On Independence Day, Heritage Africa throws a lavish culture feast to celebrate Nigeria, China
Sound of drumming and singing from various cultural troupes ruled the atmosphere giving a carnivalesque frill.
As if in rhythm with the festive candour of the scene, the flags of Nigeria and China swayed gently in the façade of the 5-floor Whitehouse Gallery, hosting an exhibition of over 100 paintings, sculptures and mixed media works from the collection of Nike Art Gallery.
The more the culture-savvy crowd began to stream into the sprawling Plot 1633 Ahmadu Bello Way, Kado-venue of the Heritage Africa Village Square, the more electrifying the atmosphere became.
Also on parade was the power of culture and creativity to unite people of diverse nationalities and background.
Some Chinese nationals, including the cultural counsellor at the Chinese embassy in Abuja, Dr Li Xuda, and two visiting guests from China, Judy Huang and Margie Huang, could be seen interacting and snapping photos with their Nigerian counterparts, as they conversed on aspects of each country’s culture and creativity.
Incidentally, Nigeria and China both share October 1, as their respective national days.
Just the way the organisers projected it would be, various aspects of Nigerian and Chinese culture began to coalesce in a rare manifestation of international solidarity, driven by the power of culture and creativity.
Nonetheless, the cultural welcome, inspired by a variety of troupes performing and gyrating was toned down momentarily for what was to follow.
It was a highly engaging intellectual conversation around the theme; Nigeria and China: A Shared Legacy of Culture and Humanity.
However, before the discussion got underway the man whose dream and tenacity of purpose, ensured the festival of culture and ideas around Nigeria-China independence was a possibility, was given an opportunity to present his welcome remarks.
The event provided a veritable platform for HAvis CEO, Mr. Moses Ayom, to narrate the compelling story of how the place was birthed as a culture and creativity resort.
He enthused that the Independence Day culture festival was a testament to the power of dreams.
According to him, the diverse cream of scholars, journalists, poets, performers and citizens who thronged this place on the day to immerse themselves in culture and creativity, as a unique way of commemorating the national day of Nigeria and China was generating excitement across the culture spectrum, especially in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.
“To my mind therefore, this gathering is a manifestation of the many possibilities when a community decides to work with a common purpose to accomplish a set goal. In this case, the goal is to return creativity and culture to its rightful place in our lives.
I must therefore pay tributes to the amazing men and women all over Nigeria, the continent of Africa and around the world, whose power of imagination and creativity has provided a basis for entrepreneurs to venture into the creativity and culture sector,” he said.
Similarly, in her message of goodwill, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Information, Culture and National Orientation, Grace Gekpe, was full of commendation for the initiative by HAvis to put up such a massive edifice dedicated to culture and creativity.
A graduate of Theatre Arts herself, Ms Gekpe stressed that as a place housing the community of creativity and culture, government will extend all the support within its powers to ensure the project succeeds and is sustained for the glory of the industry.
The Chinese Cultural counsellor, who is also the Director of the Chinese Cultural Centre, Mr Li, said he was glad that the relationship between China and Nigeria is becoming more resourceful, especially through the intervention of culture workers.
He offered the support of the embassy in seeing to it that there is a greater exchange of ideas, programmes and personnel between the embassy and Havis.
He proposed two programmes that could be of interest to the two organs: that HAVIS could be engaged as a “Chinese Language Center”; and that the Chinese Embassy would pay a formal visit to HAvis in nearest future to explore areas of cooperation and collaboration.
Li’s suggestion fits snugly into steps already taken by the HAvis, when in June it signed a tripartite MOU with the Institute of African Studies at the Zhejiang Normal University China, to commence a Chinese-Nigeria Cultural Research Centre, and the University of Abuja.
The objective is to explore how through studies of language and cultural resources, the Nigeria and China could develop closer ties, especially in the area of training and manpower development of the youths.
The HAvis, it was disclosed at the event, is already supporting postgraduate programmes of some Nigerian youths in various universities in China.
Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Havis, Professor David Ker (OON), former Vice Chancellor of the Benue State University, who chaired the October 1 event, said the proposed relationship between Havis and the Chinese embassy will be of immense benefits to youths in the Nigeria creative sector.
WITH the goodwill messages done, the scholarly discourse on Nigeria-China cultural exchange in the realms of creativity, economy and geo-politics took the centre stage.
Chairman of the Heritage Africa Governing Board, Professor Duro Oni, who presented the keynote address, traced the rise of China in the global political space with the conclusion that the giant in the Asian continent had become so influential on the world stage that it was important to understand how it has been reaching out using culture.
Oni, former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos, reminded that the Chinese adopted the thoughts of the ancient philosopher, Confucius to shape the other dimensions of their national life, including economic planning and international relations.
Oni, also founding director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Lagos, explained that there were hundreds of the Institute across the world, all having a respective dialogue with host communities to foster cooperation and interaction.
He said of the scores of those institutes across Africa, two were present in Nigeria bringing to bear the unique nuggets of Chinese thought to their hosts, without creating any sense of superiority in the interaction process.
The keynote speaker, also aa culture scholar, also mentioned how the institute has become a ble veritable instrument in fostering educational exchange between Nigeria and China, as would be seen in the courses on Chinese Culture being offered at the University of Lagos.
One critical point, which the keynote speaker addressed had to do with the misgivings about the indebtedness of many African countries, including Nigeria to the Chinese.
