For close to three hours, eyes blearied with watch, somberly, sometimes, when rain descended like truthful lies gnawing. The ferocity of the rains was rising and ebbing like angry ocean. The surging flood in streets of Benin did not stop the convoluting concourse of variegated actions at the University of Benin Sports Complex.
Though the sky opened up yesterday, this did not prevent the teeming crowd that converged on the sports ground for the closing ceremony of the 2019 National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST).
The heavy, pulsating rhythm that belched from the stand left the adoring starry-eyes crowd soaked in good music. The rhythm of yesterday’s event was created by a combination of tightly controlled beats.
From dundun to omele and bata, the ekwe and others, heavy percussive music followed by gyrating dances and somersaults from children dominated the events of 2019 NAFEST.
For nine days, culture ate up all the attention of Edo State, the ‘heartbeat’ of Nigeria.
It was a pot- pourri of cultural activities, with the streets of Benin strewn in culture. Edo State, fortunately, is imbued with the sublime, especially in art and religious evocation, artistic elegance, history and contemporaneity.
Remember: Art forms the core of NAFEST in terms of form and scales, rhapsodised in the people’s relationship with creative economy.
With the strong belief that culture is a veritable weapon for socioeconomic development, government has been very instrumental to the execution of the various aspects of the country’s cultural heritage. The National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), in the last few years, has been very dynamic in its response to new culture narrative.
NAFEST 2019 offered a new route towards the aesthetic appreciation of the festival. Rather than adopting artifices, the Benin fiesta provided a consoling view of an heritage loss but regained by the people’s will to retain their culture.
An indicator of cultural tastes, which cadenced the festival, was the opening. It was a kaleidoscope of colours and cultural avocation. The kaleidoscope had played the role of incubator of ‘magic conjuration’.
From the children’s craft competition, which is an avenue to showcase their dexterity in their interaction with their culture in order to produce crafts that have functional and aesthetic value to drama presentation, which is a creative response to the theme of this year’s festival, Our royalty, our pride.
The theme was selected to celebrate the country’s traditional rulers as custodians of cultural values and heritage as well as their distinct role in the promotion, preservation and transmission of cultural from generation to generation.
The fact that culture has the capacity to ameliorate challenges facing any given society necessitated the council to use the instrumentality of culture to promote unity, peace, social integration and harmony among Nigerians.
NAFEST is an acknowledgement of NCAC’s determination and consistency in unveiling the invaluable abundant resources that are in the culture sector, which have the capacity to turn around the economic fortunes of the country.
Also known as the National Unity Forum, the festival, over the years, has promoted creativity in the field of arts, science and technology to ensure the continuity and progressive updating of traditional skills and sports, to serve modern development needs and act as a vehicle for preservation and documentation of the country’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.
At the opening, Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, said the festival, by coming to Edo State, 49 years after its inception, was akin to culture coming home.
His words: “Today we are celebrating in Edo State because 40 years after this festival was launched the festival is coming to the home of culture for the first time. Is Edo not the home of culture in Nigeria?”
The governor added, “we are very happy to host this NAFEST, because this festival is a bond of unity for Nigeria. Culture is a mould for uniting our people.”
After his speech, the Governor invited the Director General of NCAC, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, to present the traditional NAFEST Calabash, which had since replaced tape-cutting as a way of declaring NCAC-organised national events open.
Governor Obaseki, in conjunction with the pop artiste, Tubaba, whom he described as ‘Face of Culture and Music’, opened the calabash with these words; “On behalf of all of you and the good people of Nigeria, I have the singular honour and pleasure to open this National Festival of Arts and Culture, Edo NAFEST 2019, to the grace of God.”
The governor also invited back to the stage, Tubaba, who had already performed some of his hit songs.
Also on show was the legendary highlife music maestro, Prof. Victor Uwaifo. The Ekasa king, a former commissioner for Arts and Culture in Edo State, took the old audience on a musical journey to the past.
The Akwete and Mutaba exponent was in his elements as he thrilled guests with some of his evergreen songs such as Joromi, a song composed from one of Benin folklores.
Runsewe, in his speech, described NAFEST as not only the flagship programme of the council, but also the foremost cultural festival in Nigeria.
According to Runsewe, “the abundant potential of our diverse cultural manifestations, if properly harnessed and developed can gainfully engage our teeming youths and women that are both rural and urban based so that the sector can contribute meaningfully in attaining the economic diversification agenda of the present administration.”
Runsewe believes that Nigeria should not just celebrate a virile cultural system, his vision is for Nigerians to export their indigenous values-art, food, clothing, music, customs, religious ceremonies and any other- as cultural products in a way of strengthening cultural cohesion and national consciousness.
“Every edition of the festival focuses on a specific issue of our national life, as we seek to find solutions to the challenges of nation building. The theme of this 32nd edition of the festival is Our Royalty, Our Pride and it was evolved, among others, to celebrate the royalty in Nigeria and to underscore the critical roles our royal fathers must play in the task of restoring the glory of our cultural heritage and also using culture as a tool for driving rapid socio-economic development.”
He said part of the vision of the current management of NCAC “is to make culture a key player in the nation’s economy, capable of creating mass employment and empowering the people in line with the economic diversification policy of the Buhari’s administration. It is in the light of this that we have expanded the scope of NAFEST to include skill acquisition programme.”
With participation drawn from the 36 states of the federation and Abuja, it has its origin from various art festivals celebrated across the country, which later metamorphosed into All Nigeria Festivals of Arts. The first event held in 1970 as a way of uniting Nigerians after the Civil War of 1967 to 1970. The successes recorded that year led to the clamour for a more permanent festival.
In its almost 50 years existence, Kaduna has hosted the event more than any city in the country. It was host in 1972, 1974, 1990, 2004, and 2017. Lagos, the first host, has been the venue on three occasions: 1970, 1974 and 1988. The same number as Abuja, which was host in 1992, 1997 and 1999. There had been years also that the festival did not hold such as, 1974 to 1982, 1983 to 1988, 1990 to 1992, and so on. However, since 2002, the festival has held every year to date except in 2015. Due to a national tragedy in 2006, when the ADC flight 53, a Boeing 737 from Abuja crashed on October 29 of that year, the festival was suspended in Yenagoa.
The state was to later host culture workers, aficionados and practitioners in 2013.
Since inception, the festival’s objectives have remained the promotion of national peace and unity as well as serve as the traditional platform for talent hunt, skills development and marketing the best of Nigeria’s cultural heritage as the festival that unites the nation.