Friday 8 February 2013

Igbale Aiye... where souls of departed slaves rest

By Tajudeen Sowole

STILL recovering from the trauma caused by Transatlantic trade in humans (slave trade) and haunted by the remnants of colonialism, Africans, home and the Diaspora seems to have a new consciousness waiting to blossom.

It’s a new beginning; a future, but independent city within two countries. Christened African Renaissance City, it’s designed as “home for all nations, Black people in particular, irrespective of nationalities, “to become one and free” from the nation-state borders created by colonialism.
Olofin II Olofindji Akande, leading one of the processions during pilgrimage to African Renaissance City.

Also, it is “in tribute to departed and enslaved African Ancestors”, a documents on the project states.
Quietly starting from the scratch with several culture-related events spread across the year, African Renaissance City is designed to cover border areas of Republic of Benin and Nigeria, with as much as 600, 000 acres expected to be taken across the two countries. Already, noteable personalities such as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Prof Wole Soyinka, American civil right activist, Rev Jesse Jackson, Late Ambassador Segun Olusola, Giles and Yvette Saverd-Forget, among others have been inducted into the African Renaissance consciousness during the last five years of the project.
“It’s a concept that started 30 years ago,” the founder, Beninese Olofindji Akande repeated part of his earlier statement during a chat with one of his guests. He had just led over three hours procession of the 2013 edition of the African Renaissance convention titled Humanism at the Benin rural area of Akpotokou, near Ilara, a border town between Ogun State and Republic of Benin. About an hour earlier, Olofindji had, on behalf of African Renaissance, honoured over 10 people including royal fathers from the border towns and some young enthusiasts of the projects.

Also, posthumous honours were given to Ambassador Segun Olusola and a Beninese, Erin Ilu Rabiu Asabi Adeaga. Among top dignitaries and multitude of pilgrims at the entrance of the future city where the ceremony held were familiar faces such as a monarch, the Fadesewa of Simawa, Ijebu, Oba Gbenga Sonuga; Thomas Atanda Idowu, Arolagbade II of Dinyin; and former Director-General, Voice of Nigeria (VON), Chief Taiwo Alimi.
The concept, Akande stated, was inspired by what he described as the needs for Africans to have a centre of spiritual convergence. He therefore sees African Renaissance as the Blacks' "Vatican City”, where people across nations will feel at home, except that unlike the Roman city, "African Renaissance is not based on one religion; its home for all faiths."

And in seeking support for the project, Akande disclosed that "it has the recognition and support of UNESCO." At the period of the visit, there were activities spread across three days, involving visitors from the African continent and the Caribbean. However, the only visible structure was what looked like the entrance to the future city; a huge plaque, erected as one makes a roundabout at an ongoing road construction designed for the city.

Some of the pilgrims: Veteran broadcast journalist, Chief Taiwo Alimi; Fadesewa of Simawa, Ijebu, Oba Gbenga Sonuga and Olori Adepeju Sonuga.

On the inner side of the entrance was the map of the city as Akande explained the significance of having a city in which "we must all come together to denounce the 1885 partitioning of Africa." Indeed, the government of Benin Republic appeared excited about the project and had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the future city, so suggests a copy of the document tagged ‘Convention of the city-headquarters of Humanism (Igbale-Aiye) between the NGO Africa-Cultures International Institute and the Government of Republic of Benin to build a cultural universal city, in tribute to departed and enslaved African Ancestors.' Signed in Cotonou on May 3, 2012 by Olofin II Olofindji Akande for ACII and Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Integration Francophony and Benin Diaspora, Max Bathelemelemy Ahoueke, parts of the documents note that the concept was strengthened by some later developments. One of such, according to the document, was the advice, in May 1993 by African-American, Louise Farrakhan to African governments on the need to allocate a territory to all Blacks of the African Diaspora with the hope that the U.S government funds the construction of the future city. Farrakhan, it should be recalled, gave the advice during the second African-American summit in Libreville, Congo. Also, the Igbale Aiye concept, it has been explained, was “encouraged by the UNESCO-organised international Colloquium on the dialogue of Endogenous Religions, Christianity and Islam for the Culture of Peace in Africa held at Benin August 21, 2007’.

Aims of the institute, the MoU states, include eliminating "the remnants of slavery, satisfy the nostalgia of descendants of former slaves and promote global fraternity through cultural diversity and dialogue of religions’.

