By Osa Mbonu
The year 2018 will certainly go down in history as the most prosperous for the arts and culture industry in recent years. Three major events – all driven by National Council for Arts & Culture – made it so: Russia 2018, Rivers 2018, and INAC 2018.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia provided the opportunity for the National Council for Arts & Culture, NCAC, to market Nigeria culturally to the world. Led by the Director-General, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, the NCAC team, accompanied by journalists from both print and electronic media, stormed Russia in early June. They set up at Gagari, Moscow, a hugely successful Nigerian arts and cultural exhibitions where the promotion of Nigerian arts, culture and values went on for many days.
On June 28, the NCAC team visited The Red Square. The Russians and people from other countries at the picnic grounds of Ploschad Revolyutsii made a lot of fuss about the culturally dressed Nigerians. Everyone, young and old, wanted to take pictures with them. Adorned in different Nigerian dresses complete with Green-White-Green neck muffler made of Aso-oke, the Nigerian arts and culture team was quite a sight to behold. The Russians at Ploschad Revolyutsii could not stop chanting: “Nigeria! Nigeria!” and long strings of words in their language, highlighting the wisdom of what Otunba Runsewe was in Russia to do. It was the best practical way to sell Nigeria to the world because other peoples from other parts of Europe and America were among the population.
The following day, on June 29, the NCAC delegates went to the Nigerian Embassy in Russia with lots of art pieces and artifacts they had flown into Russia from Nigeria. They were recieved by the Nigerian Ambassador to Russia, Professor Steve Davies Ugbah. “This is a unique opportunity for us as an Embassy to market Nigeria. We have not seen this type of thing before. We had been hoping to see these things. Now that they have come, we will make judicious use of them. These are what we’ve been asking for, for a long time, because ours is to promote Nigeria all round – culture, arts, economic, political, etc.,” the highly elated diplomat said.
Professor Ugbah was also excited to see the Nigerian media in company of the NCAC team. “I am particularly happy to see the Nigerian media here because there is a huge gap in knowledge about Russia in Nigeria mainly because of the absence of the Nigerian media in Russia. So I am hoping that as you go back, you can impress upon your staff and your decision-makers the need to liaise with us to help promote Nigeria here in Russia Federation. It is the media that will drive the exposure. Whatever people see is what they react to. It will also help the Russian media to establish a presence in Nigeria.”
The team flew back to Nigeria on Sunday, July 1, 2018 after a very successful promotion of the arts and cultural wealth of Nigeria to the world via the 2018 World Cup Tournament.
In fact, the success of Rivers 2018 began in Russia where it garnered extensive mileage and branding. Details of Rivers 2018 were not only printed on a large banner and conspicuously displayed at Gagari Moscow, but also were discussed before the international audience. Those details included the theme: Our Festival, Our Heritage; Date (Saturday 21st-Sat October 2018; Venue (Port Harcourt, Nigeria); and the slogan (NAFEST, the festival that unites the nation).
From October 21st to 27th, what was tagged: A Masterstroke and the most explosive National Arts & Culture Festival, NAFEST, in the history of Nigeria took place in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State. Titled: Rivers 2018, the 31st NAFEST was marked by grand display of the rich culture of Nigerians, especially those of the South-South and South-East. Rivers 2018 went down in history as a classical example of the value good funding of arts and culture events can bring to the nation’s socio-political and economic table, thanks to Governor Nyesom Wike and the Rivers State Government.
“NAFEST has never been like this before…today, I will put aside protocols. I am short of words. Can anyone give me any reason we should disagree in this country? See the colours and the beauty of a great country blessed by God. Time has come when we should make a declaration and say right from now, no more disagreement, and no more hate speeches. The best has come by the grace of God. Tell the person by your side that Nigeria shall be great; that God will bless the governor and the people of Rivers State.”
Otunba Runsewe greatly praised the Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mrs. Tonye Briggs-Oniyide for all the hard work she invested into NAFEST 2018. Otunba Runsewe closed his remark by quoting the late Chief MKO Abiola who said no matter how rich, great, or important a man may be, he cannot clap with one hand. “Let us therefore join hands together to build this country for the betterment of Nigeria,” Otunba Runsewe had enthused in his address at the closing ceremony while Governor Wike profusely thanked him for a job well done:
“Let me thank you, Otunba Segun Runsewe. You don’t know what you have done. You may not understand the magnitude of this great thing you have done for the people of Rivers State.” He urged Otunba Runsewe to bring back NAFEST to the state next year.
Nwaokorobo music & dance at 2018 NAFEST
The ancient Nwaokorobo traditional music and dance, thought to have been extinct, made a surprise appearance at NAFEST 2018. The dance and music which was popular in the 1970’s was mostly practised around Rivers and Imo state axis.
Nwaokorobo is played by men with musical instruments of slit drums, gourd woodwinds, drums made of animal skins, and danced in those days by grown-up women. At the NAFEST 2018, however, young girls danced the scintillating traditional music, and dance it well they did.
From the 31st edition of NAFEST, one could see that NAFEST gives people the opportunity to show how much they love their culture; from Rivers 2018, the overflowing love the people of Nigeria have for their diverse arts and cultural values was manifest. NAFEST is one of the greatest innovations ever made in the history of Nigeria.
The closing ceremony also featured choreography by over 200 youths dressed in green and white. Although it was a vigorous dance, the music and dance steps had no relationship with the traditional culture of Nigeria.
Governor Wike had promised to organise and give Nigeria the best NAFEST ever in the history of Nigeria, and the governor, as in all the things he does, fulfilled that promise. Veteran tourism, Arts & Culture journalist, Mr. Frank Meke, who had attended many editions of NAFEST in Nigeria told Vanguard that Rivers 2018 was the best so far in Nigeria’s history, and may remain unbeaten for a very long time.
Rivers hosted to win
It was no surprise that Rivers State clinched the Overall Winning State Award in the 2018 NAFEST. With their dance, drama (especially what they displayed at the Command Performance/State Reception on Friday, 26 October at the Rex Jim-Lawson Cultural Centre, Port-Harcourt) the Rivers costumes, dress patterns, cheerfulness, hospitability, and everything – one would not be wrong to say that culturally, there is no place in the world like Rivers State.
Hosting right for NAFEST 2019 was awarded to Edo State.
The Abuja International Arts & Crafts Expo punctuated major arts and culture activities for the year. The visionary DG of NCAC, Otunba Segun Runsewe, had rebranded and upgraded the expo from its former continental status, AFAC, to international one. The expo, which took place at the Abuja International Conference Centre attracted many countries of the world including Hungary, South Korea, India, Bangladesh, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, and many African countries. It provided a ground for the networking of Nigerian Arts and crafts to the world.
Besides these big events of the year, numerous little and private art exhibitions took place. The expectations of arts and culture pundits now is that the private sector will wake up while the federal and state governments will more than triple their funding of arts and culture festival such as NAFEST and INAC because promotion, sharing and development of arts and culture are repositories of vast resources for national development and peaceful co-existence of the people.