Between Crude Oil and Cultural Festivals: Which Way Nigeria?


 Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma


Which way Nigeria?/Which way to go?/I love my fatherland/I want to know o/Which way Nigeria?/Is heading to.                                ***Sony Okosun***



The lyrics of the song above, by the late Ozidi King, Sony Okosun, epitomise the dire strait Nigeria has found itself, since the discovery of crude oil. Before independence in 1960, agriculture was the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. There were very high groundnut pyramids in the Northern region that put Nigeria in the comity of nations as an exporter of that product. The region also produced corn, millet, rice, beans, and yams, among other food crops that sustained the people. Cocoa and timber were produced and exported from Western Nigeria. From the Mid-West and Eastern regions, there were cassava, yam, plantain, palm oil, rubber, and timber, among other food and cash crops.

As an agrarian economy, Nigeria operated a federal system of government, where all the regional governments controlled their economic resources and only contributed a given percentage to the central government. It explained why the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo-led Western Regional Government (W.R.G.) could blaze the trail in initiating several development programmes to the consternation of the Federal Government. For example, while the Federal Government could not offer free education, W.R.G. did; while the Federal Government was battling with Radio Broadcasting, the W.R.G. pioneered Television Broadcasting, necessitating the federal and the other regional governments to follow the footstep.

           However, the whole scenario was to change. Crude oil, “the Black Liquid Gold,” was discovered in commercial quantity in Oloibiri, in the present Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, in 1956. The striking of crude oil changed the thinking of Nigerians, as it kept money flowing into the national treasury and people no longer saw the need to carry machetes and hoes to go to the farm. Before we knew it, oil brought with it attendant problems. Oil companies, such as Shell (Anglo/Dutch), Agip (Italian), Elf (French) and Chevron (American), through their oil exploration activities, perpetrated a war of economic exploitation and environmental degradation. As at that time, the abundant oil revenue benefitted mainly the Federal Government of Nigeria and a remote Eastern Nigeria Regional Government. Curiously, this was to the detriment of those who were providing the wealth of the nation.

Unfortunately, the military came into governance in 1966, and formed a unitary government that made the central government the major beneficiary of the resources of the various regions. The reversal was such that the states, which replaced the regional governments, depended on the federal government for their survival. Of course, since the military governors were appointed by the head of state, they had to be subservient to the central government, and obey the last order, all in the line of military duty. The 30-month fratricidal Nigerian Civil war did not help matters also, as it eventually became a fierce battle over the control of the oil revenue. Furthermore, the oil boom of the early 1970s appeared to have been the last straw that broke the camel’s back, because the agricultural sector became totally neglected. Little wonder then that the federating states have gradually degenerated to a level where they run to the federal capital to collect their share of the “national cake” every month, in the name of the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) meeting.            

Crude Oil: A Blessing or a Curse?

Nigeria is a member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and has been a key player. It is the largest exporter of petroleum in Africa and currently the third largest supplier to the United States (Okosun 5). As a major exporter of oil and gas, the country has a production quota of about 2.5million barrels per day (bpd). The Ijaws have a saying that, “if the neck looks only in one direction, it bends toward that direction.” The petro-dollars from crude oil had, for many years, captured the undivided attention of the managers of the economy, to the extent that there had been no conscious effort to explore other sources to improve the revenue base of the country. Recently, Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had told the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation that Nigeria was in dire need of diversifying its economy, away from oil, to other sectors in view of plummeting oil earnings, noting that the country was not isolated from pervading global economic uncertainties. Okonjo-Iweala said Nigeria’s oil dominance and earnings were increasingly being threatened by new oil discoveries in other African countries, warning; 

Competition is emerging; we will not be the only game in town. We are watching the performance of the economy in the context of what is happening globally. I think that we have to work really hard in Nigeria on the implementation side. The uncertainties in the global environment continue. We are seeing contraction of the growth of the Euro zone, slower growth in the US, some countries in the Euro zone undergoing severe stress with regard to Spain, Greece, even Italy. They are making changes in their economy; but it is going slowly (“Economy Vulnerable,” 2). 

The Chief Executive Officer of Koinonia Ventures Ltd, Femi Boyede, shares the same view with Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, when he said that overdependence on crude oil is the main reason for unemployment, poverty, kidnapping, militancy and terrorism in the country. Speaking at the 3rd Nigerian Non-oil Export Conference, Exhibition and Awards (NNECEA) 2012, in Abuja, with the theme, “Enhancing Nigeria’s Non-Oil Export Opportunities: Strategic Imperatives,” Boyede said the discovery of oil in commercial quantity has been a curse to the country, rather than a blessing. Making a case on the need to diversify the economy from oil to the non-oil sector, he said: 

Crude oil is a wasting resource which we can’t control or determine its increase, neither can we influence its price in the international market. It has killed our creative thinking which we have to go back to now.

