NAFEST 2021: Celebrating Unity Amidst Cultural Diversity

In Ekiti, festival buffs soaked in the air of conviviality in the seven-day National Festival of Arts and Culture featuring drama, archery, traditional board games, essay writing, workshop, merchandising and more- climaxing with the host state being declared as the overall winner. Yinka Olatunbosun reports

Ekiti, the host state for NAFEST 2021 is a typical ‘Ilu Oke’ meaning ‘the land of rugged hills.’ Situated at over 250m above sea level, it was besieged by participants at this year’s edition of NAFEST.

This 34th edition served Ekiti some shock therapy. All reputable hotels in Ado-Ekiti were fully booked. Street trading surfaced at the entrance to the newly built Civic Centre, near Adekunle Fajuyi junction, Ado-Ekiti where no fewer than 22 states and the Federal Capital Territory converged for most of the events.

However, the opening ceremony- modelled after FESTAC ’77 or the Olympics Parade- was held at the Ekiti Parapo Pavilion. The audience was minimal but opening choreography was world-class, with live broadcast on two leading national television and several social media platforms. With the theme, “Celebrating National Unity in Diversity,’’ NAFEST 2021 amplified unity, personal and national development through its rich and varied content.

In his keynote address, the Director-General, National Council for Arts and Culture, and President, World Crafts Council (African Region), Otunba Olusegun Runsewe noted that the festival is necessary to promote patriotism in the face of separatist agitations in different parts of Nigeria.

“NAFEST does not only provide a platform for Nigerians from different ethnic backgrounds to showcase their unique cultural manifestations, it also brings to the fore, the role of culture in national peace and harmony as well as the vast opportunity in the culture sector for job creation and economic empowerment,’’ he remarked.

While declaring the festival open, the Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi remarked that the critical state of the nation requires harnessing the diverse culture as tools for social and political change.

“It is imperative to build our unique cultural economy to attract global attention,’’ he said. He added that culture is one of the main pillars of development. For him, apart from sports, NAFEST is an opportunity for all the 36 states to meet and celebrate national unity.

Since 1970 when NAFEST was instituted, it had served as a platform for talent hunt, skills development and marketing Nigeria’s cultural content. With entrepreneurial workshop as well as free medical testing and counselling, the festival proved to a holistic experience.

The Civic Centre Arts Theatre was filled to capacity. A brisk walk through the backstage showed co-ordination and discipline. The opening night featured the Command Performance of the play, ‘Free Readers Association’ which was an excerpt from a prose written by the writer, women’s rights activist and wife of the state governor, Erelu Bisi Fayemi.

The play is a social commentary on the Nigerian state raising subject matters of corruption, insecurity and poor economy. With an opening glee from the Ekiti-based comedy clan, ‘Arakende,’ the night also saw a dance performance titled “The Battle of the Sexes’’ rooted in Yoruba proverbs. The energy in the hall was fired up with ‘Osombo’ a trumpet and drum ensemble.

At the colourful closing ceremony, Ekiti state was declared as the overall winner. The state surprisingly beat Rivers, Bayelsa/Benue, Delta/Nasarawa, Ogun/Lagos/FCT to the second, third, fourth and fifth positions respectively in the keenly contested series of events. In the Best Costume Category, Rivers, Imo had a tie. Rivers and Bayelsa won a joint prize for largest contingents while the Best Behaved and Discipline State award went to Yobe, Taraba and Sokoto.

Jigawa and Gombe were jointly awarded the prize for the most improved state while the most creative in packaging and design award went to Ondo, Nasarawa, Kano. Niger and Zamfara were joint recipients of the Best Entrepreneurial state award. Just when it was thought that Lagos was to miss out on the prizes, it was awarded alongside Rivers, FCT, Ogun for the Best Synergy and Team Work. Abia, Bauchi and Plateau won the Best Digital Marketing for Arts while the most consistent state in NAFEST went to Borno, Kano, Katsina and Benue.

In Archery competition, Nasarawa came first pushing Ekiti, Borno and Kaduna/Rivers to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th positions respectively. Ekiti and Rivers came first in the Children Essay Writing Competition while Rivers came first in the Traditional Cuisine Competition. Ekiti also won the first in Children’s Arts and Crafts, Nigerian Fabric as well as Puppetry/Tales by Moonlight Competition.

The defending champion, Bayelsa which had won first overall at NAFEST in 2013, 2016, 2017, 2020 grabbed a 1st position in Traditional Board game and a 2nd position in Nigerian Fabric, Indigenous Fashion Competition, Puppetry and 5th position in Children’s drama.

The Ace choreographer and The Founder, Crown Troupe of Africa, Segun Adefila in his assessment of the festival at the closing ceremony commended the participating states and stressed the need for better preparation on the part of the host state in future.

“This is something to be encouraged if we believe that the unity of this country is important and we hold festivals like these, we need to think about the things that the parties are complaining about. There can’t be peace where there is injustice,” he said.

NAFEST 2022 is coming to Lagos, a state that had hosted the festival twice in history- 1970 and 1988.

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