The 2018 National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) that held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, from October 20 to 27, was an eye-opener to the utility of arts and culture as veritable instruments to address the country’s socio-economic challenges.
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The weeklong national event with the theme: “Our Festivals, Our Heritage”, attracted participants from every nook and cranny of the country. With a total of 25 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) participating in eight competitive events and many non-competitive but engaging events, NAFEST 2018 was a showcase of the beauty and diversity of Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage and the ingenuity of Nigerians in the arts. The national festival, once again, reminded us of our cultural bonds, common destiny and shared vision of a great country. From the inaugural edition held in Lagos in 1970 up to the latest 31st edition in Rivers State, NAFEST has remained steadfast to its founding objective of uniting the various ethnic groups and entities in the country.
No doubt, the NAFEST 2018 came at the right time against the troubling background of recent times. The past few months had been characterised by incessant bloodletting by armed herdsmen, Boko Haram terrorists, as well as increasing cases of kidnapping and banditry. The resulting carnage brewed toxic chain-reactions that divide the society and foment undue social tension that pushes the country to the brink. The most recent example is the social disorder in Kaduna State which necessitated a 24-hour curfew to stem the tide of attacks and reprisal killings. The Police put the death toll at 55. For a country traumatised by an unprecedented spate of killings in the last couple of years, the Kasuwan Magani fracas that triggered the Kaduna bloodbath was a wake-up call on the government to save the unity of the country. The dissenting voices, diatribes and persistent calls for restructuring, drive home the point that the nation’s social fabric is deteriorating and the country’s unity is crumbling.
NAFEST, dubbed “the festival that unites the nation,” has shown the path to the unity we crave. With NAFEST 2018, the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) has charted a path to national cohesion. Ebonyi State governor, Engr. Dave Umahi, who witnessed the closing ceremony, remarked that “If politics have failed to unite us, if religion has failed to unite us, culture has not.”
NAFEST 2018 highlighted the challenges that have engulfed the country, polluted its politics and dominated national dialogue in the past 12 months. The festival showed 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 the leadership of Otunba Segun Runsewe, a reinvigorated NCAC has robustly pushed a new paradigm where culture is given priority attention. The NCAC Director-General is famous for his mantra of “culture, the new oil.” He also preaches a philosophy of cultural diplomacy as an antidote to hate speech, ethnic rivalry and religious intolerance. Gov. Nyesom Wike’s reward of N5m to each participating state is a motivation for state councils of arts to participate in the national festival. The 2019 edition of the festival is scheduled to hold in Edo State. The rotational policy of hosting the event is a recipe for national integration.
It is our belief that the NAFEST template, if amplified, will foster tolerance, entrench harmony and deflate the turbulence plaguing the country.
There is no doubt that NAFEST will lead to greater understanding and cooperation among Nigerians. We commend the leadership of the NCAC for its tenacity in fostering unity through the medium of culture and arts. We enjoin the NCAC not to decelerate its effort. Let the Federal and state governments imbibe the lessons of NAFEST 2018 and take concrete steps to ensure the unity of the country.