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Legendary actress Taiwo Ajai-Lycett Inspires Graduands of the UVA Freedom Vibes Academy in Lagos

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On Saturday 17th February 2024, Unchained Vibes Africa (UVA), graduated 11 participants of the 2023/2024 edition of the UVA Freedom Vibes Academy out of the initial 16 selected artists for the programme. Participants comprised young and emerging socially conscious artists who were drawn from the six geo-political zones in Nigeria.

The graduation ceremony was the grand finale of a yearlong academy programme which began on January 16th, 2023, at the Adumaadan Gallery in Magodo GRA Phase 2, Lagos. The opening ceremony attracted the crème-de-la-crème in the Nigerian creative space including renowned human right lawyers, experts and artists like: Eedris Abdulkareem, Seun Kuti, Norbert Young, Kolawole Oluwadare, Cynthia Mbamalu, Dr. Tunji Sotimirin, to mention but a few, who were on hand to facilitate different sessions for 3 (three) consecutive days.

However, the special guest of honor at the graduation ceremony held on Saturday Febraury 17th was the grand Dame of the Nigerian theatre space, the iconic Mrs. Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, OON. Mrs. Ajai-Lycett spoke in superlative terms about the great works the UVA team has executed with panache since inception and specifically lauded them for the unalloyed commitment to the protection of artistic freedom of expression which is a component of freedom of speech.

Other notable attendees at the graduation ceremony included: Emma Ogosi (legendary musician, talent scout and music producer), Jahman Anikulapo (culture advocate, journalist and programme chair; Committee for Relevant Art, CORA), Ozolua Uhakheme, (Assistant editor (Arts) The Nation Newspaper), Yinka Olatunbosun, (Art correspondent, Thisday Newspaper) and Florence Utor, (Art correspondent at The Guardian Nigeria).

Also physically present were seventeen others comprising the UVA team, while 15 attendees, including the current Academy Graduands and 4 alumni members joined virtually. The event was hosted at the UVA Gallery, Magodo GRA phase 2, Lagos.

The Executive Producer, UVA, Ayedele Ganiu brought the event to a climax with the announcement of the Freedom Vibes Academy Awards where he revealed the best graduating participants and their selected projects.

Earlier, the graduating students of the academy had their project briefing session during the final day of the Academy Monthly Mentoring Session held in January 2024. This was envisioned to enlighten and to guide them on international best practices concerning project management models, compelling initiative proposals and creative ethics of project development for cultural advocacy, and to open a window of opportunity for them to pitch a professional project proposal to UVA.

Ayodele Ganiu, while making the announcement said: “In January 2023, 16 artists were brought together for a 3-day in-person training workshop in Lagos where they met and interacted with renowned and accomplished veteran artists, human rights lawyers, civil society organization leaders, experts in cultural policies who were facilitators.”

“The facilitators” Ganiu further said: “shared their knowledge and experience on techniques and best practices in leveraging the power of art for effecting positive social change”. The UVA Executive Producer stated that over the course of one year, the participants remotely benefited from virtual mentoring sessions with other accomplished veterans in the local and international creative and cultural sectors, including the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.

Ganiu stressed that: “the participants who satisfied the minimum requirements of Attendance, Academy Task, Active Engagements on the Academy themes and submission of a viable project proposal were graduated in line with the UVA guidelines”.

“After a careful and rigorous review of participants’ overall performance,” Ganiu began while trying to douse the protracted suspense among the academy participants who paid rapt attention to the announcement. “11 artists out of the initial 16 that were selected, have successfully completed the Academy.” He announced.

He said out of the 11 graduating participants, 4 distinguished themselves for their outstanding performances, revealing that, the 4 winners would be contracted to work with UVA on their proposed projects as part of Freedom Vibes advocacy. Thus, they were awarded contracts as follows:

  1. Tijani Usman (AKA Tijay Webster) who emerged overall best graduating participant with the highest score of 84.8% (percent) is awarded the project funds in the sum of N500,000 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira, only).
  2. Shekwoyemi Kure (AKA Love Kure) being the 2nd best graduating participant scoring  84.5% (percent) got N400, 000 (Four Hundred Thousand Naira, only).
  3. Aminu Mukhtar (AKA Aminu Nasara), the 3rd best graduating participant who scored 58.3% (percent) got N300, 000 (Three Hundred Thousand Naira, only) in project funds.
  4. While the 4th best graduating participant Isah Mik’ail Isah (AKA Classy Dorayi) scored 53.8% (percent) but lost the project funds award of the sum of N200,000 (Two Hundred Thousand Naira, only) to the eligible 5th best graduating participant Abdulbasit Abubakar (AKA AB Wordsmith) who scored just 46.0% (percent).”

The special guest of honor popularly referred to as the Goddess of stage and screen– Dame Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, was also spotlighted with a welcome citation by the UVA Executive Producer, Ayodele Ganiu.

The legendary Nigerian actress, journalist, TV personality, feminist and culture advocate, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett (FSONTA, OON, FUTA)) used her inimitable power of oration to inspire and to acknowledge the resilience and tenacity of the academy participants. While at this, de la Grande Dame emphasized that: “Advocacy for social change is very important as conscious artists and change agents. I am encouraging you all to go out there and change our world, transform our country through your works”.

In the same vein, Jahman Anikulapo, charged the graduating participants to use their artworks to contribute to the development of their community. The former Guardian Newspaper editor said: “If you are not making any change in your society or community, you have failed as an artist”.

Similarly, Emma Ogosi encouraged the outgoing participants to love what they do as artists and social advocates. He said: “I am where I am today because I love what I do as a musician”.

The best graduating participant of the 2023/2024 UVA Freedom Vibes Academy: Tijani Usman, gave an acknowledgment speech. In it, the overall winner expressed his delight and appreciation for the lifetime opportunity given to him by the organization while thanking UVA immensely for the rare privilege to be educated on democratic principles and on how to channel his artistic energies towards social causes.

In conclusion, the four (4) members of the Freedom Vibes Academy Alumni who joined the graduation ceremony virtually also gave words of encouragement to the Graduands cheering them to work hard in the pursuit of using their arts for social change in the country and beyond. The event ended at exactly 2.00pm with the closing remarks said by the UVA Head of Administration, Gideon Ekanem.

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