ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA who attended the recently held National Festival of Arts and Culture in Jos, Plateau State, writes on the one – week long cultural – tourism fiesta, describing it is a glamourous and exciting platform for exposing and promoting the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Nigeria
First hosted in 1970 and in its 33rd year, the National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) celebrated yearly under the auspices of the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), which is the government apex body, under the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, is designed for the development and promotion of Nigeria’s cultural heritage.
Besides, it is devoted to the promotion of peace, unity and a traditional platform for talent hunt, skills development and the marketing of the best Nigeria’s cultural heritage. To this end, all the states of Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja gather yearly in a chosen city to express their cultural resources under a given theme to the admiration of everyone in attendance.
PLATEAU NAFEST 2020: A unique celebration
With Edo NAFEST 2019 staged in Benin City under the best of condition that of Plateau NAFEST 2020 hosted in Jos, the circumstances leading to it and the atmosphere under which the one – week long celebration (November 21- 28), held were diametrically different, making it in the estimation of many a unique celebration.
With Plateau State in recent time confronting insecurity within its borders and many tagging it as not a safe haven to celebrate Nigeria’s cultural heritage, which on the flip side is one of the strongest point of the state as a state noted as the ‘Home of Peace and Tourism,’ many thought it was unwise to stage NAFEST in the Tin City of all places.
But more frightening was the fact that this is not the best of time in human history, with COVID – 19 pandemic ravaging the entire universe and discouraging mass gathering and all forms of celebrations, it was thought reckless and if not suicidal for NCAC and Plateau State government to insist as they did on celebrating the yearly cultural – tourism fiesta.
However, if there is any lesson that anyone has learnt from this event, it is that culture is dynamic and can’t be held hostage by any force, neither within nor outside of human control. This fact was underscored by the theme of the celebration itself, which is: Post COVID -19 and Cultural Dynamism.
The second lesson was that Plateau State and Jos, the host city, enjoy peace as a safe and secured haven for all and was never going to miss the opportunity to showcase to the world as the home of peace and tourism contrary to the wrong impression held by many. This fact was obvious for all to see as Jos for the entire duration of the festival was a picturesque and delightsome theatre to feast on the savoury cultural palate of the country.
It was quite an eventful week of cultural celebration of some of the best cultural showpieces of Nigeria from the over 26 states, including the FCT, Abuja and the host state, that attended the festival. On display were mixed blend of suffusing and effervescent theatrical performances that the audience were treated to and what made it even more interesting was the competitive edge to all of the theatrical performances, both indoors and outdoors.
It was this competitive edge to the festival, knowing that every event matter and culminate in the fortunes of the overall winner of the festival, that pushed the participants to the limit, with a lot of adrenaline and creative ferment underscoring the performances. All of these were spiced at different point with inspiring and motivating speeches by a number of guests that attended the festival, ranging from the state governor, Simon Bako Lalong to the Director General of NCAC, Otunba Segun Runsewe, whose towering presence, and a man with a knack for treading where even Saints fear, made all the difference.
The tone for the festival was set on Satur-day November 21 during the Command Performance staged by the host state. The presentation held at Langfield Leisure Park in Little Rayfield and the venue for most of the events, with Rwang Pam Township Stadium, West Mines, hosting both the opening and closing ceremonies. The night’s performance was laced with speeches by the DG of NCAC, Governor Lalong, Plateau State Commissioner for Tourism, Culture and Hospitality, Mrs. Tamwakat Weli and the Minister of Women’s Affair, Dame Pauline Tallen, who was the former deputy governor of the state.
While commending the state governor and Runsewe for their commitment to hosting the festival, Weli said it was an ‘‘opportunity to enjoy our diverse cultural heritage,’’ beckoning the people; ‘‘to enjoy the wonderful climate and beautiful natural environment of the Plateau.’’
For Runsewe, the festival offers a platform to change the narrative of Plateau State, saying that: ‘‘It will be the new platform for moving Nigeria forward, it is a divine ordination of God. COVID- 19 is a visitor but Almighty God used the governor to bridge the gap.
‘‘A man that allowed NAFEST at this time has shown the greatest courage any man can display t o – day and he is helping to sell Nigeria as he has taken a step in moving Nigeria forward. It is for all of us to join him in moving Nigeria forward.’’ On his part, Governor Lalong said beside the festival exposing the best of Nigeria’s cultural heritage, it affords the state the rare privilege to welcome the people to its unique offerings, ‘‘as it will set standard for others and a great week of fun, entertainment and friendship.
