#Throwback: My Ake Book Festival 2013 Diary – Toni Kan
(With the Ake Book and Arts festival starting in about one month, Toni Kan remembers his time at the inaugural edition. This is a piece redolent with nostalgia and memories)
Abeokuta on a clear Thursday Afternoon.
Lagos in a bit of a funk. A friend and poet headed for Abeokuta had asked me to
pick her up. Thinking that I was late I had asked my driver to race down to GRA
Ikeja. Two minutes from pick up I call and she says: “Can, you give me 10
I cut the line and ask him to drive to my partner’s house where I preview a documentary we just shot for an insurance company. The night before, I had found footage of Nigeria’s Independence Day which I emailed to the studio. I liked what they had done with it. They had segued it seamlessly into the old narrative.
Review done, she wishes me a safe trip and I discharge my driver, take the wheels and head out for the express way.
is blocked but not badly, so I am on the Ibadan express way at 12.20 pm, ten
minutes after I left my partner’s.
is bright, the sky is blue, there is no rumour of rain in the air. I slot in
Frank Edward’s CD, cue track 2 on repeat and step on the gas pedal.
The air conditioner is on full blast. Music is playing and I am thanking God for an opportunity to take time off work for two full days. A book festival looks like the perfect place to be, teeming as they are with perennially thirsty writers eager to convert the book festival into a booze festival.
previous weekend, had seen so many of us at the Lagos Book and Arts
Festival,(LABAF) which in its 15th year, is the longest running book
festival in Nigeria. It had been fun and Ake held promises.
Teju Cole was expected. So was Ikhide Ikheloa, Nasir El Rufai Pius Adesanmi, who sent me an email to say we hadn’t seen each other since 1997 even though we had kept in touch via email and facebook.
I was looking forward to seeing and listening Nigerian Caine Prize winners, Tope Folarin and Rotimi Babatunde as well as the Ugandan, Monica Arac Da Nyeko and one of the most well known of Caine prize laureates, Binyavanga Wainana, someone with whom I had spent wild nights crawling Lagos pubs and drinking the night bright at Lagos beaches. It was going to be fun.
was apprehension lurking someplace at the back of my mind. I am famously
paranoid. I lock doors ten times in the course of the night. I go back to check
whether the gas cylinder is off two minutes after I leave the kitchen. I never
sit with my back to the door and I pour my drink away if someone calls
me away from my table. Crazy? Yes. Guilty as charged.
time it is not for nothing.
Two years ago, on a trip to the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife for a reading alongside fellow Cassava Republic writers, Sade Adeniran and Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani, the bus conveying us runs into what looks like a police check point.
A man in what seems like a police uniform approaches us but on a closer look, the uniform looks dated, like something from the colonial era and the man himself is carrying, not an AK47, but something funny, not standard police issue.
I am trapped at the back with two others but I can see him and if I had a camera handy I would have caught his face, clearly. He points the gun at our driver and asks him to come down. His accent tells us he is from the north.
we see that there are cars and buses on the other side of the road. The
occupants and passengers have been robbed. Bags and boxes are open, their
contents flying in the wind.
dares death; he engages gear and begins to reverse. The man raises the gun and pulls
My clock tells me it is 1.13pm, two minutes later, after our car has gone about 500 meters and our driver has turned it around and we have all spilled out.
The gun jammed. What were the odds? If that gun had gone off, it would have killed our driver instantly.
It is 12.46pm when I stop at the Sagamu over-pass and pull over in front of a Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) van. There are four officers inside. They are sleeping but one rouses as I approach.
“Good afternoon, Officer. Is that the turn to Abeokuta?” I ask and he nods then points. I am notoriously bad with directions.
I thank him, stretch and get back in my car. I make the turn and realise that, even though I have been to Abeokuta four times in the past year, there is an FRSC office just by my left then as I get on the over pass, I find a huge Nestle facility rearing up at me like something from Kubla Khan.
Is it the shock of discovery or my dodgy sense of place that makes me miss the turn that leads to Abeokuta even though there is a sign announcing Ake Book Festival? I do not know, but I drive round the round-about and then head down the express. That miss has cost me two minutes and so it is that I arrive in Abeokuta sixteen minutes later at about 1.02pm.
