In Memory of Thomas Sankara

In Memory of Thomas Sankara

Monday, June 7, 2021 1:22 pm

Captain Thomas Sankara.jpg

By Femi Falana

I was in Benin last Saturday to participate in the public lecture organised by the Nigerian Youth Democratic Party. I returned to Lagos later in the evening. Hence, I joined the Thomas Sankara program rather belatedly. However, I commend the organisers and all the comrades who partook of the memorable event.

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and I were invited by President Thomas Sankara to visit Burkina Faso for a week in July 1987. As my passport was then in the illegal custody of the State Security Service, I could not make the trip. But Fela did and brought back fond memories of the unfolding revolutionary development in Burkina. In particular, he attested to Sankara’s complete break with the colonial past and total repudiation of the pro-imperialist route to development. Upon his return to Nigeria Fela decided to compose a song in honour of the most progressive soldier to have presided over the affairs of any country in Africa.

Shortly thereafter, the SSS released my passport as a result of the suit which I had filed at the Federal High Court for the enforcement of my freedom of movement. I contacted Comrade Sankara who directed the Burkinabe embassy in Lagos to reschedule my visit to December 12-19, 1987. But  unfortunately, he was assassinated in October 1987 by imperialism and its local lackeys led by Captain Blaize  Campaore. Thus, I was denied the opportunity to meet Sankara in person. In paying tribute to the Comrade I decided to team up with the human rights community in Burkina Faso to bring Campaore to justice for culpable homicide.

Thomas Sankara and Fela. Photo credit: Vanguard

It is interesting to note that in his desperate search for cheap popularity upon assumption of office as a military Head of State,  Mr. Campaore invited Fela for a concert in Ouagadougou sometime in December 1987. I was opposed to the concert but Fela assured me that Campaore would live to regret the dubious invitation.

Campoure, left,and Sankara, centre, and another colleague

In line with the terms of the contract, Fela and his Egypt Band travelled to Burkina for the concert.  To watch Fela perform the Ouagadougou stadium was packed full of people including government officials.  Campaore had wanted to attend the concert but was advised to stay away for “security reasons” at the eleventh hour. After entertaining the crowd with some of his old  records Fela sang his “Underground System”, which   he had dedicated to President Sankara.  The stadium almost collapsed when he sang inter alia:

“Where is SANKARA story O jare Yes O
One Afrikan leader dey today Yes O
Him name na President SANKARA Yes O
This is the only leader wey e dey Yes O
Wey no dey fear to talk the truth Yes O
Him name na President SANKARA Yes O
Him be only leader wey e dey Yes O
Him say Africa unity Yes O
One African Government for All Yes O
All the other leaders wey dem dey Yes O
Na only dem pocket wey dem know
Underground system in their lifes Yes O
One Afrikan leader dey today Yes O
All African people dem like the man Yes
Hin name na President SANKARA Yes O
Where is SANKARA story O jare Yes O
All African people dem like the man Yes
Him name na President SANKARA Yes …
As I dey write this song for am O Yeye O
Dem go kill Sankara Yeye O
If dem kill SANKARA nko
Dem shoot him today
e no go possible tomorrow
If dem kill SANKARA nko
the blood go dey for dem head o
Dem shoot him today
e no go possible tomorrow…”


Read what Fela told TheNEWS about how he abused Campoure in Burkina Faso here


-Read Fela’s full 1993 interview with TheNEWS editors (they were all in detention same time) here


There was pandemonium in the stadium. Government officials quickly disappeared while a band of  armed gendarmes mounted the state to stop Fela from concluding the song, ordered him and the band out of the stadium. They were taken to the hotel to check out and leave the country. The plane which had brought them from Lagos was on ground at the airport for the return journey.  But to the utter dismay of Fela and his band members the plane took off from Ouagadougou but dropped them at the Cotonou airport in Benin Republic and returned to Burkina on the directive of Captain Campaore.

Thus, Fela was compelled to hire buses which brought him and his band members to Lagos by road as there was no flight.  Upon his return to Lagos, Fela rushed to the studio to record the “Underground System” song and released it. For several years thereafter, the record was very popular in the Francophone countries apart from Burkina where it was banned by the Campaore regime.

It is unfortunate that Sankara was eliminated by forces that were opposed to the revolution in Burkina and its spill over effect in several African countries that were then littered with putative dictators. But to the eternal regret of the enemies of Africa they did not succeed in destroying Sankara’s legacies. Hence, his precious life and times are celebrated from time to time. It is interesting to note that while this program was being put together Campaore and other culprits were charged before a military tribunal in Ouagadougou for the brutal murder of the great African leader.

Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria is a human rights crusader and public affairs analyst. 

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