By Anote Ajeluorou
As the yearly Badagry Festival 2011 came to a close last Saturday, thousands of local and foreign visitors had a full taste of the sound and colours of the rich cultural heritage of the Badagry people
From about 11.30am when able-bodied young men bore His Majesty, De Wheno Aholu Meno-Toyi I, Akran of Badagry, into the Badagry Grammar School playground and round the arena in his royal chair and waving his flywhisk to the people in acknowledgement of their cheers, the drums began throbbing unceasingly. Each quarter also began a parade of their different masquerades and colourful costumes. They first went to pay homage to the different traditional rulers of the different communities that make up Badagry that had turned up to give fillip to the ‘Festival of Unity’ theme.
They had turned up in their numbers, all decked in their royal attires: Aholu Gbedite Ayaton II, Aholu of Ajido kingdom, Oba Oyekanmi Ajose Ilufemiloye Possi III, Alapa of Apa kingdom, Oba Olalekan Sejiro James, Okiki Arolagbade II, Aholu of Kweme kingdom, Oba Israel Adewale Okoya, Okiki Ola I, and Onibereko of Ibereko kingdom and the array of chiefs to see the re-enactment of what truly belongs to them. They were all there to receive homage from the different performers.
And, the people had come dressed in their best costumes for this yearly festival that gave them a chance to showcase their rich culture that would otherwise have remained useless and wasting in their different shrines and enclaves without a chance to see the light of the day. It is for these performers that African Renaissance Foundation (AREFO), organisers of the Badagry Festival, came into being, to give the people a chance to show the rest of the world their rich culture.
Indeed, they did not disappoint; they danced, performed and drummed to their hearts’ content. So much were they enamoured by the opportunity that each group had to be persuaded to leave the arena to enable others perform.
From the Vothum, the Zangbeto, the fire-eater, snake-charmer, market men and women, farmers, fishermen all displaying their wares and adorning their bodies with their wares as well, stilt-acrobats, slaves in chain-gangs and their slave masters, hunters, warriors, the inimitable esu and his many antics, the ritual sato drummers and the other many rhythms, sights and colours of the performers, Badagry Festival seems a clearly missed item in Nigeria’s tourism map.
The cheering news, though, is that NTDC was in attendance at the closing ceremony of the 11th edition. The corporation’s director-general, Segun Runsewe, had one Bassir Kaka representing him. He assured of the corporation’s support and cooperation with AREFO in realising the noble tourism vision of Badagry Festival. NTDC had been in Badagry to assess the strength of the festival long before it opened.
Also and for the first time, Lagos State Government made itself visible at this year’s fiesta. This has been a sore point in the history of the festval; Lagos State Government had been conspicuously absent in the last 10 editions. Meanwhile, it has introduced a Lagos Carnival, a mere replication of Brazilian Carnival, far less accomplished than Badagry’s in terms of articulating a people’s feast rooted in their culture and historical past.
Secretary to the Lagos State Government, Alhaja Idiat Adegunle (who represented Governor Fashola), Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Mrs. Sola Senapon Oworu (mother of the day), Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Ashamu Fadipe, and some advisers to the government made the state’s team to the festival. Although Oladisu Holloway, Hon. Commissioner for Tourism and Inter-Governmental Relations, was absent, it would seem the state has at last recognised the need to be part of the festival. Adegunle and Oworu said as much in their presentations, promising government’s support in the 2012 festival.
And organiser and president of AREFO, Babatunde Olaide-Mesewaku, restated the unique place Badagry occupies in the many firsts to its credit in Nigeria’s historical narrative. He said, “Let me state why Badagry should not be neglected either by the state or the Federal Government. The first European slave merchant that ever stepped on Nigerian soil touched down in Badagry in the 1660s; his grave lies at the palace of Akran of Badagry till today. Badagry, through the inglorious activities of slave trade, became the first major slave port in Nigeria…
“British interest in the entity we refer to as Nigeria today started in Badagry when the British Government hoisted its flag in Badagry in 1842 to stop slave trade, which had been globally abolished since 1817. The gospel of our lord Jesus Christ was first preached in Nigeria in 1843 just as the first Christmas celebration held in Nigeria was observed in December of the same year in Badagry. Western education in Nigeria took root in Badagry with the establishment of the first Elementary School called the ‘Infant of the church’ in 1843. It later metamorphosed into St. Thomas Anglican Primary School, Badagry.
“What is more, the (Western) architectural evolution in Nigeria started right here in Badagry in 1845, when the first ever storey building was built by the missionaries; (it still stands today). Perhaps novel in the many firsts recorded in the annals of Nigerian history by Badagry is that the idea of international law in Nigeria was generated in Badagry when Richard Lander, one of the first British explorers, was tried in 1825 by a jury of elders through the means of our customs and traditions at the Vlekete Slave Market. Lander’s trial for treason, a crime punishable by death, became the first trial of an alien in Nigeria. He was, however, set free on account of his innocence.
“In 1893, the first Teaching Training College in Nigeria was established on Topo Island by the Roman Catholic Missionaries. Earlier in 1876, they had established the first Agricultural School in Nigeria on the same island.
“Badagry, therefore, is no doubt the cradle of Western Civilisation in Nigeria. No nation toys with foundational history because it is usually the springboard for its development. But in Nigeria, the reverse is the case… It is high time the Federal Government made its impact felt in this community”.
Olaide-Mesewaku, however, thanked Fashola “for taking bold steps to invest hugely on tourism infrastructural development in Badagry with such on-going projects as the museum recreation of the Vlekete Slave Market, the Ganho Slave Tunnel, the Badagry Marina reclamation for Park and Recreation and Africa’s largest arch at ‘Point of No Return’ at Gberefu”.
With NTDC and Lagos State Government also promising to support Badagry festival next year, Olaide-Mesewaku believes the festival’s global appeal and attraction would soon be a matter of time. That way, he hopes, the city’s people would begin to reap the gains of global tourism for economic and communal development as the people dig deep to showcase their rich ancestral cultural heritage, for which the festival offers them unique outlet.
Let me state why Badagry should not be neglected either by the state or the Federal Government. The first European slave merchant that ever stepped on Nigerian soil touched down in Badagry in the 1660s; his grave lies at the palace of Akran of Badagry till today. Badagry, through the inglorious activities of slave trade, became the first major slave port in Nigeria…
Perhaps novel in the many firsts recorded in the annals of Nigerian history by Badagry is that the idea of international law in Nigeria was generated in Badagry when Richard Lander, one of the first British explorers, was tried in 1825 by a jury of elders through the means of our customs and traditions at the Vlekete Slave Market. Lander’s trial for treason, a crime punishable by death, became the first trial of an alien in Nigeria. He was, however, set free on account of his innocence