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Rivers State revs for NAFEST 2018


[FILE PHOTO] Governor Wike. Photo: Twitter/GovWike

With less than three weeks to the opening of this year’s National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST), Rivers State has indicated its readiness to hosting a befitting cultural fiesta. The festival holds from October 21 to 27, 2018.

Earlier in the year, there had been anxiety in the culture sector when Chief Executives of Culture of the Federation (CEC) meeting, which should have preceded the festival, did not hold. The CEC meetings normally held between February and April every year, but this year, nothing happened until September.

Many had concluded the festival would no longer hold in spite of the ovation that greeted Rivers State’s acceptance of the hosting right.

In January, the Director General of National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), Otunba Olusegun Runsewe presented the hosting certificate of the 2018 festival to the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike.

In his response, Wike thanked the NCAC boss for giving Rivers State the hosting right for NAFEST 2018, promising that the state government will do everything possible to ensure that it is the best ever organised fiesta.

He said Rivers State would change the country’s cultural landscape through a showcase of the best of its rich culture.

At the reception, Wike also granted Runsewe’s special request that Mrs. Wike be permitted to receive the Nigerian children contingent that would be participating in the festival.

“The best of cultural performance, exhibition, arts and craft of the rich people of the state would be showcased through a big window for the world to see at the 2018 edition of NAFEST holding in October in Rivers State,” he had said.

According to him, the state has taken a right step to encourage, reactivate and support the people’s love for cultural norms and values, which is the only identity that unifies and promotes coexistence among the diverse people in the state.

Runsewe, however, told The Guardian that the CEC meeting could not hold, because there was a grand plan to rejig NAFEST.

“The network of NAFEST was directly with the directors of culture in the state. When I came in, I said no, you couldn’t be doing a programme of national interest with just these people: That’s culture chief executives and directors.”

For a very long time, directors had been engine room of NAFEST. But the commissioners were the brainboxes. “Neither of these could work without the other and I took a step further, and I said ‘we must go to plead with the governors, because we don’t need to leave everything with the directors, though, a lot of them have good intentions, the person who would give it all the feasibility and support is the governor,” said Runsewe.

It used to be the NCAC and the directors. In the economy of today that we’re trying to improve, we need to tell the drivers in the states benefit that this sector would bring and then, they will see the importance.

“The narratives are changing, it is no longer the usual NAFEST. The festival, those days, used to look like inter house sport. We’ve brought some level of change that could be seen in the festival. We might not have felt this impact in last year’s event, because we just had the first edition of the new idea of NAFEST in Kaduna State. Now we’re going to Rivers. The governor gave another overwhelming support for a good NAFEST. Let me borrow from his words, he said,
‘Otunba we’re going to host the best NAFEST ever’. Governors are beginning to key into this programme, and here, we are on our way there. We’re already talking with about three governors now for the 2019 edition, and by October 18, we should be announcing the date. So, what you should know is, to start what I’m doing is not easy.”

In marching words with action, Wike inaugurated Executive Committee to organise the NAFEST 2018. While inaugurating the committee, the governor advised that the 2018 event to be held in Port Harcourt should be of world class to showcase the cultural beauty of the country.

Also, to demonstrate the state’s commitment and readiness to host a spectacular festival, the government equally provided a platform for people of the state to embrace the festival.

In readiness for the festival, the state commissioned an ultra modern cultural centre in Port Harcourt. The contract for the centre was re-awarded in January and the governor made money available and ensured that it was completed in record time of less than 120 days.

Commissioner of Culture and Tourism, Mrs. Tonye Briggs-Oniyide

In a chat with the Commissioner of Culture and Tourism, Mrs. Tonye Briggs-Oniyide, she told The Guardian, “when Rivers State won the rights to host the 31st edition of the festival, the NCAC emphasized that NAFEST has to be rebranded, beginning with the 2018 edition.”

She continued, “we are ready to host the festival. All the venues for the proposed events have been inspected and certified okay by the National Technical Committee on NAFEST.”

According to the commissioner, “everybody coming to Port Harcourt will see a fully repackaged festival. Things that were not part of the festival in the past would be the surprise of this year. We, as host, are going to showcase the rich culture of Rivers state while other states have also been told to be in their full glory.”

Briggs-Oniyide said, “we want to reawaken the spirit of NAFEST for it to be seen as a peoples festival. Everybody, every state, every stakeholder should be able to identify with the spirit of the festival and own it. As host, we are striving to recreate the love, beauty, colour and spirit of national cohesion behind the festival and a situation where everybody will see it as his or her own baby.”

To her, the consciousness is growing by the day and people are waiting for the official opening.