      The non-oil sector, if properly harnessed by government and the private sector, is capable of creating jobs, enhancing rural development, boosting real sector growth and contributing significantly to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Ochigbo 7). 

The point to note here is that Nigeria is operating under a globalised economy. Also, Nigeria does not have control over the market forces; it has to operate under the dictates of the regulating body: the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). For instance, it was even reported recently that Brent crude oil slid to a six-week low, as the market digested comments from the world’s largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, that it would take action to keep prices in check, raising expectations of increased supply. An OPEC Gulf source said Saudi Arabia was pumping around 10million bpd and working to keep oil prices down. OPEC’s Secretary-General, Abdullah al-Badri, said oil markets are sufficiently supplied, despite high prices that are worrying consumer countries.

Somehow, market prices have been unpredictable of recent. Specifically, Brent November crude fell $2.80 to $109.21 a barrel, the lowest since August 7 and is down 5.6 percent, its biggest such fall since late June. The United States October crude was down $2.29 at $93.00 a barrel, while November crude fell $2.26 to $93.37 a barrel (“Oil falls” 1). This is a development that is ominous as far as the Nigerian economy is concerned. This premised on that fact that the Executive Arm and the Legislative Arm have been engaged in a battle of wits over the benchmark used for the 2013 proposed budget. While the Presidency had put the benchmark at $75, the Senate is putting it at $78, while the House of Representatives is insisting on $80. To the state governors, it has to be $80 benchmark, which would mean more money accruable to them at FAAC, instead of waiting for largesse from the Excess Crude Account, which is disbursed at the discretion of Mr. President. Supporting the position of the House of Reps, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, seemed to have spoken the mind of governors when he stated: 

The proper thing is for all revenue to be paid into the federation account and shared using appropriate revenue sharing formula. But because we are operating ‘feeding bottle federalism,’ the Federal Government has arrogated to itself the duty of keeping funds, albeit unconstitutionally, on behalf of the states when indeed the developmental issues that require the funds are located in the states (Makinde, Aboluwade, and Nwogu 7). 

There have been concerns that if the price of crude oil nose-dives, as it did some years ago, the budget will run into serious deficit. Popular German news media, Reuters, had reported that market participants said earlier worries about the perilous state of Spain’s finances had snuffed out gains made by oil prices after Japan’s Central Bank became the latest to further open its monetary taps. Japan followed the U.S. Federal Reserve and said it would boost asset purchases in the face of a slowing global economy, spurring hopes that other Central Banks would follow suit. After Japan, investor focus turns to China, the world’s second largest oil consumer, with a preliminary reading of its manufacturing activity, along with similar data from the United States and Europe (“Oil falls” 2-3).

Unfortunately, the Department of Petroleum Resources has said that the daily crude oil production for the third quarter of 2012 dropped by 500,000 barrels as a result of production shut-down caused by the ravaging floods in some parts of the country. The department said the actual crude oil (plus condensate) production of the nation was 2.5 million barrels per day for the period. The Director, DPR, Mr. Osten Olorunshola, who said in this in Lagos at a press conference, said, flooding in quarter three led to a total shut down of 0.5 million bpd. Some of the companies, hit by the flood, were marginal field operator, Sterling Energy, Total Exploration and Producing, and Nigerian Agip Oil Company, among others. The consolation was that the floods were no threats to oil and gas assets in the country in the long-run, as production would gradually pick up as the floods subsided. According to him, the country’s reserves as at January 1, 2012 were 31.170 billion barrels for oil, 5.018 billion barrels for condensate; 92.6 trillion cubic feet of associated gas and 90.150 tcf for non-associated gas (“Flooding caused” 1-3).

In consonance with the view of Femi Boyede above, it is the thinking of oil producing communities, especially in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, that the discovery of crude oil has been more of a curse, rather than a blessing. Amaku opines that much of the interrogation on the issue of oil spillage has been deliberately skewed to make the human suffering secondary and the environmental impact of little consequence; that oil spill is inevitable. The Joint Venture (JV) arrangement in the oil industry which has made the ministry (the regulator) a necessary operator (through NNPC), which is the government vehicle for its JV an impediment to lasting solution. According to him, Senator Bukola Saraki, Senate Committee Chairman on Environment and Ecology, in making a case for the amendment of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) Act 2006, had rightly observed that oil spillage has devastated the entire environment of the oil producing areas. Of the over 13 million barrels of oil spilled into the Niger Delta ecosystem, in the past 50 years, which compares to about 50 times the estimated volume spilled in the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Alaska in 1989, no responsible party or business has been penalised, and no compensation, whatsoever, has been paid to those whose lives and livelihood have been destroyed. He maintained that oil spillage is not an oil business but a massive environmental problem with high ranging impact capacity, adding that Nigeria may have lost over 13 million barrels of oil to preventable spills. He states: 

The impact of oil can be directly connected to the rate of criminalization of lives in this area, as people have nowhere to turn to. The is the destruction of the right of communities to right of decent lives, to safe environment, and the lost opportunity to feed their families from their toil and be in good health. The full story is that we have all become victims of our own blessing because the cost on our people is no longer about economics, now it’s about living or dying by instalments (Amaku 21).  