On my four previous visits, I have never gone past the Governor’s office except once when hunger drove us into town after a meeting but I must have been too hungry to take in the sights. Now, I drive past an NNPC mega station, past Moshood Abiola Stadium and then spot the Cultural Center. I drive to the wrong gate, realise my mistake and drive another 100 meters.
a sign saying Ake Book festival, another informing me that Beta Malt is a
sponsor and sundry others. I drive in through the gate and down the paved road
to what is a travesty of a roundabout then make a left. The car park announces itself without fuss and
I find a spot.
Babatunde, playwright and Caine prize winner is taking a cigarette break. We
greet and he says without prompting “Victor is up there.”
I look and
my friend, Victor Ehikhamenor, the painter, photographer and humorist is
chatting with two ladies, one dark and one light skinned but what catches my
attention are his bright red trousers and hat. He is wearing white formal long
sleeved shirts. I wonder what fever Abeokuta has infected him with.
reach them, the young women turn out to be the novelist, Chibundu Onuzo and her
friend, Ore. We shake hands and hug and someone arranges us into a pose for a
shot just as Ikhide Ikheloa joins us. That picture would appear on facebook
hours later. History was being made and written in a hurry but the thought does
not escape me that whoever we may be running from now knows where to find us.
I walk inside but I am barred by the guards.
“E no get Yellow tag,” the guy with what looks like a six and half pack says to the young female volunteer while I wonder to myself; I don’t even have a blue tag.
Toni Kan. He is a famous writer and one of our guests,” she tells him but he
looks suitably unimpressed. Maybe she could have tried something like: “He is a
famous engineer, he manufactures dumb bells.”
volunteer, who has attended two of my creative writing workshops appears and
saves the day. The guards know her or they like her, I am not sure which but
she somehow spirits me upstairs and just in time for lunch.
There is a crowd of writers, female and male, pretty and not so. They are bent over or lounging, eating or sipping frothy drinks. There is laughter and backslapping, animated conversations and camaraderie. The food is free, the drinks too. What else could a writer ask for?
Teju Cole sits in a corner with Eghosa Imasuen. Teju is dressed in green Ankara top and bottom with red and black sneakers. It is not kosher but who are you to say so. Teju Cole wrote the amazing Open City. He is a famous writer. He can bloody well wear what he wants.
There are almost as many white faces as there are black but it is good, for once, to be at a book festival panel where the white person is the “token white writer” . I look around me, a handshake and a hug here, a kiss and a peck there; here are friends and fans, rivals and reviewers who have panned your writing or called you names you do not wish to remember. But today is not a day for remembering wrongs. There is joy and love and something intoxicating in the air.
the queue. I get my food. I sit beside my friend Victor and we dig in.
Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, writer and columnist for Metropole magazine is here. He is my young friend and constant tormentor. We hand him our camera and ask him to take pictures as we eat. We are his tormentors today and there is nothing he can do about it.
We are Abacha!
When I am done eating and making the rounds, a pretty light skinned young lady accosts me.
Toni, good afternoon,” she says and I eye her with suspicion.
She is standing beside Ikhide Ikheloa and Eghosa Imasuen. Women call you Oga or Uncle only when they want to friend-zone you, an old friend once told me. What is her scam? I am not sure.
Olisakwe,” she says noting my confusion.
are so tall,” I tell her and we hug. A facebook friend, her pictures didn’t
convey her height nor her comeliness.
later, a friend says to me “That babe is so fine, it is wrong for her to be
is one of the people I will remember fondly from Ake. She had poise and
carriage and her comportment exuded good manners and good breeding.
There are people trying to catch my eye, people waving and my brain is flipping through pages of memory, trying to remember, where did we meet? Lagos, Abuja, Kenya, London, Frankfurt, Italy, SA, the US. Where? Memory is a trickster so you play along, you wave and smile and evade their eyes.
“We met in Kenya,” she says when she gets to where I sit, hunched over the way my mum always said would give me a bad back.
I rise to
my feet and we hug. She is dark and her head is clean shaven.
I say mistaking her for Muthoni Garland, convener of the Story Moja Hay Book
Festival in Nairobi. She had invited me to Nairobi via my publishers in 2009.
she says and I am mortified.
chat then she returns to her seat. There is a pretty lady sitting beside her.
