President Emmanuel Macron, on Tuesday night, made real his threat to visit the Afrika Shrine, Lagos, where he reunited with lovers of the afro culture.
A ‘threat’ because that might be the way his plan to visit the centre built by Femi Kuti, scion of afro beat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, first seemed to Nigeria’s political establishment whose relationship with Fela was usually problematic. He, however, got an ally in the Lagos State Government, which has not only worked closely with the Fela family but also been part of the promotion of the afro legacy.
For the 40-year-old leader, there was the need to live his liberal destiny and fulfil a rite of nostalgia, having been a faithful of the Afrika Shrine when he worked at the French Embassy in Lagos some 17 years ago. That is why the Tuesday night party would never have ended until Macron had performed what can be regarded as a kind of ritual.
After a warm reception led by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, Femi and Fela’s daughter, Yeni, as well as other dignitaries that included Prof. Wole Soyinka, and even after the welcome performance by Footprints of David, Macron requested a break for him to go upstairs and behold the entire shrine from the top.
The long walk to the apex of the arena further removed the myths of offialdom that often surrounds such leaders, as all classes of people joined him, alongside Ambode, with some pausing to take selfies with their dear Macron. The journey back to the high table was equally adventurous.
For Ambode, it was a night to ask everybody to say, ‘Yeye,’ being the slang expression with which Fela used to tickle his fans. The governor described the Afrika Shrine as a centre where cultural values are exchanged in the form of entertainment. Noting that the energy that defined Lagos was not different from what was obtainable in Paris, Ambode highlighted some of the efforts that his government has made to boost the culture, tourism and entertainment sector – as reinforced by some of the documentaries shown in the course of the programme.
On the essence of Macron’s visit, the governor said, “His ascension to office is an inspiration to Nigerian youths.”
While sponsors of the event, including Ecobank and Trace, also spoke about the values of their organisations, Macron explained that he found his trip to Lagos and visit to the arena fulfilling.
During a conversation led by seasoned presenter, Kenturah King, he spoke glowingly about the shrine, although he warned that he would not be able to share all his memories, saying, “Matters of a shrine remain in the shine.”
He told his fellow afro disciples, “It’s very emotional for me to come back to Nigeria 17 years after my stay ended. I didn’t imagine I’d be back in these conditions. The Shrine is an iconic cultural hub. And I say with a lot of humility that I recognise the importance of African culture.
He urged the youths not to allow the accident of colonialism hold them back, promising that he would mobilise Europe to support Africa, with a cultural conference already initiated for 2020. He also enjoined the youth to be politically conscious, reminding them that apart from being a music icon, Fela was involved in politics because he wanted change.
He said, “Democracy is never written in advance. I am probably a good example of that. Nobody has to decide Africa’s future. Our role is to help the new generation seize opportunities and rise to the challenge. This is what underpins a new, balanced relationship. My most important message to Africa is that the future of Africa is here in Africa.”
There is no doubt that Macron enjoyed every bit of the artistic reception accorded him. While Footprints of David, a group of mainly children cultural dancers led by Seun Awobajo, opened the show with a Sango performance. Yemi Alade also teased Macron with her energetic performance, later ushering in Femi, who gave the august visitor the afro magic he had really missed.
Yet, the event beautifully compered by star musician, Banky W, was not all about music. While Macron was ushered into an exhibition organised by Art X, featuring Victor Ehikhamenor, Ndidi Emefiele and Tokini Peterside (top collector Prince Yemisi Shyllon and veteran artist, Nike Davies-Okudaye were also in the building), 11-year-old artist, simply identified as Kazeem, elevated an old picture of Macron into a portrait that was well celebrated. The awed President whispered some words into the boy’s ears while Ambode also gave him kudos.
Later, some of the star Thespians and film-makers also on hand to receive Macron staged a skit, with the French leader also getting a role in it.
In the Shrine were the likes of Jide Kosoko, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Chika Okpala (Zebrudaya), Joke Silva, Desmond Elliot, Angelique Kidjo , Alex Ekubo and Ramsey Nuoah, among others.
Savouring a slive of the treat, Macron said, “This is African energy. The one I discovered here in Lagos when I was 23. The one I am glad to see is still thriving several years later. The one I hope many Europeans will get to know. The one that is far from the African prejudice of misery.”