Amaku further asserts that several reports, including UNEP Report, maintain that 50% of oil spills in Nigeria has been due to corrosion of oil infrastructure (negligence), 28% to sabotage and 21% to oil production operations (negligence), and the remaining 1% due to engineering drills, inability to effectively control oil wells, failure of machines, and inadequate care in loading and unloading oil vessels; and that Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil company spill over 5,300 tons of crude in Nigeria in 2011, up from 700 tons in 2010, without affecting its shares (Amaku 21).

As if to pass the buck, the Federal Government accused deposit money banks in the country for their failure to impact positively on the economy, despite substantial support being given them by the government and urged them to adopt new business models to reverse the ugly trends of high lending rates and massive turnover of professionals in the sector. The Minister of State for Finance, Dr. Yerima Ngama, gave the charge at the 6th Annual Conference of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria in Abuja, criticizing the banks for contributing little to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and encouraging high interest rates on lending which, he said, had made credits inaccessible to farmers, small and medium enterprises and the manufacturing sector (“FG Blames” 1).

The Minister noted that rather than lend to real sector and farmers, the banks had continued to show preference to financing import trade and, by implication, contributing to the crisis in the real sector and the volatility of the foreign exchange market. He informed that the trend of lending by the banks showed that of the total N6.42 trillion to N7.18 trillion loans and advances of the banking industry as at December 2011 and June 2012, respectively, the agricultural sector received marginal 3.35 per cent and 3.45 per cent, during the period, while the Power and Energy sector got a mere 0.39 per cent and 0.81 per cent. Paradoxically, general commerce and the importation of oil and gas maintained steady lead on the table, thud making them to support the productive base and capacity of other countries to the detriment of the country. He concludes thus:   

Since 1989, the government, through the CBN and the NDIC have intervened to save the banking  industry. In fact, it is the most protected industry in Nigeria. It is important that a healthy and strong financial sector is needed in order to have economic growth…. Most commentators believe that the banking sector is not supportive of the real sector. It only engages in financing imports at the detriment of the productive sector. For instance, the Textile Industry, Agriculture and Mining are not adequately supported by the banking sector hence the CBN intervention (“FG Blames Banks” 2).  

Having taken a panoramic view of the dynamics of the oil industry, it is pertinent to look at the other topic, cultural festivals, before we chart a direction for stakeholders. 

Cultural Festivals

Cultural festivals are organised to commemorate harvests, betrothals, initiations, coronations, foundation days, funerals, as well as long-standing communal traditions. Duruaku deals extensively on cultural festivals, categorising them to those that centre on ancestral veneration and worship of deities, and others that celebrate rites of passages. The point to note here is that cultural festivals are basic ingredients that animate tourism. This undergirds my position that, “culture is the vehicle that drives tourism.” Visitors will not throng to a given town, unless there are tourist sites, or programmes and activities of interest. Tourists are persons, who “travel to and stay in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes not related to the exercise of an activity remunerated from within the place visited” (Afuba 19). Thus, tourism has to do with travelling for recreational or leisure purposes, and it has gained much currency ever since the expression was first used as an official term by the League of Nations in 1937. Today, tourism is a sector that a number of countries now turn, more than an economic pursuit. It is as much an economic quest as it is an image interpretation.

According to Afuba, tourism is the portrait concept that has given rise to such catchy promotions as, “Malaysia Truly Asia;” “Incredible India;” and “Get Going Canada;” and that for a state like Anambra that only recently began to shelve the toga of a failed state, tourism could offer “a healing journey in self-discovery and self-renewal.” He observed that the boundaries of tourism have proved to be very elastic, just as fresh frontiers, broadened horizons and new perspectives have emerged on the tourist canvas over the years. The lexicon of tourism has widened into new areas such as, medical tourism, sports tourism, religious tourism, cultural tourism, and environmental tourism, among others, with the result that more players are able to gain entry into the sector.