She has long locks and longer legs that seem to go on forever. I am eager to
meet her but something stays me. A day later I will discover that her name is
Aita Ighodaro, UK based, Oxford educated ex-model turned novelist.
downstairs to the art exhibition venue where I am introduced by Oris, to nurse
turned writer, Christie Watson aka Mama Moyo, author of Tiny Songbirds Far
We chat for a while and then I take in the works. I am impressed mostly by my friend, Victor Ehikhamenor’s works and then by Jerry Buhari’s corrugated sheets and padlock installation. I have been a huge admirer. He taught my late older brother at ABU, Zaria.
dark when we head out of the Cultural Centre and go back to the hotel, a pretty
young lady has missed the bus and has added colour to our car.
the hotel, Oris Aigbokhaevbolo has commandeered my room and bed and I am left
sleeping on the couch. I make a mental note to make him pay.
I wake up
the next day with something that feels like a headache but I do not nurse it. I
have work to do; a speech for a client. I do my research, do some writing and
then head out to the Cultural Centre for the day’s event.
a full day. There are book chats and panel discussions. I miss some and catch
some but the one with Teju Cole and Chibundu Onuzo is particularly engaging.
Wana Udobang, the moderator is on point and in control. I enjoy the banter
between Chibundu and Teju over the meaning and place of space/place in
literature. Teju, laughing, informs the audience that he is a family friend of
Chibundu’s. There is something absorbing about seeing two usually serious
people having light-hearted fun.
I also attend the session with my friend, Kaine Agary, who has driven down with her son and is itching to go back. I sit in front and listen, drawn into the conversation more and more. With her are Aita Ighodaro, Ifeanyi Ajaegbo and Badoe.
that I have missed lunch and begin a frantic search. Diana, a friend’s sister
and volunteer comes to my rescue. Fed and restored, I shoot the breeze until it
is time for the presentation of the stage adaptation of Lola Shoneyin’s ‘The
Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’. The play is written by Rotimi Babatunde and
Directed by Femi Elufowoju Jr.
is packed, almost, with everyone from students to celebrities like Funmi Iyanda
and Ade Bantu. Wole Soyinka is also there as well as the King of Owu.
sitting with blogger and romance writer, Myne Whitman who is flying under the
radar as Nkem Akinsoto. We have exchanged emails and messages on facebook for
years but that night I could see us becoming friends.
is amazing. There are famous faces and
names amongst the cast members. Uzor Osimkpa of Tinsel, Najite Dede, Sola
Awojobi-Oniga from Fuji House of Commotion but there are surprises.
Etomi who plays multiple roles is a delight to watch. She dances, prances, pouts
and swoons onstage. Ms. Osimkpa who plays Bolanle, the educated 4th
wife who inadvertently exposes the secrets, is engaging but the true delights are
Martins Iwuagwu as Baba Segi and Priye George as Mama Segi.
plus sized, these two actors inhabit their roles, becoming one with the
characters they have been asked to portray. Iwuagwu is spot on as the cuckold,
Baba Segi. He is fun loving, loquacious and easily ruffled while Priye, who is
making her second stage appearance is easily adaptable switching seamlessly
from a corpulent, married mother of one to a sensual and sexual animal with a
thing for a female tomato seller.
book provided mystery, the play provides explication and clarity but it is a
tad bit too long and the famous hospital/self-pleasing scene will need editing
ad toning down.
said, Rotimi Babatunde’s adaptation deserves kudos for remaining faithful to
the text while completely re-interpreting it. Femi Elufowoju Jr’s decision to
play it as one long, One Act play with no scene changes helped propel the
action and pace while dance and music directors, Uche Onah and Oyebade Dosunmu
helped bring the spectacle alive.
choice of teacher was a bit off for me, though. He seemed too young for one who
was already famous when Baba Segi first came to see him.
the rest of the night at a place called Halmod, a bar inside the stadium. There
are pimps and prostitutes, dancers and quasi-vauldville acts.
