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How Jos 2020 changed Plateau State culture narrative

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Abuja
13 December 2020   |   4:13 am
When Plateau State was granted hosting right for the recently held National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST 2020), many were skeptical about safety of visitors considering ugly reports...

Governor of Plateau State, Simon Bako Lalong (second from left); Minister of Women Affairs Minister, Dame Pauline Tallen (left) and Otunba Segun Runsewe, DG, National Council for Arts & Culture, during the opening ceremony of the 2020 NAFEST… recently

When Plateau State was granted hosting right for the recently held National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST 2020), many were skeptical about safety of visitors considering ugly reports of violece and ethnic skirmishes that had coloured the state’s narratives in recent years. But at the close of events contingents commended the people of the state for finally embracing peace.

No doubts, one of the achievements of the just concluded feast was the ability to change the ugly narratives about Plateau State.

The 33rd edition of NAFEST that held between November 21 and 28, 2020 has helped in restoring confidence of visitors.

The state governor, Simon Bako Lalong, who disclosed that he had several calls from groups and government agencies indicating interest to bring their events to the state, confirmed this position.

Organised by the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), the Director General, Otunba Segun Runsewe, left nothing to chance in ensuring that the country’s biggest national cultural festival impacted Plateau State tremendously.

While the Roundtable on Entrepreneurship educated participants on how to diversify income sources, the free skills acquisition programme equipped citizens of the state, particularly women and youths, with the capacity to become economically self-reliant.

About 1600 people benefited from the programme that took beneficiaries on different skills including tailoring, soap making, cosmetology, make-up and several other skills towards financial empowerment.

The enthusiasm showed by the beneficiaries excited the D.G, NCAC, who commended such zeal and commitment.

According to him, it portrayed the people’s interest in engaging their hands to fend for themselves rather than being involved in social ills.

“We have 1600 Plateau State indigenes trained in tailoring, make-up, cosmetology and soap making. We have been moving round states for this and we have never had such number of interested persons in skill acquisition.

“This indicates that things are turning around in Plateau State. It shows that you are ready to use your hands to work, this is what the Chinese and Indians are doing to improve their economy; it will also help our economy and society.

“I urge you to put what you have learnt so far into use. It is shameful to have our youths engage in criminality,” Runsewe said.

For producers of local products to make headway, Runsewe encouraged Nigerian hoteliers to patronise them. He believed that such will reduce the overhead cost of running hotels, reduce hotel bills and attract more investors and tourists to the country.

Some of the beneficiaries who spoke at the certificate awarding ceremony appreciated the organisers of NAFEST for impacting them greatly. According to them, all they required was a little capital to start up their business.

The 2020 NAFEST syllabus was loaded with exciting events for both children and adults in both competitive and non-competitive categories. They include indigenous cuisines, children indigenous music instrumentation, choral competition, traditional board game competition, indigenous fabric and fashion competition, culture quiz and archery, which replaced traditional wrestling.

Earlier at the opening ceremony, which held at the Rwang Pam Township Stadium, the state’s Commissioner for Tourism, Culture and Hospitality, Tamwakat Weli, expressed delight that Nigerians were able to converge on the Plateau. To her, it was a show of confidence that lasting peace has finally returned to the country’s apex tourism destination.

In his remarks, Runsewe commended the Plateau State governor for accepting to host the festival, noting that the nation cannot remain standstill in the face of COVID-19 pandemic.

Impressed by the peace and glamour of the day, the D.G called for an end to hostility in the state so as to enable development come to the state.

He equally charged participants to return to their various states with a message of peace and unity, which they shared at the festival.

Declaring the festival opened, Governor Lalong reminded guests that Plateau remained the home of peace and tourism in spite of the temporary setback it suffered in recent years.

“We remain a state that is endowed with the best weather condition comparable to none in Nigeria.

“This explains why Plateau remains the destination of choice for many who desire to partake in its potential such as, rich arable soil, breathtaking tourism destinations, abundant solid mineral resources as well as diverse rich cultural heritage.”

The governor insisted that hosting the event was a confirmation that people have confidence in the restoration of peace in Plateau.

“Before we came into office, many were skeptical about coming to the state because of the crisis that occurred in the past. However, things have changed as my administration embraced all stakeholders and initiated collective dialogue and constructive engagement to get to the root of the problem.

