Why Nigeria Wasn’t Ready for Afronation: A Reality Check
This week, Afronation announced that it was no longer holding its much-anticipated festival, billed for December in Nigeria. Although the press statement that announced this cancellation did not give reasons why (or why not), Nigerians have expressed their disappointment in no unclear terms. There were many reasons to look forward to it. In the last four years that Afronation has existed, it has built up a reputation for itself as the most prominent international festival of African popular music, particularly Afrobeats. The festivals have come to be the highlight of many attendees’ years, and many of them have revealed that they planned their holidays around Afronation time. The stunning visuals from each edition make for an intense case of FOMO – content creators and photographers like Michael Tubes capture the freedom and excitement so wonderfully that you feel left out if you’re not attending.
One cannot but commend the organizers for building such an iconic brand in this little time. Afronation has been held in Portugal, Puerto Rico, Miami and some other places – including Ghana in 2019. It seemed only right to bring it back home to Lagos, Nigeria. It sounded like a great idea on paper because, you know, the sauce is from here. The music is from here. Except that, anybody who has been a part of the Nigerian entertainment scene or anybody who lives primarily in Nigeria should have known that that was a tall, tall order, and it was unlikely to materialize. I was rooting for them, but I wasn’t shocked when it was called. Here’s why:
I have an analogy that describes the complex nature of Nigerian society. If a volcano erupts and engulfs the length and breadth of Nigeria the way Mount Vesuvius covered Pompeii, future explorers would be shocked at the discovery they make two hundred years from now. There are million-dollar mansions on dirt roads. Multi-million dollar yachts are sitting on the putrid waters of the Lagos Lagoon. Smartphones would be found in the hands of young, unemployed people whose annual income is less than the price of their devices. Simply put, they will find a society far advanced in many areas despite a glaring lack of commensurate infrastructure. That is our reality for now.
The Nigerian nation, as is, has not been designed for tourism and vacations. Conversely, tourism and vacation are precisely what Afronation was created for. Already, Lagos is bearing the burden of the remaining straggling 35 states of Nigeria, and everything is condemned to happen here. Bear in mind that in terms of land mass, Lagos State is five times smaller than its closest neighbour Ogun and twenty-one times smaller than the biggest state, Niger! As you probably know, that same Lagos is the most populated city in Nigeria. It is also the commercial, financial and entertainment capital of Nigeria. That’s like combining Hollywood, Miami, Las Vegas and New York into the same space.
Consequently, the public infrastructure to host a multiple-day on-site festival is insufficient. Festivals are more than music performances; they include cultural exchanges and local experiences. Previous editions of Afronation have been held in tourist-driven locations, except for Detroit. Despite Lagos being at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, there are no public beaches. Almost every beachfront is privatized, owned by private developers or walled up by the government for some grandiose project. There are no public parks, museums, theme parks and other services that will engage tourists. Do we need to discuss the choice of venue for the botched event? Tafawa Balewa Square is smack in the middle of old Lagos – which isn’t a problem, only that it’s a massive concrete premises with nothing else than brick and mortar. You can’t compare that with the endless white sands and blue waters of Puerto Rico.
And it’s not just Lagos that is difficult to hold a festival of this nature. If it were to be held at the purpose-built Tinapa Resort in Cross River, organizers would have to embark on extensive site renovations. There are constant travel advisories in places up north or to the east where banditry and kidnapping are commonplace. All across Nigeria, there’s no single site that can host Afronation the way it’s been done in other places. Let’s not go to what Ghana could pull off without the ubiquitous area boy phenomenon that plagues us here. Nor, for that matter, the fact that Afronation is targeted at diaspora Africans looking to connect with the motherland.
More importantly, the success of Afrobeats has seduced Nigerians into imagining that our industry and society is sophisticated. We’re not there yet. Our music success has happened ‘despite’ the impoverished society we live in, not because of it. We can have individual successes, but until those things are a permanent fabric of our society, we’ll only enjoy superficial success. Yes, we can have the odd Detty December series of concerts in Eko Hotel and Eko Atlantic City. Yes, we can host Cardi B and keep her between Victoria Island and Ikoyi. But to have an institutionalized society where tourism can thrive, we’ll have to build it first. The cold, hard truth is that we do not have it right now, and Afronation made a logical, smart move in cancelling the Lagos leg. Realizing our shortcomings is unpatriotism; it’s just understanding that “Afrobeats to the World” should not only be a catchphrase; it should inspire us to build a society that can safely host the world.
Jide Taiwo is a Lagos-based writer. His second book, E File Fun Burna: The Incredible Stagecraft of Burna Boy, is in stores now.
Why Lagos Wasn’t Ready for Afronation: A Reality Check
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