By Anote Ajeluorou
WITH ‘Engaging the Fringe’ as theme, this year’s Ake Arts and Book Festival opened yesterday at June 12 Cultural Centre, Abeokuta, Ogun State. However, one regret the Lola Shoneyin-inspired festival has, and which is also widespread among festival organisers in the country, is that funding is hard to secure. But Shoneyin is lucky to have generated support from outside the country.
Although there is some level of support coming from Etisalat, Park in by Radison and Ogun State Government, funding from European Union is the main driver of the festival. This reflects the premium both government and corporate Nigeria place on cultural production. With President Muhammadu Buhari completely sidelining culture in his ministerial configuration, it couldn’t be worse for a sector Wole Soyinka aptly called an ‘orphan’.
As Shoneyin put it at a briefing last week to announce the festival, “We suffer from leaders not supporting creativity as much as there’s creativity on this African continent”.
However, for the author of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, Ake Arts and Book Festival “creates a space where Africa intellectuals, actors, scholars and writers converge for an honest conversation, to engage with one another and the outside world. My own personal experience organizing this festival is one of pure joy seeing wonderful people coming together to discuss. We don’t have enough high level conversation going on in Africa on issues plaguing us. It’s always about personal biases and religious convictions. Yes, bring your biases, but listen to the other side of the argument as well.
“The writing space in Africa, Nigeria is very small. So, it’s important to engage all Africans to talk not only about what is wrong with it, but to also celebrate the literature”.
One exciting aspect of this year’s festival, according to Shoneyin, is the festival’s collaboration with an oil service company, Marine Platforms, to bring writings from northern Nigeria to the mainstream. Beyond a prize to be instituted, Marine Platforms will help distribute books to schools in the northern as a way of encouraging reading and writing.
“We will partner with Marine Platforms to send books to school libraries in northern Nigeria so as to help those children to be the best they can be,” Shoneyin said. “We will get 200 children to Ake, and get them involved in the book activities in collaboration with Lafarge Cement Company in creating awareness about environmental issues. All the authors to the festival will go to schools to inspire children”.
Ake Arts and Book Festival will witness a large gathering of writers, artists and filmmakers from Africa and Europe in the ancient city of Abeokuta from which the festival derives its name. As Shoneyin said of the festival’s name, Ake, “It’s from Abeokuta, a sort of magical place marooned in time. I’m interested in how best to retain the quaintness of the place. It’s also about drawing people to the countryside”.