If famous Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo Kuti were to be alive, he never would have considered it thinkable that the President of one of the world’s super powers would ever pay a personal visit to the Afrika Shrine located at Agidingbi area of Lagos State.
But on the night of Tuesday, July 3, 2018, perhaps for the first time in the history of The Afrika Shrine, a sitting foreign President visited. The president of France, Emmanuel Macron was at the Afrika Shrine.
The invitation stated guests must be seated before 7pm as gates close at that time. But guests started arriving two hours before the gate closed. Some guests were seated by half past four. Getting past the main entrance was like a horse passing through the eye of a needle. Security screening was very tight. Guests were pre-registered. Anyone whose name was not on the guests’ list was denied entry.
Inside, the large hall was full of people including the two upper galleries. DJ Jimmy Jatt was on the turntables dishing out classic tunes including famous Late Fela Anikulapo songs. His music blend moved from the 1970s, 1980s to 2000s. As expected, Fela’s music got not a few people dancing as they sang along.
Having waited for a few hours before 7pm, the hall became restless as the man of the moment, President Macron had not shown up. It was half past eight, everyone had thought the show would start at 7pm prompt. But as Banky W, the compere for the night, joked about the delay: “it’s a combination of French and Nigerian time.” We were later told President Macron’s flight suffered a delay in Abuja. The event was too important for people to get weary of waiting. As at half past nine, the hall was still full; with an overflow.
I would later saw a Facebook post by Chief Press Secretary to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, Habib Aruna announcing the arrival of President Macron’s aircraft at the airport. A few minutes later we saw pictures of Governor Ambode welcoming President Macron to Lagos at the airport. With these, hope was restored in Sola Bodunrin, Naij.com entertainment editor, who was my gist partner for the night, and I.
By 10pm, there was shuffling of feet at the upper gallery, camera men raised their cameras as all attention was turned on the main entrance. The man everyone had been waiting for had arrived. What an ecstasy? Excitement swept through the entire hall as Banky W announced the arrival of Governor Ambode and the French president, Macron.
Tokini Peterside, walked President Macron and his entourage through a mini exhibition of works by visual artists, Victor Ehikhamenor and Ndidi Emefiele. A cultural performance by Footprints of David (Bariga Boys) kicked off the performances for the evening. Later, 11-year-old Kazeem Waris Olamilekan, who drew a portrait of President Macron in two hours, presented the piece to him accompanied by Governor Ambode.
President Macron requested to go on a tour of the Afrika Shrine in an attempt to relive his last visit to Nigeria 15 years ago as an intern at the French Embassy. His visits at the time must have awakened an Afrocentric consciousness in him as he spoke openly about his love for African culture that evening.
The tour must have been nostalgic for him. With his sleeves rolled up, he excitedly climbed the stairs at the Afrika Shrine to have an aerial view of the entire setting. He declined to state categorically what he loved to do at the Shrine when he visited as an intern. “What happens in the Shrine, stays in the Shrine,” he said. Regardless of his response, he was nostalgic about the Shrine, and he is a man who loves Lagos.
“This is African energy, he later Tweeted about his visit to The Afrika Shrine. 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.”
Governor Ambode couldn’t agree less with President Macron on the positive energy on the streets of Lagos when he said in his welcome address: “The spirit and energy of Lagos is not different from what you see on the streets of Paris.”
The question and answer session for the French president, anchored by former CNN presenter, Keturah King , got many people on their feet as both young and old were eager to hear him speak and teach wisdom and indeed he share many interesting nuggets that got many people thinking till the event came to an end.
“This place is about politics. Fela was not just a musician– he was a politician. For young people in the shrine tonight, yes politics is important. Get involved.”
That evening, he didn’t not only encourage young people to get involved but enjoined everyone present to use culture, media and the arts to tell the African story.
“We have to build together a new narrative that is not based on what is important to Europe but what is important for Africa. How the continent wants to import their culture. Some people say Nigeria is unique; some other people say it’s a place of terrorism. The two messages are true at the same time. Africa is a young continent and I believe it is possible to change.
“All we need is to let African people speak about Africa. You always use a biased approach to tell your story. What we need is your generation of artists, journalists, civil servants to speak and explain about Africa. This is the way to change and make a new Africa. European leaders cannot lead Africa. Africans have to build their own future here.”
After the short interview, Yemi Alade, taught Monsieur Macron how to do the Shaku dance. He literarily got on his feet to try the moves with Monsieur Ambode and Madame Angelique Kidjo.
Also, Nollywood took its spot on stage with president Macron playing a skit that showed the true character of the Lagos motion picture industry by including comics in the informative themes. Obviously, the visiting president had fun with the mini play put together by film maker Kunle Afolayan which starred the likes of Joke Silva, Jide Kosoko, Chika Okpala, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Ramsey Nouah, French actor, Florent Cedric and French director, Abderrahmane Sissako among others.”
The evening came to an end with the grand performance of Femi Kuti. Eventually, one couldn’t help but say the night was long, but it was worth the wait. It was an evening well spent with President Macron and Governor Ambode.