Thursday, December 5, 2013
Abuja carnival: setting the tone for centenary anniversary
Abuja carnival: Setting tone for centenary anniversary Nigeria will mark the 100th anniversary of the Northern and Southern protectorates in January 2014. Last Saturday, the ninth edition of the Abuja International Carnival kicked off at the Eagle Square, setting the tone for the centenary celebrations.Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME reports. If the number of participants is a determinant of its success, this year’s Abuja International Carnival may not have achieved much. But, if content and theme are what matter, then the festival is it. Of the 15 countries that indicated interest in the carnival, only five showed up. Also, 17 of the 36 states of the federation including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) were at the opening, thus hitting an all-time lowest turnout since 2005 when the carnival made its debut. The theme of this year’s carnival was A people for a century, a people forever, and it was aimed at creating a platform for the commemoration of Nigeria’s 100 years of existence as a nation. The First Lady, Dame Patience Goodluck, who was to declare the carnival open, and Bayelsa and Benue state governors’ wife who were expected at the event did not show up. Unlike in the past, this year’s Abuja carnival did not evoke fears in many residents and visitors to the FCT. All major roads and streets from Garki Area One to Eagle Square, a major venue of the carnival, were all manned by armed security officials supported by men of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC) who controlled human and vehicular traffic. For once in a long time during a national celebration, tourists walked into the square unperturbed by any fear of Boko Haram bombing. Some vehicles drove close to the square to either drop contingents or their costumes for easy reach. The 18-kilometre street carnival that kicked off from Area One at 10 am was not just a long procession of colourful motorised floats and dancers. It was a total celebration of culture on wheels propelled by contemporary music and dance steps. Each contingent was backed by a motorised float and a mobile music box spinning vibes during the trek. The contingents, consisting mainly of youths with lots of energy to trek the long distance while having fun, were a spectacle to behold. The long trek that lasted over six hours terminated at the Eagle Square where guests were thrilled to another round of exciting celebration of the nation’s diverse cultural heritage. In fact, the atmosphere was convivial for the celebration that recorded not too impressive turn-out of both participants and viewers. There was little or no apprehension about seeming threat from the notorious Boko Haram sect that has killed thousands of Nigerians in the northern part of the country. No doubt, this year’s outing is an improvement of last year in the area of costumes design, float concept and content. In totality, the Abuja International Carnival has been able to shed off its traditional elements for contemporary infusions to reflect modern carnival. Minister for Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke said national unity and cohesion are winners at the carnival, adding that culture has in the country’s 100 years continued to grow from strength to strength. He identified culture as one of the enduring elements of nation-building and national cohesion, which ‘continue to strengthen intra and inter-communal relations, help to build bridges, forge sustainable partnerships and provide the foundation for our distinct identity as a people with a proud heritage and a future that is laden with hope and confidence.’ He said that the carnival provides a platform for the projection of Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage. “It is always a delight to see our people from various States of the federation resplendent in their carnival costumes display Nigeria’s diverse cultural forms in a kaleidoscope of colours. The beauty of these cultural forms is firmly rooted in their diversity which has been the source of our strength as a nation in the past 100 years,” he added. The minister stressed that beyond the celebrations and display of cultural forms, carnivals have become mega businesses around the world describing it as the catalyst and backbone of a multifaceted economy. And in order to grow the carnival, he said that federal government is building partnerships with countries where carnivals have truly become a big enterprise. “The Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation remains committed to the development of the creative sector. We are paying particular attention to this area as we believe that it has a great role to play in the organisation of carnivals and other cultural events. To this end, the new Cultural Policy of Nigeria has designated carnivals as an important cultural and economic activity and has made adequate provision for its enhancement. The Federal Government also partners with States where Carnivals are gaining grounds as an important cultural and economic activity. This is with a view to developing carnivals across the country and turn them into unique brands and enterprise,” he said. His Trinidad and Tobago counterpart, Dr. Lincoln Douglas, whose country is one of the five foreign countries that participated in the carnival disclosed that his country has granted 10 scholarship awards to qualified Nigerians wishing to study carnival art, management of festival, and other related areas at two of Trinidad and Tobago’s universities. Dr. Douglas who said details of the scholarship would be worked out soon added that the University of Trinidad and Tobago and University of West Indies would be the two universities where the scholarship would be offered. He said his country has resolved to offer scholarship in the area of capacity building as ‘our contribution to the commitment of the President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who has also visited Trinidad and Tobago and shown tremendous interest and support. The visiting minister said there has been an increasing interest in the carnival in Nigeria, which he said, has great opportunity too. “Both countries – Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago share the same economy culture, we are oil producing countries, oil and natural gas, petro-chemicals. And we understand that those are finite resources. But our peoples, and the way of life as well as our culture are the infinite resources. As long as our peoples are here, we have something that we can leverage upon. I am excited with what I have seen this evening. And with continued support and participation, the carnival will grow.” Continuing, he said: “In Trinidad and Tobago, we have been doing the carnival for the last 70 years or so, and we have developed an art form, an industry, and science of music, band, theatre, mask … everything working together to create wealth for our people. It has become a big industry providing employment for young people as they get involved in something that is meaningful and valuable. “Through the carnival, we have succeeded in taking our youths off the streets or getting involved in negative things. Abuja Carnival portends great opportunities for Nigeria and we have resolved to offer scholarship in the area of capacity building as our contribution to the commitment of the President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who has also visited Trinidad and Tobago and shown tremendous interest and support. So, we are reciprocating that level of collaboration and participation.” He said he feels more at home in Nigeria than US where he spent over 15 years. Despite the low turnout, some of the participating states had good presentations during the street carnival session and the carnival floats/performances at the opening ceremony. For instance, apart from featuring about the largest contingents at the carnival, Niger State and Akwa-Ibom State were creative in the presentation and interpretation of the festival’s theme. Akwa-Ibom State presentation at the ceremony was a total story of the Nigeria nation reflecting in visual every major political stage the country went through from pre-independence through military era till date. It also showcased the diverse culture of Nigeria as demonstrated by some members of the state’s contingents who wore different traditional dresses known to some ethnic groups in the country. In fact, there was a deliberate effort to send strong messages of peace, cohesion and love for one another by every state contingent at the carnival. Also, the bigger picture of centenary celebration was never lost as Bayelsa State reminded all with an inscription on its float, saying: It’s our centenary, roll out the drums. Other special contingents included representatives of Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, Eagles Nest (Naija Cultural Heritage Reality Show), United Foods, makers of Indomie, Maltina Airtel among others. The carnival which ended yesterday featured performances by school children within the FCT, durbar, cultural night/traditional cuisine and bush bar/traditional hairdo, masquerades performance, boat regatta, command performance and musical fiesta. The mobile traders and food vendors that brought items to the Eagle Square for sale were alleged to pay about five thousand naira for the space occupied. The allocation of open space and collection of the levies created some drama outside the main square shortly before the kick-off of the opening ceremony. The Abuja carnival was initiated by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 2005 as an annual event to hold during the harmattan season in Nigeria. It is to create a platform to present and preserve the rich intangible cultural heritage of Nigeria. Last year, some innovations were introduced into the carnival with the involvement of women and youth organisations, school children, non-governmental organisations, military/para-military and culture/tourism groups. The states that were absent at the opening include Bauchi, Nasarawa, Edo, Imo, Abia, Delta, Enugu, Gombe, Ogun, Zamfara, Lagos, Osun, Borno, Cross River, Kwara, Jigawa, Sokoto and Kebbi.