SOUNDS, COLOURS OF INDEPENDENCE

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha report that Independence Day 2017 is rolled-up in an extended four-day period; allowing more time for leisure and recreation which has fired the imagination of event planners

Very early that fateful Saturday morning in October, 1960, a motley crowd had begun to find their way to the open grounds of Race Course, present day Tafawa Balewa Square, Onikan, Lagos. Dressed in their dignified and cultural attires, the crowd wore happy faces as they mingled and cheered. Children in their school uniforms marched on happily, waving the new green and white flag, traditional leaders donning their traditional robes found their way to their royal seats while exchanging formal pleasantries and waving to the crowd, dance troupes and other entertainers looked radiant in their costumes, ready to entertain the crowd. There were also ordinary people who just came to watch the spectacle, jubilant over the event that would take place in the next couple of hours and will last to midnight when it will reach its climactic end. It was indeed a day they had all been waiting for.

A DREAM COME TRUE
Those who could not make it to the ceremony ground stayed glued to their radios at home while the streets were filled with happy feet and voices, celebrating the dawn of a new beginning. The frenzy was replicated in other parts of the country, but was more apparent in Lagos, the capital then.

By midday, the ceremony was in progress. Princess Alexandra, representing Queen Elizabeth II of England, arrived amidst so much fanfare. She watched in silent awe at the spectacle unfolding on the grounds of Race Course. Masquerades performed magical stunts, dance troupes performed energetic and dazzling indigenous dances. The atmosphere was choked with excitement. Sir James Robertson who was the Governor-General also watched in subtle amazement.

After much grandeur, Princess Alexandra handed over the letter to Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa who hosted the grand event. The letter was a proof that Britain had relinquished its sovereignty over the most populous black nation. At this hand over, a thunderous cheer erupted at the gathering. More entertainment followed. The elites moved to the banquet hall to dance and celebrate the independence of Nigeria.

At the strike of the midnight hour, the beautiful green and white flag of the new nation Nigeria was hoisted accompanied by display of fireworks.

THE DAY WAS OCTOBER 1
This celebration became a blueprint for subsequent independence celebrations.

October 1 has since become a commemorative holiday to celebrate Nigeria’s independence.
It usually starts with a national broadcast by the Number One Citizen. Other activities which have become associated with the day include a march past by the armed forces, paramilitary institutions and students; and cultural activities.

Independence Day celebration is still a rallying point to push the boat out. Sometimes in happier tones, other times in sadder undertones.

However, the late 90s and 2000s ushered in diverse and creative ways of commemorating the day.
For whatever it is worth, Nigerians have a reason to be sentimental on October 1. As the nation continues to grapple with leadership and economic issues, Independence Day became a day of reflection on the history of the country. The media, both print and electronic fill their pages and airwaves with discourse from politicians and leaders of thought on the future of Nigeria. Religious bodies and other advocacy groups have since joined the bandwagon.

Prominent Christian ministry Believers Love World, owners of Christ Embassy, introduced its Reach-Out Nigeria Campaign in 2011. According to the religious body, the campaign serves to kindle the fire of patriotism and restore hope in the future of the country. For its inaugural edition, the church gave out food items, medical supplies, boreholes, books, computer accessories and other items to several communities in the spirit of independence. Before the launch of the campaign, it was a tradition of the church to storm the streets of Lagos, particularly from its headquarters in Oregun with boisterous activities to mark Nigeria’s independence. At such times, the country’s colours are boldly used in body art and attires to create a spectacle with their carnival-like activities while preaching salvation and giving out copies of its daily devotional, Rhapsody of Realities, to the enthralled masses.
Subsequent independence celebrations by the church have accommodated a concert. Last year, it marked the day with a Praise Concert, carnival and a football tournament in Warri as part of its Reach-Out Nigeria campaign.

In similar fashion, Manna Prayer Mountain championed by Bishop Chris Kwakpovwe, author of Nigeria’s first popular daily devotional, Our Daily Manna, uses the Independence Day celebration to promote unity in the country with its campaign, One Nigeria, One ODM. Members of the church fill the streets of Lagos in their green and white uniforms, distributing millions of copies of the daily devotional to the masses.

Entertainers are not left out in the jubilation spree. Concert venues and beaches are filled with activities. In 2009, 411 Entertainment initiated the Green and White carnival. The carnival promised lots of fun fare and paraded a bunch of activities like trade fair and expo of proudly Nigerian products, art works and souvenirs, beach games, live concert featuring the country’s finest mega stars on a massive stage, fashion parade, branded party huts of different organisations. However, the carnival didn’t last for more than a couple of years before it sank in the mud.

Felix Duke, a musician introduced the Independence Day Beach Carnival in 2012. The carnival had all the embellishment of such event including a robust line-up of performing artistes. Previous editions were held at Elegushi Beach along the Lekki-Ibeju Expressway.

There is also the Stand-Up Nigeria Comedy Show by Bunmi Davies. It held last year on Independence Day and will also hold on same day this year.

