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WHY I'M SUPPORTING SUBSIDY PROTEST - SEUN KUTI

By NBF News

LAGOS (AFP) - It was as if Seun Kuti was born for this moment, the crowd of thousands shouting with him in anger at the government before he launches into another song, a picture of his legendary father on his shirt.

'It's a carnival of protest!' the 29-year-old yells to the crowd at a park in Lagos, where demonstrations have been held every day this week in support of a national strike that has shut down Nigeria over soaring fuel prices.

His late father Fela Kuti gained worldwide renown both for his afrobeat music and his blaring criticism of Nigeria's corrupt regimes, and now it is Seun's turn to lead the charge as protests swell across his country.

The protests and nationwide strike that began on Monday were sparked by a government policy ending fuel subsidies on January 1, causing petrol prices to instantly double in Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer.

Many of the same injustices that Fela sang about exist in similar form now: Most people live on less than $2 per day while a corrupt elite siphons off much of the wealth from one of the world's biggest oil industries.

Asked whether he felt a responsibility to do as his father did and criticise the failings of Nigeria's politicians, he put it differently.

'I don't feel a responsibility,' Seun Kuti said. 'It's a necessity as an African. … The people will have to be heard.'

While the government and economists say there are sound reasons for removing subsidies - including using the $8 billion per year spent on them for badly needed infrastructure - the petrol price hike is a brutal blow for the poor.

It was for that reason that Seun Kuti knew he had to - quite literally - take the stage, appearing regularly at the main protest site and performing his politically engaged music with his band.

He has done the same at his family's club, the New Afrika Shrine, which replaced his father's Shrine club after it burned.

But now the stakes are much higher, and Seun says the protests are a defining moment for his country. They are nominally about petrol prices, he says, but in reality about the corruption that has created a deeply unfair country.

'This is the last chance the federal government has to embrace its youth in peaceful harmony,' he told AFP in an interview behind the stage after his band performed at the protest.

'Because if we fail peacefully, the generations that come after us will say, 'Well, they already did it peacefully. They were ignored, so we will not be peaceful.''

Seun was only 14 when his father died of an HIV-related illness in 1997 after a life lived extremely large. Fela had ripped into Nigeria's leaders in song, such as in 'Coffin for Head of State' and 'International Thief-Thief.'

He was jailed at one point and his Kalakuta Republic, which he declared independent from Nigeria, was burned.

But Fela was by no means all politics. He was also famous for marrying 27 women the same day, most of them his dancers, and had a well-known love for marijuana.

Seun had already been involved in music before his father's death, even occasionally performing with Fela's band. Afterward, he moved into the frontman role for Fela's Egypt 80 band, playing the saxophone like his father did.

He and the band released a well-reviewed album last year, 'From Africa With Fury: Rise,' co-produced by the iconic British musician and producer Brian Eno.

It follows in his father's afrobeat footsteps but seeks to carve out its own territory, though he remains as politically engaged as ever.

He said what he learned growing up with his father was to live a 'principled' life.

His older brother Femi, who is also a musician, and sister Yeni joined him on stage on Thursday to denounce the fuel subsidy policy.

'It is everybody's fight,' he said when asked how it felt to have family members on the same stage arguing for the same cause.

'The federal government has to realise that the Nigerian people will no longer be the doormats that they wipe their feet on on their way to their lives of luxury and comfort.'

While the protests and strikes have rocked Nigeria, the government has also been seeking to stop spiralling violence blamed on Islamist group Boko Haram, sparking fears of a civil conflict.

For Seun, addressing corruption is the key.
'I don't worry about Boko Haram,' he said. 'Because, as I said, Boko Haram is still a symptom of corruption. If people were well educated, had good jobs, were inspired, nobody can convince you to blow yourself up or be a terrorist.

'Boko Haram, ethnic conflict, everything is from corruption … Nigerians are not animals.'