            It is true that the original concept of tourist attractions as consisting only of exotic natural scenery is fast changing, to include local travels and cross border sight-seeing. This explains the differentiation of domestic and international tourism as windows through which stakeholders can market their economies. It is Afuba’s contention, therefore, that with its rising profile as an investor’s haven, Anambra State is entering the tourism market with an inspiring story of recreation, security and stability. Among a variety of folk ceremonies, the Ofala festival of traditional institutions represents the face of popular entertainment, because it embodies the people’s heritage, reflecting their theatre, colour, music, dance, as well as being a social commentary.  

The Ofala Festival of Onitsha, Anambra State     

The origin of this grand festival in Igbo land has been a matter of conjecture. Folklorists believe that the first festivals of this nature arose in Igbo land because of the anxiety of early people, who did not understand the forces of nature and wished to placate them. The Ofala could best be described as a royal outing involving communal celebrations, in a carefully planned programme, wrapped in grandeur and outpouring of respect, revelry. It was established by custom and sponsored by the Eze, Igwe, or Obi in a traditional lgbo society. It is also conjectured that the Ofala festival and feast originated from the coronation and commemoration of Abba, as the father and leader of his people from Hebrew land, would be a reliable one. The festival brings to mind the originality of the origin, age and socialization process of man, which assume that the family was the basic unit of social organization, and that kinship groups wandered as hunting packs under the leadership of the Eze, Igwe, or Obi. One of the aims of the festival is to sustain peace among the people. It is a period for reconciliation and restoration of peace in families, community, age grades and organisations, and it is of great significance to the people in view of its socio-cultural relevance to foster unity, peace and progress.

The Ofala, celebrated annually in Onitsha, has assumed a new dimension with the support of Globacom Limited, just as the chairman of the company, Chief Mike Adenuga, said the commitment of the truly Nigerian telecommunications giant to the empowerment of Nigerians was what informed the company’s sponsorship of the Ofala festival, through which they had also demonstrated their loyalty to the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, and the people. Beginning from 2011, Globacom’s collaboration to boost Ofala, the most celebrated festival in Igbo land, was in line with its corporate creed to support, grow and develop anything that is noble in Nigeria. According to Adenuga, the telecoms giant will continue to make conscious efforts to bond with the people through active participation in their cultural festivals, which have remained the unifying platforms to project the rich cultural heritage of the people.

            It is of interest that Adenuga further reiterated Globacom’s promise in 2011 to take the festival to the next level and support the people of Onitsha to make Ofala take its pride of place among cultural festivals in Africa, stressing that the company’s interest was informed by the patriotic zeal to add value to the annual festival in its entirety by introducing various features that transformed the lives of the people. There is no doubt that this partnership would benefit the entire Igbo race immensely, because it has boosted the cultural essence of the Ofala festival.  

The Argungu Fishing Festival

If Ofala festival of Onitsha is going to the next level, we cannot say the same of the Argungu Fishing Festival, an annual four day festival in Gurbin Kokuwa, Augie Local Government Area, Kebbi State, in the North-West geo-political zone of the country. Argungu, the capital city of Argungu Emirate Council, and the geo-physical nature and characteristics of the festival site in Argungu are riverine (matanfada, mala, gamji), irrigation, and orchards (lambu in Hausa). Kanta meseum is the main historical centre in Argungu for visitors across the globe. Before now, when the festival experienced a lull, people from different destinations trooped to Argungu to witness the fishing event.

            The original aim of the Argungu festival, began in 1934 (Ayakoroma 47), was to mark peace between the former Sokoto Caliphate and the Kebbi Kingdom that had fought for centuries, and hostilities only ceased with the arrival of the British. Sometimes, more than 35,000 fishermen, teamed in pairs, and plunged into the muddy Matan Fada River, carrying hand-nets and gourds for flotation. The fishermen lined up, like an ancient army, carrying their traditional nets and gourds, and at the sound of a gun, they ran to the river and started their fishing expedition in the water, for just one hour to catch the biggest fish. The pair that catches the largest fish, bare-handed, is usually the winner. In most years, fish weighing more than 50kg are caught from the river. In 2004, for example, it took an 80kg catfish to make the catch of the day. But then, a group of young men played a fast one on the organisers a few years ago by “planting” a big fish in the lake, only to bring it out as their supposed catch. They would have got away with the fraudulent act, but for the fact that there were later disagreements on the sharing formula of the prize money, and the aggrieved part blew the whistle on the deal and exposed the mischief.

            The 2011 edition of the Argungu Fishing Festival took place in mid-March 2011. With rising costs and increased participation in the festival, it has been a challenge to keep the festival running and thriving, until Maltina, a premium non-alcoholic malt drink from the stable of Nigerian Breweries Plc, became its major sponsor in 2011. The international version of the festival could not hold this year, but the Organizing Committee decided to host a national version, which recorded about 16,000 fishermen from six states in the North participating, and drawing tourists from South Korea and other countries.

