By Osa Amadi
This is not the (complete) story of the 2020 National Festival of Arts & Culture, NAFEST 2020; It is only an extract from it, because as I was writing this piece in my hotel room at Langfield Leisure Park, Rayfield Area, Jos on Friday November 27, the 2020 NAFEST was still to reach the climax (on the Plateau) which all participants are expecting, given the wonders we have so far experienced since we arrived on top of this rock, the highest point of Nigerian land called Plateau State.
After we finished lunch with Otunba Runsewe at the Old Government House, he went into an inner room and emerged wearing a stunning attire. “Otunba, this is the costume of warriors!” I exclaimed.
“Yes, you’re right,” he said, brushing past us with the long spear in his right hand as if he was going to do a battle at hand.
We all followed him outside and the vehicles in the convoy screeched off to the main road and headed towards the palace of the Gbong Gwon Jos. We were going to attend the next item on the week-long program of events of the 33rd edition of NAFEST – “Cultural splendour with the Gbong Gwon Jos”.
We drove into the Palace of the Gbong Gwon Jos – a sprawling opulence – where we were immediately besieged by a troupe of cultural music welcoming us into the palace. Soon, traditional dances from other states began to arrive – those from Kwara, Taraba, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Ekiti, Bayelsa, Rivers, and others states. But the most captivating of all the groups was the Ngighngigh Dance from Benue State whose dancers were attired like cats, and they were actually holding embalmed cats!
The Ngighngigh Dance could be described as ‘the cat dance’ because the dancers mimicked every movement of live cats – in what appeared like a slow motion, squeezing and stretching, bending and crouching to the floor as when a cat is stalking its prey, and then suddenly pouncing on an imaginary prey. It was quite a cultural spectacle, available as one-stop shop of cultural exhibition only at NAFEST!
Then, we struggled into the expansive, well-furnished hall holding the throne of His Majesty, Da Jacob Buba Gyang, the Gbong Gwon Jos/Chairman, Plateau State Council of Chiefs and Emirs. We saw him sited on his magnificent throne with Otunba Segun Runsewe, Director General of National Council for Arts & Cultural who had gone ahead of us. Otunba Runsewe sat on his right-hand side. If I did not know Otunba Runsewe before, I would have thought he was the War General and Commander of his majesty’s Army!
After the formal introductions and the usual “standing on the existing protocols” speeches, Otunba Runsewe spoke, saying since 1st of April, 2009 when his majesty came to the throne, it has been a new leadership of tradition. He described the Gbong Gwon Jos as a role model for upcoming achievers.
As the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs, Runsewe said, His Majesty brought honor and immense respect to the Nigeria Customs; he greatly supported TINAPA, Calabar as our flagship of tourism; and as a strong member of the Seventh Day Adventists Church, he made the church proud. And lastly, the Gbong Gwon Jos is today one of the leading beacons of the Nigerian culture.
After Otunba Runsewe’s speech, there was a subdued, slow, growling sound of a musical instrument made of animal horns heralding the speech of the Gbong Gwon Jos:
“The leader of this delegation, in the person of the Director General of National Council for Arts & Culture, Da Segun Runsewe,” His Royal Majesty began, drawing a humorous rumble from the audience for addressing Otunba Runsewe with the Jos traditional title, ‘Da’. “We sincerely welcome you all to Plateau State, and especially to the palace this afternoon.
“We thank God almighty for bringing you all from your respective states to Jos Plateau for this festival of arts and culture through which we showcase our respective cultures. We sincerely appreciate all of you for being here. We want to also express sincere gratitude to the NCAC for choosing Plateau to host this NAFEST at this critical time, not only in Nigeria, but in the whole world when we are faced with the coronavirus pandemic that is ravaging humanity in all places.
“But I want to say that as we gather here, God, in his ultimate mercy, will protect all of us, and that at the end of this festival, you will get back to your various destinations in peace.
