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Nigerian Afrobeat Musician Fela Charged With Marijuana Offenses, Granted Bail


May-June 1997

In Lagos, Nigeria, internationally acclaimed Afrobeat musician Fela Anikupalo-Kuti, known as "Fela," was arrested on April 9 with 107 other people at his nightclub, "The Shrine," for marijuana possession and use ("Nigerian Musician Fela Charged With Drug Offenses," Reuter, April 16, 1997).

Shortly after his arrest, Fela filed suit in a Lagos court seeking $11,765 in damages from the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) for alleged violation of his human rights On April 15, a judge ordered that Fela be released by the agency. But the NDLEA spokesman said Fela was no longer in the custody of the agency. "After being charged, the issue is now with the tribunal,'' he said.

On April 23, the tribunal granted Fela bail. Judge Yusuf Tanko Usman granted bail on the condition that Fela deposit $5,882 and give two sureties on properties in Lagos. Normally, there is no release on bail for drug offenses in Nigeria ("Nigerian Tribunal Grants Musician Fela Bail," Reuter, April 23, 1997).

Fela was also held by the NDLEA in February 1996. And in the mid-1980s he was jailed for 18 months for allegedly smuggling foreign exchange, but his five-year term was cut short when it was disclosed that the judge who convicted him had been pressured by the military government. Fela has been an anti-government human rights crusader. The musician could face at least 15 years in jail if convicted of the current marijuana charges.