            The Argungu Fishing Festival is an important international event that is capable of attracting foreign tourists to Nigeria, and the sponsorship by Maltina was to encourage Nigerians to believe in and be proud of their culture, tradition and heritage, which are very rich. Apart from being the official drink of the festival, Maltina also activated a road show to drum up support for the festival and create awareness about its impact on tourism and social cohesion in the country. In addition, the “sharing pavilion” was created where consumers went and shared their happy moments and experienced the brand’s new proposition. 

Osun Oshogbo Festival

Osun Oshogbo festival is celebrated every year, in the Osun Oshogbo Sacred Grove, a sacred forest along the banks of the Osun River, just outside the city of Oshogbo, Osun State of Nigeria. The Grove is among the last of the sacred forests which usually adjoined the edges of most Yoruba cities before extensive urbanization. Osun worshippers come from all walks of life to celebrate this day. In recognition of its global significance and its cultural value, the Sacred Grove was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

            It is believed that over a century ago, there were many sacred groves in Yorubaland: every town had one. Most of these groves have now been abandoned or have shrunk to quite small areas. Osun Oshogbo, in the heart of Oshogbo, the capital of Osun State, founded some 400 years ago in southwest Nigeria, is the largest extant sacred grove. Set within the forest sanctuary are forty shrines, sculptures and art works erected, in honour of Osun, the river goddess, and other Yoruba deities, many created in the past forty years, two palaces, five sacred places and nine worship points strung along the river banks with designated priests and priestesses. This was under the inspiration of the late Suzanne Wenger, who formed the New Sacred Art Movement to challenge land speculators, repel poachers, protect shrines and begin the long process of bringing the sacred place back to life and once again establishing it as the sacred heart of Oshogbo.

            The Grove is an active religious site where daily, weekly and monthly worship take place. In addition, an annual processional festival to re-establish the mystic bonds between the goddess and the people of the town occurs every year over twelve days in July and August and thus sustains the living cultural heritage of the Yoruba people. It is also a natural herbal pharmacy containing over 400 species of plants, some endemic, of which more than 200 species are known for their medicinal uses. The river is believed to have healing, protective and fertility powers, just as the fishes are said to have been used by Osun, the river goddess, as messengers of peace, blessings and favour.

            The Grove was first declared a National Monument in 1965. This original designation was amended and expanded in 1992 to protect the entire 75 hectares. The 1988 Cultural Policy for Nigeria states that,  

The State shall preserve as Monuments old city walls and gates, sites, palaces, shrines, public buildings, promote buildings of historical significance and monumental sculptures.  

Under the Land Use Act of 1990, the Federal Government of Nigeria conferred trusteeship of the Grove to the Government of Osun State. It is also part of National Tourism Development Master Plan that was established with World Tourism Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It had a well-developed management plan covering the period 2004-2009 that was adopted by all stakeholders and the site enjoys a participatory management system. The Federal Government administers the site through a Site Manager of the National Commission for Museums and Monument, as empowered by Decree 77 of 1979; while Osun State Government equally contributes to its protection and management through its respective Local Governments, Ministries and Parastatals, who are also empowered by the state edicts to manage state monuments.

            The annual Osun Oshogbo Festival has become a tourist attraction, not only to Nigerians, but Africans and Blacks in the Diaspora, who now undertake a pilgrimage, annually, to the festival. One can posit that the Osun Oshogbo Grove has the potentials of serving as a model of African heritage that preserves the tangible and intangible values of the Oshogbo people in particular, and the Yoruba people in general. As a source of pride to them, the Grove will remain a living thriving heritage that has traditional landmarks and a veritable means of transfer of traditional religion, and indigenous knowledge systems. 

National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST)

Organized by the National Council for Arts & Culture (NCAC), the National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) originated in 1970 from the various festivals celebrated in different parts of the country and has over the years become a veritable instrument for the actualization of governments development objectives through the instrumentality of our rich and diverse cultural heritage. The festival was to experience a lull from 1990 to 2001, before its revival in 2002 with Rivers State hosting. Other hosts include, Imo State (Owerri 2003), Kaduna State (Kaduna 2004), Ogun State (Abeokuta 2005), Bayelsa State (Yenagoa 2006), Benue State (Makurdi 2007), Enugu State (Enugu 2008), Niger State (Minna 2009), Akwa Ibom State (Uyo 2010), Cross River State (Calabar 2011), and Kwara State (Ilorin 2012).

