.

The current Lagos State government, under Akinwunmi Ambode, has made the development and promotion of culture a top priority. In addition to organizing an expo on behalf of the late playwright and ex-Minister, Rasheed Gbadamosi, the government has also commissioned a slew of street art around the island and mainland to mark the Lagos at 50 celebrations. To top it off, they have decided, in a statement issued by the commissioner for Information and Strategy, to “unveil a statue in Fela’s memory at the Allen Roundabout in Ikeja.” The governor will also pay a visit to the Kalakutta Museum in homage to the iconic man and musician. 

A casual glance at any Fela lyric poses a challenge to the governments’ newfound appreciation of the music icon. Fela has been beloved for decades, but his music is scathingly critical, of the failures and violence of the state. Femi Kuti, the late man’s son and Grammy nominated musician, continues in the tradition of his father, speaking truths of the ills of contemporary society.  

In his song, “Suffering and Smiling,” Fela quotes religious leaders enjoying themselves, while the masses continuously suffer in cramped spaces, while paying homage and acting like sheep to religious leaders by doing their every bidding. 

Everyday My People dey inside bus
Them go pack themselves in like sardine
Everyday na the same thing
Archbishop dey for London
Pope dey for Rome
Imam dey for Mecca
My brother wetin you say/my sister wetin you go hear?
Zombie goes as follows;
Zombie no go think unless you tell am to think

No break, no job no sense

Nigerians are on record as being some of the happiest people in the world, and suffering and smiling continues to be the mantra. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, the country is plagued by depressing economic statistics and the Africa Rising narrative is only fueled by exceptions and outliers who have managed to thrive, despite the odds. “Managing” is the watchword for the average Nigerian who continues to shoulder the effects of corruption in their daily lives.

One exception can be seen in the cultural boom for Africa, of which comedy is increasingly gaining traction. African comedians can now claim to be an integral part of the ecosystem for Africa Rising. Despite the impossible odds. One of those is the lawyer-turned-full time-comedian, Koye Kekere-Ekun, popularly known as K10. In collaboration with 37thState, he released a series of videos tagged #k10forpresident, where he satirizes a politician running for office, complete with a signature jingle. Nigerians are finding additional ways to cope with the poor electricity supply and the dearth of quality jobs by using the age-old medicine of laughter.

No one laughs at themselves better than Nigerians.

Alithnayn Abdulkareem

Alithnayn Abdulkareem is a writer, development worker, and curatorial assistant interested in the intersection of all three to solve long term Nigerian problems.

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