•Dancers performing at the 2019 EKIFEST

By Chukwuma Ajakah

Year 2019 has particularly been eventful for the people of Ekiti. Regarded as the most culturally homogenous state in Yoruba land, Ekiti State is also famed for producing a large number of iconic performing and creative artists: Prof Niyi Osundare, JimohAliu (Aworo), Prof Bakare OjoRasaki, Elder Emmanuel Abejide, Biodun Abe, Peter Fatomilola (first Papa Ajasco) and King Femi Ariyo among others, has been in the news for hauling laurels in local and international art-cultural festivals this year.

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EKIFEST is a flagship festival established to galvanize the cultural values of the people of Ekiti and their over 150 traditional festivals under an umbrella of an all-encompassing magnitude. The festival brings about unity and peace as it has the blessings of the royal fathers and cuts across every social stratum.

Perhaps, the return of arts and culture friendly Governor John Kayode Fayemi, to power boosted the lot of the sector. Fayemi had initiated the debut edition of EKIFEST in 2012 during his first tenure, but after a few outings, the festival was rested until this year when the state began to make waves in art and cultural events within and outside Nigeria.

The Ekiti Cultural Troupe wowed international audiences at BUDAPEST 2019 in faraway Hungary, where they were hosted by the Nigerian Embassy to participate in the 59th Independence Day celebrations. In addition to an excellent performance at the African Drums Festival which held in Abeokuta, the state also emerged as the most culturally Creative and Innovative state at the National Art Festival (NAFEST) in Benin City, Nigeria recently.

Riding on the momentum generated by the foregoing successes, EKIFEST 2019 was held from December 11-13, to showcase the rich cultural heritage, human talents and abundant natural resources and ideal tourism attraction points.  All through the days of the fiesta, there were no dull moments as the organizers led by the First Lady and Chairperson of EKIFEST 2019, EreluBisi Fayemi, ensured a dignified presence, attracting dignitaries and a horde of culture enthusiasts to even the night sessions.

From the KIDDIFEST held as a pre-festival show to the traditional wrestling contests that preceded the closing ceremony, each day was full of cultural activities spiced with musical performances. The opening ceremony at the Ekiti Parapo Pavilion, Ado-Ekiti featured folklores, dress fashion show, traditional dances and a march past from contingents of the 16 Local Government areas and non-indigenous communities such as the Oha Na EzeNdi Igbo and Hausa-Plateau residents in Ekiti.

The Executive Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. John Kayode and his amiable wife, EreluBisiFeyemi were on ground to witness the scintillating performances and colourful displays of the various participants. Pleased with the achievements of the Council for Arts and Culture within a few months of his assuming office as Governor, Fayemi pledged to upgrade the agency to a full ministry status.

The Director-General of the Council for Arts and Culture, Ambassador Wale Ojo-Lanre revealed that EKIFEST is “an economic intervention strategy that is structured upon the revival of the Ekiti economy through diversification from the traditional income base. The strategy hinges on enhancing the revenue performance of the state through a receipt from arts and crafts as well as cultural endowments, visits to heritage sites and landmark tours”. The DG explained that achieving such a laudable goal would require the creation of an artificial market through the convocation of a large population of people for a period of time, during which the local creative sector, the manufacturing sector, the services and consumers’ sector would sell and make profit, thereby achieving the main purpose of the festival.

Ambassador Ojo-Lanre further remarked, “EKIFEST 2019 is unique as it focuses on two major issues that answer  the socio-economic questions on the lips of virtually everybody: The issue of empowerment is key to the economic survival of the Nigerian nation and the people while the issue of value restoration is critical to our peaceful co-existence as a people”.

He revealed that “Records available show that the festival impacted positively well on the people by creating market for local arts and crafts industries. The first and second editions had a far-reaching impact: Ekiti people were getting used to EKIFEST as an economic diversification project, but unfortunately, the immediate past administration did not see the need for it”.

