By Owei Lakemfa
IT was a straight eight-hour African wake in Lagos, the continent’s most populous city with a bulging seventeen million population. It was for Fidel Castro on the eve of his funeral. We knew his spirit was at the National stadium venue. It is not the Western concept of spirit which is exorcised. In Africa, the spirit of our loved ones stay with us and we honour them with dances, chants, praises, songs and tributes before they depart to the Pantheon of our ancestors from where they watch over us.
Fidel, although born a Cuban, is a worthy ancestor of the African people because for us, a father or brother, sister or mother is not necessarily biological; it is also the role, or position the person occupies. People in the West, who claim to understand us cannot comprehend why Africa is mourning Fidel who – unlike Nelson Mandela – they stopped just short of labeling a terrorist.
To cap the activities, on Thursday, December 8, in Abuja, the Labour unions organised a post-funeral gathering under the theme: ‘Fidel: A Day of Tributes.’
The Saturday December 3, vigil began at 9pm with the International and the Cuban national anthem, followed by the signing of a book of tributes. The organisers; the Amilcar Cabral Ideological School, ACIS, and the Centre for Popular Education department of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, gave me the privilege of heading the very long queue to sign the book.
ACIS Coordinator, Abiodun Aremu said the large turnout of participants, some who travelled four hours from Oshogbo for the all-night vigil, is a reminder that those who serve the people, will never be forgotten. He added “When Fidel survived over 600 assassination attempts by America, it means the gods always protected him.” Aremu told the enthusiastic crowd “Today, we have done Africa proud. If Nkrumah and Cabral were alive, they will be proud of us!”
Bishop Atilade who had been personally decorated with a friendship medal by Fidel said all “Fidel wanted was for all of us to be united in making the world a better place.” To demonstrate the international spirit of Cubans, he narrated the story of a Cuban mother who lost her son in the Angolan war. He said during the funeral, the mother took the boots of her son placed on his coffin and gave them to her second son to wear. She told him he has to go to Africa and replace his brother on the battle field against Apartheid.
Ambassador Ayo Olukanni, retired Nigeria ambassador to Australia had experience working with Cuban diplomats whom he said were always intelligent and bright which is a reflection of their country’s system. Olukanni said: “In the Western hemisphere, it is in Cuba the Blackman is most respected.” The ambassador who spent many years at the United Nations, UN, said: “When you hear Fidel speak, it is electrifying. He once came to the UN. There are three lights in front of speakers, one is green to indicate beginning, the second is amber to tell the speaker to round up, and the third is red, indicating, stop. When it was Fidel’s turn to speak, he took out handkerchiefs to cover the red, then amber lights. There was loud applause.” Olukanni added “While some of us were in New York (UN) using diplomacy to fight Apartheid, the Cubans were in Angola, guns blazing, fighting to end Apartheid.”
Then the ‘gyration’ and songs commenced led by the Palm Wine Drinkards Club. They were centred around African unity and culture. Prayers were showered on Fidel before the venue was set ablaze with hit songs of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti including STB (Sorrows, Tears and Blood) ITT (International Thief, Thief) and Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’.
More speeches gave way to poetry sessions led by Dagga Tolar who performed his poems like I am AK 47 and Tell Them. In Teach me he wrote: “ They teach us the peace of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King But do not teach us By any means necessary by Malcolm X. They teach us Bokassa and Abacha They do not teach us Lumumba, Sankara.”
Dr. Deji Omole on behalf of ASUU, said “ A people united cannot be defeated. We are celebrating one of our own. All the weapons fashioned against Fidel did not succeed because he had the people behind him. We are traininig our doctors to service others. We are not giving our people functional education. The man we are celebrating gave his people, functional education.”
The traditional rites of passage was performed by a four-person team; Wale Adebisi, Executive Director of the Ola Oni Centre, Wale Balogun , Director of Mobilisation in Osun State, Wale Adeyemi, lecturer at the Lagos State University and Wale Adeyinka. They had sixteen bush lamps; the number required for the funeral of an elder; they performed the Ifa divination for Fidel. The revelation was that “Fidel Castro overcame his enemies because he is a deeply spiritual man. Fidel is an elder in divinity.”
In rounding up the rites, Wale Adebisi said: “When the fire dies out, it covers itself in ashes. When the plantains dies, it replaces itself with its child. Castro departs and replaces himself with us his children.”
The post-funeral Tributes at the Labour House, Abuja was attended by diplomats including the Cuban, Palestine and Saharawi ambassadors. Programme coordinator, Comrade Ismail Bello kicked off the occasion with the declaration: “For us in Africa, Fidel’s foot prints are clear in the liberation of Africa.” The President of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud said Fidel was the brilliant, peoples lawyer in Cuba who dedicated his practice servicing the poor. He said Fidel was dedicated to constitutionalism, but when the military overthrew the government and stopped elections in which he was a candidate, he took to armed struggle.
Kayode Komolafe of THISDAY Newspaper dimissed the attacks on Fidel, querying “What was human rights to the Blackman in Apartheid South Africa?” He said human rights should not just be freedom of speech but should include right to food, healthcare, education and water which Fidel strived to provide for all Cubans. He added that Africans have a duty to defend Cuba against external aggression or attack.
Popular lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana said: “While America sends soldiers around the world to kill, Cuba sends doctors around the world to save lives.” Nigerian international musician, Tar Ukor, now based in Addis Ababa, kept the audience asking for more as he sang in Spanish, French, English among other languages, invoking the spirits of Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Eduardo Modhlane, Thomas Sankara, Jose Marti, Antonio Maceo, Che Guevera and of course, Fidel Castro.