Much of Lagos State’s year-long celebrations of its golden jubilee anniversary pivoted on culture, which is one of the state’s most visible assets, says Okechukwu Uwaezuoke

Bobbing lights of yachts in the otherwise dark Five Cowrie Creek. Then, street and house lights, stretching along Victoria Island’s arterial thoroughfare Akin Adesola Street. These lend their chorus to the visual symphony of the islets of luminosity in the vicinity.
Music to the visual senses…

Indeed, Lagos at night – or just a glimpse of it – feels that way. But, definitely, not the Lagos Yusuff Cameron Adebayo Grillo used to know 50 years ago.

Nostalgia lurks around somewhere in the voice of the leading artist – euphemistically identified as an “art enthusiast” in the commercial video ad – as he enthuses about “his” Lagos.

Now, silent are the drums of festivities recently rolled out by Lagos. They were in celebration of its golden jubilee anniversary. And for this, a cavalcade of cultural events were lined up alongside other events.

But it is not Lagos as a city that turned 50, but rather the state that assumed its name. For a quick peek into the city’s oral history, dating as far back as sometime between 1300 and 1400 AD, tells us otherwise. That was when the Oba – or king – of ancient Benin Empire sent a trade expedition to engage the recalcitrant Aworis, who were the original settlers. Much later, the British intervention in 1851 would pave the way for the eventual annexation of the city as a colony in 1861.

Fast-forward to May 27, 1967. A state called Lagos was carved out of the old Western Region. “Of all the 12 states created in 1967 by General Yakubu Gowon, only Lagos State has remained indivisible,” explained the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Steve Ayorinde. “Nothing has touched it; no state has been carved out of Lagos. It has never been severed. Its map has remained the same as it was 50 years ago.”

Back to the jubilee celebrations. The cultural activities, held between April 8 and May 27, were actually the last lap of a year-long activities. Preceding them were the 10-month fiesta, which officially flagged off on May 27 last year.

Before April 8, there had been the launch of the One Lagos brand (as the state’s tourism initiative), the Lagos Art Expo (on January 27 in memory of Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, who until his death in November last year was a co-Chairman of the Planning Committee), the Lagos Contemporary Dance Festival and the Lagos Theatre Festival.

Add to these a “Love Lagos Weekend” town hall meeting in London on August 27, the creation of a Lagos Corner at the Notting Hill Carnival (which marked its 50th anniversary last year), the first-ever Lagos Street Party and the celebration of Lagos at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival with eight films in September last year (as the first African city to be so recognised) and the second edition of the One Lagos Fiesta in December. These were complemented by a miscellany of lectures and symposia.
These events, according to the co-chair of the Lagos at 50 Planning Committee, Habeeb Fasinro, were carefully selected to tell the story and retrace the journey of the state from 1967 to this year. The 10-man Planning Committee, which was actually chaired by the Nobel laureate Professor Wole Soyinka, also extended the celebrations to the state’s old five administrative divisions – Ikorodu, Badagry, Ikeja, Lagos Island and Epe.

“Each of those divisions had a whole month dedicated to celebrating them in the course of the last 10 months,” Ayorinde disclosed. “Equally more important is the fact that we have succeeded in tying the year-long anniversary to a monthly show that symbolically revolved round the 27th of every month since May last year.”

It was at a world press conference held on March 27 at the Governor’s Office that the activities lined up for the golden jubilee’s last 50 days – from Saturday April 8 to Saturday, May 27 – were announced. Because that day coincided with the World Theatre Day, the state’s Council for Arts and Culture added colour to the occasion.

Thus, Lagos partied on. Blazing the trail for other shows was the Bolanle Austen-Peters Production’s musical Wakaa on April 8 at Terra Kulture in Victoria Island, Lagos. Much later on, theatre buffs would be regaled with Nigeria’s other Broadway-style musical Kakadu at Harbour Point in Victoria Island on May 21.

But, during the Easter weekend, the real Broadway, import Fela! the Musical, was literally in Concert at Eko Hotel in Victoria Island, Lagos during the Easter weekend. For die-hard Fela’s devotees, it was an occasion to relive the fond memories of the late Afro-beat legend.

A quick cut to the creeks and lagoons. Colourfully-decorated boats set sail simultaneously close to the littoral communities of Epe, Lagos Island and Badagry on April 15. This was for the Boat Regatta Parade.

Back in the streets. A carnival procession on both the Islands and the Mainland on May 13 and the traditional Eyo(Adamu Orisha) festival a week later at the Tafawa Balewa Square turned the city into a huge party venue.

On April 30, a jazz music cum fashion event featured Grammy award-winning jazz musicians and Nigerian musical acts on one platform with a runway display of the evolution of the city’s fashion in the past 50 years. On May 7, which was the “World Laughter Day”, 50 of the state’s best stand-up comedians enjoyed the spotlight in an event tagged Lagos Laughs and Ibile Comedy Challenge.

The celebration of the state’s both serving and retired civil servants with a special dinner on May 1 as part of the Special Workers’ Day celebrations was an obvious attempt by the organisers to make the festivities as inclusive as possible. Ditto the screening of five Nollywood classics on May 5 in the state’s five divisions – Ikeja, Badagry, Ikorodu, Lagos Island and Epe – during the event, tagged Lagos Loves the Cinema.

A complement of this event is the creation of Lagos State pavilion at the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival.
Following closely on the heels of Lagos Loves the Cinema on May 6 was the contemporary dance event, Lagos Dance Exhibition, which was aimed at celebrating local talents.

The year-long celebrations climaxed on May 27 – a day that coincided with the Children’s Day – with a photo exhibition and the governor’s ball cum gala night at the Presidential Lodge in Marina.

Of course, questions bordering why the state had such lavish celebrations would sooner or later be asked. With a budget performance that has always topped 75% to 80% in the last three years and an enviable internally generated revenue (IGR) accounting for about 70% of its revenue, Lagos could well afford this jamboree.

Indeed, the IGR in the state is bigger than those of 32 states of Nigeria put together while its GDP is bigger than those of Kenya and Ghana put together. Thus, were Lagos to be a country, it would be Africa’s fifth largest economy.

On this premise alone, Lagos has good reasons to celebrate. But there are other reasons which are both political and economical. “This is Nigeria’s and West Africa’s commercial and creative hub,” Ayorinde pointed out. “And equally important, if you look at the giant strides that the state has made in the last two years under Governor Ambode, with all the legacy and iconic projects that are lined up for commissioning throughout April and May, the need to have a grand ball becomes very evident.”

Equally pertinent was the fact that these jubilee festivities involved the Organised Private Sector and a miscellany of corporate sponsors. These sponsors, who included Eko Atlantic, Access Bank, First Bank, Glo, Nigerian Breweries PLC, Unilever and Laralek Nigeria Limited. Others are FCC Planet, CCECC; Julius Berger PLC; Craneburg, Eko Hotels & Suites; Visionscape; Avant Garde; Hitech Nigeria Limited, Metropolitan; Public Works and Onward Papers, had indeed made generous donations towards the initiative.

According to Ayorinde, over a billion naira was raised for the event. This was one reason he gave the sponsors the thumbs-up for their gesture. And this gesture, for him, was a way of giving back to a state that provided them with friendship and conducive environment for businesses.

It was thanks to their support, he added, that the state could lay claim to being not only the first state in the country, but also in the entire continent to have had this hugely-successful year-long celebration of the anniversary.