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In a colloquium held at the Ikogosi Warm Spring Resort, the speakers-Prof. Bakare OjoRasaki, Prof. Patrick Olajide Oladele, Mrs. KeziaOluwatoyinTobun and Dr. Wale Okediran explored ways of leveraging on the abundant natural resources and rich cultural heritage to harness the tourism potentials of Ekiti State. Each speaker identified business opportunities as well as life applicable approaches that could be used to derive maximum gains from available human and material resources.

Mrs. K.O. Tobun quizzed, “People talk of Ekiti as a people who love education. But, how do we relate this education to generating wealth? How do we create wealth from our art and culture?” Answering her own questions, she said, “A lot of very good artists in Nigeria are from Ekiti State. We also have pottery from places like Ara Ikole Ekiti, Ado Ekiti, etc. If we have a pottery company and fire our pots to be strong, we can export them to other countries. Performing and visual artists should move with modern technology. They can pool their works together to equip the museums.

The hills and mountains Ekiti has in abundance can be marketed for tourism. We also need to come out to tell people what we do. The market won’t come if we stay in our bedrooms”. Prof Bakare Rasaki revealed that the Fayemi administration is committed to the development of culture and tourism, adding, The Council should also mobilize our tertiary institutions to include ‘culturepreneurship’. There are many things in Ekiti we can look into.”  According to Prof Patrick Olajide Oladele of Federal University Oye-Ekiti, “Tourism generates employment and creates many windows of opportunities in the area of culture and tourism.

We should be to showcase what we have, but there is also a need to make the people understand and love their cultural heritage. In addition to being a source of additional revenue to government, it will be a source of pride to the indigenes. If you do not make a noise about what you have, nobody will do so for you. There is also a need to develop infrastructure.

I know the DG is a man full of ideas and capability. As the agency is upgraded to a full ministry, they should also consider marketing strategies. Beyond attracting traffic, marketing is very crucial.”  Dr Wale Okediran commended the Ekiti State Council for Arts and Culture especially on being able to accommodate other nationalities saying, “I love Nigeria and observed how Nigeria was represented in the March Past at the events.

We have enough to market. We have a colossal bundle of talents to market. Let practitioners of art and culture tap into technology. We must accommodate and embrace the social media. Talk to the government against draconian rules. Our road network must also be good. Nobody would like to do business in a place where the safety of life is not guaranteed. Culture is a catalyst for comprehensive social change, with the ability of generating positive and sustainable transformations of economic development.”

Real food culture was ubiquitous in every venue. The popular royal pounded yam, iyan was on display along with other traditional delicacies, cuisines, condiments and snacks such as iru, ajo, elubgo-lafun, aadun, obi, ogbokuru, sugudu, agbadoabigbe, and ogede. 82-year-old Pa Emmanuel Abejide, a veteran artist exhibited miniature replicas of some farm produce that could pass for real life objects to the uninitiated: plantains, tubers of yam, cassava, cocoa, kola nuts, pawpaw, etc.

The festival featured the presentation of two highly emotive political and historical plays that anchor on the thematic focus EKIFEST 2019: Arts and Culture: Tools for the Restoration of values and Socio-economic Development. Each play emphasizes the need for peaceful co-existence among the various nationalities even at the national level.

Tenants of the House-a political satire, written by Wale Okediran and directed by Kunle Afolayan premiered at the Government House between 8:30 and 11:00 p. m on Wednesday, December 11 while the grand command performance of a stage play Ifeajuyigbe, an untold story of Late Col. AdenkunleFajuyi written and directed by Prof. RasakiOjo Bakare, held the next day at Bishop Adetiloye Hall, from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.

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Tenants of the House featured popular Nigerian movie stars like Dele Odule, Funky Malam, Joslyn Dumas, Chris Iheuwa, Yakubu Mohammed and Rashida Labbo. The cast of the stage play Ifajuyigbe comprised professional and amateur actors who formed a crowded character type including an orchestra and prominent historical characters like Nigeria’s first Head of State, General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, leader of the 1966 Military Coup, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu and former Military Governor of the Western Region, Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi.  The plot of Ifajuyigbe revolves around Late Col. Fajuyi- an all-time hero, disciplinarian, loyal soldier and most importantly a son of Ekiti State whose impeccable character encapsulates the essential traits that mark out a typical Ekiti man.

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