Last weekend, Nigeria hosted Africa at the maiden edition of The Social Media Awards Africa, #SMAA where fifteen winners emerged from 43 finalists at the event tagged ‘a Night of Virtual Wonders’, representing all the regions of the continent except Central Africa.

The #SMAA Winners include: Ben Kiruthi, Kenya – Blogger of the Year, Michael Hlatshwayo, South Africa Social Media Hero and Jimi Tewe, Nigeria – Twitter Handle of the Year. Others are: Barefootlaw, Uganda – Facebook Page of the Year, The Love Tour, Kenya – Influencer of the Year, Republic of Rwanda Ministry of Youth and ICT Rwanda, Best Use by Government/Public Sector, DHL Africa – Best Use by Private Sector, Stand to End Rape, Nigeria – Best Use by Non-Profit. In other categories, Adforumco, Nigeria won the Best Use by Start-up/MSME, KCB Group, Kenya – Best Use by Financial Institution, Afrinolly, Nigeria – App of the Year, #TheNiteTalk, Kenya – Hashtag of the Year, Raha 2.0, Tanzania – Brand of the Year and Nigeria Trade Hub, Nigeria – Best Rated Platform.

Jimi Tewe (M) - Nigeria, receiving the Twitter Handle of the Year Award Plaque.

Jimi Tewe (M) – Nigeria, receiving the Twitter Handle of the Year Award Plaque.

BarefootLaw (L) - Uganda receiving the #SMAA Facebook Page of the Year Award Plaque

BarefootLaw (L) – Uganda receiving the #SMAA Facebook Page of the Year Award Plaque

Winners of the award were rewarded with the one-of-a-kind #SMAA plaque, $1,000 USD prize money, all-expense-paid trip to Nairobi for training with the Africa Media Initiative (AMI) amongst other opportunities and benefits.

One of the finalists who was conspicuously absent is currently serving a 1-year sentence for a Facebook post adjudged to be defamatory, Tunisian Blogger and Activist, Yassine Ayari emerged The #SMAA Social Media Personality of the Year at the just concluded awards ceremony tagged, Night of Virtual Wonders; which held in Lagos, Nigeria last weekend.

One of Ayari’s friends contacted the #SMAA Secretariat and Convening team in an email dated December 26, 2014 to formally notify the conveners of Yassine’s inability attend the awards ceremony due to his trial. Ayari was first sentenced to 3-years in prison albeit in absentia, for criticizing the Tunisian Defence Minister through a Facebook Post. His lawyers appealed the judgment but Ayari was later sentenced to a year in prison by a superior court of law.

The #SMAA Conveners, Development Diaries Ltd/GTE; condemn in strongest terms the actions of the Tunisian Government and re-affirm that the Right to Free Speech is a fundamental Human Right which must not be suppressed or stifled.

Ben Kiruthi (L) - Kenya, receiving the #SMAA Blogger of the Year Award Plaque

Ben Kiruthi (L) – Kenya, receiving the #SMAA Blogger of the Year Award Plaque

DHL Africa (M) receiving the #SMAA Private Sector Award Plaque.

DHL Africa (M) receiving the #SMAA Private Sector Award Plaque.

On another surprising note, three of the continent’s favourites earlier tipped to clinch awards, Xtian Dela from Kenya and Japheth Omojuwa from Nigeria; both with 3 nominations and Vodafone Ghana with 2 nominations across different awards did not emerge winners in all nominations despite overwhelming support from fans and followers.

The Social Media Awards Africa, #SMAA is poised to recognize and reward excellence, creativity and impact in the use of social media tools and platforms by individuals and organizations in Africa. This year, 15 awards across 4 categories recorded over 3,000 entries accounting for about 923 nominations from 26 African countries were received From September 30 – November 28, 2014 when the nomination window was open.

The #SMAA judging process follows a set of criteria: Influence, Originality, Scalability, Creativity and Impact and observed a three-step process which commenced with call for nominations across the continent. After this phase, a virtual council reviewed all entries and shortlisted to 10 Nominees per Award. The nominees were adjudged by their responses on the above-listed criteria. To proceed to the final stage, cumulative scores from amassed votes and Jury scores (each accounting for 50%) was collated. The nominee with the highest average cumulative score emerged winner of the corresponding #SMAA Award.

Afrinolly (M) Nigeria, receiving the #SMAA App of the Year Award Plaque

Afrinolly (M) Nigeria, receiving the #SMAA App of the Year Award Plaque

The event lived up to its billing as a Night of Virtual Wonders with a fantastic treat of inspiration, and a glamorous blend of music, dance, comedy, stunts and other artistic displays and competitions. The guests, many of whom were visiting Nigeria for the first time, were thrilled by Award-winning performers such as songstress Yemi Alade; enchanting vocalist Timi Dakolo; Award-winning R&B-turned-Gospel artiste, Obiora Obiwon; South African Best Selling Music Star, Simphiwe Dana; Jazz Star; Kunle Ayo; DVD the Comedia and DJ Jimmy Jatt. The Lead anchors were Beat FM’s OAP, Gbemi Olateru-Olagbegi and Kelvin Igbodo whilst Award-winning Denrele Edun and Chigolicious MC supported with hilarious stints to promote the #SterlingSelfie Contest.

Yemi Alade giving Africa the Johnny melody at the Social Media Awards Africa #SMAA ceremony.

Yemi Alade giving Africa the Johnny melody at the Social Media Awards Africa #SMAA ceremony.

