By Tony Erha
Although there had been a debilitating ‘Covid 19’ pandemic, which disrupts recreational activities and plagues mankind unabated, the 33rd National Festival of Arts and Culture, tagged ‘NAFEST 2020’, turned out to be a greater innovation and a huger success, in the series, as it was not any disconnected from the realm of ‘Our Culture Our Pride’, a maxim for which the National Council for Arts Culture (NCAC), the main organizer of the annual event, is widely known. Behold, the annual festival, which rotates amongst the thirty-six states of the Nigeria nation, including its Abuja/Federal Capital Territory (FCT), was held with fanfares and friendliness, on the Plateau State capital city; Jos. It radiated the benign precision of culture being a unifier and potent tool of shared progress.
Pointedly, the festival was held well beyond projected expectations, in the face of the pandemic and other national challenges, that were thought to hinder its smooth holding. The nine competitive and ten other non-competitive events, lined up for the festival, cascaded attractively from the opening to the closing ceremonies, from 23 to 29 November, 2020. It drew memorable testimonies amidst a cross section of key and minor participants and observers, who freely expressed approvals and optimisms that the festival was a white Eagle feather donning the cap of Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, a Director General of the NCAC, who effectively mobilized men and resources for the cluster event. All through the festival, Runsewe, the ‘Man Mountain’ and settled symbol of the nation’s culture, with the agency’s staff, were devoted to calls to duties.
Gloria Ashikin, Josephine Ogbolu and Tama Bawa averred that the 33th festival attained a higher feat than they expected, in view of the current challenges. The troika female participants spoke during the keen ‘Traditional Cuisines Competition’, that recorded innovative Nigerian foods, fruits and sups, which Mrs. Claren Daven, a professional and a Jamaican, did acknowledged as having met high international standards. Ashikin, Ogbolu and Bawa are respectively; Director of Culture in Nasarawa State; General Manager of the Delta State Tourism Board and Tourism Director of Taraba State.
At the ‘Children’s Indigenous Music Instrumentation’ competition, the main venue of the festival attained tumultuous ovation and whistle calls such that excited participants did sideline dances. The five ‘electrifying’ kids of Andrew Ebi Kirifagha, Acting Director of the Bayelsa State Arts Council, came first in the stimulating event which featured contingents from Ekiti, Kano, Delta, Rivers, Kaduna, Nasarawa and others.
The respondents were ‘joyful’ that the latest Jos’ festival had more featuring of events for children and the youths, to engendering generational transfer of the acts and for cultural-compliance. Verily, children competitions were in Arts and Crafts; Essay Writing, Culture Quiz and some others.
Nelly MackLord , an American anthropologist, declared rather extrovertly that the festival was most colourful and entertaining. “For weeks we had planned our trip to Jos, Nigeria at the time this festival holds, from Europe and American, where we are from. Getting here, nothing seems to have been heard about the incessant crisis and killings usually brought to us about Jos”. Adding to this, MackLord, who said he takes delight in the study of Africans, remarked that NAFEST, from what he saw, has the propensity of uniting and bringing peace to Nigeria and her diverse people.
Indeed, the festival was strict to obeying the Covid 19 rules which it emphasized, by its theme of “Post Covd-19 and Cultural Dynamism”. There were large spacing for its participants with markings to ensure safe distancing in performance zones. Whilst lapel microphones were provided for, pick microphones were dropped and dolor microphones were regularly sterilised. Face mask wearings, washing of hands with water, sterilizing and temperature checks were duly followed by participants and visitors, with the assistance of the festival’s Covid 19 Marshals. Open-air-theatres and mega viewing screens were provided in order to avoid overcrowding in all the venues that were constantly fumigated.
The festival was won by Bayelsa State; Rivers and Ekiti states as runners-up. Plateau came third, with Kano and Enugu the fourth. The non-competitive events included a tour-guide to some Plateau tourist sites, a visit to Plateau traditional ruler, Free Skills Acquisition Programme, Entrepreneurial Roundtable, Art and Crafts exhibition, Command performance and spectacular Opening and Closing ceremonies.
Simon Bako Lalong, the Plateau State governor, was at his best as host of the festival, held at the spacious government centre, within the vicinity of his new Government House.
Tony Erha is a journalist, former artiste and cultural researcher.