Geographically, Igbale Aiye ‘shall cover the stretch of Pobe-Ibere-Oja Odan Road, South of Benin and part of Nigeria; Save-Idjio boundary, North; Benin-Nigeria border, East; Pobe-Ketou Road in the West.’
From the Caribbean, Mere Jah Evejah and Nigerian coordinator of the project, Mrs Roseline Olaiya.

Few days ahead of the convention, Akande was in Nigeria to discuss the project with the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke. Behind the huge plaque comes another signs of development in a paved-floor where the convention held. More of interest, almost beneath the plaque was a cave, which overlook the paved open-space. Although the inlets and outlets of the ancient cave only take sitting or bending position, the depth, according to history is farther inside to as much as a kilometer or more. “Archaeologists date the history of the cave back to the biblical Noah, 4,500 years old" Akande said.   

Knowledge, being the bedrock of a consciousness, one of our early projects, he disclosed “is to build a university, which has been approved by the government of Benin Republic.”
 Akande hoped that "by the grace of God come May 2013, the fundraising for the African Renaissance University will start."

The Nigerian coordinator of the project, Mrs Roseline Olaiya argued that, a convergence such as the Igbale Aye is crucial at this stage of Africa’s socio-economic and political turmoil. She assured that the city “will be free of corruption plaguing the African continent”. 

And quite futuristic of Jamaican, Mere Jah Evejah, who is a regular pilgrim to Igbale Aiye. She said that "I moved my family to Cotonou 15 years ago." The Rastafarian must have said an eternal good bye to the Caribbean. "Never would I cross the Red Sea again!"
During the repose of the souls of departed slaves at Igbale Aiye.

For Alimi, the ultimate goal of the future city "is to seek unity for Africans, where our future generations irrespective of tribes will see themselves as one through our culture, art and tradition." He traced lack of economic development to non-serious "inter and intra trade and commerce among Africans." Alimi urged everyone to support the initiative "as a movement that is capable of giving us the opportunity to have our destiny in our hands.”
  Five years after Akande’s three-decade-old dream started getting support, the future is bright, despite seemingly slow responses. Alimi argued that renaissance is not too late for Africa. He noted the American example, which about 50 years after independence, U.S was unheard of in the league of nations, and nobody was asking: what was America doing?”

He lauded Akande’s effort, noting that “even within a five year period, what has been achieved here is commendable for a non-governmental group. So, this represents the 'African Vatican City' where you have a city like a country within a country. So much will still be known about the city, such as the Noah cave”.
 As much as a city within two countries, projected to be free of all the indices of underdevelopment is desirable, there is a major challenge ahead. For example, how does the Renaissance City correct the suspicion of a thin line between African traditional religion and culture, in a multi religious and monotheist dominated continent? Oba Sonuga traced the misconception to the language of expressing culture. He argued that the error emanated from those who did not understand culture “and having borrowed the English language and not very competent at using it, at times, we get all sorts of mixed-up." Culture, he cautioned, is not tradition.  “Tradition is what you are traditionally been doing. Custom is what you are accustomed, comfortable with. Culture is now; your current value and what you are in the future.” He predicted that the Igbale Aiye city has the prospects to offer Africans, home and the Diaspora, the gains of loss values of centuries. “For example collecting the soils from the Diaspora and bringing them here every year is symbolic.”  
                                                             Vizir Olofin II Olofindji Akande

Indeed, paying homage to the departed slaves through the ritual of soil collecting – which had no religious colouration – was the last of the events performed at the roundabout of the future city. While performing the rite, Akande stated that “each year, soils are collected from across the world and brought here.” He sprinkled the soils on the floor, and stated: “for the repose of the ancestors’ and departed slaves’ souls.”

After the mid-January convention of about a week long, there are other several events lined up through out the year. These events, which according to sources attract visitors from Africa and the Diaspora, include: Solidarity, ending of January; Tolerance and Consciousness, February 6 and 11; Farewell Slavery, March 25; Unity, May 25: Childhood and Freedom, 16 and 19 June; Brotherhood, 16 August; Tradition, September 17; Dialogue, October 2.


  1. It"s quite interesting to read about IGBALE AIYE and i want to strongly recommend to our notable authors and writers to research more into this topic and publish a book that every black person will read and understand the gift of been BLACK, the begining of creation of MANKIND. Long live the people that are holding together this accient city.
    Engr. Runsewe ( USA )

  2. Very interesting!

  3. Very enlighten.

  4. Very enlighten.Abass Adewale.