Beware, China is coming!’ This is how a pundit who watched the 2012 Abuja Carnival may open his report of the event. This is based on the size of the Chinese troupe and the richness of its costume and performance, as particularly displayed at the opening ceremony held at the Eagle Square in the Federal Capital City.
While the Asian great is steadily entrenching its economic power across the globe, its performance at the fiesta suggests that it is desirous of asserting its cultural prowess too. During the carnival procession, the country packed a gripping dance, acrobatic and dramatic display as well as cultural music – backed by its native instruments – into the few minutes it had to display. The Chinese artistes earned a roaring applause in the process.
They were part of the several countries that made the carnival unique. Since 2004 when it berthed, it was the first time it attracted up to eight countries. While Egypt, a regular participant was present, Namibia, Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago also put up an exciting performance even as troupes from 24 states equally dazzled Abuja with graceful colours and spectacles.
Each of the Cuban dancers bore a sekere – the Yoruba’s gourd-and-shell drum – that re-established the link between them and Africa. But instead of the cowry shells and other types of dry seeds normally seen on sekere, the visitors’ instruments exuded trendy seeds beautifully round the gourds.
One thing that was also unique about the Trinidadians is that the country’s Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism, Dr. Lincoln Douglas, witnessed the carnival. To Douglas, it was like a homecoming troupe. It was an elated Douglas, who was constantly in company with the Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke, that rated the carnival as an awesome opportunity for participants to revive their cultural heritage.
He said, “The carnival provides an awesome opportunity to see ourselves, showcase ourselves and revive our cultural heritage in terms of the symbols that demonstrate our values, our society and these are demonstrated in the masquerades and the movement of the people. These things are very important, especially when you have nations that are challenged by diversity and complexity. One of the major differences between Nigeria and Trinidad is that we are a very small country. So it’s easier to contain everybody in one small place. When you have a huge population, we need a way for everybody to be able to see each other and accept each other because we tend to fight or destroy what we don’t know about.”
“Our culture gives that opportunity to bring all of our people together to see each other and to accept each other. And in the long run, when you look at it, what are the things that bring us national pride? Our sports and our culture. I really feel honoured to be here to participate in the carnival and to see the contributions of the various states, the different ethnic groups and see their cultural values.”
For Duke, the 2012 Abuja National Carnival invoked an opportunity to earn a pass mark. Until about three weeks to the event, many feared it would not hold. This was based on the usual rumour that there was no fund. But the minister spurred a surprise when, for the first time, he got the Federal Executive Council to announce that it had endorsed the staging of the fiesta. The endorsement was symbolic as it appeared to have elevated the carnival’s status.
Besides, Duke was able to attract the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, to the opening ceremony, an outing that was one of the first major ones she would attend after returning from her medical trip abroad. Apart from securing more promises from Patience, the carnival scored another ample goal when, for the first time, the Federal Government accorded it a gala night at the Aso Rock Villa. Duke said it was a sign of the seriousness the government attaches to the move to rekindle the people’s heritage.
He said, “Things are falling into pleasant places for the carnival. Think about the micro enterprises, the businesses that you see around. You can hardly find space on the floor so it is obvious now that it is a catalyst for business. That is evident in the sheer movement of Wuse Market to the venue of the carnival. It is the same for domestic tourism, all of these participants travelling.
“I don’t know how many of us saw the children’s programme at the Millennium Park. It was unbelievable. I sat there in awe that we could bring out such creativity from our children in primary and secondary school. It is a niche that must also be developed. Everything is coming together and if we position the next carnival, I am sure that it will enjoy the buy in of corporate Nigeria and witness more energetic participation by the states.
“I did say that last year and we haven’t failed entirely. The President lost his younger brother and so wasn’t there but his wife was there and it’s her first public outing ever since she went away on a leave of absence.
“The Deputy President of the Senate sent a group. He sponsored the Adaeze Cultural Group which performed very well at the cultural night and he also personally invited the Prime Minister of St. Kitts & Nevis and the Minister for Tourism to come and see the Abuja Carnival.”