So the Ake festival is coming to Lagos…
Yaay, but not quite.
While there must have been a number of very good reasons that made the organizers of what is arguably West Africa’s biggest literary gathering to move from the comparatively rustic ambience of the town under the rock (yes, that’s what “abe okuta” means in Yoruba language) to the city that never sleeps, but I have my concerns.
Firstly, the very fact that the festival wasn’t holding in Lagos made it kind of a big deal to the average writer, book lover or groupie who was coming from Lagos, or wherever. It lent the festival a kind of charm, made it something to prepare for, to plan towards. Now that it is coming to Lagos, would-be attenders will have to do without the booking of hotels, negotiating of room mates, and other things that accompanied the festival in Abeokuta. The issues they would have to contend with are legion, and over them all looms the monster of chaotic Lagos traffic. Lagos is a city bulging at its seams, and the influx of a few thousand more is not likely to make it any better. It is highly unlikely that someone working in Lagos would want to go and book a hotel for the period of one week or thereabouts that the festival will be holding, just to be able to attend the events as at when due. And traffic from wherever people are staying to the venue will be unpredictable, like all Lagos traffic. Events billed for nine will end up starting by past ten, because traffic is a living, breathing thing in Lagos.
Next, security. This is not intended to diss the Nigerian police, but I have observed that the policemen in and around the cultural center, Kuto, and environs are on something close to their best behaviour during the period of the festival. All it takes to get past them on our way from any of the later events at Ake festival is to flash the pass, visitor or press, and they greet you and bid you be on your merry way. I cannot vouch for the police in Lagos like this. The police in Lagos, sad to say, are an entirely different breed of animal. I can just picture the influx of writers and other creatives, wearing the craziest of hairdos, wearing all manners of African prints and bedecked with every conceivable kind of jewelry, from the simple to the arcane, and how the police will have a field day trampling on their rights and dignities, stopping, searching, arresting and harassing. It gives me the creeps just thinking of it, because if I know creatives, being a bit of one myself, there will be requests aplenty to “show me some of the atmosphere, show us what makes your city tick”. And the police in Lagos like nothing more than catching mugu, except maybe catching yahoo boys. I fear for the scandal of policemen, or worse, SARS, catching a journalist, pressman, or writer who came into town for the festival, and then manhandling him to make him “cooperate”, and the kind of international incident that it would cause when the said writer finally got released and decided to write about his (imagine the horror: her) ordeal. This does not in any way imply a lack of trust in Lola or the Book Buzz foundation team, just that… the devil, or Murphy’s Law if you will, does not go on breaks.
Third, in relocating the festival to Lagos, have the organizers thought of a venue? Freedom Park is good, but it is also the home of the Lagos Book and Art Festival, which can lay claim to the title of Lagos’ own version of the Ake festival. Now that the Ake organizers have chosen to muscle in on LABAF’s territory, will they also be taking over the venue? Considering that Ake traditionally takes place a week after LABAF, will the attendees not be fagged out from the constant to-ing and fro-ing through the maze of Lagos traffic? A lot of people use the Ake period as a means to travel and get some time off from the stress and hustle of Lagos. Can book lovers and festival folks handle two weeks back to back of crazy Lagos traffic in the name of catching up with various book events? Surely Lagos has a cornucopia of venues that can host the festival, but accessibility and ease of transport are sure to be an issue with most of them.
Let us talk of accommodation for a moment. Hotels in Abeokuta are a good deal cheaper than those in Lagos, and since very few of the festival visitors actually live in Abeokuta, hotels in Kuto and environs do very brisk business in November, with people calling in from all over the country and indeed, all over the world, some even go as far as to reduce rates, knowing that November always brings a boom in business. Is there any chance of the hotels within Lagos doing this kind of thing? Highly unlikely, if you know what I mean. Firstly, we don’t even have an idea where the event is going to hold, and even if we did, what is the place like? Are there affordable hotels in the area? Is there ease of access from the hotels to the venue? Considering the fact that a good number of the guests are flown in from outside the country, and care must be taken to provide comfortable and safe accommodation for them, are the people who are going to be coming in to see the guests and invitees going to be able to make their way to and from the venue to their respective homes in time to repeat the journey again the next day, knowing just how exhausting Lagos traffic can be?
Finally, if, for instance, the Lagos Book and Art Festival is moved by the organizers to Abuja, is it technically still the Lagos Book and Art Festival? Isn’t transplanting the festival’s location akin to changing its name? Is the Ake Festival still the Ake Festival if it is not held in Ake?
One thing is sure, the Ake festival this year promises to be very interesting and exciting, and I will do my utmost not to miss a single one of the events… if Lagos traffic doesn’t hold me to ransom first.


Photo source: @Akefestival twitter page