Positioning Ekiti as Arts and Tourism Destination

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Raheem Akingbolu, who witnessed the 2019 edition of Ekiti Festival of Arts and Culture writes that the state is fast becoming a tourism and arts destination in the country

When the Director General of Ekiti State Council of Arts and Culture, Wale Ojo-Lanre, a culture and tourism promoter, first mooted the idea of organising a festival of arts and culture, only few stakeholders expected something different from the usual jamborees in some states but by the time the three-day activities ended, the story had changed for better.

Through the activities, Ado Ekiti, the state capital and some neighbouring towns didn’t only wear a new look but became livelier than before. For instance, the streets of Ado were overrun by a cultural heritage that was captivating.

The carnival train started in Afao, home town of former Governor Ayodele Fayose, where children from sixteen local governments of the state were treated to various kiddies activities under what was termed ‘KidFest’ at a modern playground that has many playhouses, merry go-round, play sliding, swingset, jungle gym and spring rider. The kids were also offered chop-chops, crunches, ice-creams among other things.

For the parents and their children, it was memorable because it gave the innocent kids a good welcome to their holiday and festive season. One of the parents, Mr. Babatunde Oguntuase, could not hide his excitement as he cuddled his 4-year-old boy -Momore, who was struggling with the father to go back to the venue of the event after the show.

“With this, Governor Fayemi and his team have simply demonstrated that they are sensitive to the feelings of all, including children. Some of us are always eager to take our children to places like Lagos, Ibadan o Abuja during the holiday to have a taste of activities like this. But today, the children are not only happy, parents are also fulfilled,” Oguntuase said.

While commending the effort, Oguntuase, a Real Estate consultant, urged the administration to sustain the programme and make it an annual event. According to him, many parents who don’t resident in Ekiti may see such event as the reason to always come to Ekiti with their children during the festive period.

Meanwhile, in what looked like a build up to the event, the state’s contingent had in October during the National Arts and Culture Festival, NAFEST 2019, held at the University of Benin Sports Complex, performed so creditably well that they clinched the most-culturally creative and innovative state award. Ekiti beat 29 other states to cart home the prize.

Earlier, they had appeared with two mortars, four pestles, bags of condiments of local soup preparation, seasoned bush meat and some yam tubers as the contingent headed for Benin determined to showcase the beauty of Ekiti pounded yam.

Their entry was markedly noticed at the Federal Government Girls College, Benin, which served as camp for delegates when the contingent displayed a welcome cultural show to the amazement of other states contingents.

The 2019 Ekfest turned out to be a good platform for the state to show her best in culture, arts and tourism. Indeed, it was full of colours and fun and a festival of African dance, music and other performing arts.

On the opening day, a babble of excited voices and panoply of drum displays welled up in the typical Ekiti dialect at the Ekiti Parapo Pavilion on New Iyin Road, Ado-Ekiti. The capital city was magnificent in bold colours, as the festival provided the avenue for unleashing the best of the state.

From the pavilion’s entrance to the auditorium and adjoining streets, guests and visitors streamed into the available space, intimidatingly.

The opening equally paid homage to the forested spirits embodied by the villagers who wore colourful costumes and fabulous and handcrafted masks (many handed down from one generation to another).

To give a national outlook, the organisers fully involved citizens of other states who resident in Ekiti as they all came out in their traditional costume to participate in the carnival parade. For instance, Ndigbo, Ebira, Tarok and several ethnic groups in the state performed alongside contingents from the 16 local government councilsof the state to provide entertainment, spectacular colours, unbeatable activities and unimaginable exhibition of culture. Dances, music, sale of foods, wine, beer among others also formed the highlights of this festival.

Over the years, Ekiti people have been noted to host different festivals that have evolved into widely participatory events featuring extraordinarily rich musical traditions and dance.Two years ago, the people of Aramoko Ekiti redefined the annual Aramoko Day celebration and came up with Aramoko Heritage Festival, which showcased the best of traditional and modern carnival.

EKIFEST was initiated with the view of promoting the culture of the people of Ekiti and harnessing the potential of the state to further drive indigenous economic enterprise, generate employment and ultimately make their state a vibrant destination for tourism.

Though there was an interregnum of about six years between the last edition and now, this edition did not lose its large following. It was an opportunity to lift the tourism potential of the state using culture as the product of the state’s investment viability.

The event showcased the rich cultural heritage of the state to the world market and equally created opportunity to harness the talents of the people to build an art and cultural economy that could support the state in all spheres.

It is meant to build the state’s social-economic sphere, in line with the diversification programme of Governor Kayode Fayemi’s government.

In his address, the Director-General of the Council of Arts and Culture, Wale Ojo-Lanre, said Ekiti people are gradually getting used to EKIFEST as an economic diversification project and called on the people to promote the state’s tradition of excellence.