Spirit of David, a Christian dance group had always tied one epic performance to October 1 since 1999. The production usually pools many dancers and cast on one stage. This year, it will present to its audience a dance drama titled ‘Glimpse’. About 100 professional dancers will be pooled from Spirit of David’s branches nationwide to present this fresh and original production that will certainly resonate with audiences around the world. Produced and directed by Wale “Rubber” Sodade , the Chief Dance Instructor of the group, Glimpse is a movement that will inspire Lagos , Nigeria and the world to love through acts of kindness (no matter how small) and encourage recipients to pay that kindness forward.

On the fashion scene, beauty pageantry is tied to the Independence Celebration, although some of them do not see the light of day. There is the Miss Independence Nigeria which is held in the month of October.

In the South-east region, Miss Independence Anambra reigns supreme but has been muted for a while.
Apart from music and comedy, Nigeria’s independence has likewise been an interesting muse to filmmakers. In 2014, prolific movie producer and director Kunle Afolayan premiered a movie named October 1, a dark psychological thriller set in Colonial Nigeria. The movie told the story of Danladi Waziri (Sadiq Daba), a police officer from Northern Nigeria who was posted to a remote town of Akote in Western Nigeria to investigate the frequent female murder cases in the community and solve the mystery before the Nigerian flag is raised on Nigeria’s Independence Day.

In 2016, Abba T Makama explored the ethnic diversity in Nigeria with his movie ‘Green White Green’ which tells of three young boys from Nigeria’s major ethnic groups on an adventure to make a short film. Despite the positive reviews the film received at festivals, it never made it to the Nigerian cinemas.

The golf community is not left out in the celebration. It introduced the Nigeria Cup competition to mark the nation’s Independence Day celebrations. This year’s event is organised by the Ikoyi Golf Community Nigeria Association (IGCNA).
Incidentally, the 2017 Independence Day falls on a Sunday. The next day has been declared a Public Holiday, effectively guaranteeing a four-day period of laissez faire, in which many can do as they please. Inspired by an extended four-day period; allowing more time for leisure and recreation, event planners have come up with all manners of occasions to foster the spirit of independence.

Many of these activities are set to start on the Independence Eve. Comedian, Bright Okpocha, better known as Basketmouth, had an entertaining session of music and comedy at Eko Hotel yesterday which featured American comedians, Robert Powell and G. The humour merchants from South Africa were Ndumiso Lindi and David Kau, while Salvador came from Uganda. His Nigerian compatriots on the bill were Okey Bakassi, Buchi and Bovi. The music fare was supplied by Wizkid, Flavour, Harrysong, Play, Olamide and Lil Kesh. Popular DJ Kimmy Jatt set the independence mood at the New Afrikan Shrine yesterday with his show Jimmy’s Jump Off.

On Independence Day at the Backyard, Musa Yar’Adua Street, Victoria Island, Johnnie Walker Black Label presents Johnnie and Whisky, a show that is advertised as a when flavor is king and jazz is the beat. series of activities have been lined up for the holiday.

Two novelties are taking place this year during the independence holiday. For the first time ever, there is a Nigeria Beer Festival which kicked off last Monday and is billed to reach a climactic end today at the Eko Atlantic City. Hosted by Lagos State, the festival parades the best beer brands “in a carnival week of entertainment, sales and marketing and a gathering of the largest community of beer consumers from across the country and beyond with economic value for the brands and the economy at large,” according to Akinola Oluwaleimu, General Manager of 001.

There is also the Lagos City Suya Carnival which is taking up the arduous task to make a 50 ft suya steak to set a new record in The Guinness Book of World Record in Nigeria as the longest suya steak ever made. The executive producer of the carnival, Kehinde Talabi, explained that the carnival is organised in conjunction with the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture to offer entertainment and fun.

The Main Supremacy Concert holds on October 1 at Eko Hotel. The musical revolution tagged “The Supremacy” is a live music concert. It will feature performances from some of the biggest made-in-Nigeria artistes including Sir Shina Peters, Olamide, Tekno, Tiwa Savage, D’Banj and 9ice.

Comedian Tunde Adewale better known as Tee A has developed an independence themed entertainment fare tailored for corporate individuals. Billed for the Intercontinental Hotel, it’s an exclusive event that will host only 500 guests. ‘Independence Day Corporate Tyme Out With Tee A’ holds today and is purposely designed to feature only a select few. Tee A said, “Like the name implies, it’s a corporate event for some of our corporate clients and partners from over the years who have supported us all the way but may not have been able to attend our previous events.”

The Nigerian Independence celebrations are not limited to Nigeria. Nigerians across the pond are also raising the flag of their country with pride in their different host countries; as they engage in one activity or the other to enjoy this day. It is not uncommon to find independence concerts in New York or in London.

Although, there are few Nigerians who will rather not indulge in the festivities due to the state of the economy and security threats, the overriding mood permits a good break from the routine in order to have a good time, even if on a cautious and reflective note. For instance, The Covenant Christian Centre led by Pastor Poju Oyemade has conceived a critical engagement forum called the Platform which he said has the prophetic function of preservation. The Independence Day edition features speakers including Bishop Hassan Mathew Kukah and Chairman of THISDAY Editorial Board, Olusegun Adeniyi, as they dissect the theme, ‘Putting Together the Jigsaw Pieces that Form Nigeria’.