‘‘Feel free to spend your Christmas in Jos. Plateau is a mixed blend and Plateau is hospitable and accommodating as there is something unique that God has blessed us with,’’ he said with the admonition to: ‘‘Enjoy your time, feel free and relax.’’ Indeed, the governor’s exhortation hold true as people were entertained and delighted by the different performances and showpieces put on display.
The formal opening ceremony held the following day at Rwang Pam Township Stadium, West Mines, was a blend of cultural parade and musical performance, with Plateau State putting on an elaborate and outstanding performance. These presentations afforded the people a sleek peen into the cultural pieces that were to unfold in the coming days.
The day’s offerings also witnessed speeches by the state governor, Lalong, NCAC’s DG, Runsewe, the state commissioner for Tourism, Culture and Hospitality, Weli, Dame Tallen and the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Tourism and Culture, Senator Rochas Okorocha.
Different theatrical performances, art and craft were enacted all through the festive period, with nine competitive events. Some of these included: Choral Music, and Children’s Indigenous Music Instrumentation. Others were: Traditional board game, Archery, Children’s art and craft, Traditional cuisine, Children essay writing, Indigenous fabric and fashion, Culture quiz.
I am happy with the manner everything went, Rims
Nimchak Rims, who is fondly called the ‘Tinubu of Langtang’ and executive chairman of Jos South Local Government Area, expressed deep satisfaction over the festival, saying that the fact it held successfully shows that there is peace in the Plateau contrary to the narrative making the rounds across the country. The most outstanding display for him was the Plateau State performance on the opening day. He also said that he had no fear attending the festival knowing that the crowd would massive because all necessary precautions had been taken by the state government to ensure adherence to the COVID -19 and health safety protocols.
It was mind blowing, Atukum
For the Face of Plateau 2020, Dim-Fata Atukum, she was impressed by the various cultural displays as she never expected the festival to turn out the way it did, describing it as mind blowing. Just like many others the presentation by Plateau State was very outstanding for her, as she said she was impressed by its creative nature. The 200 level Mass Communication student of the Plateau State University, however, expressed disappointment over the lack of physical distancing.
A rare experience for me, Damilolade
Joseph Damilolade of FCT, Abuja, said the festival was a rare experience for him, describing it as wonderful. The performance by Plateau State was also outstanding for him, as it depicted unity among other thematic elements.
Exhibition and craft market
Held on the expansive grounds of Langfield, the exhibition and craft market was another spot of action with participating states displaying their arts and craft materials for the benefit of the people alongside private arts and craft vendors, food and drink vendors as well as local fabric vendors.
I’m overwhelmed by Nigeria’s diverse arts and craft, Shabul
Gospel Shabul, a fine art student of the University of Jos, with keen interest in photography, with special focus on nature and hidden treasures, was one of the artists that showcased their art pieces on the exhibition ground. He said he is inspired by nature as it makes him think clearly. He was added to the list of exhibitors by his lecturer and for this, he remains grateful as he said that he benefited immensely from exhibiting his photographic works.
‘‘I got a good feel and very visual understanding of the various cultures in Nigeria, as I got the chance to interact with a number of artists. It was quite overwhelming to see so many people with different arts and craft works on display,’’ he said.
I’m happy with this kind of platform, Merkus
Rose Merkus of Destinyrose Company, Jos, deals on caps, beads, aso-oke and mufflers, all handmade craft by her. Her stand attracted quite a number of visitors and was able to make brisk business. She described the festival as a good platform for people like her to expose their products and make money. According to her, she got to know about the festival through television advert and got interested in it. ‘‘I feel very happy about having this kind of platform and the organisers have tried in putting this together. If they keep putting things like this together it will be good for us and our businesses,’’ she said.
Stakeholders Roundtable on Entrepreneurship
This event was principally targeted at secondary school students and youths with a number of students of some of the schools in Jos in attendance. It was quite stimulating and expository for everyone who attended the session as the speakers not only gave guidelines but practical talks and demonstration on start – up businesses. NCAC’s DG, Runsewe set the ball rolling with a pep talk on the essence of the event, stating that: ‘‘This is a very important part of NAFEST as we must catch them young. Nobody is entirely useless as people are talented in different aspects and you don’t need any educational qualification to be a creative enterprise.’’
The stage was then set for the three resource persons, Chef Fatima, who spoke on her catering business, lacing her talks with personal and practical experiences; Kayode Philips Ibitogbe of Larry Kay Tyre Auto Service took them through practical demonstration of tire chair making procedure. While Miller Bala Mamot, a talented artist, civil servant and farmer, who despite the damage done to his left hand from a fall while playing at age seven, rose from that setback to honed his skills as a reed and raffia artist. He owns and runs Mills Concept International.
