The first National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) was held in Lagos in 1970. It was no doubt an eye-opener about the use of arts and culture as instruments to address the country’s socio-economic challenges and most importantly foster national unity. Ever since then, it has remained an event to showcase the beauty and diversity of Nigeria’s cultural heritage. With the full participation of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory in NAFEST, we are annually reminded of our cultural bonds, common destiny and shared vision as a great country.
From the inaugural edition held in Lagos in 1970 up to the latest 32nd edition in Edo State in 2019, NAFEST has remained steadfast to its founding objective of uniting the various ethnic groups and entities in the country.
The NAFEST 2020 scheduled for Jos, Plateau state this October is timely against the troubling background of recent times. The past few months have been characterised by incessant bloodletting by troublesome herdsmen, Boko Haram terrorists, kidnappers and rampaging bandits. The resulting carnage brews toxic chain-reactions that divide the country and foment undue social tension that pushes the country to the brink. The most recent example is the social disorder in Kaduna State, which had again caught the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari who has warned against the tide of attacks and reprisal killings. For a country traumatised by an unprecedented spate of killings in the last couple of years, the Kaduna bloodbath was a wake-up call on the authorities to save the unity of the country. The dissenting voices, diatribes and persistent call for restructuring, drive home the point that the social fabric is deteriorating and the country’s unity threatened.
It is, therefore, commendable that despite the prevailing global economic situation, the Nigeria cultural tourism community was treated to its first successful count down to a post-COVID-19 new normal engagement with a drive- in artistic experience, held at the open grounds of Sheraton Hotels, Abuja last Sunday.
The effort, which was geared towards perfecting the coming NAFEST 2020 slated for Jos in October, attracted over 18 countries, with the Ambassadors of Trinidad and Tobago, Venuzuela, India, Pakistan and China, in attendance.
NAFEST, dubbed “the festival that unites the nation,” has shown the path to the unity we crave. With NAFEST Rivers 2018, Edo 2019 and the coming Plateau 2020, the National Council for Arts and Culture, NCAC, organisers of the annual culture fest, has charted a path to a national unity and development. Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, who witnessed the closing ceremony of the event in Port Harcourt in 2018 remarked: “If politics has failed to unite us, if religion has failed to unite us, culture has not.”
The festival shows the potential of arts and culture to mend the broken psyche of the populace, restore faith in the oneness of our existence and strengthen our unity. Under its present leadership, NCAC has robustly pushed for a new paradigm where culture is prioritised. There is no doubt that culture can be turned to the new oil. We also believe that cultural diplomacy could be an antidote to hate speech, ethnic chauvinism and religious intolerance. The rotational policy of hosting the festival by states of the federation is a recipe for national integration. This is the way to forge national unity and societal peace. We believe that the NAFEST template, if amplified, will foster tolerance, entrench harmony and neutralise catalysts of the turbulence plaguing the country.
NAFEST can engender national unity, greater understanding and cooperation. We commend the leadership of the NCAC and the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture for their tenacity in fostering unity through the medium of culture. We enjoin the NCAC not to decelerate its effort. We urge the federal and state governments to take concrete steps to ensure the unity of the country as we march into the future.