Uniting Nigerians through NAFEST despite cultural diversities, insecurity, By Taiye Olayemi

The National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) was established to effect peace and unity among Nigerians in 1970 after the civil war. But has it has effectively achieved that aim?

When Edo State hosted the 32nd edition of NAFEST in Benin City, between Oct. 19 and Oct. 26, 2019, it was a time for soul-searching by Nigerians on the objectives of setting up the institution.

The theme for the celebration was “Our Royalty, Our Pride’’, and the participants used the opportunity to explore the nation’s cultural essence and royalty of the traditional institutions.

They came out of the event expressing strong belief that Nigerians still stand united in the face of cultural and religious diversities, problems of insecurity and unemployment.

They also believed that with over 371 tribes and 590 languages, culture still serves as a powerful unifying force in Nigeria just like sports.

This attests to the fact that the purpose for the creation of the ancient festival 32 years ago had not been defeated, rather the purpose has been immensely achieved.

The decision to create NAFEST was taken by the then Nigerian leaders who saw the need to create programmes capable of uniting the citizens and they came up with two products which were culture and sports.

The participants also were confident that in view of the security challenges in the country, NAFEST has continued to play a significant role in salvaging national unity.

As it is obvious, no nation can achieve remarkable success in a tensed, disorganised society, but NAFEST has proven its worth like sports.

This is the best decision the nation has ever taken in the culture industry as evidenced during the 32nd edition of the festival in Benin City.

Nigerians from 30 the states were seen in their various indigenous attires with beads and different adornments depicting royalty, dancing and showcasing their cultures.

The event featured local cuisine, essay writing, quiz and poetry competitions, traditional wrestling, drama, royal attire splendour, entrepreneurship, roundtable, free skills acquisition programmes, cultural golf tournament, free medical services and book fair.

These activities united the nation more as Nigerians across the 30 states present were made to compete in various exercises, thereby strengthening cultural integration and diplomacy.

This has also encouraged cultural exchange programmes between states.

The Director-General, Ekiti State Council for Arts and Culture, Mr Wale Ojo-Lanre, assessing the 2019 festival, said this was the best festival ever held as it was getting better on a yearly basis.

He said this was made possible through the introduction of new programmes into the festival, engaging the youth and children in cultural affairs.

“This is the best NAFEST so far in the history of our dear country, you can see youths and children are seriously engaged, they are the leaders of tomorrow.

“We are getting it right I must confess, and I commend the organisers of this festival, spearheaded by Mr Olusegun Runsewe. He is really making remarkable achievements as Nigerians are getting more united,’’ he said.

Edo State Contingent to 2019 NAFEST in Benin City, the Edo capital in October.

Also, Mr Bisi Oyewale, Director, Kwara State Council for Arts and Culture, said the fair was an eventful one uniting Nigerians across board.

He urged the Federal Government to create a special fund for this purpose to enable more state contingent to participate in the festival in subsequent years.

According to him, a good number of people should be able to learn from other cultures and tradition.

“The 32nd edition of NAFEST is quite eventful but for subsequent editions, the Federal Governments must try to earmark some funds for states so that more people can participate in the festival.

“It is a place to be educated,’’ he said.

The highlight of the festival was the performances by Veteran Musician, Victor Uwaifo and Innocent Idibia, popularly known as 2face.

They performed to the excitement of the audience during the opening ceremony Oct. 21, as 2face kept emphasing the essence of imbibing the spirit of love as Nigerians.

The Nigerian youths and students benefited immensely during the 32nd NAFEST as over 2,000 youths graduated after five days of intensive training on various skills acquisition programmes.

They were engaged in Beads, shoe and bag making, baking, make-up, auto-gele craft and Ankara accessories.

Some of the beneficiaries who spoke appreciated the opportunity and hoped to establish their businesses and be employers of labour.

There is no doubt that the festival has added immense value to individuals, states and even national economy as business activities were on the increase as taxi drivers, food vendors, hoteliers, businessmen and women attested to.

It was also observed that all hotels in Benin City were fully booked during the festival, likewise flights flying into the city.

The real essence of using culture to boost the economy was evident and this sends signals that culture is a veritable tool for economic growth.

Three Nigerians were also recognised and compensated for their contributions toward nation building having carved niches for themselves in the Nigerian creative industry.

They are Nigerian film maker, Lancelot Imasuen, a 14-year-old photographer, James Ikemsinachukwu and Mrs Florence Robinson, who through sales of “Akara’’ (bean cakes) was able to train two of her children in the university.

Mr Olusegun Runsewe, Director General, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), rewarded Robinson for frying Akara for all 2019 NAFEST revelers, while Ikemsinachukwu became the official photographer of the ancient festival.

Imasuen on the other hand, spearheaded the production of an African drama, entitled “Life is a Dance’’.

Runsewe said this drama would be exhibited across the country and beyond to showcase the nation’s rich cultures.

The director-general, during the closing announced Plateau State as host of the 2020 edition of the festival. (NANFeatures)