            Over the years, NAFEST, popularly called “the Unity Forum,” has aimed at making a bold statement that the culture sector has abundant resources for Nigeria’s sustainable development. It is the desire of the organizers that the festival complements the various strategies put in place by government aimed at arresting youth restiveness, creating job opportunities, and improving the quality of life of Nigerians. Culture, being the totality of the way of life of a people and the future of their inventions, has the capability of repositioning any given community towards achieving greatness            

Major Carnivals in Nigeria

Carnival celebrations, all over the world, are combinations of music, choreography and spectacle. Carnivals and festivals are highly theatrical and cultural events using live performers, sound, and properties, in ways that are more like multi-media stage presentations (Ekweariri and Ogbonna 132, 136-37). Carnivals use culture to promote tourism and the image of a society. The Rio Carnival of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the Salvador Carnival in Bahia, Brazil, the Carnival of Trinidad and Tobago, and the Carnival of Jamaica, are events that have drawn tourists from all over the world. In fact, Trinidad and Tobago depends, to a large extent, on the revenue generated from its annual Carnival. However, in the last few years, three carnivals in Nigeria have become distinct tourism products, namely, the Abuja Carnival, the Calabar Carnival, and Carniriv in Rivers State. 

Abuja National Carnival

The Abuja Carnival was initiated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as a platform to showcase our rich cultural heritage and tourism potentials to the World. It was endorsed in 2004 as an International Carnival by the Presidential Council on Tourism (PCT), made up of the Governors with the former President as the Chairman. The first edition of the Carnival took place in November 2005, when Ambassador Franklin Ogbuewu was the Honourable Minister for Culture and Tourism. According to former President Obasanjo, the Abuja Carnival was a reaction to carnivals of other nations that he had been invited to, and that such carnivals had historical experiences and contributed immensely to the cultural growth of the host countries in addition to projecting the images of such countries.

The Abuja Carnival centres on cultural promotion, thereby showcasing the cultural diversity of different ethnic groups in the country as well as their oneness in the whole gamut of traditionalism (Okam 41).       In another context, it is specially designed as an intra- and inter-cultural link, to serve as a foundation of knowledge and a reference point for the historical and cultural experience of Blacks, worldwide. This dream has continued to power the realization of the Carnival as it is anchored on the recognition that there exists an intrinsic link between culture and the foundation for the economic and technological growth of the nation, if it is to achieve significant development. Over the years, the Carnival has come to reflect the following ideals: 

ü  Continuing demonstration of the unity in diversity as various states display their unique heritage, thus building bridges and enhancing friendship;

ü  Being an authentic Nigerian experience and tourism product of acceptable international patronage;

ü  Becoming a brand that celebrates Nigeria as a safe, warm, hospitable tourism destination;

ü  Being a gateway into tapping the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) projected 9% increase of tourists to Africa;

ü  Boosting the economy of the informal sector of the Federal Capital Territory during a 4-day approved street trading;

ü  Increasing patronage of the hospitality industry, especially, in the Federal Capital Territory and environs; and

ü  Creating an avenue for partnerships, sponsorship and investment.  

The Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation packages the Carnival through the Abuja Carnival Management Committee, while the Federal Capital Territory, as the host, provides facilities and camps for the contingents. The various state governments, through their Ministries of Culture and Tourism, fund the participation of their cultural troupes. Originally, the Carnival activities comprised Street Carnival Parade (that featured beautifully designed carnival floats with diverse and unique cultural motifs), Masquerade Display, Durbar, Boat Regatta (that equally featured beautifully designed boats with diverse and unique cultural motifs), and Closing Carnival Parade. In the last two years, components like Children’s Fiesta, Cultural Nite/Traditional Cuisine and Bus Bar, Contemporary Music Fiesta, and Command Performance have been added to spice the Carnival. 

The Calabar Christmas Carnival

The Calabar Carnival, which started in 2004, was conceptualised by then Executive Governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke. It was initiated as part of the vision of making Cross River State, the number one tourist destination for Nigerians and tourist all over the world; and it has grown to become, “Africa’s Biggest Street Party.” It starts on the 1st of December and lasts till the 31st of December and has boosted the cultural awareness and growth of Nigeria, because it entertains millions of spectators from within and outside the country. It has included more aspects of local heritage and culture and at the same time strengthened the capacity of the local people to participate in an economically beneficial way. It has made Cross River State and Calabar, in particular, to become the pride of Nigeria or Africa, as far as tourism is concerned.

