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Matan Fada: Fears over Argungu fishing festival as river dries up

Matan Fada, the River that made Argungu famous for its International Fishing Festival and got the name of the Kebbi State community written in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list ,is on  the verge of drying up. Sadly its fish species and other water resources are also dying by the day.  

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The importance of River Matan Fada is enormous. It serves different purposes to the people of Argungu, Kebbi, Nigeria and the rest of the world. To the people of Argungu it is their source of pride, including a source of water for irrigation farming and fishing activities. To Kebbi, Nigeria and the world it is a venue for the famous annual international fishing festival. Because of the world attraction and historical importance that is attached to the Matan Fada River, the Argungu International Fishing Festival was listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites two years ago. However, as it is now, except the measures ordered by Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu are followed by the relevant agencies in Kebbi State, the famous river, its fish species and water resources may go into extinction. 

Last week news about the situation of Matan Fada spread across Kebbi communities when the state government announced that the river was drying up, and it has taken immediate measures to restore it and its fish species before they go into extinction. Given the long period of years since the Argungu fishing festival was held last, many had anticipated the festival would be organized by the present administration but their hope was again dashed.  

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Worried by the situation of Matan Fada River, the Kebbi State Government had declared what it called emergency measures to restore it and its resources. Governor Bagudu had directed the state Ministry for Works and other relevant agencies to mobilize competent construction companies with immediate effect to the river site, and ensure that the water of the river and its fish species are made to flow and flourish again.  

The Argungu International Fishing Festival was held last in 1999 during the Saidu Dakingari administration. Nine years after it was held the river venue of the festival, the huts built for tourists at the Fishing Village, the pavilions from where people gathered to watch the fishing event at Argungu, the open theatre, guest houses, recreation ground, VIP lodges and the GandFishing Hotel built for festival purpose are not only  in bad shape  but in a state of  decay. 

Reasons were given by successive government for not hosting the Argungu International Fishing Festival for 9 years now.  The immediate past government under Dakingari towards the tail end of its tenure in 2014/2015, attempted to host the fishing festival. Arrangements were made and consultants were engaged to organize the event, but midway government backed out and cancelled it before it became  public knowledge. Since then River Matan Fada was left without the needed attention it deserves. 

When Governor Bagudu and top members of his cabinet visited Matan Fada in Argungu to make what the state government called an on the spot assessment of the situation at the river side, the Emir of Argungu, Alhaji Samaila Muhammadu Mera told the governor and top government officials that at no time in the life of Matan Fada has the community ever witnessed what was happening to the ancient river.  He added that the people of his Emirate were highly worried and sad about the new phenomenon. He pointed at a black stone at the centre of the river which he said was its source of water. Emir Mera said “The fishes that were usually caught during the annual fishing festival in Argungu were either gone or had died because of the drying of the river. We need to employ appropriate strategy to restore the river and its fish species.  We must commend the governor and top members of his cabinet for coming on an assessment visit to ascertain the extent of the problem of the river, which has put many farmers and fishermen into difficulties with a view to finding solution to it.”   

 A few weeks ago, during one of his public engagements Governor Bagudu said the past government had attempted to hold the fishing event, but had to cancel it and never bothered to host it again for several years, because of the security situation created by the insurgency in the northeast part of the country. He lamented that even though it was the wish of his administration to host the fishing festival this year because of its importance to the state, the country and the world, but it has to be cancelled and postponed because there are many things that need  to be put in place before Kebbi could host the international fishing festival.  

What is today known as the Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival started in 1931 during the visit of Sultan Hassan Dan-Mua’zu to Argungu, on the invitation of Emir Muhammadu Sama. Dan-Mua’zu was the first Sultan of Sokoto to sleep in Argungu to foster strong relationships between the Fulani and the Kabawa people. To entertain him, the emir gathered the Kabawa (his people) to enquire from them the best way to make the sultan’s visit a memorable one. At the meeting it was suggested that they should go to River Matan Fada to catch fish for him. It was reasoned that since the sultan already knew about traditional boxing, wrestling and other cultural entertainments, a fishing festival would make him happy.

According to historical accounts, on the day the festival was held to entertain the sultan many big fish were caught from the river. Moved by the spirit of the fishing event, the sultan stood by the bank of Matan Fada and prayed that the world would hear about what is today known as Argungu International Fishing Festival. 

One of the farmers by  the river bank, Jamilu Muhammed Argungu told our correspondent that it was sad to see the river which  is giving the community joy and pride, drying up. He continued that the people of the community were not happy over the development, and they believe the river is drying and its fish were also dying because they because of the failure to hold the annual fishing festival for the past eight years now. He said “Every member of this community has strong attachment to River Matan Fada. As Argungu people, we see the river as our joy and pride. It has brought us fame and popularity throughout the country. Because of it people from different parts of the world come here every year to witness the fishing festival.” He said the authorities should find ways to see that the river is restored. “It is because of this river that we are known for our fishing festival, if it is allowed to dry up that will be the end of the great event.”

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