Before settling at this dive, we had stopped over first at a place right in front of a loud bar called Dunkin’ Supper. Someone had stolen the type face for Dunkin’ Donuts and transplanted it to Abeokuta but it was obvious the reference was lost on many of its patrons but it wasn’t their fault; Dunkin Donuts is not an all night bar with loud music and skimpily clad girls.
is not a very large one; Victor Ehikhamenor, Binyavanga Wainana, the two Ayos,
Olofintuade and Morocco Clarke, Oris, and Yemi then the novelist, A. Igoni
Barrett and Femke.
Dami Ajayi, Blogger Pearl Osibu and Rotimi Babatunde are at another table.
three skinny male dancers dancing for money but not seeming to. When they have
us in thrall, they move their shtick to our table and dance until we part with
We do not
leave until midnight and only after we have caused considerable damage.
done, I get ready to shower. There hasn’t been water but it has just been
restored. The good man, I asked Oris to have a bath first. I am shaved and
getting into the shower when the tap goes dry. Again.
I am late
for my panel but the organizers have, thankfully, moved it forward. It has Aita
Ighodaro, Mamle Kabu, Monica Arac and myself with Ayodele Morocco Clark moderating.
So, I go round inviting people with the simple – Are you ready for Sex? Our topic is “Body of Mine -Sex and Sexuality in African Fiction.” It seems many people are ready for sex because our panel is full even though it takes place outside under the Achebe tent which is usually hot.
Soyinka’s conversation with four young people, two ladies and two gentlemen is,
however, the high point of the day for me.
laureate is funny, rivetingly so and engaging in the conversation that is moderated
by his son, Olaokun.
questions on everything from sexual chemistry to liquor and inspiration, Ogun
worship and his hair care. He is a delight to hear as he throws back a question
to his interviewers: “Did you ever hear of someone who was inspired by drinking
Later on, I meet an amazing woman whom I had never heard of until about eight days earlier when a mutual facebook friend mentioned her on her page. Intrigued by the effusive encomiums, I checked out her page. There wasn’t much to see so I dropped it but her name had stuck.
Two days after the facebook mention, I open a copy of Leadership newspaper and behold, she has a column which I had never noticed before.
days after I arrived the Ake festival, I am heading to my car when someone says
“Can, you give Ayisha a ride?”
I turn and
I am standing face to face with the facebook do-gooder/Leadership columnist and
lawyer turned activist, Ayisha Osori, in the flesh.
“I have a friend, Ier, I will introduce you both,” Itell her as we ride tothe Green Legacy Resort hotel where most of us are staying. Owned by former head of state and President, Olusegun Obasanjo, it shares the same sprawling swath of land as the proposed Presidential Library.
New and still virtually under construction, many of us wondered aloud what would become of this hotel when its sculptor dies, would it become like PB Shelley wrote, a “colossal wreck, boundless and bare” where “The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Ayisha’s friend Caroline Sage who works with the World Bank is at once affectionate and not-so towards me. Ayisha and I make fun of her all evening at the Barbecue party where many of the writers crowd the dance floor. I watch and laugh as Teju Cole, Tolu Ogunlesi, Molara Wood, Victor Ehikhamenor, Jahman Anikulapo, Richard Ali, Ukamaka Olisakwe, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Oris Aigbokhaebolo, Efe Paul Azino, Ikhide Ikheloa, Mamle Kabu, Chuma Nwokolo, Ugoma Adegoke of LifeHouse, Doreen Baingana, Movie Director, Charles Novia and a very reluctant Monica Arac De Nyeko show their dexterity or lack there of on the dance floor.
the night thin. There is still one day to go but the crowd is thinning and many
people are leaving the next morning. Memories are coalescing into nostalgia and
you can feel the encroaching realization that the amazing week has come to an
I have attended Book Festivals across continents from Kenya to the UK and Frankfurt but none, and I mean none has impressed me like the Ake Book Festival. Lola Shoneyin and her team took care of the most-minute details.
Lola and I know she is a brilliant and lovely person but I didn’t reckon with
her organizational skills. I had offered help once or twice: “if you need help,
I am available. You know we run events.”
didn’t take me up on the offer but I wish she had. I would have been able to
say I had a hand in planning the amazing Ake Book festival 2013.
But as it
is, I will make do with the boast, “Lola Shoneyin is my friend” and yes, indeed