The programmes of Calabar Carnival are drafted each year by the Committee in charge of Tourism and Cultural activities and new ideas are introduced every year. This informed why in the 2009 edition, the Carnival Committee featured “Carnival Cup 2009,” a football competition among the five competing carnival bands – Seagull, Passion 4, Masta Blasta, Bayside and Freedom. The Carnival also has other cultural events, like music performance from both local and international artists, Boat Regatta, Fashion Shows, Christmas Village, Traditional Dances and the annual Ekpe Festival. Other activities that have been incorporated include, Essay Writing Competition, involving both secondary school and tertiary students. These competitions are aimed at resuscitating the reading culture among the youths in the state, as well as inculcating the carnival culture. The Carnival has also hosted top Nigeria musicians, Nollywood Actors, politicians and international artists like the late Lucky Dube, Akon, Fat Joe, Young Jeezy, Nelly, Kirk Franklin, and many more. Little wonder then that Cross River State Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, told the press recently that the Calabar Carnival is becoming self-sustaining (Lasisi 48). 

The Rivers State Carnival (CARNIRIV)

The Rivers State Carnival, tagged, CARNIRIV, which débuted with much fan-fare in 1988, when Alabo Tonye Graham-Douglas was the Honourable Commissioner for Information and Culture, was abandoned thereafter, until recently, many thanks to the newly-created Rivers State Carnival and Tourism Development Agency. Carniriv has become a memorable event in the minds of the people of Rivers State and environs, because it is a celebration of the culture of the people. Also known as Port Harcourt Carnival, Carniriv goes deep into the social consciousness of the Rivers people, juxtaposing long-standing cultural expressions with contemporary modern artistic display. The result of such is a week of fun and merry-making, a celebration of unity, and a convivial atmosphere of festivity and sheer revelry, reflective of a true carnival in many respects. It has indeed drawn international tourists to the Garden City to share the people’s culture.

Carniriv 2011, for example, kicked-off with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Peace Pageant, which held at the Polo Club, Port Harcourt. Little wonder then that Governor Rotimi Amaechi expressed delight at the large turnout in the event, which also attracted personalities from other countries. There was the Children’s Street Parade, which was preceded with the carnival opening ceremony in the evening at the Carnival Village located at the Liberation Stadium, Port Harcourt. Tourists and guests were treated to a colourful boat regatta as well as performances from different local government areas in the state at the Carnival Village. It has become an event that literally shut down the city of Port Harcourt. Some of the local and international musicians that have performed are Maleke, Ras Kimono and band, P-Square and reggae artist, Luciano.

The Rivers State Carnival and Tourism Development Agency (RSCTDA), which now manages the event, has own Sam Dede, popular Nollywood actor and Lecturer, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, as the Director-General. In the preparation for the 2012 edition, Dede had disclosed that Rivers State Government was poised to make the Carniriv one of the major platforms for improving the economic well-being of the people, and that the strategic intent was that the carnival will not just be a showcase of the pristine Rivers cultures to the world, but a tool for the empowerment and socio-economic prosperity of the people of Rivers State. In the final analysis, it is hoped that through Carniriv, Nigeria will prosper economically, and that Rivers State is determined to always host the world to one of the best-organised carnival events. I believe that analysts can ascertain if the expectation are being met with the events that have been unfolding.  

It is gratifying to note that realising the dynamics of the tourism industry, more players are keying into it to tap from its huge potentials. States like Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Lagos, Niger, Plateau, and Taraba, among others, have recognised the need to boost their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) through tourism, and have embarked on the development of tourism products to actualise that. For example, Kwara State, “the state of harmony,” is sourcing foreign and local investors to develop one of its largest festivals, the Patigi Regatta, into a world-class event. The Patigi Regatta Festival is a glamorous cultural festival that is popular among the people of Kwara State and Niger State. The festival, which could compare favourably with the Argungu Fishing Festival, also has the potential of attracting both domestic and international tourists. The State government had constructed a motel, executive lodge and VIP chalets some kilometres away from the river, where the event is staged, with a view of making the festival an annual event. Thus, the government is currently soliciting investors to partner on infrastructure development to enhance the festival thus: 

ü  Renovation of existing pavilion, chalets and motel to an international standard

ü  Construction of infrastructural facilities, exhibition stands, press galleries and sheds

ü  Acquisition of boats and canoes

ü  Provision of packaged tour vehicles

ü  Provision of an international communication system, electricity and portable water supply; and

ü  Rehabilitation of access roads to the festival village 

The benefits expected from the revival of the Patigi Regatta Festival, as an international tourist attraction, will include: 

ü  Bringing tourists from within and outside Nigeria

ü  Generating both local and foreign currencies for the state government

ü  Improving the standard of living of the community; and

ü  Encouraging the development of river transportation 

Crude Oil and Cultural Festivals: Which Way Nigeria?

