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Fela Kuti's son carries on agitator tradition

Seun Kuti, Nigeria
Nigerian musician Seun Kuti, youngest son of legendary Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, in 2008. AP Photo

The late African music legend Fela Kuti was an unapologetic and very vocal agitator against Nigeria's rampant governmental unscrupulousness. It was a position that often got him in trouble, and, according to one of his songs, led to a military raid on his family compound that eventually killed his mother, who was herself a prominent feminist and voracious anti-corruption protester.

That agitator strain has apparently been passed down to his kids, of which there were many. One in particular, however, has taken center stage in the growing fuel protests currently spreading across Nigeria.

Seun Kuti, an Afrobeat veteran himself, has become a central figure in the mass protests against corruption and the recent dramatic rise in fuel prices in Nigeria, according to The Guardian.

At a recent rally, The Guardian reports that Seun said to a large and adoring crowd: "Our grandfathers had their chance. Our fathers had their chance. If we don't take a stand for corruption in Nigeria now, then we too have lost."

Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation and, in many ways, is most emblematic of the struggles the continent faces going forward. As much as $200 million worth of oil leaves Nigeria daily, according to Reuters, and many politicians and their cronies have grown rich off the trade. However, decades of corruption have left basic infrastructure a shambles and a vast majority of the population living on less than $2 per day. Add to all that a growing militant Islamic problem, and Nigeria's bright future appears to wobble on a razor's edge.

When the government recently announced an end to fuel subsidies and prices nearly doubled overnight, countless thousands took to the streets.

For Seun, who could easily be seen as a voice of the populous, the government owes its people something.

"We, the people, subsidize electricity for the government by buying generators. We subsidize water by digging boreholes in our homes. We subsidize telephones by owning three mobile phones because we're not sure which network will be working on which day," Seun told the Guardian.

In an editorial for CNN, Seun called the removal of fuel subsidies "treasonous" because it "does not take into consideration the hardships facing the people. The people do not trust the government to honor their promises."

So far, the fuel and anti-corruption protests have deeply hurt Nigeria's economy amid also-worsening religious violence. President Goodluck Jonathan, having taken office in 2010 with much promise, faces his stiffest test yet. It may be time to consider taking a different approach than his predecessors with Nigeria's most famous music family by embracing someone like Seun Kuti if he wants to succeed.

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