Abuja Carnival… Time to stage a truly national showpiece
As part of ongoing effort to lift tourism in Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of Information & Culture recently entered into a two-year working agreement with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), which has already rolled out a number of measures to support the sector, including the revision of the country’s Tourism Master Plan.
For easy implementation of the agreement, which was signed in far away Madrid, Spain, the programmes were classified under five broad clusters: Policy, Governance Issues, Technical Assistance and Capacity Building, Bilateral Relations, Activities and Events. Therefore, if there’s a perfect time to actually assess the impact of the UNWTO intervention for the time being, it is with the forthcoming Abuja Carnival, which is slated to open on November 19 through November 29, 2016.
Now renamed Nigeria National Carnival, the project, which commenced in 2005, is a showpiece of the creative spirit of Nigerian people, its hospitality and passion for festivity. Aside from harnessing the enormous heritage, diversity and peculiarity of cultures into an economic haven, the festival aims to boost trade and investment of the informal sector of the Federal capital Territory (FCT), promote cultural tourism and showcase Abuja as a destination of choice.
Now in it’s eleventh edition, stakeholders and observers are of the opinion that time has come for the carnival, which couldn’t hold last year as a result of late appointment of ministers by President Buhari, to assumed a truly national celebration and attract impressive foreign participation.
Over the years, the ministry had been having challenges with the name ‘Abuja Carnival,’ which informed the decision for a name change last year, with the aim of making the project more acceptable to all stakeholders.
“The challenge is that when you are talking to people about Abuja Carnival, it is alleged that other states have their carnivals like Calabar Carnival, ‘why should we come and support a state carnival? If you say it’s a national carnival, then it should not be Abuja.’ So, this is what informed the change or rebranding of the name to Nigeria National Carnival,” Ms Grace Gekpe, Director Entertainment and Creative Services Department ministry said last year, ahead of the 2015 edition that was eventually canceled.
Since the inauguration of the 2016 Carnival Management Committee (CMC), the team has been working round the clock to ensure a successful outing. But beyond the huge task of finding enough resources to fund the showpiece amidst recession, topmost on the agenda of CMC is to ensure the programme becomes a truly national event, with all states and stakeholders actively involved.
In a chat with The Guardian, a member of the carnival committee, Shaibu Hisseini, expressed confidence that this year’s carnival, despite obvious challenges, will close as one of the best that will be organised since inception.
“I say this not because I have been appointed a member of the Carnival Management Committee or to discredit previous editions. But I have followed the operations of the carnival from inception,” he said.
Indeed, Husseini, who was once Personal Assistant (PA) to the one time Director General of the Abuja Carnival, Professor Ahmed Yerima, is not a stranger to the workings of the cultural fiesta, having served at various capacities by virtue of his position as Special Assistant to the DG.
“I worked closely with him at the National Troupe, then the National Theatre and then the Carnival when he was DG and even head of technical. So, somehow I know the story, inner workings and operations of the carnival from inception to when he left as DG,” he noted.
On why he’s optimistic that this year’s carnival will be successful, Husseini explained that, “We have a Chairman and a Co-chairman in the Minister of Information and Culture and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), who are both interested and passionate about developing this carnival into a huge cultural product that will be used to drive tourism. I have attended two meetings so far and the Ministers have chaired these meetings and have been pointing the way that we should go as a committee. This has never happened in the history of the carnival, where two ministers will work in cooperation and chair CMC meetings.”
Unlike past editions, where the carnival was a total responsibility of the Ministry of Information and Culture, there seems to be a synergy between the ministry and other government agencies in the planning of this year’s event.
“Before now, the culture ministry will organise the carnival and will be racing after agencies like Nigerian Television Authority, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria and the Voice of Nigeria for publicity. But we all have that now and even more under the new Ministry of Information and Culture. So, naturally, all hands will be on deck to deliver a carnival that is national and international in scope,” Husseini noted.
Already, the Chairman in the Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Co-Chairman in the Minister of the FCT, have both volunteered to lead the contact, mobilisation and fund raising drive, as well as ensure full participation of all the states and private groups. The ministers will also help get their colleague in the Foreign Affairs Ministry to facilitate smooth passage for international delegations and tourists.
“There are plans to hold several stakeholders forum and regular consultations with all stakeholders. Both Ministers being cabinet ministers and respect party leaders, will also avail themselves of platforms like the National and Federal Executive Council to mobilise for this year’s carnival. There is nothing wrong in a Minister or a Member of the National Assembly for instance sponsoring a cultural group from his or her locality to attend the carnival as a way of promoting some of our hidden cultures. I recall that in the past, a few ministers had sponsored small groups from their locality to attend and that added colour to the carnival; it was even then that I knew that the material they had on was unique to that town.”
Meanwhile, the committee is already exploiting the National Council of Information and Culture platform, which is the largest gathering of all the state commissioners and directors in charge of information, culture and tourism in the country, in an effort to encourage active participation this year.
“We are confident that every state will be in Abuja for what we have planned to be a rich showcase of our arts and culture. Particularly, the Carnival Management Committee is looking to the private sector for funding for this and future editions,” he said.
With the theme Creative Industry: A Pivot to Economic Growth, ace creative designer, theatre artiste, director and cultural producer Mr. Biodun Abe is returning as Artistic Director this year. Last year would have been Abe’s second outing before the event was canceled.
“The Minister was appointed barely a week to the start of the carnival and he was not, as we were told, satisfied with preparation that were put in place then. So, rather than just have the carnival for the fun of it, the Minister advised that it be shelved so that more planning can go into making the event a true national carnival. So, planning for this edition started immediately he assumed office,” Husseini hinted.
Now holding under a combined ministry of Information and Culture, Husseini is confident that publicity, which used to be a major challenge to the project, will become a thing of the past.
“What used to happen before now, was that the Culture Ministry will organise the carnival and then they will go cap in hand begging for media coverage and live telecast of events from even government owned media organisations. But today, we have all that now and even more, directly under the supervision of the Minister. From NTA to FRCN, Voice of Nigeria (VON), News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), National Orientation Agency (NOA) and so on. So, to a very large extent, publicity won’t be a problem this time,” he said.
On how to make the carnival a true national celebration, Husseini suggested, “we have to be consistent. We have to lock it down to those dates in November and just be consistent so that it can be firmly etched on the cultural and tourism map of the nation, the continent and the world. With consistency and adequate funding and support to keep it afloat, people will look forward to those dates yearly to be in Abuja.”