By Day 2 of the Ake Arts & Book Festival, I realized that the best laid out plans can be put aside for impromptu conversations and human interactions.
You see, Lola Shoneyin and her incredible team had succeeded in attracting literary rich minds to Abeokuta and there was a lot to talk about. Conversations from Day 1 carried on until the early hours of the morning of Day 2 such that it was like we never slept.
The night before ended on a sober note with the screening of Clement Abaifouta’s documentary, The Chadian Tragedy. It told the stories of Hissene Habre’s dictatorial rule from the point of view of the survivors. Clement was one of the survivors after spending 4 tortuous years behind bars.
The morning after, I asked him about the happy years before his own arrest and what keeps him going now. Once more, I was awed at the diversity of guests and stories being told at the festival.
One of the most insightful panel discussions during this year’s edition was “Women in a Post-Boko Haram reality.” Chitra Nagarajan, Andrew Walker, and Fati Abubakar have all done a tremendous amount of work documenting the history, happenings, and challenges in the North-Eastern part of Nigeria.
The place of western education in the North, economic disparity in this region, and safe houses for Boko Haram wives were among the topics discussed.
Kadaria Ahmed was the moderator, and she later teased majority of the audience for leaving the cinema hall scanty for the fully packed concurrent panel discussion on sensuality in African literature.
There were more tales from the north in the book chat with Helon Habila (The Chibok Girls) and Teju Cole (Known and Strange Things). These two books are works of non-fiction, so these authors had no characters to hide behind.
Kadaria once more was the moderator, and it was evident that she had thoroughly studied these books with questions that tethered on the border of the accusatory. Both Teju and Helon had comebacks with punch lines when being accused of writing for the New York literati and lightweight material respectively.
A hike up Olumo Rock in the evening and a stage play titled Iyalode of Eti, adapted for the London theatre, was the perfect blend to unwind and get back into the friendly atmosphere Ake is renowned for.