Decades after it was abandoned to rodents and miscreants, the Ogun State Government has taken over the expansive home of the parents of Afro Music legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, under a plan to convert it to a museum.
The colonial era one-storey building located on Nepa-Isabo Road in Abeokuta was built by the late Israel Ransome-Kuti and his wife, Funmilayo, over a century ago.
The Ransome-Kutis are a Yoruba family whose members are noted for their contributions to Nigerian art, religion, education, medicine and politics.
Mr. and Mrs. Ransome-Kuti hailed from Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, and made their names as educationists and unionists long before one of their sons, Fela, became known across the world as an iconoclastic musician and social crusader.
Mr. Ransome-Kuti was principal of one of Nigeria’s earliest secondary schools, Abeokuta Grammar School, as well as a Christian cleric and pioneer President of Nigerian Union of Teachers, NUT. He died on April 6, 1955.
His wife, Funmilayo, was a teacher too, but also a political campaigner, women’s rights activist and aristocrat. She was the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria.
Mrs. Ransome-Kuti died on April 3, 1978 following an invasion of the Lagos home of her son, Fela, by Nigerian soldiers, an incident whose account the musician engraved in history by waxing a musical album titled “Unknown Soldier” .
Apart from Fela who later changed his surname to Anikulapo-Kuti, other children of the Ransome-Kutis were Olikoye, a former Nigerian Health Minister who died at the age of 76 on June 3, 2003; Beko (August 2,1940-February 10, 2006), a social critic and medical doctor who was President of the Nigerian Medical Association; and Dolupo, the only female among them who died a few years after her siblings.
Even before the demise of their direct off-springs, the architectural masterpiece the Ransome-Kutis built and lived in had been abandoned and failed to attract the attention of the later generations of the family.
Decades after the abandonment, PREMIUM TIMES did a story on the building. In June, a Television Continental crew did another report on the sorry state of the building and the shame of its neglect.
The report went viral and may have nudged the state government and the descendants of the Ransome-Kutis, led by Fela’s son and ace Afrobeat musician, Femi Anikulapo-Kuti, into the decision to rehabilitate the historic building.
In an interview in the television report, Femi, tried to explain why the building had not come under his attention, saying preserving the legacy of his own father, Fela, was enough engagement for him and his siblings.
“As Fela’s children, his legacy is so huge for us as his kids to carry and maintain the dignity it requires. Keeping the museum, keeping his shrine, keeping his albums, his fans worldwide, lawyers, case here, case there. We are human,” he had told the television reporter.
In his own comment in the report, a son of Olikoye, Dotun, said the embarrassment of abandoning the edifice should go beyond the descendants of the Ransome-Kutis.
“I think it is embarrassing to Ogun State more than us because the house doesn’t just come like that. It was like that when my grandmother’s kids, Olikoye, Beko, Fela and Dolu were alive. But they didn’t do anything about it.
“Even what they have done for Nigeria, they have become Nigerian children. Why can’t Nigerians look at the house and say this is a place of value, let us do it up,” he stated.
”In the house, we have wooden stairs, they are virtually going to give way. The floor boards are like a death trap. What are they going to renovate? You don’t renovate that kind of a house, you have to build them up.
“If you want to make it a museum, that one is going to cost about N100 million. And to actually build up the house, we need about N30 million. So, we are looking at about N130 million,” Dotun concluded.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the building, workers were busy on the building. A signpost with the Ogun State Government logo gave a ‘No Parking’ order near the building, confirming it as site of a government project.
Inside the building, PREMIUM TIMES discovered that aside from the general renovation of the building, personal items of the original owners, including their beds, wardrobes, chairs, tables and mirrors, were being given face lift as monuments.
On Sunday, Fela’s daughter, Yeni Anikulapo-Kuti, at the renovation site said she was full of joy that the building was being renovated.
Speaking on inspection tour with the contractor handling the project, she told PREMIUM TIMES that the state government had taken over the project.
“I am happy that they are now renovating the building and turning it to a museum. The family just kick-started the project when the government decided to take it over and we are grateful for that,” she said.
She expressed optimism that the project would be completed soon and commissioned.
She, however, said for proper maintenance of the museum, the government should consider the Anikulapo-Kuti family as part of the board of its trustees.
A private engineering firm, Total Consult Limited is handling the project. The head of the contracting firm, Theo Lawson, said a section of the building would be dedicated to the exhibition of the lives of the late four children of the Ransome-Kutis, Olikoye, Fela, Beko and Dolupo.
Mr. Lawson, whose company also built Fela’s museum in Ikeja, Lagos State, said the compound would have a stage, an administration block and some shops in the front to be leased out to generate revenue for maintenance of the museum.
When contacted, Special Consultant to Governor Ibikunle Amosun on Tourism, Yewande Amusan, confirmed that government had intervened to renovate the building, which she said on completion would be a museum and tourists’ attraction.