DJ Jimmy Jatt spinning the African audience to good music. #SMAA

DJ Jimmy Jatt spinning the African audience to good music. #SMAA

Nigerian Gospel Music-star, Obiora Obiwon and the Rebirth Band kick started the event with the powerful #SMAA Theme Song entitled, ‘One Voice’. And in a very rhythmic transition, he sang some popular inspirational songs – all with a gospel undertone. Then, he wrapped his very vocal performance with hit track ‘Testify’ supported by electrifying dance routines from Alien Nation, which left the captive audience begging for more.

Lead Anchors, Gbemi Olateru-Olagbegi of Beat FM, Official Radio Partner, #SMAA and Kelvin Igbodo of Corporate Communications Unit of Sterling Bank welcomed guests to the Night of Virtual Wonders cracking them up with jokes about Pen Pals, Hi 5 and old social media platforms and the use of social media to verify blind dates or dating interests.

Voice Maestro, Timi Dakolo serenaded the audience with his hit song, ‘Iyawo Mi’ after which he left them spell bound with ‘Great Nation’ to make way for a few remarks from Sponsors, Conveners and Jury. With a short word from the #SMAA Sponsors, Sterling Bank Plc.; represented by Shina Atilola, Group Head, Strategy & Communications; Duncan Onyango, East Africa Director, Acumen Fund shared his experiences and key learning outcomes from the #SMAA Judging processes. Femi Aderibigbe, Project Lead, #SMAA and Co-Founder, Development Diaries Ltd/GTE explained to the guests the inspiration for creating the #SMAA at a time like this for the continent.

Timi Dakolo thrills the award audience to some soulful melody.

After the speeches, the awards came in batches with the first four (4) award presentations. DVD the Comedian thrilled the guests with a few local and African-themed jokes and another round of presentations were made to deserving finalists.

The night’s surprise package emerged when Award-winning On-Air Personality, Denrele Edun and Chigolicious, a fast-rising female compere presented the #SterlingSelfie Segment encouraging guests to take and promote selfies in order to win exciting prizes.

Denerele Edun and Chigo, dominated the stage with exciting audience engagement banters. #SMAA

#SMAA Lead Sponsors, Sterling Bank promoted a competition to find the most exciting selfie using the hashtag, #SterlingSelfie. All through the night, guests took selfies and encouraged their friends to like and promote their images for a chance to win prizes. Two (2) guests emerged winners at the end of the event and each took home a tablet device courtesy the bank.

And then it was time to welcome on stage Simphiwe Dana, South African Award-winning & Best Selling Songstress. She performed songs from her album, Firebrand accompanied by strings from the guitar by Award-winning Jazz Artiste, Kunle Ayo.

With more award presentations to the excitement of the audience as it seemed as though #TeamKenya had clinched many more awards than all other represented countries, it was time to welcome Yemi Alade. Her electrifying performances of hit singles, ‘Kissing’, ‘Johnny’ and ‘Marry Me’, wrapped the performances for the night with many guests singing and dancing along. Yemi Alade showed the visiting guests how to party the Nigerian way.  Immediately after Yemi Alade’s powerful performance, DJ Jimmy Jatt; one of the continent’s most respected Disc Jockeys showed why he is a veteran as he spun hit track after hit track compelling many more guests to take to their feet.

Far into the night, it was time to deliver the vote of thanks and Emilia Asim – Ita, Co-Founder of Development Diaries Ltd/GTE did justice to her note of gratitude to the admiration of all guests. She thanked #SMAA Lead Sponsors, Partners, Event Vendors, Performers, and key individuals who were outstanding in upholding the vision of the #SMAA to its successful birth.

As the Lead Anchors returned to bid farewell, guests were waiting to continue the treat from the wheels of DJ Jimmy Jatt as the Night of Virtual Wonders climaxed.

Prior to the awards ceremony, finalists, Jury Members and other Social Media professionals had converged for the maiden edition of the Social Media Africa Summit with the theme: Social Media for Governance, Leadership and Development. The event featured inspiring presentations by many speakers and experts Rich Simmonds, Author, Mug & Tweet and Communications Expert; Thebe Ikalafeng, Chairman, Brand Leadership South Africa & Brand Africa and Ojoma Ochai, Arts Director, British Council.

The #SMAA was presented by Sterling Bank and supported by: African Media Initiative (AMI), AIESEC AfricaWest African NGO Network (WANGONET)Beat FMFan Milk Nigeria, Enplug Africa, Zisat, Trace TV, and ONTV.

#SMAA Jury: Founder and Executive Chairman, African Leadership Academy, Fred Swaniker; Chief Executive Officer, African Media Institute, Eric Chinje; Founder,, Ken Banks; Director Operations, Mara Group of Companies, Hetal Shah; Vice President, VAS, Airtel Nigeria, Francis Ebuehi; Chief, New Technologies and Innovation, UNECA, Dr. Kasirim Nwuke; Director, Legal and Corporate Affairs, Microsoft Africa, Louis Onyango Otieno; Founder and Chairman, Brand Africa, Thebe Ikalafeng; Executive Director, Strategy and Finance, Sterling Bank Plc, Abubakar Suleiman; Chief Operating Officer, Popimedia, South Africa, Ryan Silberman; Communications Co-ordinator, Royal African Society, London, Dele Fatunla; Founder, Dragon Africa, Obi Asika; East Africa Director, Acumen, Duncan Onyango; Special Adviser Communication Technology Development – Cross River State Government, Odo Effiong; External Relations Lead, IBM West Africa, Muyiwa Moyela and Nigeria Director, Open Society Initiative for West Africa, Udo Jude Ilo.

#SMAA Advisory Board: Executive Director, Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Abdul Tejan-Cole; Co-founder and CEO Crowdcentric, Toby Daniels; Lead Consultant/CEO, ThistlePraxis Consulting, Ini Onuk; Executive Director, West African NGO Network, Tunji Lardner and Head of Social Anthropology University of Cape Town, Prof. Francis Nyanmojoh.