Every year in Kebbi State, north-west of Nigeria, communities gather to participate in the Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival with the grand finale held by the bank of the Matan Fada River. The festival usually takes place in Argungu, the capital city of Argungu Emirate Council. The four day festival, which runs between late February and March, features kabanci – a series of water competitions including barehand fishing, canoe racing, wild duck catching – as well as other traditional practices, such as the local style of wrestling and boxing. In the past, men and boys only, took part in the contests, while women provided the encouragement by performing songs and dances, but in this year 2020 edition, young women and girls participated in swimming and canoe racing, thus making the festival gender sensitive. The 60-year old festival widely considered as contributor to participant’s sense of identity is also used as a means of maintaining peace between the Argungu and neighbouring Sokoto communities by deepening their shared cultural practices and values.
However, this year’s edition coming after a 10-year lull, recorded several firsts, and, although there were inherent issues of security, branding, crowd control, logistics as well as basic needs, Information and Culture minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed gave the assurance that most of those challenges will be addressed before the next festival. And for the first time, power bikers joined in the 3-day motor rally from Abuja to Argungu, while women took part in two aspects of the competition. The prizes and prize money have also been increased from 1st prize to 100th and graded accordingly to reward at least a hundred fishermen out of the thousands of participants. Apart from 1st to 3rd, those who came between 4th and 6th, won N250,000 each, 7th position, N200,000 and those from 8th to 20th, went away with N50,000 each. Everyone got something. The crowd was electrified and showed loud approval when a fisherman, Malam Maiwake Sanni Silame from Sokoto was declared the 3rd prize winner with his catch weighing 70 kilogrammes. Over the years, all the winners had come from Kebbi, so, it was a big relief for the participants to learn that one of them who travelled down from Sokoto, was indeed lucky that day. The first prize winner, Malam Abubakar Ya’u, from Augie Local Government Area of Kebbi got N10 million, two new cars and two Hajj seats for catching the biggest fish weighing 78 kilogrammes. Malam Ya’u’s catch was adjudged the biggest among the fishes caught by more than 50,000 fishermen that participated in the annual cultural festival. Malam Bala Yahaya-Bagaye clinched the second position with his fish that weighed 75 kilogrammes, while Malam Maiwake Sanni came third for catching a fish weighing 70 kilogrammes. The Chairman, Northern Governors Forum, Gov. Simon Lalong, donated N3 million to the first position, N2 million to the second position, while N1 million went to the fisherman that clinched the third position. Dr Hassan Bello, Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council, presented N1 million to the first position, N750,000 to the second, and N500,000 to the third. Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto donated N3 million, N2 million and N1 million to the first, second and third positions respectively, and a Hajj seat for the third position. West African Cotton Company Limited (WACOT) donated a new car, N1 million and Hajj seat to first position, while Dr. Zainab Bagudu, wife of Kebbi State Governor, also donated a brand new car to him. Maltina Nigeria Limited donated one Keke NAPEP and motorcycles for the second and third prize winners respectively. The agricultural component of the festival has been taken to the next level. This time, it featured a one-day exposition and exhibition and was adjudged the most successful to date in terms of content and attendance. President Muhammadu Buhari while declaring the event open, expressed joy at the site of the rice pyramids at the venue saying it was one of the dividends of the recent border closure aimed at discouraging imports of foreign rice. He stated his resolve to back local rice production, and support farmers with the basic needs to step up their production in coming months. He also took time out to visit some of the stands mounted by each local government of the state and expressed satisfaction with the quality of the diverse agro and allied products on offer. He also added that the success of the festival was a testimony of the return of peace to Nigeria.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono said the Federal Ministries of Sports, Agriculture, and Science and Technology will be involved in the Argungu Fishing and Cultural Festival from now on, while the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said, “I’ve travelled far and wide and have never seen anything as diversified as the Argungu Festival. In terms of culture, entertainment, I’ve never witnessed this kind of festival. We must not look at the festival from the viewpoint of entertainment, what we’ve witnessed since three days ago is culture, sport, agriculture and technology. “The archery, the traditional boxing, the traditional wrestling, the swimming all come under sports, the agricultural exhibition, the fishing also agriculture; while the water motorcycle is science and technology”. “You can see that this has gone beyond culture and it is a building ground for future Olympians. If you look at these girls, many of them are between nine and 11 years, if they can have that kind of endurance in swimming, if we can groom them, develop them, we can see that we can actually start getting Olympic medals” the minister said. The rally involved 21 vehicles, all made-in-Nigeria. The Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi flagged off the competition and was at the finishing point to select the winners. Three major companies, Peugeot, Honda and Stallion sponsored the rally and also won trophies for their input. However, some of the issues that need be addressed to enhance future editions include building hotels in Arguing to ease accommodation problems. For the crowd, a lot more needs be done following the security breach witnessed in this edition and the fact that the fishermen did not wait for the signal before getting into the water. On the final day of the festival, thousands of fishermen line up along the river and at the sound of a gunshot, all of them jump into the river to catch the largest fish. Competitors are only allowed to use traditional fishing tools and many prefer to catch fish entirely by hand (a practice also popular elsewhere and known as “noodling” in the United States) to demonstrate their powers. It was not so this year.
Big screens can be positioned in the town and near the Matan Fada River as is done in Calabar during the carnival for viewers and to discourage people from coming to the grand finale grounds. The heavy presence of security men did not help matters, as the security operatives suddenly became spectators thus opening their flanks to marauders. The government can also set up a fishing museum as a destination where past winners are showcased, a hall of fame with records of winners and the size of fish put on display. Branding and collaboration with relevant agencies, NTDC, NCAC, both public and private sector stakeholders should be brought in to deepen the content of the festival and make its offering meatier so that henceforth, Argungu will be a true destination every year when people gather for the festival.