As Edo State government prepares for this year’s edition of Edo Festival 2018, ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA reports on the arts and cultural festival, which is aimed at promoting domestic tourism
It is not for nothing that Edo State proudly bears the sobriquet of ‘The Cradle of Civilisation.’ What with its rich and wide selection of cultural heritage as presented not just by the colourful and enchanting Bini arts, folklore, and cosmology but also the wide repertoire of the various ethnic divisions that make up the state. Over the years, efforts have been made by successive governments in the state to preserve, grow and promote this heritage and also build the state to become an enviable tourist destination in the country. This is one task that must be accomplished given the commitment that has been shown to the arts and culture sector by the present government of the state headed by Governor Godwin Obaseki.
The state Commissioner for Arts, Culture, Tourism and Diaspora Affairs, Osaze Osemwegie-Ero, is the point man for the realisation of this noble dream of making Edo State a fascinating tourist destination for the delight of all, especially domestic tourism, which the commissioner is so passionate about and has since assuming office made clear his intention for the state tourism and has single – minded pursue this dream. He last year among other initiatives, debuted with Edo State Festival of Arts and Culture (Edofest 2017).
The debutant festival then according to him, was a test run, something to feel the pulse of the industry and the people. The festival, which was to bring to the awareness of the people that Edo State beckons with rich and suffusing cultural heritage, was well received as it delighted and attracted the attention of the people and the corporate world, which lend support to it success. Given its measure of success and the dream of deploying it as a major tourism activation for the development and promotion of domestic tourism, Osemwegie – Ero, is this year building on that success as he once again prepares to host this year’s edition of the festival. The commissioner is sold on this festival, which he believes will turn around the tourism of the state and make it a major acplatform to drive inflow of domestic tourists to the state and make Edo State an economic hub of the country.
To achieve this, the concept and content of the festival has been expanded and taken to a new dimension, with an enlarged planning committee, which is headed by the commissioner and made of operators in both the private and public sectors formally inaugurated by the state governor weeks ago. Since the inauguration the excitement has become turbo charged and Osemwegie- Ero has doubled his efforts working on the best way to bring to fruition this major initiative of his ministry. In a recent engagement with this reporter and others in Lagos, he spoke glowingly about the festival, which is going to be a six day showpiece of the best and most enchanting cultural heritage of the people of Edo State.
‘‘The theme this year is harnessing arts and culture for sustainable economic development,’’ said the commissioner of the festival, which has been slated to hold between December 17 and 22 in the city of Benin, with different events expected to unfold at different sections of the city. Ramat Park in Ikpoba Hill, Ring Road and the Museum have been designated as villages for the festival, where through the duration of the festival activities of different magnitude will be staged for the benefit of the people.
Edo State is richly blessed
If there is one thing that Osemwegie- Ero is sure footed about, it is the fact that the state is a blessed one, therefore, Edofest is that platform to showcase the best of the cultural heritage of his people to the world as he said that: ‘‘You know that Edo State is richly blessed with a lot of cultural heritage and second to none in the world. So, we are using the opportunity to showcase it to the world for them to know what we have. Showcase our arts, our craft and culture to the world and at the same time use it to promote domestic tourism in Edo State. ‘‘It will open doors to hospitality business because hoteliers and other businesses in the service industry such as food vendors, will benefit from it. We are going to be promoting domestic tourism through it by making Edo State an economic hub. ‘‘Hospitality business will grow, the local transporter will benefit and as a government will benefit from it as well as we are empowering local investors and creating avenue for business expansion and growth for them because the people stand to benefit from it, especially the local entrepreneurs who are part of the tourism and business value chain.
Activities slated for the festival
The festival promises to be an enriching and exciting one, judging for the activities that have been built into, which according to the commissioner, is meant to delight the people and make the festival a rich and colourful event that will also attract the interest of the corporate world and businesses that are expected to benefit from it.
The festival will commence on December 17 with a cultural float across the city of Benin with carnival bands from the 18 local government councils of the state, alongside individuals and corporate bodies and converge on Oba Ovoranmwen Square at the Ring Road, where the state governor will then formally declare the festival open. A major feature of the first day’s offering will be a photo exhibition of the stolen artefacts of Benin, which have been documented to reside in different museums, both public and private, across the world. The commissioner spoke more on this exhibition and what it is intended to achieve.
‘‘We will be having a photo exhibition of our stolen artefacts as we have in our possession over a thousand pictures of our stolen artefacts at their current locations across the globe. If you go to Metropolitan Museum in New York there is a section with all the Benin artefacts.
‘‘If you go to Liverpool in United Kingdom, London, Berlin in Germany, Frankfurt, Oxford, Boston, Indianapolis, Austria, and other cities, we have pictures of all of them. And we thought that will be a major content this year to have a photo exhibition for the six day period and His Royal Majesty, the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, has graciously approved his palace to be used for the exhibition. ‘‘So, from day one to day six, we will have the exhibition opened for visitors to view, with the inscriptions and locations of those artefacts on them for the visitors to see. We are going to invite ambassadors and others to come and see those artefacts and tell them that these are our artefacts and that we know where they are.
‘‘This will further push the advocacy for the restitution of those artefacts to us. I am very happy as the commissioner of arts and culture seeing the interest of individuals, both foreign and local, in the restitution of those artefacts to us.
The day could be classed as a theatric day as the commissioner disclosed that, ‘‘this will be a day for theatre and drama. You know that we have a rich history, so we intend to use the opportunity to showcase our history through stage dramas. We are getting secondary schools to be art of it and also our famous veteran artistes to be part of it.’’
The day’s event will begin with series of lectures slated at the different sections in the morning while cultural event will hold later in the day at the Oba of Benin palace, where all the local government councils are expected to entertain the people with the best of their cultural troupes. ‘‘We did it last year and it was very interesting and this year we intend to repeat it but raise the bar and everybody is excited about it,’’ said the commissioner of the cultural feast.
It will be a parade of the unique culinary treats of the people from their rich food repertoire, with a fashion show and beauty pageant, known as Miss Edofest 2018, throw into the mix.
The major attraction will be the gala and awards night where, according to the commissioner, a number of the sons and daughters of the state who have contributed immensely to the growth and promotion of the state’s art and culture will be celebrated and honoured with various awards.
This will be last day of the festival and it is expected to be the climax, with a mega musical concert that will feature some of the great musical stars and entertainers from the state with a blend of the big stars in the country, jamming on the night to bring to an end a delightsome and exciting festival of some sorts.
Promoting the festival
With less than two months to the opening of Edofest, Osemwegie – Ero and his team major preoccupation now, besides developing the content, logistics and other aspects of the festival, is canvassing for the support of the people and businesses. To this end, a massive promotional and marketing activities are being carried out both covertly and overtly, which was what brought him to Lagos last week to canvass the support of some of the critical stakeholders. A budget of N500 million has been earmarked for this project, raising this fund is a major challenge for the commissioner, however, he is quite optimistic that funding would not be an obstacles as he said that: ‘‘We are looking at the banks and financial institutions, corporate bodies and individuals to raise fund for the event as our budget is about N500 million. If we get up to that that will be great but if we don’t with whatever we have we hope to make it a memorable and interesting event. However, I am very optimistic that we will raise that money and we would make Edofest this year a rich and glamorous festival.’’
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