By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
Some people, including Fela's daughter, think the government should have used her father's death to launch an AIDS program. But others think that would have backfired. "If the government had tried using Fela, there would have been trouble," says NYAP's Effiong. She thinks it would only have hardened the refusal to believe that AIDS is real.
AIDS came very late to Nigeria. The first case was reported in 1986, four years after the disease was first identified in Africa, and even then, study after study showed the virus was not widespread. While this gave Nigeria time, it also played into the hands of those who denied the existence or gravity of AIDS, because almost nobody was dying. Even now, those who are reaching the last stages of the disease were infected six to 10 years ago, so they are relatively few-unlike malaria, a clear and present killer. So activists such as Nwashili of STOPAIDS have toiled at "trying to make people believe there is AIDS when there is no AIDS."
There are signs of hope. Nigeria's new president may have a checkered past, but he has almost tripled the AIDS Programme budget, committed his government to dealing with the epidemic-something his corrupt predecessors failed to do-and called in international assistance. Olikoye supported the new president's election (even though his police raided Fela's home in 1977 and inflicted injuries that killed their mother) because Obasanjo "has a wicked streak, which we need in Nigeria." Olikoye is also leading an energetic advocacy effort. And at the Iddo motor park, a vast and crowded bustling truck stop, STOPAIDS peer educator Robert Eselojor is optimistic. "Now the drivers aren't taking women, or they are using condoms."
But that's not how the younger guys hanging out at the motor park tell it. To the hearty laughter of everyone around, a burly driver says he doesn't wear condoms because "if I put it on, my prick can't rise." Another man in the group blames AIDS on "irresponsible girls" and waves his arm in the direction of the brothels. "The only risk is around them," he insists. "A responsible woman cannot get AIDS."
At the base of the Carter Bridge in the crowded, crime-ridden Idumota area, a group of women hawks petty merchandise-cigarettes, soap, fruit. Do their partners use condoms? They just laugh. "My husband," says one, "can't use a condom because he's not a eunuch." Do their husbands have girlfriends on the side? "Two that I know of," answers the first. "My husband is very religious so he has none," says a third woman, wearing a headscarf. "But," she adds, "my boyfriend has had up to 30 other girls."
At the pink-painted Royal Crown Hotel, a sex worker who gives her name as Tina, says many johns offer extra money for unsheathed sex. Trained as a peer educator by the Lagos chapter of the Society of Women against AIDS in Africa, Tina insists she doesn't accept those offers. But, she adds, "I can't lie. Some of the girls, especially the younger ones, if they see 1000 naira, they can't leave it." So how many sex workers use a condom every time? Among the older ones, estimates Tina, six out of 10. But among the younger ones, only two or three out of 10.
Fela wouldn't have solved Nigeria's AIDS problem. But like the Congo's wildly popular Franco Luambo or Uganda's Philly Lutaya, both of whom recorded songs warning about AIDS shortly before the disease killed them, Fela could have made every Nigerian feel that they knew someone with HIV, thus bypassing the process of waiting for the death toll to scare people into taking precautions. As it is, Olikoye believes his brother symbolizes Nigeria's denial and, he says, "I don't know how we will get over the barrier of convincing people that HIV is real."
Over in the Lagos slum of Makoko, where fishing people have constructed a watery shantytown on stilts, 21-year-old Frank Ogbonnaya says he's slept with four women over the last year, and while he maintains that he usually uses condoms with his casual partners, he never uses them with his steady girlfriend. AIDS, he says, just isn't a big concern. Does he know anyone with the disease? "I don't know anyone," he replies, "unless you count Fela. And I don't believe Fela died of AIDS."
Research assistance: Reetpaul Rana, Jason Schwartzberg