The commissioner said NAFEST 2018 would be a platform for serious interactions, and the technical input from NCAC is paying off handsomely.

“We are expecting thousands of stakeholders, people, who have already identified with NAFEST and those who intend to tour Rivers State. They will be coming to interact and interface with the people. It is going to be a huge investment market. The platform is also open for business networking. An entrepreneurship roundtable on arts and culture will also feature and it is for entrepreneurs to interface and do business in arts and culture.”

She concluded, “we are urging Nigerians to come and see the transformations in Rivers State, see the new things that culture has become and interface for the growth of our cultural identity. We are ready to host the world. We are welcoming tourists to be part of the celebration and already, 15 ambassadors have indicated interest to be part of this year’s NAFEST.”

Recently, NCAC hosted a revamped CEC, now rechristened technical committee meeting in Port Harcourt, where facilities that would host the events were inspected. At the event, Runsewe applauded Governor Wike for ‘great’ preparations and described Port Harcourt as the Nigeria’s ‘culture capital’.

Runsewe noted that the ultra-modern Rex Jim-Lawson Integrated Cultural Centre is “an edifice that has all it takes to host any international event.”

He likened Port Harcourt to Dubai, which although is not the capital city of the United Arab Emirate (UAE), has projected its uniqueness and popularity, stressing that the Garden City has stamped its place as the hub of culture and tourism in Nigeria.

“There is an air-condition system that has a chiller of networking through the roofs. You don’t even see anything; you just see the cooling coming out!

“They have enough adjoining room facilities for other events that can take place. Honestly, I can tell you we are very pleased and happy that one state in Nigeria has been able to provide what we have been dreaming of.”

“We gave a good impression when we last hosted in 2003. This time Rivers will host NAFEST that will be difficult to beat. We are ready to show Nigeria and the world that our state is a centre of hospitality. You will have wonderful memories as you come in October,” Wike told stakeholders at the technical meeting.

The NCAC boss also commended the Vice Chancellor, Professor Blessing Didia, for providing what he called a model accommodation for delegates of the NCAC, even as he was appreciative the ‘Entertainment Village’ on the Convocation Arena, adding that it speaks volume of the fact that Rivers State is prepared for the big October cultural carnival.

Done with the meeting of the approving body comprising all 36 states commissioners and directors of culture and arts, NCAC is not leaving anything to chance as the outing in Port Harcourt promises to re-launch the unity festival into global acceptance and inclusiveness.

Indeed, the last outing in Kaduna being the first under the watch of Runsewe and to which there was a strategic manifestation of an enduring change and perception of the once neglected festival, the Port Harcourt edition in last week of this month, October will herald a massive repositioning of the entire gamut of Nigeria’s culture value chain beyond the pedestrian dance drama and accolades of mere street observers.

NAFEST in Port Harcourt will create a strategic learning curve on how to alleviate poverty and enthrone a new rural sustainable cultural economy through skill acquisition and exposure to other multi beneficial contents related to Nigerian culture.

According to the country’s foremost culture ambassador, the unity festival is coming at time Nigeria has become the destination to watch as President Buhari diplomatic shuttling across the globe has attracted some massive interest on Nigeria beyond the traditional business frontiers hence the repositioning of culture as the central bank of our creative wealth.

At the just concluded private sector trade fair in Lagos, Runsewe showcased interesting sidelines of what NCAC will do in Port Harcourt and to which governor Wike of Rivers has promised an enhanced and progressive collaboration to effectively re-jig policy orientation on Rivers very rich and unique culture.

Runsewe, who is noted to have changed the narratives of Nigeria’s tourism evolution, when he held sway at NTDC, noted that the pre-festival visit to Rivers governor Wike that NAFEST in Garden city will ‘gong’ to the world the best of Nigeria culture, its economic baseline and its diplomatic, unifying influence for national socioeconomic and political development.

He also noted that Nigeria culture which is very diverse and unique will help bridge gaps in the quest to build a conscious and consistent appreciation to the multi ethnic cultural colouration that abounds in Nigeria, regarded as a mini united nations.

Reports reaching The Guardian from the states participating revealed that a very strong wind of competition among participants will be high and the message of mainstreaming culture as an economic catalyst will be taken serious.

NAFEST is a reflection of Nigeria’s unity in diversity where all states in the federation display their rich cultural heritage using the event as a platform, while building bridges that enhance their respective inter-cultural and cross ethnic friendships.

Apart from showcasing the country’s rich cultural heritage, enhances its intra and inter cultural linkages, while also serving as a knowledge and reference point for the promotion of the historical and cultural experience of black people worldwide.

NAFEST is Nigeria’s biggest and most popular cultural event and since 1970, has been organised yearly by NCAC in collaborations with other relevant agencies.

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