Tourism Minister, Chief Edem Duke
A recent meeting of public and private sector carnival organisers in Lagos sought to harmonise yearly cultural events in various states. But there were mixed feelings over the upcoming plan, Adewole Ajao reports
In line with its blueprint for the development of the culture and tourism sector, the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation recently organised a one-day meeting with carnival organisers at the Banquet Hall of the National Theatre on April 14. The weekend gathering, which was graced by the Tourism Minister, Chief Edem Duke, delegates and stakeholders from state arts, culture and tourism bodies, was aimed at creating a concise itinerary of yearly events that cut across the culture and tourism circuit while ensuring definite dates for each event.
With tourism being the mainstay of notable economies around the world, regular information and data that enhances tourist’s knowledge about upcoming events are no longer a rarity. Even conventional catalogues and other printed items are already being replaced by online options that have facilitated planned travel to holiday destinations.
However, this is still sorely missing in the Nigerian tourism sector. Amidst the innumerable offering of events in the country, as well as the availability of search engines like Google and others, a near exhaustive record is still missing. This made the meeting a step in the right direction.
Besides listing the annual showpieces for the benefit of tourism, dialogue was also part of the day’s proceedings which had in attendance the director general of the National Theatre, Kabir Yussuf, Abuja Carnival director, George Ufot, and the festival’s artistic director, Ojo Rasaki Bakare.
According to Bakare, a complimentary rather than competitive ambience was necessary for the growth of the tourism sector. This, he said, would be negated if states continue to work at cross purposes when it comes to festival organisation. Citing an incident from last year where a major national festival clashed with a notable state carnival, he questioned the rationale for the haphazard timing of some festivals, bearing in mind the effect it has on travellers.
“It doesn’t show we are a serious community. Are states supposed to be competing with themselves or working together as big players developing the sector for the sake of the country? If all states have carnivals in a particular week, how many tourists can come and be part of such festivals taking place in states at the same time?
“Apart from clashing dates, states are trying to portray that they are better than one another and it doesn’t make sense,” Bakare added. “That is why we are here. We want to compile this list and take off. There’ll be lots of contradictions but it’ll serve as a basis for streamlining the tourism calendar.”
The comments did little to douse the perceived tension in the hall. The twist to proceedings came with another request for a signature festival from each state.
While Ondo was able to nominate its annual mountain climbing rite the MARE Festival, others seemed to be in the lurch. Niger State delegates said they had already commenced the process of selection with some assistance from a committee set up by their governor, Babangida Aliyu, while Kano represented by Ali A. Bature, the executive secretary of the state’s History and Culture Bureau said there were ongoing consultations with the emirate for a date for the Durbar Festival.
Other problems identified some states was their inability to make such nominations without the approval of their state governments, a view expressed by S.T Bello from the FCT’s Culture Ministry. “Are we really in a position to take policy decisions on this? We need a more powerful organ looking at the situation. For instance the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation can hold a gathering of state commissioners where it can be adopted as a policy.”
In the case of Kogi State, the forum unearthed the fact that a chunk of the festivals in the north-central state are organised by its local government councils. The absence of a festival endorsed by the state government was a headache for its representative. Mrs. Eunice Ajiboye Yemi. Another worry was the glut of ethnic groups which presents a problem.
But Kogi State was not alone in the dilemma of selecting a main festival owned by the state. Other states with diverse tribes also acknowledged this as a problem in their states. In the event where one festival is given prominence over others, the age-old issues of marginalisation could crop up, they contended.
“When it comes to picking a festival, it is a matter of politics because no ethnic group wants to be relegated,” argued the dance director of the National Troupe of Nigeria, Arnold Udoka. “The Kogi issue is prevalent but the idea of where to be in Nigeria during a month filled with diverse festivals should be the prerogative of the tourists and not ours.”
With the need for exhaustive deliberation apparent, another interesting dimension to the day came from film maker, Fidelis Duker. The producer and movie director felt the whole idea of listing events would be incomplete if film festivals are not given the necessary recognition in the ministry’s plans. His argument stemmed from the revenue potential and patronage generated by notable film festivals around the world like the Cannes, Berlin, Busan and the Rotterdam film fests.
The Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) also got a mention during the conference ahead of its ceremony holding this month in Lagos. During a presentation by Wale Adeniji, special assistant to Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism and Inter-governmental matters, Disun Holloway, he said tourists are an important consideration, however, festivals like the Eyo and others that are traditional in their outlook opened the need for the ministry to be a little flexible in the whole idea of fixing dates.
“We see reason in what is being said, but in Lagos things are quite dynamic and what we do is draw up a calendar for approval by the governor. We also notify the executive council as is required. Eyo is a funeral rite and if we make it cosmetic, it will water down its significance,” he noted.
Nonetheless, a week was deemed adequate for states to draw up their lists, and the minister’s eventual arrival at the gathering gave greater clarity to the day’s agenda. Duke while dwelling on the role tourism and culture would play in the transformation agenda of the Goodluck Jonathan administration said the list was part of the new plan of his ministry.
“We must bring a new system and management into the expression of our culture in a way that will make festivals more attractive and they will be more rewarding,” the minister said.
On the Abuja Carnival, which was created in 2005 to showcase the FCT as a melting pot for culture and creativity, Duke said it emphasised the importance of a primary event for states. With a headline event, the economic advantages would trickle down to various sectors that are involved in its organisation.
“We are organising the Abuja Carnival because it has been identified as a key performance indicator for the development of culture in Nigeria. So also in all Nigerian states, the organisation of a successful festival or carnival must be a key performance indicator of the contribution of culture to the well-being of each and every state. Beyond dancing and merriment, we must put things on a platform of economic transformation.”
At the end of proceedings, some industry analysts commended the documentation effort. With definite dates for events, there will be greater synergy in the sector, they observed. Potential travellers can also plan their trips to such locations ahead of time.
According to tourism marketer, Ogbeni Tope Awe, it was long overdue and would instil discipline in the current scenario where dates are selected indiscriminately. But there is need to focus on the content of each event.
“Even in Brazil, there are several festivals but the Rio Carnival is the premier one. They must define each event and look at its pulling power,” he said. “We must categorise the traditional and tourist-oriented events. Considerations for historical perspective and norms are also important.”
Tourism writer and 2010 CNN Journalist Award winner, Pelu Awofeso, also gave the current effort a pass mark. According to the journalist, working with state tourism boards was the beginning. “We cannot market all the festivals but this is a step in the right direction. If it will be successful, the ministry must keep working with the state tourism boards because there are some festivals that people don’t even know exist,” he said.
But some pessimism trailed the meeting. Speaking with a tourism stakeholder, he stated that the plan was not well-thought out. He fingered the failure to take into consideration the desire of each state as a problem waiting to happen.
Such oversight, he argued, raises some concerns over the prospects of streamlining the tourism calendar.