ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA who was in Port Harcourt for this year’s edition of the National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST RIVERS 2018) reports on the defining moments of the annual festival
The curtain may have last week Saturday (October 27) closed on this year’s edition of the National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST RIVERS 2018), which held in Port Harcourt, the capital city of Rivers State, but not so the echoes from it, which will continue to re-vibrate and the rich memories which certainly will linger for a long time. Hosted by the state government and organised by the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), NAFEST is a yearly celebration of the arts and cultural heritage of the country, which was initiated since the 1970s to develop, promote and preserve the cultural identity of the country as well as unite the people through embracing the rich and diverse cultural acts of the country.
With the theme, ‘our festivals, our heritage,’ it spanned a week, as it held between October 20 and 27, with the opening ceremony, which held was on Monday October 22, declared opened by the state governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, who also performed the formal closing ceremony amidst pomp and excitement. It was the 31st edition of the yearly arts and cultural feast. It came with a lot of expectations and at the end of the festival, many people expressed delight and confirmed that it lived to its billing. For many, including the host governor and the Director General of NCAC, Segun Runsewe, the festival was perhaps the best in the long history of the festival, which holds on rotational basis across the states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
Brisk business activities
This impressive and record making score card is something that could be glimpsed from different angles. One of the major angles, which made this festival a huge success was the fact that it was not just a celebration of the cultural heritage of the people alone but it was organised with sight on the tourism industry, as it was meant to boost the economy of the state, particularly the host city, Port Harcourt.
On this score alone, it was a huge success as the multiple value chain of tourism benefited in different ways from the one week long celebration. Name it, from hotels, eateries, club houses, to vendors of different items, it was a busy week for many of them to conduct brisk businesses. For the likes of Mrs. Gift Bekanwah who was one of the food vendors at Obi Wali Cultural Centre, one of the many venues of the event, she would had wished for the event to continue for as long as possible as she reaped heavily from the windfall. To vend food at the venue, she paid N3, 000 daily for her stand but she made on the average N40, 000 daily, which, according to her, was more than what she makes from her daily sales in the town.
‘‘I am very, very happy and fulfilled,’’ she said, adding that ‘‘I want it to be every day,’’ even as she is appreciative of the state government and organisers of the event for the opportunity to vend her food and drinks at the venue. ‘‘Thanks to the organisers for making it possible for us to be here to sell our food and drinks and also to the Rivers State government that has done so well for us by recognising us and creating this platform for us.’’ Quite a number of the hotels, including guest houses in the city had their occupancy figures hitting the room due to the high level of patronage from visitors across the states of the federation and few of the foreign guests that were at the event.
For the owner of Sissi Hotel, one of the hotels, which hosted some of the officials of the festival and journalists, it was an opportunity to carry out a quick upgrade of its facilities and services. For instance, the last floor of the hotel, which boast over 30 rooms, was according to the hotel source quickly furnished and equipped with the necessary amenities in order to host the guests as the floor was not operational before then.
The fact that it boosted the economy of the state was also alluded to by Governor Wike when during the closing ceremony he acknowledged that the festival has put the state on the global tourism map and on the limelight because attention was focused on the state during the duration of the festival. According to him, it was a good advertisement for the state because it has once again proved that the state is the most safest, secured and hospitable in the country, as it has played host to major events in recent times without any untoward incident. He also expressed appreciation to all the delegates and visitors to the state for their time and resources that they spent during their stay.
As a kind gesture from the state government, he announced a donation of N5 million each to all the participating states and FCT as logistics support. While he urged Nigerians to embrace cult u re as the only unifying factor and shun all divi- sive tendencies that tend to pull the people apart. Wike also appreciated the DG of NCAC, Runsewe, and pledged the continued support of the state for festival. In lending credence to this, he not only announced but pledged the willingness of the state to host the event next year if given the opportunity to do so because the state has tremendously benefited from hosting it.
It is not surprising then that in terms of organisation and display as well as participation by the public, the festival was declared as the best in recent years. Runsewe particularly scored it high when he declared at the closing ceremony that Rivers State has made history and statement with the hosting of the event.
