National Festival of Arts and Culture ended with big gains for Nigeria’s unity and guardrails for the country’s cultural quest
Stories by MUSA JIBRIL
In the Cultural Village, there was an array of food and drink that typified the country––from Tuwo, Semo, Amala, Gari and pounded yam to Kunu, Fura da nono, Zobo and palm wine. Under the harsh afternoon weather of haze, heat and Harmattan, the human community buzzed and blended, their activities weaving a rich tapestry that portrayed a microcosm of Nigeria. The village, a cultural melting pot, stimulated and synthesized fraternity and fellowship, out of which an astute observer could easily discern the DNA of Nigeria. Vast and diverse, but welded in uncountable common denominators of seamless dynamics.
Visitors disappeared into nearby Cultural Market where they are absorbed into the panoply of arts, crafts and artefacts that bespoke artistry and magnificence. Best of Adire from Ogun and Osun and colourful batik on rice paper and canvas; loomed fabrics from Benue; quaint brass and pottery from Niger; Kano’s finest leatherworks and Nok art pieces from Kaduna. From Bayelsa and Delta, raffia and carvings, and coral beads respectively.
A few hours later, denizens of the Cultural Village congregated at the amphitheatre to watch a few rounds of wrestling bouts featuring young men flexing their muscles. Chants and cheers from different camps of the contestants rent the air and further revved up the festivity.
This is a vignette of the 30th National Festival of Arts and Culture, NAFEST that unveiled at the International Trade Fair Complex, in Kaduna, from October 31 to November 4, 2017.
A post-mortem of NAFEST 2017 would spotlight the resolve of the National Council of Arts and Culture, NCAC, to leave no stone unturned in its drive towards a cultural nirvana.
To all intents and purposes, Kaduna was an experiment in cultural distillation.
Earlier in September, AFAC tested the novel idea of the symbolic opening and closing of calabash as replacement for the hackneyed idea of tape-cutting to formally declare an event open. The calabash rite became firmly enshrined in Kaduna.
Secondly, the act of honouring winners with plaques and cups was replaced with cultural trophies in the form of golden gongs.
Thirdly, ever heard of cultural golf? A few months ago, NCAC’s director general, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe was at the IBB International Golf Course, Abuja, on the occasion of the Women’s Golf Day and hinted of plans to stage a cultural golf tournament.
To hear him say “we are going to dress all the golfers in our local textile outfit during the tournament” sounded outlandish, to say the least.
The revolutionary tournament was pioneered at the Kaduna Golf Club to kickstart the milestone 30th NAFEST. Thus, an idea that was at first quixotic was suddenly cloaked in logic when over 100 golfers turned up in made-in-Nigeria kits––traditional attires, or clothes with a touch of traditional fabric.
A total of 21 states, answering the call for the national festival, sent a legion of contingents that turned the Trade Fair complex into a beehive of activities. For visitors and participants alike, the one-week festival was a cultural elixir.
The opening ceremony at the Murtala Muhammed Square featured one of the most beautiful durbars ever staged in northern Nigeria, a dazzling display of more than seven traditional title holders leading their garrisons on beautifully decorated horses in a procession that paid homage to the Emir of Zaria, Alhaji Shehu Idris who was seated alongside other dignitaries. While it lasted, the air cracked with gunshots and reeked of gunpowder.
The horse parade by the Zazzau Emirate was an epic display that became the talk of the town, its echo heard till the last hour of NAFEST.
The festival’s other thriller was the four days of traditional wrestling that culminated in Kaduna, the host state, emerging the overall champion, with Kano, Katsina and Lagos in tow.
An analysis of the winners of competitive events showed a tectonic shift in the country’s cultural landscape. Bayelsa State emerged champion of the milestone 30th NAFEST. Barely 12 months ago, the Bayelsa contingent had triumphed as the best at NAFEST 2016 in Akwa Ibom State. Their feat in Kaduna spoke not of a fluke but of an emerging force, and in fairness, the state that prides itself as the “Glory of all Lands” shattered one too many a myth, including displacing Calabar as Nigeria’s home of cuisine. Bayelsa proved its mettle as the new gourmet capital of Nigeria by roundly trouncing all contenders in the cuisine competition.
Regular giants tightened their grips on areas of their respective comparative advantage. Rivers clinched Children Essay Writing. Lagos maintained a vice-grip on the two categories of Children Stage Performance and Painting and Drawing.
Non-competitive events had their appeals too. Cultural Market, opened on Nov 1 till the last day, was a nectar that drew many spectators to a treat of rich shows of arts and heritage of Nigeria’s humongous ethnic constituents.
The skill acquisition initiative, first experimented in September at AFAC, was NAFEST’s big draw. A steady stream of participants, mostly women and teenagers, flowed into the complex as the word spread, till the eve of the closing day. Beneficiaries learnt multiple skills that ranged from traditional hairdo to perfume and liquid detergent production, as well as the art of making necklace, bags and branded slippers.
The rags-to-rugs class was particularly instructive. A group of learners dexterously wove rugs using an assortment of oddities like rice bags, wool and other colourful tendrils.
