Against All Odds, EkoNAFEST 2022 Opens up Conversations on Peace and Unity 

Yinka Olatunbosun

The National Stadium in Surulere turned out to be an encampment for vendors, some of whom slept overnight under their canopies for the sake of the prestigious National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST). White commuter buses lined the park beside the National Institute of Sports, where most of the events were held. Some delegates arrived at the venue early in the morning, bringing with them exciting stories of their journeys, punctuated by mechanical failures on the conveying vehicle. 

Finally, they arrived—a few in trickles. Marching into the venue in droves, the stage for the command performance was almost invisible from the seating area at the back. Still, the energy in the room was familiar and infectious. Dancers clad in Nigerian cultural costumes could be seen above the sea of heads ahead. With the knowledge of the huge cultural scene in Lagos and the growing number of performance venues in the city, hosting NAFEST command performance in Balmoral Hall left a sour taste in the mouth. It all came down to logistics: traffic, ease of commuting to and from venues, ample parking space, and cultural markets. And with Lagos being a state under construction, with many road diversions and a handful of closures, it makes sense to situate the event at the National Stadium, freshly renovated by the Lagos State government to accommodate cultural delegates.

In a colourful atmosphere inside the Mobolaji Johnson Arena in Onikan, Lagos, the 35th edition of the National Festival for Arts and Culture (NAFEST) was officially declared open in Lagos on November 11 by Gov. Babajide Sanwoolu. Founded on the objectives of promoting peace and marketing the best of Nigeria’s cultural heritage, NAFEST 2022 has the theme “Culture and Peaceful Co-existence.” All together, Lagos has hosted the festival four times: in 1970, 1974, 1988, and now 2022.

The ceremony was preceded by a performance by Fuji musician Adewale Ayuba as well as the parade of the state troupes drawn from 22 states and all the local governments in Lagos. A special appearance by the National Population Commission was also witnessed on the parade ground as part of efforts to spread awareness about the need to participate in the 2023 census exercise.

Lagos demonstrated its supremacy in partying with bespoke fabric and party packs, a photo catalogue that tells the Lagos story, and bedazzling performances and choreography that would arguably look better with a bird’s eye view; hence the drones parading the arena throughout the show.

In his address to declare the festival open, the chief host of NAFEST 2022, Gov. Babajide Sanwoolu, described the event as “unifying” and “a melting pot of our cultures.”

“We are one nation joined together by cultures.” Today, we are celebrating our unity in diversity, our heteroculture. This is indeed a cultural marvel to embrace.

“In Lagos, we are deliberate about promoting tourism, arts, and culture as our fifth pillar of entertainment.”

The Director-General, National Council for Arts and Culture and President, World Crafts Council, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, shared the same sentiment in his speech.

“The year 2022 edition of NAFEST must be used as a vehicle for consolidating our unity, peace and social harmony. This is especially so because this year’s edition of NAFEST is coming just before the 2023 General Elections. It is a known fact that election years in Nigeria are usually volatile because of the conflicting and contending political issues by the various political parties in Nigeria.”

Further, Runsewe charged participants in the friendly competitive activities to embrace the spirit of good sportsmanship by accepting defeat in the spirit of love and to celebrate victory with empathy and respect for other competitors.

The Lagos state commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs Uzamat Akinbile-Yusuf, in her welcome remarks, described the event as a product of a deliberate plan and preparation that started as soon as Lagos was announced as the host for the 2022 edition of the festival.

“Lagos prides itself as a peaceful place,” she said while inviting participants to explore the waterways and the heritage of Lagos.

“Going by the theme of this festival, it is imperative for us to remember that our peaceful coexistence is paramount.”

The festival had as its special guest of honour the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi.

Some of the competitive events for NAFEST 2022 include children’s music competition, drama, Ayo board games, archery, traditional cuisine competition, and a national competition on the use of Nigerian indigenous materials for interior decoration, while the non-competitive events include official opening and closing ceremonies, command performances, roundtable discussions, a cultural market, free skills acquisition, cultural golf, and excursions to tourist sites.

The closing ceremony is held today at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena in Onikan, where winners will be announced and awards will be conferred on deserving states.

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