Ake Festival 2017 opening ceremony

The Ake Festival 2017 kicked off with an opening ceremony to remember.

Thursday November 16, 2017 was a special day as it started with the ultimate nod from Western civilisation as ‘father of modern African literature” Chinua Achebe was featured as a Google dongle. The google dongle for those who don’t use the ubiquitous US search engine is this image thing that you will encounter when you log on. We hear that dongle business is very prestigious so well take it.

That day wasn’t just about Chinua Achebe’s mugshot on a US search engine though. That was the day of the official opening ceremony of the fifth edition of the Ake Arts & Books Festival 2017. The festival has started on the 14th with invited guests doing visits to schools in the host city of Abeokuta to inspire the next generation of both artists and consumers of their art. There was also a workshop by Nnedi Okorafor who taught those who attended to write in speculative fiction, graphic novels and comic.

The opening ceremony was hosted at the June 12 Cultural Centre named in commemoration of the annulled June 12 presidential election that saw Abeokuta’s child M.K.O. Abiola emerge winner in 1993. With a huge snarl up on the highway from Lagos, festival organisers had to wait hours before enough of the guests showed up before they could start proceedings. In the early afternoon, there would be enough for events to kick officially.

It started like we do in all African countries; the anthem. Where this country is concerned, there is both the federal and state anthem to be enjoyed. As is traditional, the Ogun State anthem was belted to the rafters with Adunni and Nefertiti, the folk/traditional music group leading guests while the federation anthem led by musician Celeste was mouth by those the audience.

The events then kicked off like they have done for the last five years; a welcome speech from festival director Lola Shoneyin. She would apologise for the late start due to factors beyond their control and promising an awesome festival. Her speech would be followed by goodwill messages from the supporters of this year’s edition of the festival like Coca Cola communications manager Linda Okondo, Taye Adelajon on behalf of Kufre Ekanem from Nigerian Breweries and Sterling Bank chief operating officer Henry Bassey. These organisations would remind the audience that they have done a lot for women who were the focus of the festival or that they supported the festival in the past.

Also making speeches were those who were giving goodies to some of the women who had attended. The Managing Director of Vlisco (Hollandis Dutch wax), Yvonne Chioke gave a goodwill message while also presenting some awards. They included Adebola Rayo for her work in mental health awareness, Kikelomo Woleoso for her work in sexual health awareness and for using her own experience to empower and help rape victims, and Kaduna State first lady, Hadiza Isma El-Rufai for encouraging women in creativity and Literature. The list of six were rounded off by Mona Eltahawy for her work in women’s rights and LGBT rights, Kadaria Ahmed for her journalistic work, and festival headliner Ama Ata Aidoo for paving the way for female writers and inspiring another generation of writers.

Also handing out goodies on the day was Goethe head of information and library Safurat Balogun who introduced the Lagos to Limbe (hey that’s the hometown of Behold The Dreamer’s protagonists Jende and Neni Jonga) project that they had run alongside Bakwa Magazine and Saraba. Balogun would also announce that Nkiacha Atemnkeng (Cameroon) and Sada Malumfashi (Nigeria) would be the writers going on a three months residency at Sylt in Germany next year. Announcement of the Nommo Awards 2017 was also made at this event.

Also speaking at the opening ceremony was Molara Wood about the Ake Review which she edited this year for the second time. The only goodies that she was handing out was the review which is filled with wonderful short stories, poetry, essays and photography celebrating the theme of That F-Word. The review (which is lovely incidentally) was presented with funfair and given to the festival headliner Ama Ata Aidoo who was sitting at the front.

As all this awesomeness was happening, the audience was also treated to this year’s spoken word piece which was presented by Opening poem by Poetra Asantewa which extoled the woman. Find me a creature more profound than woman… Such a powerful piece that was by Poetra.

The Ogun State Deputy Governor Yetunde Onanuga then gave a welcome speech to formally welcome Ake Festival organizers and participants to Ogun State after which she cut the ribbon and declared the festival officially open.