By Anote Ajeluorou
THE coincidence appears to be deliberate. When Badagry Festival 2015 opens proper on August 22, it would be during the International Day for the Remembrance of Slave Trade and its Abolition declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1988.
Significantly, one of the highlights of the festival is a symposium titled Toussaint L’ouverture: The Catalyst for the Global Struggle of the Black Race, dedicated to the memory of the iconic Haitian revolutionary L’ouverture.
His was the first successful revolution wagged by an enslaved people who created the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere on August 23, 1791.
For the people of Badagry, founder of African Renaissance Foundation (AREFO) Mr. Babatunde Olaide-Mesewaku and the festival committee, Badagry Festival should be an important marker for Lagos and Nigeria’s heritage and its march to the future. After the symposium, there will be ‘Dark-Era Reminiscence Procession’ round Badagry township aimed at reenacting the ordeals slaves went through as they were dragged from the various hinterlands to Badagry for onward transition to the coast and into slave ships to onward journeys to strange land and hardships.
On August 23 proper, ‘Door of Return’ ceremony will be held as opposed to ‘Point of Return’ that ushered out millions of Africans into slave ships. For Olaide-Mesewaku, the key aim of the festival is “to draw diaspora Africans back to their roots; the festival targets those dislodged from their ancestral homes to the diaspora, as Badagry played a decisive role in their dislocation.
“The festival is designed to create a global platform for the gradual reintegration of the diaspora and to celebrate the history of the African diaspora, especially those that contributed to the emancipation of blacks from slavery and to promote the tangible and intangible heritage of Africa and Badagry, as melting points. Badagry used to be a transit point for taking away our ancestors”.
Also evident as focus of the festival is the feeling of guilt and the need for its atonement by Badagry descendants of those whose ancestors played a crucial part in the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade when Badagry town served as transit point for Africans sold for fripperies. For the atonement, three sets of prayers will be held in Badagry (traditional, Islamic and Christian) to bring the spirits of the aggrieved dead to rest and find peace as a result of the violent manner they died during the tragic slave trade era.
“So many atrocities were committed in in this town (Badagry),” according to Olaide-Mesewaku. “That is why there is atonement during the festival, to atone for the dead during the slave trade dealings in Badagry”.
Traditional atonement prayers will be held during ‘Vothun Festival of Catharsis’ on Wednesday, August 26 in Ajara Community. Vothun is the Ogu (language spoken in Badagry, its environs and part of Benin Republic) deity and religion that the slaves took with them, and which has grown in popularity and followership, now known in the Americas as Voodoo! The Vothun priest, Aloji of Possi shrine, Chief Z.O. Awhanvoyetho will lead traditional prayers alongside His Majesty, De Wheno Aholu-Menu Toyi I, Akran of Badagry and his Council of Chiefs.
DESIGNED also to project the Ogu cultural heritage and history, Badagry Diaspora Festival 2015 will pay homage to L’ouverture, as a slave who became a revolutionary that led to the founding of Haiti. The festival started paying homage to important personalities in 2012, the first being late broadcaster Emmanuel Ahisu Agosu of Ajido. In 2013 Dr. Marcus Garvey was honoured for his attempt to bring back freed slaves in in the diaspora to their original homeland. Although L’ouverture was to be honoured last year, the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in parts of West Africa halted the plan as the festival was merely marked to necessitate him being celebrated big in this year’s festival.
“L’ouverture was captured in Benin Republic, an Ogu,” AREFO founder said. “He led the Haitian revolution in 1791 against the French. It served as catalyst for the emancipation of slaves; it triggered the quest for emancipation even in the U.S., marked the beginning for freedom and inspired UNESCO to declare it the day of emancipation of the slave trade. You can see that the Blackman is a blessed man, but for the advent of history, the bad thing slave trade represents.
“The festival will honour a man who left his imprint in the sand of time, especially the struggle for emancipation of Africans. It’s a sort of remembrance and honour of the role L’ouverture played in bringing about freedom to many”.
