Abike Dabiri-Erewa, others endorse Badagry Diaspora Festival, Door-of-Return ceremony
Although Badagry Diaspora Festival and its signal Door-of-Return ceremony have held in the ancient slave port of Badagry for years, strangely, government’s participation in re-enacting the tragic history of the past has been scant. Not even successive Lagos State governments have shown keen interest in spite of its huge tourism and economic potentials. But that is about to change for the better. Last week in Lagos, Senior Special Assistant to President Mohammed Buhari on Foreign Affairs, Hon. (Mrs.) Abike Dabiri-Erewa, had exploratory meeting with the founder of African Renaissance Foundation (AREFO), Mr. Babatunde Olaide-Mesewaku and other stakeholders, on how to harness the cultural and economic benefits of opening the Door-of-Return for Diaspora Africans willing to take up residence in Nigeria and bring the much-touted foreign direct investment (FDI).
The festival and its Door-of-Return ceremony have since had the endorsements of emeritus professor of history, Anthony Asiwaju, Director, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Prof. Pogosin Ohioma, a sociologist, Prof. Alaba Simpson of Crawford University, Mr. Rotimi Vaughan, scion of a former slave, Scorpio Vaughan, whose descendants founded Oyotunji Village???? in Sheldon, South Carolina, U.S. Also at the meeting was AREFO Administrator, Mr. Sola Adeyemi, among others.
Badagry Diaspora Festival, with its Door-of-Return ceremony, is designed as a reunion platform to attract descendants of diaspora Africans, scattered all over Europe, the Americas, the Caribbean, whose ancestors were taken away during the infamous Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, back to their ancestral home both to reside and do business. At the proposed Door-of-Return ceremony, Diaspora returnees and the joyous ship carrying them would be festooned in Nigerian national colours amidst drumming, dancing, invocation and pouring of libation for the wronged spirits of Africa’s departed ancestors, who drowned in the tragic journeys to unknown lands centuries ago.
Dabiri-Erewa said she found the meeting “very important and critical,” promising that Badagry Diaspora Festival “would be the talk of the world. My office is ready to partner with you. The festival is not cultural but intellectual.”
Buhari’s aide on Foreign Affairs expressed excitement at what she believed the potentials of a synergy of bringing Africa diaspora back to their roots. She particularly enthused over the cultural rootedness of Brazilians of Yoruba extraction, saying she probably ate the best akara in Brazil. “It’s a revolution as far as the back man is concerned. This is a story we should tell; we also have the history. The world is excited about this. It’s going to be about Badagry; but it’s going to be about the world. We will form a committee on the Door-of-Return.”
While initiating proceedings, Mr. Olaide-Mesewaku, who has borne the festival burden for years alone, said the gathering is “to fraternise together on the Door-of-Return ceremony to be activated next year for African Diaspora. It is to welcome, reconnect ad rehabilitate Africans back to their natural roots. Through it, Diaspora Africans will reconstruct, reestablish and identify with their cultural roots; it will involve the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for credibility to be there and through the SSA on Foreign Affairs. It is a platform for Africa Diaspora to reconnect and the festival is dedicated to a particular individual of substance, either living or dead.”
Prof. Asiwaju commended Olaide-Mesewaku’s initiative of creating a platform for the return of diaspora Africans, particularly his dedication of each year’s festival to a notable Diaspora African. Two years ago, the festival was dedicated to L’ouverture; this year, it was Olaudah Equiano, a Nigerian captured slave from the eastern part of Nigeria, who later bought his freedom in England, travelled widely, the first African to write a book and joined the campaign in England for the abolition of slave trade.
According to Asiwaju, “I find the festival deserving of support of those of us in the academia, as it relates to UNESCO Slave Trade Route. At the 2016 edition, it was dedicated to someone truly worthy”.
Asiwaju argued that the Brazilians should have a look in this time around as they have been overlooked probably because of their closeness to Badagry, noting, “The Brazilians have been overlooked, probably because of their closeness to Badagry, Port Novo and Whedah. I’m particular about Brazil because I’m of Ketu; they largely form Bahia State in Brazil today. I nominate Do Santos, whose career strikes as being worthy of selection to be honoured. Do Santos is arguably the most worthy.”
Two prominent Africa Diasporas are in the race for special honour next year, according to Olaide-Mesewaku. They are jammers Churchill Vaughan (1828-1893), who returned to Nigeria from the U.S. and the Yoruba cultural icon, Do Santos, who returned and settled to Ketu in Benin Republic from Bahia in Brazil.
Also, Prof. Ohioma said his institute has just started a programme on Trans-Atlantic Studies, and that Badagry Diaspora Festival was its main focus. He added, “We show particular interest because we were approached. Otherwise, Africa is our turf. It is my hope that by 2017, we will fully participate in the festival. We are interested in what we can come out of it with in terms of communication and ideas.”
Vaughan explained the new partnership agreement his outfit, ATBONDI, recently signed with the Akran of Badagry, which he said is aimed at promoting the return of Diaspora Africans to the continent and the immense business potential such move was capable of generating for African and Nigeria in particular.
As he noted, “Atlantic Bond will ensure African-Americans come to Badagry to develop the place. I have a platform to bring many African-Americans back. My great grandfather urged all his children to return home to Africa. With this festival, one can mobilise a lot of Americans to come back as a symbolic gesture. I’m ready to offer my family as one that came to build here!”
Prof. Simpson averred that through the festival, “We are using culture to draw people back home!”
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