Reggae legend Peter Tosh was extorted by police in Nigeria, and almost had a confrontation with members of the security forces, whilst on his first ever trip to Africa, a story very few people know about, but which his manager, Copeland Forbes, witnessed live and direct.
“Most people may not have known it but Peter went to Africa the first time in his life in 1982… and he said to me right after that tour in 81, that he’s not going back out on the road to do any more shows or anything until he goes to the Motherland; he has to connect; he is tired of playing in front of the other people he wants to connect with his people,” Forbes explained in a University of the West Indies lecture.
According to Forbes, the vision of a trip to Africa took root in Cuba, where they had met Nigerian singer Sonny Okosun, who was also performing there.
“So we hit up a good friendship and he (Sonny) kept saying to me: ‘listen whenever you want, please come to Nigeria. Come to Nigeria. That’s the land, that’s the land. Okay, when the time is right’. So when Peter said to me ‘I have to go to the Motherland’, I said ‘you know something, Nigeria goin be the first stop,’” Forbes recounted.
“So, 1982 February, we decided to head to the Motherland. He (Peter) said: ‘I’m not going to perform. I’m not going to sing I want to connect with my bush doctor and some spiritual higher heights’. I said ‘Lord Jesus what is this?’” he relayed.
Forbes said that he traveled to New York with Tosh, where they met with their lawyer, and went through the prerequisites for travel, after which he and the Mystic Man headed off to Nigeria.
“Now, we missed a day’s flight, so we went the other day. So when we landed in Lagos we didn’t see Sunny Okosun, because we didn’t get a chance to tell him the new flight arrangements. So we decided to a taxi from the airport and head into the city,” he said.
Forbes said that whilst heading into the city, they encountered numerous military spot-checks, the first of which was quite scary. “The soldier dem come wid dem big gun. And can you imagine Peter Tosh first time in the Motherland, he is faced with submachine guns. Suh dem come wid guns (and ordered) ‘get out!” he said.
After recognizing that it was the ‘Great Peter Tosh’ who venerated Africa in song, Forbes said the soldiers asked for autographs and cassettes and then sent them on their way.
However, several checkpoints later, they were in for a rude awakening.
“So every roadblock the same thing, till we got to about the eighth roadblock and this these soldiers and police came up and stuck the gun at us. And I know Peter don’t like that. I have to watch him enuh (because) I know him would explode, because after eight a dem the ninth one could be dangerous,” he recounted.
“So this man said, ‘get out of the car! So we get out of the car. One guy said ‘wait, I know this face, is this Mr. Tosh’. I said ‘yes thank God we can get through,” adding that the serviceman, too, asked for an autograph.
“We give him autograph give him everything and him tek it. Then him teck up the gun from beside the tree, then him point it back at us and seh: ‘come out of the car’. Peter seh a weh di bongo clippings dis? Mi seh ‘Peter relax, mek me talk’. So him (officer) start to box up the driver, kick up the driver and Peter was ready to jump in. I seh Peter, don’t get involved yet, meck wi wait and see what happen. And then him said ‘sergeant take them to the station’,” Forbes said.
“Can you imagine Peter’s first time in Africa, is a police station in Lagos we end up? So dem drive us to the police station and know that if Peter go inna di police station we goin have a re-enactment of Half Way Tree (police beating). So I say: ‘Peter stay outside make me go in.’”
Continued Forbes: “Him seh ‘what yuh mean’. Mi seh ‘mek me go in. Suh him come outta di car and sit down on the sidewalk and I walk inside the police station in Lagos. Somebody tell me seh his was the police station where them did arrest Jimmy Cliff one time, so it’s famous for holding big artistes there.”
Forbes said that after entering the police station, he and the taxi driver were given a bench to sit on, but were largely ignored. He said this made him jittery as he was worried that the Mama Africa singer would become impatient and storm into the building to confront the police.
“Wi sit on the bench; nobody talking to us, nobody saying anything. Suh I start get restless because I know any minute I goin see a six foot three coming through the door, and I don’t want that in this police station. So what I did, I keep walking around pacing the floor. The police came and look at me after two hours. and say ‘ah what are you here for?’”.
“I said I don’t know. We are coming from the airport and we just going to a hotel and dem just stop us here and beat up the driver.”
At this point, Forbes said, that, to his astonishment, the police officer requested the “extortion fees”.
“Him seh, ‘ah give the officer five naira’. I said ‘what’? So I went into my pocket and I teck out 10 US dollar and I said this is for you. Him seh ‘ah, you may go’!”
“So I walk out with the driver and Peter she: ‘weh dem do?’ And I seh ‘nuttn’. I just give di man $10 an him seh gwaan”.
Peter Tosh’s response, Forbes said was: “Suh weh di bongo clippings him neva seh dat from outta street? An wi woulda gone a wi yard.”