From Sunday, October 19 to Saturday October 26, this year, the University of Benin Sports Complex, Edo State played host to the 2019 National Festival of Arts and Culture [NAFEST] with 30 States of the Federation attending. It coincided with the third coronation anniversary and birthday of Oba Ewuare II, which threw the capital city of Edo State,
Benin City into days of festivities and cultural ceremonies.
Rivers State emerged the overall winner of the 32nd NAFEST 2019. Ogun State took the second position while Edo and Bayelsa States were joint third-place winners, just as Delta State took the fourth place.
Originally, NAFEST was directly set up by the National Council for Arts & Culture [NCAC] as a post-civil war strategy for promoting national unity. Each edition showcased socio-cultural activities that promote the rich cultural diversity and cross ethnic friendship among Nigerians. It was designed to be a bridge between tribes and a melting pot of cultures to show the oneness of the Nigerian people. It was meant to pull Nigerians from all regions, States, classes and educational levels together, and in their multitudes.
Over the years, culture and tourism, the two twin activities at the NAFEST fiesta, was to be a credible alternative to crude oil revenue in the nation’s quest to diversify its economy and revenue base as it has the capacity to provide 40 per cent of the foreign direct investment [FDI] of the country. This is because festivals such as NAFEST have become growing contributors to GDP as they create opportunities for small business owners to make substantial income. The flood of visitors were supposed to generate significant additional revenues for small businesses in the host states and communities. It was to grow the domestic tourism sector and offer employment opportunities to the teeming youths and women of the host communities in the areas of printing, craftsmen, GSM call booths, marketing, transportation, tour guides, photographers and catering services Indeed, NAFEST was supposed to move from just being a forum to showcase arts and culture to becoming a haven for creative industries. But with the limited participation of non-governmental delegations or groups, the relevance of NAFEST as a tool for national cohesion and integration or economic growth comes into question. Agreed that there is need for a forum to bring Nigerians closer as a people especially as the political class are dividing the citizens along ethnic, religious and social lines, but it is doubtful if the current level of participation of the generality of Nigerians is achieving the goal of bringing the citizens under one enabling environment, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion.
First, outside the aesthetic appreciation of the festival and the crafts, how far has it helped in regaining the dwindling cultural heritage of the people? How far has it created and promoted the needed creativity in arts, science and technology or making Nigerians from all works of life to appreciate traditional skills and sports? Are we making plans to market each NAFEST beyond its host State?”
For NAFEST to make itself relevant and fulfil its mission, it must move from annual rhetoric of its potentials pronounced at each fiesta to being a major player in the nation’s economy through creating employment and empowering the people. It must also market the festival outside its host states, thus drawing visitors from other parts of the country and abroad. A situation where the same set of officials from the Federal and State Ministries of Culture attend each year’s NAFEST without increasing the number of private sector participants and individuals makes the festival an annual ritual and jamboree.
So, NAFEST must fulfil its mission of being a cornerstone for building a solid nation where the citizens shall see its cultural diversity as a source of strength. It must also be seen to serve as catalyst for sustainable growth and development of Nigeria.