To this point, the university don made the point that it was up to the leaders of Africa to engage and negotiate aid and borrowing terms, which would not plunge their countries into a debt trap.
He however, stressed that countries like Nigeria and others on the African continent required massive investments in infrastructure to grow their economies.
This he pointed out is something the Chinese have, because they have been able to develop their technology to the point that they can now put in place infrastructure of superb quality, which would greatly boost the economies of recipient countries.
He therefore admonished that in analysing the Chinese aid or borrowing model, African governments and peoples must keep an eye on the big picture and not lose sight of the benefits, if the relationship is strategically aligned to needs and priorities.
TWO lead contributions trailed the keynote. The first by a specialist in public sector management and governance, Professor Ukertor Gabriel Moti of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja, avers that African leaders and administrators have a lot to learn from the way the Chinese have organised their system to be so efficient, effective and impactful on the lives of their over a billion people; massively cutting out waste and unbridled corruptions.
Moti, who has been a leading scholar on the burgeoning Sino-African relationship, and recently contributed chapters to books on the subject, including the trending Forum on Africa-China Cooperation: Industrialisation and Agricultural Modernisation –stressed that through cultural exchanges such as HAvis is proposing, greater mutual advantages could be reaped in the cooperation of the two continents.
Professor Okpe Okpe of Nassarawa University, Keffi, who has also worked in the Sino-African relationship, reinforced the points made by the keynoter and Professor Moti, stressing that rather than lamenting what seemed for now a lopsided relationship, African countries and their leaders should focus on how to reap immense benefits from the handshake with the leading Asian nation.
And reflecting on the fear from the West of the emerging dominance of the African economic landscape by China, Okpe said best approach is for African leaders to always approach the Chinese negotiation with the best of their intellectual resources and not just politicians, who are most times clueless about the implication of treaties and policies they signed on to.
Saying that it is obvious Africa will not be able to match its Asian friends technologically in decades, Professor Saint Gbilekaa, suggested that the continent should draw on the strength of its robust cultural resources in engaging with China.
The professor of Theatre Arts, said that the performing arts, for instance, offers itself readily for such a beneficial engagement.
Soon it was time to take contribution from the members of the audience: Chief Reuben Okundaye, chairman of Nike Art Gallery, said arts and culture should be the means through which Africans relate more profitably with China and the West.
He traced the role arts has been playing in the socio-political and economic development of African nations, he stressed that this was an area of comparative advantage that should not be neglected by African leaders in their relation with the Chinese.
The international artist and leading culture and women-in-art advocate, Chief Mrs. Nike Okundaye, went practical, when she appealed directly to the Cultural counsellor of the Chinese embassy to work with experts here to develop a programme around the local production of dyes, which she said has become too expensive to import, thus discouraging a lot of young people from venturing into production of adiire (tie-dye) fabrics, which are however in high demands locally and internationally.
If this is done, “a lot of disadvantaged women and young people will be productively engaged, and find means livelihood”, she said.
Speaking directly to the desire of the HAvis to also embrace the idea of eventually embracing a tertiary institution, specialising in studies in creativity, the Deputy Director of the National Universities Commission, Dr. Esther Ogbonnaya-Orji, representing the Executive Secretary of the commission, said the HAvis indeed has the potential to transform to a training institute for the creativity industry. While commending the network with the Chinese university, she promised the support of her commission.
AFTER several interlocutors contributed in enriching the conversation of China Nigeria exchange, performance poetry by Oluwaseun Adekoya and Israel Udochukwu as directed by Jerry Adesewo of Arojah Royal Theatre, was used for interlude before the audience moved to the HAvis Amphitheatre, where various pulsating performances with deep cultural and creativity blend held the audience enthralled till late in the night.
The Silhouette, an Abuja-based fashion house, presented exquisite African-themed designs under the theme, Native Strangers.
There were troupes from Benue, Enugu and Nassarawa states, while members of Capital Voices Abuja, CVA, and students of Maris School, Abuja, thrilled the near full house guests seated in the 1000-seater theatre with mixture of Chinese and Nigerian chorale songs and dances.
The unique celebration of Nigeria and Chinese culture was rounded off with the guest band Cef, thrilling audience and bringing the celebration to a highly entertaining close.
Before this evening soiree, the guests, already intensely stimulated intellectually through the two hours lecture and panel discussion, were led by traditional drummers to go around the over 100 art pieces mounted in the walls of the 5-floor Whitehouse Gallery.
These were the works of 22 artists from all over the country collected by Nike Art Gallery and curated under the theme, Tapestries of Life.
The exhibition, a partnership between the Lagos-based Nike Galley and HAvis, will be on display throughout the rest of the year.
For many culture and creativity enthusiasts, what was experienced on the night, was not just entertaining.
It was a refreshing departure from the brand of entertainment prevalent in the nation’s capital.
In this case, the show as put together by the Heritage Africa programme team led by Jahman Anikulapo, assisted by Jerry Adesewo, Havis Director of Productions, had depth, and was reminiscent of bygone days, where creativity and entertainment were driven by core values around nation building and making society better.
In the end, what Heritage Africa put up was not entertainment for its own end; it was a platform for empowerment of people, as various shades of entrepreneurial initiatives took advantage of the sizeable crowd, that had turned up to improve their bottom line.
This dimension of empowerment very much fell in line with the vision of the Heritage Africa founders, who conceive it as a “massive opportunity for Africa to harness the huge potentials inherent in the creativity of its peoples.”