Describing it as the best of Nigeria and expressed thanks to Governor Wike and people of the state for making the event that glorious, with pageantry and excitement. Also speaking along the same line, the Chairman of the event, Chief Ferdinand Anabraba, said ‘‘for one week now we have been thrilled by exhilarating performances,’’ adding that the festival has achieved it objectives and all its activities.
‘‘I have no doubt that for a long time to come NAFEST 2018 will remain a standard on which others shall be benchmarked,’’ he said, stressing that ‘‘it is a celebration and renewal of our national cultural festival. ‘‘It has again shown the propagation of the great heritage of Nigeria. NAFEST is a tool for our unity and survival as a nation.’’ He said. A confirmation of Runsewe’s earlier declaration that Nigeria cultural heritage should be used to unite the country and keep it at peace.
Indeed, Nigerians and the foreign visitors were treated to the best of Nigeria cultural heritage, with the participating states and FCT contingents displaying their rich and colourful cultural acts through the various events that were held. A number of the events included traditional wrestling, dance drama, tales by moonlight and essay competition by children as well as boat regatta, Ayo (Board) game competition, indigenes fabrics in contemporary apparel, traditional cuisines and children’s craft competition. There was also a roundtable on entrepreneurship, a golf event held at the Port Harcourt Golf Course, night entertainment and command performance as well as hosting of the children by the wife of the state government at the Rivers Government House. Some of the venues for the various events included Obi Wali Cultural Centre, where most of the events were celebrated, Port Harcourt Tourist Beach, Rex Jim – Lawson Cultural Centre, Sharks Stadium and Isaac Boro Park, which hosted the arts and craft exhibition.
Equipping youths, women with skills
Perhaps one of the most defining events of the festival was the free skills acquisition/waste to wealth training programme, which held at the Obi Wali Cultural Centre for a period of five days, with over 700 trainees in attendance. For the youth and women who attended the programme, it was a scheme that they would never forget in a hurry, as it afforded a number of them the opportunity to acquire a new skill and knowledge, which they hoped to further take advantage of in order to become more useful to themselves and the society. About six different sections were held for them, including shoe, bead, soap and bag making as well as make up.
Valentine Onuoha of Harry of Shoes Associates – The Shoe Klinic, was one of the trainers who took the trainees on shoe making section. According to him, it was an honour taking part in the training section and impacting on the youths and women who attended his section. He expressed satisfaction over the programme, ‘‘because it is one thing to know your job and another to be able to transfer the knowledge to others.’’
He commended a number of them for the passion and skill they displayed while promising to further engage with some of them who have shown interest in developing their skills beyond the introductory level. Onuoha, whose shoe making is a family business, with his father and other siblings involved, advised Nigerian youths to acquire skills aside academic qualification that can guarantee them a better life and not rely on the government or others for their survival. Also, Chidinma Enwereji of Kalista Brand, Port Harcourt, who trained them on bag making such as box, shopper and in – between – tote bags, said it was a successful week, adding that she was impressed by the level of passion and dedication by the trainees. She said she decided to participate in the training programme as a result of her passion in impacting knowledge and empowering the people. Enwereji is optimistic that given the passion displayed by them that most of them will further their interest in the business at the end of the training and that she is ready to help in whatever possible way she can.
A 2014 graduate of the University of Port Harcourt, who started out with Ankara, advice to Nigerian youths is: ‘‘Pursue your dream while you are still in school, you can do it, with self and God encouragement.’ While Mrs. Ukamaka Diri of Mademoiselle Beauty Artist, said styling and make up as a business has come of age and in high demand especially in the movie industry. Therefore, encourages Nigerian youths and women to take to the trade.
‘‘I am really happy that people want to learn the skill because they can make a living from it,’’ she said. Although the time of the training was too short for them to become proficient in the trade but she is ready to assist them become proficient after the festival. Nwamaka Ezekwe, a 400 level of Electrical and Electronics department of University of Port Harcourt, was one of those trained at the bag making section. She had wanted to train in the tying of gele but she later decided for bag making, a decision, she is quite happy with. According to her, she has learnt how to make hand bag, shopper bag and purse bag. With the training she has acquired, she disclosed that she is going to set up a small business and grow it to a bigger one in the coming years.
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