Also, this year’s festival is in partnership with Haitian Embassy in Benin Republic, which will send a delegation, with another from Haiti, comprising government officials and performing artistes that will thrill audiences from far and near. There will be guest speakers from Haiti, Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria at the colloquium. It will be anchored by Prof. (Mrs.) Alaba Simpson of Department of Sociology, Crawford University, Ogun State. Also, L’ouverture’s great grandson, lawyer and former member of Haitian Parliament Mr. Ernst Vilsaint will be part of the Haitian delegation coming to Badagry for the festival.
A musical showpiece with Haitian Eveillard Nikerson leading the way among other acts will be staged on Friday, August 28.
THE issue of neglect of Badagry by successive governments in Lagos State has become legendary; it came up for discussion at the organising committee meeting held two Saturdays ago at the Badagry Heritage Museum. With its rich history, even if of the dark era slave trade, its slave trade monuments, Badagry is still a backwater in the historical evolution of Nigeria and Lagos State. Although a coastal territory with aquatic splendour like the entire Lagos, long stretch of beaches that ought to make it a tourism haven, Badagry is a mere dot on the map. Its rich tourism resources are yet to be tapped. Its slave history counterpart towns like Goree in Senegal, Bonny in Nigeria (location of liquefied gas plant), Elmina in Ghana and Ouidah in Benin Republic, Badagry lags behind the other towns and its tourism potentials continue to waste away.
This prompted Olaide-Mesewaku to argue that the case with Badagry is unfortunate. He said although the state’s former governor Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola had a plan for the town, there were persons in his government that scuttled it for reasons he couldn’t quite understand.
According to him, “Lagos Black Heritage Festival (LBHF) was first inspired by the history of Badagry, which ought to be a platform for African descent in the diaspora; it was built around the history of Badagry. For whatever reason, the festival was taken out of Badagry and it lost its focus. The venue shifted to other places, and could not attract its target audience”.
Olaide-Mesewaku appealed to the current governor Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode to have a rethink about tourism and take Badagry as its centrepiece. As he put it, “The festival was first named Badagry-Lagos Black Heritage Festival, but you can’t find Badagry in it again. Now, we have read Mr. Ambode’s address and we know his agenda and tourism is a great part of it. What can develop tourism is development through local festivals that bring in tourists for local benefits. Government should develop local festivals; it’s not only Eyo Festival that Lagos has. Other festivals can be exported to attract tourists to Lagos”.
AREFO listed some of Fashola’s tourism projects that were later abandoned to the grief of Badagry people who are perennially left out of Lagos’ development quotient. As he recalled, “Fashola had very good intentions for Badagry, as a viable tourism destination, but he didn’t have to do it alone. The projects stagnated because be was misrepresented. He was frustrated and couldn’t achieve as much as he wanted. The Marine Beach Golf Course, Vlekete Slave Market and Gao Slave Tunnel were some of Fashola’s uncompleted tourism projects in the ancient town of Badagry. The Gao Slave Tunnel project was cancelled by the Ministry of Tourism and Inter-Governmental Affairs. Fashola wanted to brand Badagry as Slave Historical City. He saw the need for Badagry to be designated Tourism Destination for Lagos and Nigeria, but it didn’t happen. Mr. Ambode can surpass what Fashola tried to do in Badagry”.
A member of the festival organising committee Mr. Hundeyin Seyido Mautin singled out former Commissioner for Tourism Mr. Disu Holloway, as the man to be held responsible for Fashola not realising his vision for Badagry as tourism destination. According to Mautin, “Holloway was not helpful at all. He was here (Badagry) and saw things for himself. What he saw, if not for hatred, was enough for him to act in our favour. Holloway always treated our budget with disdain. For him Lagos did not stretch beyond Lagos Island. Nothing came to Badagry in the last year.
“But Ambode worked with Badagry at some point in his early career. If they can spend N400 million on LBHF, why not give us part of that? Ambode should look at Badagry as Osun Osogbo in Osun State in the interest of tourism in Lagos State”.
The festival will come to a close on Saturday, August 29 at Badagry Grammar School playground, with cultural extravaganza.
Other chiefs in attendance at the meeting were Baba Oja Ajokenu and Otun Baba Oja Chief Babatunde Ogunlola.