Fused into the culture schemata in a way that created a platform for acquiring entrepreneurial skills and creativity for small and medium scale businesses, the skills acquisition programme drew over 300 people of varying age and social status, thereby leaing to an army of natural dependents trained in different skills that enhanced their self-reliance and transformation to employers of labour.
A fascinating facet of the festival was the coordinated effort to involve children in a slew of activities such as stage performance and cultural children essay.
A colloquium themed Nigeria’s Folklore: Harnessing Today as Tomorrow’s Heritage rallied support for African folklore as a tool to stave off the decline of the country’s indigenous culture. Nkem Osaeloka Orakwe, presenter of the famous Tales by Moonlight on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), used the opportunity to drum home the pernicious effect of foreign cartoons and stories on local heritage. What she called for was a reverse action that would lead to African stories being harnessed, packaged and sold to the outside world via latest technologies.
Though, manifesting as an ecosystem of cultural fiesta ingrained with value-added plug-ins like free medical screening and skills acquisition that pulled a ‘troupe of players’ from the private sector, NGOs and government agencies, NAFEST’s foundational objective remains the promotion of national peace and unity.
This year’s theme, “Nigerian Peace and Unity, Our Pride” was “in response to the current social concerns,” according to the NCAC helmsman, Runsewe.
While trumpeting the council’s agenda to “use the instrumentality of culture to address the current state of our socio-economic challenges,” he specifically pinpointed a set objective of effecting “attitudinal reorientation and value disposition against hate speeches.”
Runsewe re-emphasised the need to use cultural diplomacy to tackle the issue of hate speeches in the country.
What are the gains of the cultural fiesta?
A lot, said the NCAC DG.
“For the first time, opening and closing of NAFEST was live. It may take some little time, but pretty soon we will be amazed at what this industry will become.”
He was speaking of cascading effects.
He pointed out the little gains from the political sphere. “Lawmakers in Ogun State recently raised the possibility of instituting a policy that will have workers wear Adire to their office once a week. Osun State is also contemplating a policy to uphold the use of native fabric as uniform in state public schools. Then, Lagos House of Assembly passed a Yoruba language Bill into law. That tells you, some states have started keying into it.”
He was certain the face of golf in Nigeria would change with the introduction of the cultural golf. “Golf polos and pants we buy from abroad cost as much as N75, 000 just because of their labels. Now we have alternatives.”
Counting the gains of the brotherhood imbued by the festival, he said: “But for events like this, it is easy to spread a propaganda that Kaduna is not safe for people of other ethnicities. We were all here, people from various parts of the country, related with one another without hate, and everything was okay, for one week.”
Another gain: Children activities threw up a cultural leverage that could be handy going forward. “The children’s programme, their drama, their performance, was such that, if you were there, you would almost weep for this country. The kind of proverbs coming from the children amazed me. We have all it takes. As a matter of urgency, we need to take certain steps.”
Of the skills acquisition dimension, he said: “My vision is that any culture approach we initiate should result in the creation of jobs for Nigerians.”
The game plan according to him “is to empower the ordinary Nigerian.”
Said he: “We issued certificates to all those who participated in the skill acquisition programme. There is N300m Bank of Industry loan out there. We expect them to form clusters and go for it. That is the major focus.”
For him, NAFEST has proven to be a cultural goldmine he believed will be attractive to big-time corporate players in due course.
It is not inconceivable that NAFEST will one day have a big-brand backer, something in the mold of Heineken’s sponsorship of UEFA Champions League, Coca-Cola’s backing of the World Cup or MTN support for the AFCON, an institution that would be the sort of bulwark telecom giant Globacom is to classic festivals as Ojude Oba and Ofala.
Runsewe seemed to know what to do to get NAFEST to that eldorado. “First, we must have a brand. Now, we are building the brand, and we are sure of the brand we are building. By next year, sponsors will come.”
For the first time ever, an upcoming NAFEST has a host as one closed. Rivers State took the baton to host the 2018 edition from the Kaduna State Commissioner for Sports, Arts and Culture, Daniel A Danauta.
For Nigeria’s culture boss, the development was a good omen for the sustainability of the national festival.
NAFEST 2017––the first under Runsewe’s stewardship––was a dress rehearsal for the evolving cultural reformation being midwifed by NCAC.
Runsewe banked on Rivers State to host “the best ever culturally packaged event you have ever seen in Nigeria” in 2018.
He was upbeat about Rivers opening a new vista for culture-induced economic activities in Nigeria.
“From all indications, the festival is going to be bigger and better,” he enthused, basing his optimism on two indisputable indices––Rivers’ rich cultural contents, and Governor Nyesom Wike’s track record, as evident “by his giant strides in the state.”
NAFEST is taking a new shape. That’s right, he concurred. Any further changes to expect? Suddenly, the NCAC boss was coy. He would rather keep it close to his chest. He, nevertheless, dropped a teaser. “Next year, there will be no colloquium. Village Square Interaction sounds more cultural.”