“So, D-G, we want to thank you most sincerely for reposing confidence in Plateau. I want to say without mincing words that the governor, government and people of Plateau State will also be appreciated for despite all the challenges we are all facing, the governor had the guts and the confidence to accept to host the 2020 NAFEST in Plateau State.
“We also want to appreciate our own daughter, in the person of the honorable commissioner for culture & tourism, Mrs. Weli (Tamwakat) who has meritoriously chaired the local organizing committee. What we saw at the opening ceremony testifies a lot to not only what Plateau can achieve, but also what Nigeria as a whole can achieve.
“So much is happening in our country today. And like the D-G said, the biggest contributory factor is that we have forgotten our culture; that’s why we are engulfed in the many problems we are facing today. One of the biggest problems facing this country today is the issue of insecurity.
“When, on an opening day, I saw contingents from Kaduna, Zamfara, Borno; honestly, I said, they too have guts. We know the things that are happening in these places and virtually in the whole of Nigeria. For us to still celebrate this festival shows that Nigeria has become a nation that is not ready to be cowed by any incident, be it insecurity, (depressed) economy or whatever.
“Let us continue to pray for our brethren in all these places; that God will ensure that peace is restored to these locations in Nigeria.
“For us on the Plateau, we have our challenges and we are not pretending that we have overcome them all. We have relative peace because of the efforts of the government and the citizenry themselves with the support of the security agencies. We want to please appeal to the citizens of Nigeria that we must not fall back to those dark days.
“We must endure to continue to live together as fellow countryman, so that we can now begin to talk about development and leave a befitting future for our children.
“This festival, like we said, reminds us of our culture and our and our tradition. And I would appeal to Nigerians that at the end of this festival we must not fall back (or fold our hands) and wait for the next years’ event. We must reflect our culture in all that we do, whether it be food (or in other things. The honourable commissioner told me that Nigerian cuisines were at display today (at the Langfield Leisure Park), and I said: ‘you must have deliberately refused to take me there so as to relish in the foods,” the Gbong Gwom said throwing everyone into laughter.
“But we have deceived ourselves so much in this country, and that is why we have the health challenges we have. We have food in every state of Nigeria as a number of delicacies anybody will enjoy. For those of us who had the privilege of travelling to other countries, honestly, anytime I am out of this country, I easily miss Nigeria, principally because of the food! And the manner in which we conduct ourselves…We must not bring ourselves down. Let’s endeavor to build on what we know best to do.
The Gbong Gwon Jos recalled with nostalgia, the epic and grueling football matches of Darma, Saudi Arabia in 1989 and the 1996 Atlanta, USA in which the Nigerian team was several goals down but bounced back to win the matches. In essence, he said, “Nigeria will never lack guts. The guts that those young players showed typify Nigerians. You will find that there are no other people that have the guts like the average Nigerians.
“And we never give up. The challenges that we face today – be it in politics, economy, security, etc., we must remember that we have a lot of guts and that by the grace of God, we must overcome them all.
“So once more, let me appeal to you to enjoy Jos Plateau. And for the contingents that have come from different states, you don’t have to hide and refuse to go back home (as some people on short visits to Europe and America do). You can go and come back,” he said, drawing a round of good-humored applause.
“I was told that some people have caught pneumonia because Plateau has been too cold for them. I was surprised because we have been complaining about the heat. But this is to show that God has blessed Nigeria. And let us make our country great. Let us not allow (bad) people to lead us into destruction. Yes, the youths have a lot of complaints to which we appeal to the government to listen to them. But we appeal to the youths also to respect themselves and bring their complaints forward with due respect, because respect begets respect. Let us not allow (bad) people to use us to destroy our own country. We pray that the events of the past will not repeat themselves.
“Enjoy yourselves while on the Plateau. If you don’t have enough local cuisines, tell Otunba Runsewe and the honorable commissioner to get in touch with me. Thank you and God bless you.”
The animal horn musical instruments growled once more, signaling the ends of his Royal Majesty’s speech. Then we all trooped out to the open courtyard where we were treated to the best of traditional music and dance from different parts of Nigeria.