• ‘Abuja cultural carnival has become local naming ceremony’
From Magnus Eze
The Abuja Carnival was envisioned to be a sort of window for states and the host city, Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), to showcase their cultural values and goods annually for tourists to behold.
After the maiden edition in 2005, many had continued to relive the dazzling displays in their minds with the optimism that the carnival in a short would while be engraved in the world’s tourism calendar.
However, 11 years after, all that may have become history if this year’s edition was anything to go by. The event was not only largely uneventful but seemingly marred by poor participation of states and Abuja residents alike.
With such permanent features as Durbar, masquerades parade, command performances and boat regatta procession infused in the carnival, the tourism and arts communities are in agreement that the country had finally realized that the best it can offer the world is cultural tourism.
But surprisingly, states are yet to maximize the opportunity. About 18 states reportedly took part in the just concluded carnival. They included, Some Kwara, Bayelsa, Kogi, Yobe, Delta, Imo, Bauchi, Katsina, Kaduna and Nasarawa as well as the FCT. Unlike the usual large contingents, many of the states came with skeletal delegations.
Investigations revealed that the Akwa Ibom and Rivers state contingents could not attend because funds approved for them were not released. Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers was said to have approved N80 million for the outing. Some other regular states conspicuously absent were Ondo, Enugu, Abia, Ekiti, Anambra and Ebonyi.
Only six states; Kogi, Zamfara, Ebonyi, Niger, Akwa Ibom, Kano and FCT participated in the 2014 edition. That edition may go down in history as the worst organised of the annual carnival. But the event could not just fly last year. Many states like Osun had shunned the 2014 carnival citing security reason, though security was not an issue this time around.
Rather, it was gathered that the current economic crunch hindered many of them from participating as it would be foolhardy for states that still owe salaries for many months to embark on what many would see as a jamboree in Abuja without paying their workers.
The artistic director, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and Chairman of the 2016 carnival, Mr. Biodun Abe, confirmed that paucity of fund hindered many states from participating: “Many states were unable to come because they could not access fund. Lagos State was able to make it to Abuja on December 6 so they can be part of the closing ceremony.”
The fact is that poor participation by states in recent years indicates that the carnival is fast losing its colour, glitz and razzmatazz.
All was not lost
The street procession of the carnival, which began Saturday, December 3 2016, was temporarily disrupted when the Katsina State float went up in flames. The incident occurred after the beautifully decorated float mounted on an articulated truck came in contact with a high tension electric wire at Area 1, Garki, near the defunct Labour Park.
It took the timely efforts of the contingent, spectators and residents to put out the fire. They poured sachets of “pure water” on the burning float while some of them succeeded in tearing off the fabric used in decorating the float to save the truck from being consumed by the fire. The fire was eventually put out with an extinguisher from a motorist. Nobody was injured in the incident.
On day two designated for durbar, only two states, Bauchi and Yobe participated. The representation was abysmally low, compared to previous editions, where many states from the North would try to outdo one another in durbar.
This year’s durbar was a one horse race for Bauchi State as it virtually dominated the event. With large contingents from the Bauchi Emirate, led by the emir himself; the state shone like the northern star with spectacular displays from Tafidan Bauchi, Barden Gabas and Makama Babban, headed by the governor’s son.
The Yobe State contingent also pepped up the show with colourfully decorated horses from the Fika and Damaturu emirates. Each of the horses from the Fika Emirate was elegantly decorated with costumes. The estimation of the silver jewelry, draped on each horse, cost about N2.5 million, while that of the emir was valued at N5 million.
Director General of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Mr. Mansur Liman, who chaired the event, said durbar represents spectacular sportsmanship and provides great opportunity for Nigeria to showcase itself to the world as a tourist destination.
A Chinese tourist, Mr. Wujie Zhuang, described the durbar display as fantastic: “They look beautiful. We don’t have this in China. In fact, the last time I saw horse was when we were small and they used it for carrying loads.”
Nonetheless, participants, visitors as well as vendors who had travelled from far and near to Abuja to sell their goods expressed disappointment, except for the closing ceremony where some of them made appreciable sales.
Head, Research, Documentation and Publication, Bayelsa State Council for Arts and Culture, Mrs. Blessing Ayiba-Dusa, also expressed concern about the poor turnout of participants. She noted that celebrating the heritage and culture of the country was the common goal of the carnival:
“People didn’t really come out for the carnival and for sure it is due to the hardship in the country. Whatever the situation is, the most important thing is that we are here to celebrate the common heritage and culture of our country.”
Principal Cultural Officer with the Yobe State Ministry of Arts and Culture, Mr. Saleh Mahmood, decried the poor preparations for the carnival: “I am not happy with the haphazard planning of this year’s carnival committee. The committee for 2016 carnival did not do a good job in taking into cognisance all logistics concerning the contingents.
“I am not happy. We sleep outside, no plans for water and other necessities for the comfort of contingents. The carnival did not take them unawares though; it has been shifted severally until a date was fixed. So, I don’t see the reason we should come to showcase the rich culture and heritage of our country and be suffering like refugees.
“There is no medical team on ground in case of an emergency, like it used to be. Even we used to have first aid boxes at some strategic places. Anyway, we are here, my utmost desire now is for my state to win.”
Attempt at re-branding
An attempt was made to re-brand it “Nigeria National Carnival” last year. Ms. Grace Gekpe, Director, Entertainment and Creative Services, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, said the ministry had been having challenges with the name Abuja Carnival. To make it more acceptable to all stakeholders, there was need to change the name: “That is why we now have it as ‘Nigeria National Carnival’ so that people will not see it as a state carnival or FCT carnival.
“The challenge is that when you are talking to people about Abuja Carnival, it is alleged that other states have their carnivals like Calabar Carnival, why should we come and support a state carnival. If you say it is a national carnival, it should not be Abuja, so this is what informed the change or rebranding of the name.”
She said the ministry was introducing some innovations into the 2015 carnival to make it people oriented: “We are going to be involving the residents of the host city, who have always being kept in the dark during the carnival.”
But that was shortly before the inauguration of Alhaji Lai Mohammed as minister. The expectation was that the minister would tarry to re-jig the organizational structure in order to rebrand the national carnival.
Frank Meke, a tourism enthusiast captured the fading fortunes of Abuja Carnival thus: “After very successful and wave making outings in 2006, 2007 and 2008, the carnival started to experience a limping process and completely became a local naming ceremony affair between 2012 and 2015.”
By and large, President Muhammadu Buhari said the Abuja Carnival has continued to provide a credible platform for national unity, peaceful co-existence and understanding of Nigeria as an ethnically and culturally diverse nation. He spoke at the opening of the 2016 event, with the theme; “The Creative Industry: A Pivot to Economic Growth” in Abuja at the weekend.
According to him: “The 11th edition of the Abuja Carnival is not just another theme, but a declaration of one of the cardinal principles that we have consciously identified to bail out our nation from the grim of economic challenges that we face today.
“The robust contribution of the creative sector, particularly the performing musicians and Nollywood extraction to the nation’s GDP are not only heart-warming but phenomenal.”
Represented by the Minister of Federal Capital Terrotory Minister, Mr. Muhammad Bello, the President said the sector was fast transforming the nation into a cultural capital of the sub-Saharan Africa.
Lai Mohammed was absent as the carnival kicked off having been away for the two-day International Conference on the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage in Conflicts Areas, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
He eventually participated in the command performance and closing ceremonies, where the Kogi State contingent emerged the overall winner. Kogi won six trophies and six plaques in different categories.