Free skills acquisition training
This is one of the recently introduced programmes by Runsewe to impact on the lives of the people of the host city economically. It has witnessed huge following from year to year and this year, attracted over 2, 000 boys and girls including women, who were trained in fashion/tailoring, make up/gele head tie and cosmetics/soap making by six trainers.
I will put into good use what I have learnt, Rifkatu
Machief Rifkatu, a student was one of those trained in makeup and gele head tie.
is also into fashion and tailoring and decided to add this new skill in order to be more versatile. Invited to the training session by a friend, she expressed delight over it and appreciated the trainers for doing a good work. She promised like others to put into good use what she has learnt from the four days training session, as she looks forward to opportunities such as this to further hone her skills.
I have learnt a lot from the training, Mangtit
Yohanna Mangtit, who at present is not productively engaged expressed appreciation for the opportunity offered him to learn a new skill as he majored in cosmetics. He looks forward to setting up a business, at least from his house, as he said he has learnt a lot. ‘‘I am very, very happy and privileged to be among those trained. I hope to acquire more training. It is a nice thing and I hope that they would do more of this for us.’’
It has been very rewarding, Samson
Victoria Samson is a federal government civil servant and had always been interested in makeup/gele tying, so when she was told of the programme, she didn’t hesitate in signing up and today she has acquired some level of proficiency in the act. ‘‘It has been very rewarding because I have learnt what I didn’t know before now,’’ she said even as she promised to empower others as a member of the Girls’ Brigade and girls-child advocate.’’
It is a wonderful platform to empower people, Akoh
Rose Akoh, who was one of the trainers, said it has been a wonderful experience for her with the turnout overwhelming. Advocacy and training are her passion and having the opportunity to express herself and train the students, especially the women, describing them as enthusiastic and attentive learners, was a dream come true for her. She hopes that a lot of them will thrive in it even as she pledged to further train the Hausa women who came all the way from the Muslim community in Buruku. She has hatched a plan with their leader to offer a three day free training session for them in January 2021 and produce free training kits for them as well. Akoh further disclosed that she gave out 60 free training kits to the students because of their interest and passion for the trade.
The grand finale of the festival was herald on Saturday November 28, with a Cultural Golf Tournament at the Rayfield Golf Course 1913. A special golf game was played in honour of the festival with the state governor, Lalong, leading other golfers and members of the Rayfield Golf Course 1913. Runsewe launched the use of local fabric for golfers and also a uniquely designed greeting method by golfers in compliance with COVID-19, known as COVID – 19 Golf Greetings, whereby instead of the traditional handshake you raise your cap high then put in on your should and then back on your head. The final event was held at the Rwang Pam Township Stadium, West of Mines, and it witnessed cultural celebrations and speech making by the governor, Runsewe, governor of Yobe State, Mai Bala Bunu and the Minister of Sports and Youths Development, Sunday Dare.
Celebration of winners
While the highlight of the day was the presentation of certificates and gongs to the winners in the nine competitive events of the festival, with Bayelsa State emerging as the overall winner of the festival while Rivers and Ekiti states placed joint second followed by Plateau as the third placed winner, Kano and Enugu placed joint fourth while Delta, FCT and Kaduna placed joint fifth. Ekiti State was formally named as the host of 2021 edition of the festival and presented with the hosting gong.
This year’s festival for many people was outstanding in the sense that despite the challenges posed by COVID – 19, NCAC and Plateau State government were able to find a way of hosting the festival. Another significant aspect of it was that Plateau State through hosting the festival demonstrated to the world that the state, particularly Jos, which had been touted as unsafe, turned out to be peaceful and safe for everyone as no single incident of breach of security was recorded.
The state was able to prove to the world that it remains the number one tourist destination in the country as the home of peace and tourism. It is only hoped that the state will not slide back to its infamous days but build on the peace it has gained over time and the success of the festival. However, one of the worrisome aspects of the festival is the notable absence of the Minister of Culture and Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, under whose auspices the festival was organised.
It remains to be known the reason why the minister has consistently stayed away from the festival over the years and other related tourism events whereas other ministers made out time to attend the festival.
This year recorded the presence of two ministers, Dame Tallen at the opening ceremony and Dare at the closing ceremony. For many observers, this act of the minister not attending tourism and culture events is an unwholesome and shameful development, as it shows that the minister is only interested in the information aspect of his ministry and not in tourism and culture.