“What we are trying to create in the 2019 edition of EKIFEST is a product that can be marketed in the subsequent editions. We are rich in arts, culture, and tourism and this is the best opportunity to market them,” he said.

Ojo-Lanre, said the intention of the programme is to develop the talents of Ekiti young citizens, in tandem with the human capital development policy thrust of Fayemi’s administration.

He thanked the governor for providing the wherewithal for the resuscitation of the council, which has helped to remove the state from the list of absentee states at both local and international cultural festivals.

He disclosed that the governor sponsored the State Cultural Troupe to Budapest, Hungary, the last National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST), Benin City, Edo State, as well as the International Drum Festival held in Ogun State to promote the state’s cultural heritage. Recall that the state was on ground for the botched Abuja Carnival.

At the opening, Governor Kayode Fayemi announced an upgrade of the state’s Council for Arts and Culture to the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism.

Fayemi also disclosed the determination of his administration to increase its investment in the creative industry and exploit the potential of arts and culture sector for the economic prosperity of the state and its citizens.

He told the new ministry to consolidate on its various achievements, enhance the potential of creative practitioners and boost the Internally Generated Revenue of the state.

He added that the role of Arts and Culture as catalysts to progressive multiculturalism is gaining more traction in the world over.

The governor described EKIFEST as an economic and social strategy aimed at repositioning the creative industry of the state for optimal performance and drawing the attention of the global public to the unique landmarks of the state in tourism and culture.

“In Ekiti State, our cultural heritage keeps our memories alive of how beliefs and cultural expressions have contributed to the development of our society. Ekiti is a state of rich artistic and cultural heritage and endowed with the abundance of talents. Our riches are well demonstrated through arts, dance, literature, music, food and folklore.”

Fayemi who assured investors of necessary support and encouragement, called on entrepreneurs to visit the various tourism corridors in the state and invest in them, stressing that their investment is not only secured but also bound to yield good dividends.

In her welcome speech, the Chairperson of EKIFEST 2019 planning committee and wife of the governor, Erelu Bisi Fayemi, said the festival was aimed at creating tourism attraction and enhance investment opportunities as well as create viable markets for local businesses.

Mrs. Fayemi noted that the previous editions of the festival in 2012 and 2013 increased tourism visits to the state and created the needed exposure for the cultural infrastructure.

“EKIFEST 2019 is designed towards the restoration of our core values as well as empowerment against the scourge of poverty. Our culture is a viable solution to several problems bedevilling our society. It is in our culture to be diligent, honest and peace-loving.

“Our culture abhors laziness; our culture goes against the shirking of responsibilities,” she said.

There was a big parade, with cars and people floating through the streets and their bodies painted or dressed in colourful clothes.

Highlights of the opening session of the festival were a colourful and carnival-like parade by all the 16 local government areas, Nollywood stars, artists and ethnic groups in the state as well as musical jamboree around the major streets of Ado-Ekiti, the state capital.

The festival featured arts and crafts exhibition, keggite gyration, traditional games, Ekiti culturepreneur, Ekiti dress fashion show, Heritage carnival by 16 councils, musical concerts, freestyle carnival, Fun Ride to Ikogosi, Kiddifest, a symposium at Ikogosi Warm Spring resort, screening of a film Tennats of the House.

Speaking at the colloquium held at Ekitiparapo Pavilion, Ikogosi Warm Spring Resort during the festival, panelists urged the youth to explore the many opportunities in arts and culture sector as avenues for empowerment.

The colloquium, which has as theme, Arts and Culture: Tools for restoration of values and socio-economicdevelopment was organised to educate the tourists and guests on needs to drive arts and culture through tourism.

According to the speakers, tourism creates many windows of opportunities, which are capable of solving social economic problems. They noted that it would also attract international conference organisers who are desirous of serenity and tourism potentials.

On marketing strategies, they observed that ‘if you don’t make noise on what you have nobody will do it for you. The symposium is a greater way of showcasing tourism.’

The panelists were veteran Yoruba actor Jimoh Aliu; founder of Ebedi Writers’ Residency, Dr. Wale Okediran; Prof Oladele; Wale Ojo Lanre; Akeem Lasisi; Kezia Togun; Prof Bakare Ojo Rasaki and Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Alhaji Gani Ibrahim.

Beyond the carnival, a stage play -Ifajuyigbe, which carefully brought back the gallant sacrifice made by a former Military Administrator of the old Western State, was performed live at Adetiloye Hall, Ado Ekiti. Written and directed by one of the most celebrated Nigeria Arts and Dance Scholars, Professor Bakare Ojo Rasaki, the play sent message of patriotism, love and togetherness to Nigeria.