Ighomuaye Lucky, Benin
In different attires and rhythm of drumbeats, they filed past in alphabetical order, holding the audience spellbound. Who are these people? Why are they here? Curious minds asked rhetorically.
They are various tribes from the 36 states and the federal capital territory, converging on Benin City, the Edo State capital and the heartbeat of the nation, displaying their rich cultural heritage in the land of the origin and promoters of culture. The contigents are here for the National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST).
Declaring the event open at the University of Benin Sports Complex at the main campus in Ugbowo, the state governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, said after 40 years that the nation first celebrated NAFEST, the state is playing host to it for the first time.
Obaseki said culture has been brought back to its state of origin and that it is worth celebrating.
“Today, we are celebrating in Edo State because 40 years after this festival was launched, now it is coming to the home of culture for the first time.
“Is a Edo not the home of culture in Nigeria? Is Edo not the home of culture in Africa? For the first time, we are hosting this event, is Edo not the home of culture?” He asked rhetorically.
The event as a potpourri of sorts, has the Joromi crooner, Sir Victor Uwaifo and the Africa Queen crooner, Innoncent Idibia, alias Tuface on ground to thrill the audience.
Sir Victor Uwaifo took the audience down memory lane with his “Guitar Boy and Joromi songs which threw the audience into a frenzy state while Tuface serenaded his fans with his hit track, “You are my Africa Queen”.
The NAFEST, as it may be, has afforded a participant, Annah Ibrahim, from Gombe State, the ability to contemplate staying in the state by either marriage or job opportunity. This would not have been possible if not NAFEST.
“The festival has made me to know the different cultures in the country. I don’t know anything about Edo culture but with this festival, I now know some Edo culture and have even made friends.
“learnt many thing about Edo State with the few day of the festival. I am willing to stay in Edo if I get a job offer or I marry Edo person. From my interaction with them, they are good people.
“I love the culture, I love the tradition just that the weather is harsh. I will love to stay in Edo because my sister’s husband is from Edo State. They seemed to be good people”, Ibrahim said.
For the Acting Director, Imo State Arts and Culture, Mrs Asumpta Ebere Akujobi, the 32nd edition of the festival afford the state the opportunity to showcase their culture after eight years of not participating in the festival.
“The festival gives the opportunity to meet with people with different culture, interact with people, cherish other peoples’ culture and also eat their food. Many people got married to other culture through this festival”, she said.
Another participant, Ojekudo Fidelis from Delta State, said the festival is meant to unify the people and it is really doing that.
“You see people from different ethnic groups coming together and interacting happily. The festival has really brought unity to the country.
“From my point of view it has achieved its aim and I believe the only way we can improve on it is by hosting the festival every year and when there is continuity, that relationship, unity, brotherliness will be always there because we will be yearning for another festival so as to see our friends”, he said.
Ojugu JP from Benue State Arts and Culture, described the event as very colourful judging by the cultural heritage of the participating states.
“You see people from different states participating and shocasing our different cultural heritage, interact with others to know their culture more and make more friends.
“We have many dances but Swange dance is the most important one and it is the dance of the Benue people both home and abroad. We rehearse every day and that is what makes us expert on it.
Also, a Nollywood actor, Gentle Jack from the River State Arts and Culture, said the festival is about our culture and tradition from where we were coming from as Nigeria.
“We are different when it comes to culture and tradtions but we are one when it come to this festival so we are here to talk about unity through culture irrespective of the fact that we are diverse and the festival is beautiful”.
The Director General of National Council for Arts and Culture, Otunba Segun Runsewe, said the display of the rich culture of Nigeria at the opening ceremony of NAFEST was an indication that God loves Nigeria.
Also, member, representing Oredo Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives, Hon. Omoregie Ogbeide- Ihama, thanked the state government for hosting the event after 40 years.
He said the state was lucky to have won the right to host the event after five states bidded for the right to host it and eventually lost it to Edo State.
He said as Chairman of the Committee of Arts and Culture at the House of Representatives, his own duty was to support and promote culture and tourism in the country.