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Sunday, 5 December 2010

Variations on a carnival theme:

One Nigeria... Oyo State’s float at the jubilee carnival.
 Photo: AKINTAYO ABODURIN
While the floats, designs, costumes and performances of some states that participated at this year’s Abuja Carnival, held from November 27 to 30, reflected the ‘Celebrate Nigeria’ theme, others completely missed the mark.
States including Akwa Ibom, Nasarawa, Oyo, and Anambra were outstanding in their interpretation of the theme during the street parade which opened the carnival. Akwa Ibom, host of the last National Festival of National Unity, not only came with a large contingent, the beautiful, periodic costumes of the contingent wowed many. Its float comprised an oil rig, the eagle and horse to reflect its status as an oil producing state in Nigeria.
Photo by Chuks Ezeilo    
Nasarawa, which had the largest contingent, had a spectacular and realistic roaring lion for its float. As usual, its contingents were attired in colourful costumes. Oyo chose to highlight unity with the imposing figures of a Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo man holding the Nigerian flag. The agricultural resources of the country were also reflected in its float.
Anambra had a figure of late statesman, Nnamdi Azikiwe, on its float, painted in the national colours, though its costumes and dances were not exactly spectacular. Rivers appeared to make Abuja a dress rehearsal for its own carnival holding later this month, with another large contingent, cheerful costumes, and dances. The jeans and t-shirt wearing awigiri dancers of Bayelsa drew squeals of excited laughter from the crowd, with their gyrating hips, though their float was a fish of indeterminable specie. In all, it was an enjoyable opening featuring different interesting presentations.

Durbar-less carnival
Photo by Chuks Ezeilo  
The fact that the durbar, one of the regular features of the carnival since its inception six years ago, did not hold this year surprised many. Nigerians and foreigners who had thronged the Royal Polo Ground, expecting to see the grand performance, were disappointed to see Polo being played instead. Though Polo was part of the carnival events last year, no one expected it to be the only equestrian feature this year.
That many of the foreigners were not interested in the Polo on offer became evident as they left the venue no sooner than they arrived.
“We came to see the durbar, and not Polo; we are disappointed, though we know there must be a reason for it,” said a foreign couple as they walked back to their car.
There was indeed a reason for it. Artistic director of the carnival, Rasaki Ojo-Bakare, disclosed that the carnival management committee was not to blame. He said the committee prepared adequately for the durbar, but that states from the north east, regular participants in the durbar, stayed away. Only Taraba and Yobe States featured, but they didn’t bring their horses.
He further explained that the late arrival of some governors of the states who went on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and returned a day to the start of the fiesta affected their states.
Finance, however, was the major obstacle. Ojo-Bakare said the management committee couldn’t afford the N55 million bill sent by an Emirate to bring its horses and riders.
“The Durbar is an equestrian performance, Polo is a game, so we decided to collaborate with the Nigerian Army to have Polo,” explained the artistic director.

Wooing the private sector

Photo by Chuks Ezeilo  
Government’s intention to free itself from the burden of hosting the carnival was loudly trumpeted at the just concluded fiesta. In fact, it became the official line. The president, Goodluck Jonathan; minister of tourism, culture and national orientation, Sadiq Mohammed; father of Abuja Carnival, Salihu Alfa Belgore, and carnival director, Rasaki Ojo-Bakare, all canvassed for private sector participation.
“This is one single product that would bring a lot of benefits to companies if they key into it through sponsorship at both local and international levels,” Jonathan reiterated during the opening ceremony. He, however, assured that government will play its part by ensuring that an enabling environment for tourism to flourish in the country is created.

Foreign participation
Photo by Chuks Ezeilo  
Prior to the commencement of the carnival, organisers had disclosed that seven countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, India, Ghana, and Egypt would participate. Interestingly, only two, Egypt and India, or three, if you include Ijo Vudu Dance International, a Nigerian company based in Canada, featured at the jubilee carnival.
The trio participated in the street carnival, opening ceremony, and command performance held at Ladi Kwali Hall, Sheraton Hotel, on Monday, November 29. Apart from the artists that featured, a number of their nationals also saw their performances.
What this translates to is that organisers have to step up their efforts to attract foreign participants. Nigeria has bilateral agreements with a number of foreign countries in the area of culture and tourism; it wouldn’t be a bad idea to explore such links further if organisers are really serious about involving other countries in the fiesta.

Dance of the ancestors
Ancestors, as masquerades are called in a number of Nigerian communities, had their day at the carnival. Masquerades of different shapes and names from 13 states featured in a parade which started on the street and ended at Eagle Square.
Photo by Chuks Ezeilo  
While some were beautiful, others were outrightly scary. Anambra State, with its array of masquerades, didn’t disappoint the expectant crowd. Its peacock, bull, hippotamus, Ada, and some scary ones were talking points among the people. The popular Ijele, often referred to as the king of masquerades, was also in the mix.
From Ekiti State came the peculiarly named ‘Fountain of Knowledge’, while Nasarawa came with some palm frond wearing masquerades and some resembling monkeys. Those from Oyo and Edo engaged in some wonderful acrobatic displays, while the costumes of the masquerades from Oyo were very colourful. Lagos, as usual, came with Eyo while the costume of the ancestors from Rivers rivalled those of the Oyo masquerades.
All is not lost
Photo by Chuks Ezeilo  
People who worry about the seeming apathy of the young to Nigeria’s culture and tradition needn’t worry too much. Though a number of the children indeed know next to nothing about culture, the children’s fiesta showed that all is not lost. Not only did the gaily clothed children feature in the parades, they also gave good account of themselves at Millennium Park.
Participants from the FCT, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Kogi, Oyo, Benue, and Nasarawa featured in three competitive events; poetry, dance, and fashion parade held during the segment, which George Ufot, director of culture at the federal ministry, described as “a major component of the carnival.”
Chants, dances and music were on the menu the children served at the session facilitated by Indomie Noodles.
Aremu Eegunjobi, from Oyo, who did Ijala and Bata dance; Sikemi Adeyemi, who recited oral poetry; and another youngster from Bayelsa State were the major revelations of the enjoyable segment.

Getting it right
Though there was fun at the carnival and the management committee deserves commendation for achieving what it did with the little money at its disposal, it wasn’t devoid of sloppy organisation and poor timekeeping. The children’s fiesta, for instance, started late, just like the masquerade parade.
Photo by Chuks Ezeilo  
The poor audio quality of the sound equipment at the cultural night diminished the fun for the audience, while the stage at the command performance could have been higher. People craning their necks and standing to see what was happening on the stage wasn’t a nice sight at a world class carnival.
The welfare of artists participating in the festival also needs to be a priority. The oversight on the part of some states and the carnival management committee to provide refreshment, particularly water, for their troupes during the 18 kilometre street carnival from Area One to Eagle Square was a serious one.
Some state governors also need to accord artists more respect. Those who gave artists just N5,000 as welfare allowance for the duration of the carnival could have done better. Excellent organisation and respect for artists will go a long way in improving the carnival.
Article by: By Akintayo Abodunrin

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