It is necessary to surmise here that overdependence on the oil and gas sector has had some implications on the economic survival of Nigeria, which include the following: 

ü  Government revenue derived mainly from oil, thus running a mono-economy

ü  The country, which was an exporter of palm oil, now imports same from Malaysia, which is now said to generate 10% of its GDP from palm oil

ü  Receipts from the agricultural sector have dwindled over the years

ü  The oil boom in the 1970s, made successive governments to ignore the need for diversification of the economy

ü  State governments also depend solely on oil revenue rather than tilling the arable land to boost agriculture and internally generated revenue (IGR)

ü  The country does not have direct control over oil production quota

ü  Fluctuations in world oil prices affect the country and other non-oil exports

ü  The country faces budget deficit perennially

ü  The oil wells will dry up eventually, which spells doom for the country

ü  Oil exploration and exploitation activities have aggravated pollution, youth restiveness, including, pipe-line vandalisation, oil spillages, communal protests, hostage-taking, kidnapping, to outright militancy and brigandage. 

At this juncture, let us ask: How do we get out of this dilemma? Which way Nigeria? There is a school of thought that agriculture holds the key to Nigeria’s economic well-being. While it is gratifying that the country is currently trying to enhance the production of crumb rubber for export (Agbaike 42), the warning by the World Bank that Africa trade barriers would precipitate food crisis (“Africa trade barriers” 38) is worrisome. The recent flood disaster appears to make this scenario even grimmer. This is why a recent initiative of Lagos State Government in acquiring 500 hectares of land in Eggua, in Yewa North LGA of Ogun State for agriculture (Nwokolo 10), offers some ray of hope that the World Bank forecast of $20b agricultural earnings for Africa in the next year is realistic. But then, the World Bank forecast is premised on non-restriction of land borders and appropriate utilisation of the available land(s), not allowing them to grow fallow, as obtains now.

            In all of the above, the adoption and repackaging of our cultural festivals, in line with global best practices, appear to form a better option. This is because the revenue generation potentials are enormous. Unlike the oil sector, where there are various unwholesome practices on the part of key players, as seen in the Joint Venture operations, not carrying out Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before oil exploration activities, oil spillages, pipeline vandalisation, oil subsidy scam, diversion of fuel supplies by marketers, or the gripping revelations from the Nuhu Ribadu Probe, among others. Cultural festivals, on the other hand, are community-based. They involve the active participation of the people in one way or the other; and they could generate revenue from one or more of the following sources: 

ü  Airport shuttle and intra-city transportation

ü  Hotel accommodation and other lodging facilities

ü  Food and drinks

ü  Electronic and print media publicity

ü  Tour guides

ü  Art and crafts works

ü  Production on indigenous dresses

ü  Printing of posters, flyers, banners, T-shirts, face caps, and other souvenirs; and

ü  Photo and video documentation.  

In realising the above, the festival achieves the following: 

ü  Gives the organisers a sense of pride and ethnic identity

ü  Provides gainful employment for youths in the local environment

ü  Creates a peaceful atmosphere

ü  Builds relationship between tourists and the indigenous population

ü  Enhances investment opportunities

ü  Fast tracks infrastructure development in host communities

ü  Boosts the local economy; and

ü  Boosts the internally generated revenue (IGR) base of the state and the nation 


In this paper, I have attempted to juxtapose the place of crude oil and cultural festivals in the economic development of Nigeria. While it is common knowledge that oil has contributed generously to the wealth of the nation, the submission here is that it is high time the managers of the economy looked towards other directions to diversify the revenue generation base. One of such platforms that readily come to mind, in this paper, is the instrumentality of cultural festivals. They are people-oriented because they celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the community; they are not capital-intensive; they create jobs for the teeming unemployed thus ameliorating youth restiveness; and they have the potentials of stimulating the local economy. So, let us ask for the last time: Which way Nigeria? We can say: Let us go the way of cultural festivals!


Works Cited

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“Africa trade barriers hit food production – World Bank.” The Punch. 26 Oct. 2012:38.

Afuba, Ifeanyi. “Anambra’s tourism potentials.” Daily Sun. 25 Oct. 2012: 19.

Agbaike, Edwin. “Production of crumb rubber for export.” Daily Sun. 25 Oct. 2012: 42.

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Ekweariri, Chidiebere and Ogbonna Kelechi. “Understanding Carnivals and Festivals in the Context of Theatre.” Makurdi Journal of Arts and Culture. Ed. Gowon Ama Doki. 8 (2010): 127-40.

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Makinde, Femi, Akinwale Aboluwade, and Success Nwogu. “2013 budget row: Governors back Senators, Reps.” The Punch. 28 Oct. 2012: 7.

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  1. vBeing a Paper Delivered at the Rivers State Cultural Carnival (CARNIRIV) 2012 Colloquium, at the Rivers State House of Assembly Auditorium, Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria, on December 10, 2012. 
  2. vDr. Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma is the Executive Secretary/CEO, National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), Abuja, Nigeria/Visiting Senior Lecturer, Department of Theatre & Cultural Studies, Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK). Website: . Email: