Dear Sunny Okosun, Your Question “which Way Nigeria?” Still Remains Unanswered
Ordinarily, when an open letter, such as this, is sent to anyone it is often expected that it will be received and acknowledged. Sadly, the person I am sending this letter to will never give a reply to it. However, I must confess that I was inspired to write this letter on the strength of my belief in African mythology. You may have wondered and asked, “Are you no more a Christian?” Of course, I am. However, an Edo proverb says “Though the lion and the antelope happen to live in the same forest, the antelope still has time to grow up”.
African mythology has it in traditional religion that life does not end with death, but continues in another realm. In fact, the concepts of “life” and “death” are not mutually exclusive concepts, and there are no clear dividing lines between them. Human existence is a dynamic process involving the increase or decrease of “power” or “life force,” of “living” and “dying,” and there are different levels of life and death. Death does not alter or end the life or the personality of an individual, but only causes a change in its conditions. This is expressed in the concept of “ancestors,” people who have died but who continue to live in the minds of people in the community as they were often remembered for the good things they deed before their departure to the great beyond.
Against the foregoing, I am sending this letter to the late Ozzidi music exponent, Sonny Okosun. Explanatorily put,the letter is somewhat a progress report on his album titled, “Which Way Nigeria” which was released in 1983. As inherent in the chorus of the music, the late musician wanted to know “which way Nigeria is heading to.” He lyrically noted, “Many years after independence”, it continues, “we still find it hard to start/how long shall we be patient still/we reach the promise (sic) land/let’s save Nigeria/so Nigeria won’t die.”
I want him to know in his grave that the question he posed to all Nigerians, particularly the leaders is yet to be answered. I want him to know that the cause he stood for and the injustice and oppression he fought against in Nigeria still persist. On the other hand, since he departed from the earth on May 24, 2008 in Washington, District of Columbia, USA, Nigerians are still groping in the dark asking “Which way Nigeria?” without any reasonable answer. Since the lives of vibrant youths were recently cut short during a peaceful protest at the Lekki toll gate, the question has been on the lips of everyone more than ever before.
Dear Evangelist Sonny Okosun: It’s me, Isaac Asabor. We may not have met in the land of the living during your seemingly brief earthly sojourn. However, through your song “Which way Nigeria” I became one of your died-in-the-wool fans in my village in 1984, shortly after the album was released when I was somewhere in the southern part of Edo state. Upon my migration to Lagos same year, everything you did, even when you became an evangelist, caught my fancy and gave me every reason to emulateyou. I even tried my fingers on guitar but for the fact that I was a “bookworm”, and I could not share the limited time I had then with any past time.
Recently, a professional colleague wrote, “The title is that of his hit number that chronicled the political woes of Nigeria since its independence from Britain in 1960, and the apparent hopelessness in overcoming many of its problems. A number of recent events, however, have made citizens of West African countries to ask Okosun'squestion once more, this time with a sense of urgency”.
Permit me to say that the inspiration to write this letter to you was necessitated by the need to inform you that Nigeria, 12 years down the line since you departed that Nigerians are yet to find the way to the Promised Land. I consider this letter to be befitting to you because of the role you played in ensuring that Nigeria is liberated through the songs of social protest that gave voice to native political movements on the continent. Your works, no doubt, have been influencing a generation of musicians, both in Africa and around the world. Little wonder your songs were described in the New York Times as "a catchy, rock-inflected cocktail of funk, reggae, Afrobeat and more…. The result was a zestful, funky strand in what has come to be called world music."
But alas! Since your exit, Nigeria and Nigerians seem years way from being liberated. To put it in a figurative perspective, the economy has been wobbling while anyone that complains would be killed by government agents, particularly the police. Recently, there was a protests against the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS). For the sake of clarity, SARS was a Nigerian Police Force unit created in late 1992 to deal with crimes associated with robbery, motor vehicle theft, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and firearms. It was part of the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID), headed by Deputy Inspector General of Police Anthony Ogbizi.
According to the popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, “SARS was controversial for its links to extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, extortion, torture, framing, blackmail, kidnapping, illegal organ trade, armed robbery, home invasions, rape of men and women, child arrests, the invasion of privacy, and polluting bodies of water by illegally disposing of human remains. After widespread protests in Nigeria and worldwide under the motto "End SARS", the unit was disbanded on 11 October 2020. Inspector General of Police M.A. Adamu said that a new unit, the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), would replace the SARS. He said that SARS personnel would report to police headquarters for debriefing and examination. Within hours of the announcement, some Nigerians took to Twitter with the hashtag #EndSWAT and demonstrations continued amid fears that police reform would not materialize.
The foregoing is a bird’s eye view of what Nigerians have been facing since you departed from this world in the hands of pharaoh-hearted leaders. As you read this, not few Nigerians are missing you. Many words have been written and spoken in your honour, particularly for dedicating a greater part of your musical career to popularize liberation music well ahead of any African musician.
Echoes of your earthly journey have severally being recaptured by both New York Times and UK’s Independent Newspapers in their respective editorial. In one of the reminiscences you were quoted to have said that “All my mates were singing love songs, I was trying to talk about what was happening to black people.”
I do not need to say much on the role you played throughout your lifetime in the fight against oppression of the poor, and the quest for Nigeria to move forward. But alas! Uncle sonny, I must confess that my heart bled and my eyes became misty when I saw your photo that portrayed you as very sick when was I searching for the background materials to write this letter to you. I was emotionally moved, more so as it appeared your singular efforts toward the liberation of Nigerians from the gulag of bad leadership seems not to have being heeded to.
Thank you for your struggle against bad leadership in Nigeria, even at the risk of being killed by the very people who your music for the umpteenth times pricked their collective conscience.
It is not an exaggeration to say that you deserve to be thanked for using liberation music which was unarguably focused against bad leadership and oppression. . Once again, I say thank you, till we meet to part no more. Have an eternal rest.