It was double celebration of the 2018 Independence Day anniversaries of Nigeria and China by the Heritage Africa Village Square, HAvis, last Monday at the Square, which sits on massive land space on the bank of Jabi Lake in Kado area of Abuja.
Coincidentally, Nigeria and China both share October 1, as their respective national days. Just the way the organisers projected it would be, various aspects of Nigerian and Chinese culture began to unite in a rare expression of international solidarity, driven by the power of culture and creativity.
“In this period, where the debate on diversification is raging in Nigeria, no other sector stands a better chance to lead our country and continent towards achieving our goals for diversification than the culture sector. It is for this reason I am convinced that we must stop agonizing and start organizing to make culture and creativity the centre piece of national rebirth, both socially and economically. This is also the reasoning behind my admonition to the arts, culture and creativity community to quit whining and wailing over some artifacts’ looted at various times, especially in the colonial times.”
With the above statement, Moses Ayom, businessman, creativity entrepreneur and chief visioner of the Heritage Africa Village Square, HAvis, set the stage open for the double celebration which turned out to be a day of cultural splendor and brilliant creative exploration.
The atmosphere last Monday at the Plot 1633 Ahmadu Bello way, Kado site of the HAvis, was carnivalesque as heavy sounds of traditional drumming from troupes from Nassarawa, Enugu and Benue echoed with theatrical resonance and dexterity.
The five-floor Whitehouse Gallery, hosting an exhibition of over 100 paintings, sculptures and mixed media works from the collection of Nike Art Gallery was abuzz as artists, arts patrons, culture administrators, arts aficionados, among others, began to stream into the sprawling Plot 1633 Ahmadu Bello Way, Kado-venue of the Heritage Africa Village Square.
The pulsating atmosphere soon gave way to sombre setting on the third floor of the Gallery, where some intellectuals and guests had gathered to do justice to the theme of the celebration: Nigeria and China: A Shared Legacy of Culture and Humanity. This was where the founder of HAvis gave vent to his vision and motivation. According to him, this gathering is a manifestation of the many possibilities when a community decides to work with a common purpose to accomplish a set goal.
“In this case, the goal is to return creativity and culture to its rightful place in our lives. I must therefore pay tributes to the amazing men and women all over Nigeria, the continent of Africa and around the world, whose power of imagination and creativity has provided a basis for entrepreneurs to venture into the creativity and culture sector,” he said.
In the house were some Chinese nationals, including the cultural counsellor at the Chinese embassy in Abuja, Dr Li Xuda, and two visiting guests from China – Judy Huang and Margie Huang – who later disclosed that they learnt more about the China-Africa relationship than they could have harvested from a book.
Dr Li, who is also the Director of the Chinese Cultural Centre, said he was glad that the relationship between China and Nigeria is becoming more resourceful, especially through the intervention of culture workers. He offered the support of the embassy in seeing to it that there is a greater exchange of ideas, programmes and personnel between the embassy and Havis. He proposed two programmes that could be of interest to the two organs: that HAVIS could be engaged as a “Chinese Language Center”; and that the Chinese Embassy would pay a formal visit to HAvis in nearest future to explore areas of cooperation and collaboration.
Earlier in June, HAvishad signed a tripartite MOU with the Institute of African Studies at the Zhejiang Normal University China, to commence a Chinese-Nigeria Cultural Research Centre, and the University of Abuja. The objective is to explore how through studies of language and cultural resources, the Nigeria and China could develop closer ties, especially in the area of training and manpower development of the youths. The HAvis, it was disclosed at the event, is already supporting postgraduate programmes of some Nigerian youths in various universities in China.
The reflection soon yielded floor for a torrent of tributes, led by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Mrs. Grace Gekpe, who lauded the entrepreneurship spirit behind the project. According to her, the idea of HAvis fits perfectly into the Federal Government’s plan for the creativity sector. Gekpe, herself a theatre arts graduate, promised that government would extend support to the HAvis, and advised that a formal visitation should be organised for the head of the Ministry, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Havis, Professor David Ker (OON), former Vice Chancellor of the Benue State University, who chaired the October 1 event, said the proposed relationship between Havis and the Chinese embassy will be of immense benefits to youths in the Nigeria creative sector.
After the tributes, the formal session rolled into action. Chairman of the Heritage Africa Governing Board, Professor Duro Oni, who presented the keynote address, traced the rise of China in the global political space with the conclusion that the giant in the Asian continent had become so influential on the world stage that it was important to understand how it has been reaching out using culture. Oni, former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos, reminded that the Chinese adopted the thoughts of the ancient philosopher, Confucius to shape the other dimensions of their national life, including economic planning and international relations.
Oni, also founding director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Lagos, explained that there were hundreds of the Institute across the world, all having a respective dialogue with host communities to foster cooperation and interaction. He said of the scores of those institutes across Africa, two were present in Nigeria bringing to bear the unique nuggets of Chinese thought to their hosts, without creating any sense of superiority in the interaction process. The keynote speaker, also mentioned how the institute has become a veritable instrument in fostering educational exchange between Nigeria and China, as would be seen in the courses on Chinese Culture being offered at the University of Lagos.
One critical point, which the keynote speaker addressed had to do with the misgivings about the indebtedness of many African countries, including Nigeria to the Chinese. To this point, the university don made the point that it was up to the leaders of Africa to engage and negotiate aid and borrowing terms, which would not plunge their countries into a debt trap. He however, stressed that countries like Nigeria and others on the African continent required massive investments in infrastructure to grow their economies.
This he pointed out is something the Chinese have, because they have been able to develop their technology to the point that they can now put in place infrastructure of superb quality, which would greatly boost the economies of recipient countries. He therefore admonished that in analysing the Chinese aid or borrowing model, African governments and peoples must keep an eye on the big picture and not lose sight of the benefits, if the relationship is strategically aligned to needs and priorities.
Soon it was time to take contribution from the members of the audience: Chief Reuben Okundaye, chairman of Nike Art Gallery, said arts and culture should be the means through which Africans relate more profitably with China and the West. He traced the role arts has been playing in the socio-political and economic development of African nations. The international artist and leading culture and women-in-art advocate, Chief Mrs. Nike Okundaye, went practical, when she appealed directly to the Cultural counsellor of the Chinese embassy to work with experts here to develop a programme around the local production of dyes, which she said has become too expensive to import, thus discouraging a lot of young people from venturing into production of adire (tie-dye) fabrics, which are however in high demands locally and internationally. If this is done, “a lot of disadvantaged women and young people will be productively engaged, and find means livelihood,” she said.
The event ended with performances by the various troupes, including Kwaghir dancers from Benue, Egon dancers from Nassarawa, Capital Voices, a chorale group from Abuja, and Arojah Royal Theatre Troupe. There was also a fashion show titled Native Stranger by The Silhouette, which showcased designs that were derived from African cultural themes.
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