Nigeria’s cultural diversity is something that is cherished by many, more so, with the attendant festivals that it has given birth to.
This is evident from the array of festivals that are replicated and hosted across the country yearly, with quite a lot of them not even known to many Nigerians. Yet, it is this multiple cultural festivities and celebrations of diverse nature and colours which had made the Nigerian creative industry one of the most resourceful and active but economically exploited that draws a lot of attention to the country, especially from foreign visitors who are always captivated by the fascinating and enchanting nature of many of these festivals. Attempt has been made over the years to make the promotion of Nigeria’s arts, culture and festivals, as one of the products that the nation could use to woo tourists globally, but not much was done on this front as neither the government nor private sector was committed to this dream aside sloganeering.
However, that dream is about to be resurrected again following the pronouncement by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who now has responsibility for tourism, at a recent forum that his ministry’s agenda for the tourism sector is focusing on cultural tourism through the promotion of Nigeria’s festivals. The Director General of the According to newtelegraphonline.com , National Council for Arts and Culture, Mrs. Dayo Keshi, whose mandate is to see to the preservation and promotion of the country’s arts and culture, appears to have latched on this to give vent to the promotion of these multi-layered festivals, however, through the prism of tourism. And there could have been no better place for her to share her thoughts and plans on this score than the recently concluded 2016 tourism conference and annual general meeting organised by the Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) held in Calabar, Cross River State where she, as one of the special guest speakers, spoke on the role of the creative industry in the development and promotion of Nigeria tourism with reference to NCAC’s mandate.
Besides speaking glowingly on NCAC’s mandate with particular reference to its flagship product, the National Arts Festival (NAFEST), she also announced what she described as a ‘‘very ambitious plan to introduce more specialised festivals between now (February) and 2017 by NCAC. These, according to her, are: “the National Durbar Festival; the National Boat Regatta Festivals; the National Masquerade Festival; the Festival of Nigeria Contemporary Arts; the National Folk Songs Festival; and Traditional Textiles and Fashion fair.’’ She explained that “the rational for these are obvious or should be clear. First, it is in fulfilment of the core mandate of NCAC, which are the coordination, development and promotion of the living arts and culture of Nigeria. Secondly, festivals are today recognised as one of the fastest growing forms of tourism and a number of countries continue to effectively utilise their festivals to attract tourists to their countries. This is so because cultural festivals are basic ingredients that animate and promote tourism. Culturally, festivals enrich cultural experiences and develop support and audiences for culture. They engage with many arts forms, including discovering new ones, styles and genres and help to promote the cultural and creative industries.’’
Clearly, the former culture worker who really had spent most of her career as a civil servant in the culture ministry shows are fully grasp of the intricacies and economy of what she has set to champion when she further stated that: “Its social impact includes intangible things that cannot be quantified financially or with economic impact while preserving the heritage and strengthening local values and traditions as well as local community pride. They promote cultural diversity and community cohesion. It economic impact has increased its potential and interest at all levels. Besides, it’s potential to create jobs, generate wealth and revenue, promote tourism; it increases knowledge of the country, state or region and possibilities for investment. It drives the construction of new facilities and improves on local infrastructure.” Mrs. Keshi emphasised the fact that the new festivals on the card by NCAC would not in any way compete with existing festivals or result in their extinct but rather would complement them and in fact not only the many the merrier “but would in due course upgrade Nigeria as a tourist destination like Edinburgh which annually, organises twelve festivals, attracting over one million visitors.
“For a nation with such a large population and diverse culture like ours, having as many festivals is in no way superfluous. With time and the value-chain in place, what the nation stands to gain on festivals alone in a year will be enormous especially in terms of local and international visitors with their spending powers”. According to her, the most selling point of Nigerian festivals is their uniqueness, as most are rooted in the tradition of the people which most foreign visitors outside Africa are not familiar with. “For many in Asia and Europe, it will be a new experience as Nigerian Festivals reveal the hidden treasures of Nigeria culture, its existence and diversity despite past efforts to obliterate the living cultures of Africa. “This is why it is imperative to strengthen and promote not only existing festivals but to initiate new ones in close cooperation between the federal, states governments and the private sector. Even more imperative and we must constantly bear this in mind, that tourists visit a country for particular reasons and we in this country must give tourists reasons to come to Nigeria by creating what they want to see and enjoy as well as conducive environment for tourism to flourish.