“With the support of all, including the security agencies, we have succeeded in restoring substantial peace.

“My hope is that as various contingents showcase the culture and artistic endowments of their states, people will appreciate the diversity and beauty of Nigeria in a manner they have not done before.

“In this, technology can greatly assist us document and store our arts and cultural endowments.

“However, the misuse of technology, especially the social media, can make us lose our cultural and artistic values within a twinkle of an eye. This is the reason we must continue to advocate the responsible use of the social media. No one seeks to restrict, control or muzzle the social media. Rather, we must put in place, mechanism to ensure responsible usage,” the governor said.

Beyond the procession by different states, which climaxed with presentation by the various ethnic groups and communities that make up Plateau State, the opening ceremony witnessed a thought-provoking dance drama that highlighted the history of the state.

The over 40-minute presentation featured a huge cast that engaged movements and dance to articulate the story of a people, whose friendly weather attracted invasion by colonial imperialists.

The drama interrogated the discovery of tin in the state and how frenzy mining by the colonialists with advance technology led to agitation for freedom by indigenes, who were later overpowered and consequently watched with dismay as the wealth of the state was carted away.

The visit to the palace of Gbong Gwon Jos, Da Jacob Buba Gyang, was one of the highlights of the events.

Dressed in the people’s attire, Runsewe led several states’ cultural troupes to the palace.

The traditional ruler who is also the Chairman, Plateau State Council of Chiefs and Emirs, expressed gratitude to NCAC for choosing Plateau to host NAFEST 2020 at a critical time, not only to Nigeria but in the entire world.

He commended Runsewe for reposing confidence in the state. He also applauded efforts of government and people of Plateau State to host the festival.

“What we saw at the opening ceremony testifies a lot to not only what Plateau can achieve but also, what Nigeria as a whole can achieve.

“So much is happening in our country today. The biggest contributory factor is that we have forgotten our culture; that is the reason we are engulfed in the many problems we are facing today.

“One of the biggest problems facing this country today is the issue of insecurity. When I saw contingents from Kaduna, Zamfara, Borno at the opening ceremony, I said, they too have guts. We know what is happening in these places and virtually in the whole of Nigeria.

“For us to still celebrate this festival shows that Nigeria has become a nation that is not ready to be cowed by any incident, be it insecurity, economy or whatever.

“For us on the Plateau, we have our challenges and we are not pretending that we have overcome them all. We have relative peace because of the efforts of the government and the citizens with the support of the security agencies.

“The traditional ruler noted that NAFEST reminds Nigerians of their culture and tradition. And I appeal to Nigerians that at the end of this festival, we must reflect our culture in all that we do.”

Otunba Runsewe, in his response, recalled that since assumption of the throne, the traditional ruler has introduced new leadership style in Jos.

He described the Gbong Gwon Jos as a role model for upcoming achievers. He recalled that as the former Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs, the Gbong Gwon Jos brought honour and immense respect to the Nigeria Customs.

“He greatly supported TINAPA, Calabar, as our flagship of tourism and as a strong member of the Seventh Day Adventists Church; he also made the church proud. The Gbong Gwon Jos is today one of the leading beacons of Nigerian culture,” the D.G stated.

Before the event drew to a close, the D.G introduced a marriage between culture and stop when he launched the use of traditional fabrics in the play of golf.

This was done at Rayfield Golf Club in Jos, a golf course which history dated back to 1913.

Runsewe also introduced a new form of greeting to be adopted by golf players as part of the measures to observe COVID-19 protocols. According to him, golfers should raise their caps, place them on their shoulders and return same to their heads.

“Golf is naturally a distance game. The only time players come together is the shaking of partner, which is the ethic of the game. But with this new form of greeting, we don’t have need to shake hands while COVID-19 lasts.”

At the close of events on November 28, Bayelsa emerged the overall best participating state, having scored highest in most of the competitive events. Ekiti State led by its Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Professor Ojo Rasak Bakare and River State took second place position. The host state, Plateau emerged third place winner, Kano and Enugu came fourth while Delta, Kaduna and the Federal Capital Territory came fifth.

The hosting right for the 2021 edition of NAFEST has been granted Ekiti State.