On Saturday October 30, 2021, the much-awaited official launch of Freedom Vibes Series, a monthly advocacy show, took place at Freedom Park in Lagos. It is worthy of note that the venue, Freedom Park, used to be a colonial prison where many activists fighting for Nigeria’s independence and some of the founding fathers of Nigeria’s democracy were imprisoned. The prison was reconstructed to preserve the history and cultural heritage of the Nigerian people and currently serves as a historical landmark and cultural hub for creative expressions. Unchained Vibes Africa (UVA) believes in the choice of Freedom Park as a symbolic venue for Freedom Vibes Series. The official launch was a momentous event which brought issues of repression of artists’ freedom of expression to the front burner. The Executive Producer, Unchained Vibes Africa, Ayodele Ganiu, in a statement released at the launch, described art censorship regulations as excuses aimed at stopping artists’ activism. “Most of the art censorship regulations are disguised as protecting public morality, preserving cultural heritage and averting political and religious tensions. More often than not, prevention of hate speech, incitement, defamation, threats to national security, etc. are used as excuses to censor critical works of art and silence artists’ activism”, the statement read in part. He further raised concerns about the negative impact that censorship has had on creativity, especially in Northern Nigeria, and how it has triggered fear in the minds of artists and aided self-censorship, a practice which has undermined and continued to undermine democracy and rule of law in Nigeria.
Freedom Vibes Series, a hybrid physical and virtual event, is targeted at the artistic community, civil society actors and the general public. Major artists, who are well known for activism through their works, were in attendance. They included Nigerian hip-hop icon, Eedris Abdulkareem; Ade Bantu, the founder of Afropolitan Vibes, and continental ambassador of ‘Artwatch Africa’; Award-winning Nollywood veteran Hilda Dokubo, the actress who was visible on the forefront of the #EndSARS movement; and Saifullah Ibrahim (Dr. Pure),  an On-Air-Personality, the returnee hip-hop artist, who is a leading voice for artistic freedom in Kano, eminently known as a vocal mobiliser of youths for action in the Northern creative circuit.
Hilda Dokubo
Eedris Abdulkareem
Ade Bantu
Saifullah Ibrahim (Dr. Pure)
The heart of the official launch was the panel session on “Hate Speech vs Artistic Freedom”, moderated by Jahman Anikulapo, one of Nigeria’s most respected journalists, activists and culture advocates. The speakers were Ade Bantu, Hilda Dokubo, Dr Pure, and Julie Trebault, Director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection who participated virtually. In the course of the session, the speakers reviewed the key challenges confronting an activist-artist which hinder his/her freedom to express his/her thoughts and create content that contribute to positive transformations that help strengthen democracy. The speakers also recounted their individual roles in the struggles to free the space for freedom of expression and deepen the cause of participatory governance. Each speaker’s message articulated that freedom of expression is a pillar of democracy and a fundamental right protected under Nigeria’s constitution as well as many international human rights instruments ratified by Nigeria.
Jahman Anikulapo
There were video goodwill messages from the Senior Manager, West and Central Africa, National Endowment for Democracy, Chris O’Connor and Director, World Movement for Democracy, Ryota Jonen, who both commended Unchained Vibes Africa and the resilience of Nigerian artists who are standing up to defend democracy. The show was headlined by Eedris AbdulKareem who performed his hit tracks campaigning for freedom of expression and highlighting efforts in the fight for good governance through his music. There was a posthumous honor for music legend, Fela Anikulakpo-Kuti, whose songs have been weapons in the fight against injustice. The tribute performance was headlined by Nigeria’s talking drum icon, ARA, who performed “Jenwi Temi” (Don’t Gag Me), a 1972 classic by Fela asserting freedom of expression as a fundamental human right.  Vibes flowed without restrictions with spoken word poetry by Topedo Mascaw and a solo dance performance for social justice by Isaac Jiga from Kaduna.
Isaac Jiga
Aralola Olamuyiwa aka ARA
Nigerian hip-hop icon Eedris Abdulkareem was honored as the first Freedom Vibes’ Artist of the Month in recognition of his over 20 years of courageous activism and advocacy for democratic governance in Nigeria through conscious music. The moments were filled with emotions as veteran Nollywood actor Hilda Dokubo presented the award on behalf of Unchained Vibes Africa with accolades and goodwill messages from the Director, PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection Julie Trebault and Unchained Vibes Africa’s Palesa Sibiya from South Africa. In her goodwill message, Julie commended the award recipient for dedicating 20 years of his music career, fighting injustice, corruption and advocating for good governance in Nigeria. She congratulated him and eulogized his fearless activism and the vibrant music he has shared with Nigerians and the world for over 20 years. On behalf of Unchained Vibes, Palesa joined in celebrating the hip hop icon. In her goodwill message, she poured encomiums on the award recipient for using his music as a weapon of positive change and urged him to continue the good work. While presenting the award, Hilda recalled the sacrifices made by Eedris in 2004 which paved way for the respect that Nigerian musicians enjoy today.
We thank everyone who contributed to making the event a success. Our appreciation to all stakeholders and celebrities who supported the mission.  Special thanks to Eedris Abdulkareem, Hilda Dokubo, Ade Bantu, Jahman Anikulapo  Dr Pure, Aralola Olamuyiwa (the Queen of Drums), Jude Orhorha, Kelechi Udegbe, Maureen Okpoko and several veteran artists who came out to support the cause.
The official launch wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication and creative intelligence of the program team and production crew who have worked relentlessly for several weeks. We celebrate our amazing team which has given everything to make the event a huge success. From the management skills of the Green Queen Adesola Alamutu, Samuel Osaze and Gbemisola Raji to the unwavering commitment of Abigail Ajayi, Timi Odugbesan and Ruth Akpan, Unchained Vibes dedicates the success to its teamwork.
From the creative genius of the event anchor Mazi Uche Sam Anyamele to the music and sound management by Ayoola Sadare (Shaddie Bobo), DJ Valentino and the technical support team, Unchained Vibes Africa enjoys top-notch delivery from its production crew. We appreciate creative inputs from our colleagues, Ndlovukazi Palesa Sibiya and Lucy Ilado from South Africa and Kenya respectively.
The Freedom Vibes Series is an integral part of ”Defending Democracy Vibes” program being implemented by Unchained Vibes Africa and supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Special thanks to the NED and all our partners for their support. We thank Freedom Park Lagos, PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection, Culture Advocates Caucus, Centre for Creative Arts Education (CREATE), Lakreem Entertainment, Ara Entertainment Productions, African Defenders Network, World Movement for Democracy and Prince Eletu Fashion House.
Prince Eletu Fashion House
Freedom Vibes Series is here to stay! From December, watch out for monthly parade of talents and speakers standing up for freedom of expression in Nigeria. Signed Ayo Ganiu Executive Producer