Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki’s full support and commitment to this year’s NAFEST give culture buffs a reason to look forward to the festival, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
One thing about the National Festival of Arts and Culture never changes. That is the fact that the festival – better known by its acronym NAFEST – plumes itself on every new edition always seeking to surpass the successes of the previous one. Hence, even as culture buffs relish the great moments of the 31st edition, held last year in the Rivers State capital Port Harcourt, many are already looking forward to its next spectacular outing.
Indeed, there is no doubt that the annual rotation of venues among the states of the federation breathes some freshness into this celebration of Nigeria’s cultural diversity, which was established in 1970 shortly after the Nigerian civil war. Still, the festival’s participants from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory regularly have something new to bring to the table through its exhibitions and fairs for books, herbs, food and arts and craft.
This, therefore, is one of the reasons why the Edo State governor’s promise to enrich NAFEST’s cultural content should excite the culture community. Governor Godwin Obaseki had earlier this year at a pre-NAFEST 2019 engagement meeting with the director-general of National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), Otunba Segun Runsewe at the Government House in the state capital, Benin City, assured aficionados of the robust presence of the Benin royalty and culture at the event.
More recently, the governor reiterated his full commitment and support towards a successful hosting. This was during a world press conference, organised last Tuesday in Abuja at the instance of the NCAC to flag off the publicity campaign for this year’s edition. Obaseki, represented at the world press conference by the Edo State Commissioner for Arts, Culture, Tourism and Diaspora Affairs Osaze Osemwengie-Ero, promised Nigerians that his state would host one of the best ever art and culture festivals in the world. His antecedents as the governor, who was instrumental to Nigeria’s first-ever presence at the Venice Biennale, lends credence to the expectations of a better NAFEST.
Of course, there is also the fact that the state is riding on the crest of its rich cultural past, whose echoes resound in the present. With this heritage, the governor hopes to enrich and embellish the cultural festival’s growing influence. And there is no gainsaying the unifying effect of culture on an ethnically diverse country like Nigeria.
Nonetheless, hosting a remarkable NAFEST cannot be achieved without security. Hence, the governor disclosed that security measures were being put in place for the event. “We cannot talk about promoting tourism without concern for security,” he argued. “Edo is very safe. We are ready to put in a lot of security measures in place before October.”
In the same vein, NCAC’s Otunba Runsewe prescribed a cultural diplomacy as a means of curbing the country’s persistent inter-ethnic tensions and conflicts. With Edo State, he hopes the NCAC should be able to showcase the beauty of Nigeria to the world.
“There is a new beginning for us to speak for ourselves,” he said. “Enough of the negativity, enough of hearing bad things about us. We must celebrate ourselves and showcase what we have to the world.
“We are going to have a new beginning in Edo State, come October 19 to 26. If we move from one state to the other, there will be less hate speeches, disagreement and more love. Culture is the secret to make a new beginning for our great country.”
Thus, the director-general stressed that the annual festival demonstrates the critical relevance of culture in forging national unity, peace, mutual understanding as well as for building bridges of love and friendship across the different ethno-religious divides in the country.
Runsewe remains upbeat about the choice of Edo State for this year’s edition of the festival, which he adds “promises to be unique in all respect”.
Enthusing about the state’s “very rich and diverse cultural heritage dating back to several centuries”, he spoke of a “Day of Royal Splendour” as one the NAFEST 2019 distinctive features. This, he added, is an event that will be organised in collaboration with the Oba of Benin’s palace as a tacit acknowledgement of the Benin monarchy’s centrality to the socio-cultural activities of the state.
The task of reviving Nigeria’s cherished cultural heritage as well as the use of culture as a springboard for driving the process of national development, he added, would depend on its traditional rulers’ collaboration with the NCAC.
Ensuring the success of this year’s edition, whose theme is “Our Royalty, Our Pride”, chimes well with Runsewe’s mission, which is the strategic turnaround of the fortunes of the national festival into refreshing iconic gathering of the best of Nigeria culture in his less than two years in office. Indeed, Governor Obaseki had lauded his efforts so far as the helmsman of the government agency, which was established by Decree No. 3 of 1975 and amended by Decree No. 5 of 1987 (now Cap N25 Laws of the Federation 2004). “With what you have done with NAFEST, some of us are reassured that Nigeria can rebound in all aspects of our national life and we are proud to have you at the centre as key partner to take Nigeria out of the woods to the promised land,” the governor said.
Otunba Runsewe, who has remained a key player in the country’s media, culture and tourism sectors in Nigeria since the past three decades, has indeed held various positions such as the executive director of the National Orientation Agency, the director-general of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, the pioneer chairman of the Abuja Carnival Planning Committee, the media coordinator of the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Abuja and Head of Public Relations (Media), at the National Theatre, among others.
Based on his industry track records, expectations swirling around this fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations and former newspaper publisher remain very high.
Back to the NAFEST, the Edo State governor’s directives have long gone out for the constitution of a local organising committee, whose terms of reference will be to ensure a stress-free organisation of the festival. Runsewe had during his visit to Benin earlier this year promised to pay detailed attention to the festival’s content. And that, of course, includes its marketing and promotion.
The director-general had also lauded the giant strides and initiatives taken by the governor, who made his state the first in Nigeria to introduce cultural clubs in public schools and also the introduction of culture/tourism desk at Benin Airport as a process of reviving and sustaining Edo culture in the minds of the people and Nigerians at large.