Hope?: Bayelsa government promises to salvage Africa Movie Academy Awards + My traumatic experience at the 2013 AMAA

Governor Governor Dickson performed the groundbreaking ceremony for a Film City at Igbogene in Yenagoa Hope?: Bayelsa government promises to salvage Africa Movie Academy Awards + My traumatic experience at the 2013 AMAA

Governor Dickson at ceremony for a Film City at Igbogene, in Yenagoa

The Governor of Bayelsa State, host and sponsors of the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), Mr Seriake Dickson in his bid to make his state a tourism and investment destination, has promised several developments that would improve the AMAA experience for guests from all over Africa and the world. Key Among them is the construction of a new airport in Bayelsa by next year. He made the revelation during his speech at the 2013 Africa Movie Academy Awards held in Yenogoa City, Bayelsa recently.  He explained that the airport would reduce the burden of guests having to travel for several hours on road from Port Harcourt to attend the award ceremony in Bayelsa.

Governor Dickson also promised the construction and completion of top class hotels to improve accommodation for the hundreds of guest that attend the annual ceremony. He also revealed plans to create a film and entertainment city in Bayelsa State, with the construction and establishment of cinemas and a film school, as well as the allocation of free lands to Nollywood icons to settle in the state.

The construction of an airport and the provision of world class hotels would surely come in handy for the Africa Movie Academy Awards particularly as the just ended edition was saddled with too many challenges that marred the experience for me and many other guests. Personally I think the major problem isn’t so much about travelling for several hours by road from the Port Harcourt Airport to Beyalsa ; or a major lack in hotels and accommodation for guests. It is one of logistics – bad management, planning, delegation, communication and flow of information.  There seemed to be a missing link between the procurement and distribution of logistics; after all the planes, buses and hotels were available, we saw them. The problem often was with how and when they were used.

It is unpardonable to have guests from all over the world come to Nigeria without proper planning for them. Once guests have been invited and confirmed, organizers should at least know the number they are working with and provide logistical support accordingly. The 2013 AMAA saw guests travelling all to way to Bayelsa for hours only to now go and ‘chase’ after rooms. Many people were made to wait at one airport or the other for hours without knowing whether they would be able to fly or not because there were no booked tickets in their names.  How about seeing bus drivers arguing with officials over payment of fees or shortage of fuel in their vehicles?

These were some of the logistic nightmare that guests for the 2013 AMAA faced and quite clearly, the Bayelsa Government can make all the political gains by hosting the awards in the State, but it will never be a complete spectacle to behold if after hosting it for so many years, such fundamental mistakes are still being made. Anyway, enough of me pretending to be an expert on logistics management- let me share my journey and experience with you so you can feel my pain.

Oh What A Trip!! – Confusion Na Wa

Although the AMAA was on Saturday, as an invited member for some of the panel discussions at the Bayelsa Book Fair ahead of the awards, I had to travel on Wednesday. It seemed that my trip to Nigeria was cursed right from the moment I set off from the Kotoka International Airport. My flight was delayed for one hour in Monrovia, Liberia before coming to Accra. And when we boarded, it was delayed for one extra hour due to a special ceremony in the VIP area for the Iranian president who was leaving Ghana after a visit. Well, finally we were allowed to fly off to Lagos.

When we got to the Lagos International Airport, my journalist buddy, Kester and I made our way out to find our contact person (s). After wandering about and making a few calls, we found our AMAA chaperons. We also met Qudus and Herve who came in from Paris to attend the book fair, and all together we were taken to the Ibis Hotel. It was refreshing to note that I wasn’t the only hungry one in the group, when we got to the hotel. We found out whether we could eat dinner and what the feeding arrangement in the hotel was. Sadly our chaperon didn’t have much information and we left the counter with the understanding that the hotel would only provide us breakfast, after we checked in.  I was paired in a room with Kester and as I settled in, Kester made his way downstairs to familiarize himself with the vicinity. He came back with news that he had noticed a cool and more affordable place we could eat.  I had changed some few dollars earlier at the airport and so I joined him and went to Sizzler’s, where we decided to try some local Nigerian food. I opted for eba and a variety of sources that were available, and I must say it tasted good (though my tummy later wasn’t too impressed with the change in diet).

After the meal we made our way back to a room where I showered and immediately tried to catch up on some work. Well, there was wi-fi internet so I was happy, however the connection in my room was terrible and I struggled to make my first post with pictures I took from the Iranian president’s farewell at the Kotoka International Airport.  Well the story was same for any other post I tried to make on the night, so I got frustrated and worried about work piling up (and of course losing my Google Adsense revenue).  I gave up and resorted to strolling down the streets outside of the hotel just to ease my mind. When I got tired, I went back to my hotel room to catch some sleep.

In the morning we had breakfast together with Qudus and Herve, waiting to hear details on our flight to Bayelsa but nothing was forthcoming. We made our way to the pool side where we had a healthy conversation about African films and well, Ghana’s cultural export, Azonto and how the Nigerians are ‘stealing’ it. While at the poolside I received a BlackBerry message from the editor of FAB magazine, Sinem that she was also lodged in the hotel and that she was at the lounge having some drinks with her hubby, Suby. I joined them and since it was the first time we were meeting in person outside of social media and email correspondence, we had a lot to catch up on. At about 2 pm, when we weren’t hearing anything from anyone concerning our trip to Bayelsa I decided to excuse myself and try to get some work done and money made. Well, I wasn’t any luckier with the internet in my room but at least got in one or two posts.

As I sat in my room not knowing whether to go out and meet friends and fellow bloggers or to chase after some business in Lagos, I saw another day going to waste and still there was no word on Bayelsa.  All I needed to hear was whether we would or would not be going to Bayelsa ,so that I could plan my day but there was absolutely no communication. Well, I returned to Sizzler’s for a late lunch with Kester and I had some rice (just to please my tummy this time around).  When I got back to the hotel I tried to do some work again but it was the same story with the internet so I took a nap instead.

Later in the evening, I went out for my routine pointless stroll down the road. This time I stopped by a pub to gulp down some stout and on my way back, I grabbed some ‘Suya’ for myself and Kester to munch on. I later tried to do some work again, and yes, the story was still the same – I was able to do very little as the internet kept tripping. I stepped down and headed to the lobby to see if I could get something to drink or nibble on and I saw Sinem and Suby so I decided to join them. They seemed to be making use of the wi-fi so I figured that perhaps the connection in the lobby was better than that in my room. I dashed upstairs to grab my notebook to come try my luck. Well, as I suspected, the connection was much stable in the lobby so I went straight into ‘posting mode’, replying emails and occasional updates on twitter and facebook. One interesting update was of course the one about a hotel guest who was having a bargain with two very unattractive prostitutes. Seriously those mamas have to retire for the young girls to do the job (LOL).  Anyway, I continued with work as I watched on. Later, Qudus and Herve came back from town, and it seemed they had made use of the day seeing more of Lagos and meeting film makers for their upcoming Hollywood Week in Paris. Hmm, I said to myself, if only I knew!!! After getting some work in, I excused myself and went up to sleep.

In the morning, we went for breakfast as usual and now with a solution to my internet wahala, I was looking forward to the day -whether we would finally hear news about Bayelsa or not, it was the last day of the book fair and one day to the AMAA ceremony.  I planned to get down to the lobby and do some work later and also set up a business meeting at the hotel for 12.  Little did I know that Bayelsa would happen that day, at 11am! Just as I got into the lobby to check if there was space for me to sit and work,  to my surprise, I saw many of the other guests (by this time a lot more had arrived from their various countries) that were meant to head to Bayelsa checked out and ready to the head to the airport. I immediately turned back to the room and got ready together with Kester. When I checked out, I realized that indeed our accommodation included lunch and supper and thus we could have eaten during our stay. Needless to say, I cursed my stars!!!

We got onto the bus and made our way to the domestic airport. Here, we were met with uncertainty as plenty more guests including many of the stars were all waiting for their flight. With no one telling us anything, people became uneasy and soon there was a rush for boarding passes after we had written our names on some lists. Fortunately, one of my buddies was among those handling the passes so I was among the first to get my boarding pass. I made my way to check in and headed to the boarding gate. I waited for the others to come and when they had all trickled in, it was time to go to Port Harcourt. Read about my chartered flight with the stars here.

When we got to Port Harcourt, we split into several buses and made our way to Bayelsa. After some 3 hours, we had arrived in Yenogoa city, host city for the AMAA at around 8:30pm.  We were taken to the tourism centre where we had some food and immediately went hunting for accommodation. There was no structured flow of information regarding the hotel allocation and anytime we saw any group gathered we had to move there to find out what was happening. Suddenly all the smiles that I saw on the faces of Banky W, P-Square and others when we arrived at the Port Harcourt Airport, had turned into frowns. At a point I heard the Jude Okoye, manager of P-Square screaming ‘Get Us out Of Here’ on top of his voice.  Well after pacing up and down, and a little more pressure from the side of Kester, we finally were allocated a room at around 10.30 pm.  Kester, Niyi (producer of the AMAA nominated movie, Turning Point), and I (later to be known as the 3 musketeers) made sure we stuck together during the allocation. We were driven to the Alice Dee Hotel, where we cleverly grabbed two rooms for ourselves. Again, I paired with Kester while Niyi had the other room to himself.  After settling in, we stepped down for some drinks and chicken and this time we made double sure to check if food was complimentary. Well, sadly it wasn’t! We had a chat about Kwame Nkrumah, Biafra War and more (obviously Kester and Niyi have been reading too many books); and walked down the road to see the neighborhood before going to bed.

When we woke up we tried getting breakfast but we found out a bus was coming for us to the Tourism centre for breakfast, so we waited for the bus. The bus took us to the centre where we had breakfast.  I met the main Ghana group comprising the actors and media practitioners. After the food, buses were allocated to take us to the lakeside where there was a boat regatta and some wrestling bouts.  From the lakeside, we then got on the bus to head back to our hotels but found out that it was already lunch time so we went to the centre again for lunch before heading to our hotel. By this time, we had identified a bus coordinator for our hotel, so moving around became easier for us.

We got to our hotel around 3 pm but were told that buses would start commuting people to the venue for the AMAA around 5pm. So I was a bit restless and couldn’t or didn’t want to sleep. At about 5 pm I showered and dressed up for the occasion, as usual very casual in my style; after all I wasn’t going to walk on the red carpet. However, I played the style guru in helping Niyi decide between two traditional attires for the red carpet, and I think I did a good job. We got down to the lobby and waited for our pick up bus.

The bus took us to the venue and since none of us had been given our passes for the event, we went through security as a group with our coordinator and made our way into the auditorium. Once seated I decided not to come out again, just in case some security man high on brawns and low on brains decided to stress my out regarding my pass. I stayed inside and sacrificed my intended coverage of the red carpet.  Anyway, after waiting for over two hours, the show kicked off. Read about the event HERE.

The ceremony ended around 4 am on Sunday with the announcement of an after party and dinner at the Bayelsa Government House. We got on our bus, tired, sleepy, and also hungry,  so we decided to pass through the after party. But when we got to the government house there was massive traffic and security checks leading into the house so we decided to just leave and  go sleep; but not without some  drama. Some people in the bus wanted to wait and eat and some wanted to go to the hotel and sleep. So we voted and those who wanted to sleep won. Which group did I belong to? Well, take a guess!

Anyway we got to our hotel around 5 am and I went straight to bed. Well I battled to have some rest as there was church service with a PA system going on right on the hotel premises, since it was Sunday morning. At around 8am Niyi came knocking on our door that the bus was in to take us to the Tourism Centre for us to connect to the Port Harcourt Airport. I woke up and dressed up without showering or brushing my teeth, and immediately packed my luggage. We made our way on the bus and went off to the centre where we had breakfast before getting on a bigger bus and heading to Port Harcourt.

….And now the real wahala

My flight from Lagos to Accra was scheduled for 5pm, so when we arrived at the Port Harcourt Airport before 12 noon, I knew it was in good time not to miss my flight. Boy was I wrong! Just like the chaos that characterized our chartered flight from Lagos previously, no one knew what flight we were on or what time it would be. Anytime we saw a group of people gathered we would move there to find out what was happening, but there was hardly any proper flow of information. Every now and then we would hear that a list was being compiled and we would rush there to make sure we wrote our names. Soon there was news in the grapevine that there would be two chartered flights on the day with the first one taking off at 6 pm; immediately, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to Ghana since my flight to Accra was at 5pm.

Niyi was on a different flight which was scheduled for 3pm which eventually took off around 5pm or so. I had even lost track of time as I was just tired from standing around for so many hours – and occasionally finding a seat to sit. At around 6pm, they started sharing boarding passes for the chartered flight and as much as I tried and hoped to hear my name it never came. Fortunately for Kester, Qudus, Sinem, Suby and Herve, their names were mentioned and so they made their way out and flew to Lagos.

It was back to more uncertainly as we waited to see if indeed there would be another chartered flight to lift the rest of us to Lagos. As we waited, it became evident that there would be no such thing. They started finding available spaces on other flights and tucking the rest of us in bit by bit. At around 7 pm the Nigerians amongst us were asked to go to a hotel so the non-Nigerians would be given special preference if any available spaces were found on the other flight.  I joined fellow Ghanaians, Ama K Abebrese and Adjetey Annang who were hosts of the 2013 AMAA; Lydia Forson and others including the Namibian, Mike Steve who was also nominated for Best Animated Feature, to wait.

Well, we waited for a while until it became clear around 8pm that we wouldn’t have any flight to take us to Lagos. We were taken to a hotel in Port Harcourt to pass the night so we could connect to Lagos in the morning instead. We went to meet the Nigerian group that had left earlier at the hotel lobby, waiting for their rooms to be allocated. After waiting for some time, we were finally allocated our rooms and I paired up with Mike Steve.  We settled in and immediately made our way to the restaurant to find something to eat. For a hotel that seemed to have only one cook and one waitress we were lucky to be the first to order so our food came in a little early, and we ate. I then took a hot shower, brushed my teeth (first time in the day) and went off to bed.

We woke up around 6am and by 7 am we were ready to join the others outside waiting in the lobby.  As we waited some lists were compiled, and I made sure to write my name on each of them because I didn’t want to spend another day ‘stranded’. We made our way to the airport at around 8.30 am and fortunately my name was on the first list of people flying to Lagos alongside Ama K, Lydia and Adjetey. We checked in and made our way to the plane. The flight was a little eventful also, read here.

When we got to the Lagos domestic airport, we were picked up by the AMAA reps and I immediately made it known to them that I had missed my flight to Ghana the previous day. They assured me that a new flight would be booked for me so I should just go to the Ibis Hotel and join the main Ghana group who would be flying around 5 pm. But just to make sure I had I flight I decided to follow the UK group to the international airport before I go back to the hotel to rest.

When we got to the international airport, Ama, Lydia and Adjetey all decided to join me so they would confirm their flights before going to the hotel to rest. We left our luggage in the bus and went into departures. I wanted to get my own flight and pay for it but the Arik flight for 5pm was booked.  But fortunately for other three, they were confirmed for the 5 pm flight. Just as we left the Arik office, I met Denis, one of the chaperons I met earlier on my way to Port Harcourt. He took me to another AMAA rep who then took my details to reserve a flight for 5pm the following day on Arik for me. He wasn’t in the position to make payment so told me not to worry; once the authorized persons came, payment would be made. With such assurance I could now rest my head. By this time at was already 2 pm, so Ama K and co decided to wait at the airport and check in once and for all without going back to the hotel. But now the bus with our luggage was nowhere to be found because it had to also do some other rounds.

After some calls we found someone to bring our bags to us at the airport.  I was then told to wait for the bus that would bring the Ghana group from the hotel, so I would return to the hotel with it. After some back and forth communications it appeared that there was no flight for any of the Ghanaians back there so finally a bus came for me to the hotel around 4pm, and all I wanted to do was to get a room to lay my head. I was feeling weak and tired from all the standing around, lack of rest and, well, food!!

When I got to the hotel I told the AMAA reps there my situation and they told me to have lunch while they found me a room. After lunch I hanged around in the lobby still waiting for a room. I saw the Ghanaian rep compiling a list so I made sure I added my name on that list so I wouldn’t miss out on anything.  Now very frustrated, I went back to ask for a room so I could rest; and I was told that the Ghana group would be leaving soon so I should just hang around in one of my friend’s room. Well I did just that but not long after that there was news that we would be leaving soon so we had to check out and get ready for the airport. I had already packed my stuff so I just got down to the lobby to wait for the bus.

Soon, we headed out to the airport and a few meters to reaching the departures, one of the reps on the bus received a call saying that the counter was closing at 6 although we were made to believe our flight was at 9pm. The Ghana rep then took our passports and got out of the bus; and ran towards the counter in order to beat traffic. We got off and made our way into the airport only to find out that there was no flight for Ghana on the night, and in fact the Ghana group had been booked for the 5pm flight. After back and forth arguments, confusion and upsets, we were assured that  there was space on the 7am Aero Contractors flight to Accra; and all we had to do was to wake up early to come and book our flights, since their office was closed already.

With nothing else to do, we went back to the Ibis Hotel, had dinner and waited for the new allocation of rooms, this time I was paired with my colleague journalist, Ebenezer Anangfio. I immediately had my shower and went to bed to get some much needed rest. Though I needed the sleep, I was a bit restless so found myself awake by 2am. In order not to waste the restless moments, I decided to start writing some articles on the AMAA so I would publish as soon as I got to Ghana.

By 5.20am the rest of the group had gathered waiting for the bus to the airport, and when the two minibuses arrived for us, we dashed in and made our way to the airport. This time there were no eventualities and we soon checked in and made our way to the boarding gate. When boarding commenced I breathed a sigh of relief knowing I would soon be home away from all the stress and wahala. Soon we were in the Kotoka International Airport, and after grabbing my luggage; I dashed out of the airport and made my way home in a taxi. I got home around 8 am and went off to bed immediately. Hmm, home sweet home at last!

So there you have it, see the stress I went through just to get you exclusive news on the Africa Movie Academy Awards? When I look back now, I laugh and ask myself if would allow myself to go through such and experience next year. Hmmm, let’s wait and see. Looking back at the experience, it appears to me that in the year which the film, ‘Confusion Na Wa’ won the biggest prize at the AMAA, it was almost destined that we would all have our taste of confusion and wahala. Laugh Out Loud!!!!

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