Developing a Festival Brand: Towards a Blue Print for Nzeh Mada in Nasarawa State  


Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, PhD



Let me first of all express my sincere appreciation to the Festival Management Committee (FMC), for inviting me as Guest Speaker in this year’s Colloquium of Nzeh Mada Festival. I must say it is really an honour to be selected in the face of many eminent and more accomplished theatre scholars. Recall that I witnessed the festival last year and delivered a goodwill message at the grand finale, specifically, on Saturday, 19th April, 2014. The implication is that I am abreast of the vision of the FMC: charting a new direction for the festival.

When the Festival Director, Professor Emmanuel Samu Dandaura informed me of the decision of the FMC to invite me as Guest Speaker, I had thought that I would weave the paper on: “Between Crude Oil and Cultural Festivals,” and ask the pertinent question: Which Way Nasarawa State? Incidentally, that paper has been reproduced, in an abridged form, in the Festival Bulletin; so, it would have amounted to mere repetition. Furthermore, the theme of this year’s Nzeh Mada, “Festival of Reconciliation and Consolidation,” is very apt, considering the wave of ethnic and inter-ethnic clashes in many parts of the country.

I was asked to talk on: “Developing a Festival Brand; Identity, Unity and Socio-Economic Development of Minority Ethnic Nationalities.” However, I have decided to talk briefly on: “Developing a Festival Brand: Towards a Blue Print for Nzeh Mada.” To begin my presentation, I would first of all briefly examine some key terms, which will be frequently used in this paper. These include ethnicity, ethnic nationality or group, festivals, socio-economic development and branding.

Ethnicity and Ethnic Nationality

Ethnicity is the state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. On the other hand, an ethnic group or ethnic nationality is a section of the population, which by virtue of sharing common cultural characteristics separate the people from others within that population. People are all acculturated or socialized into the ethnic groups they belong. In other words, it is a group of people having common language and cultural values. These common values are enhanced through continuous interaction between the people, who make up the group; and the ethnic groups are created mainly through inter-marriages, inter-mingling or assimilation.

As a point of fact, it is believed that there are over 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria, with over 500 distinct languages indigenous to the people. What one understands from all of these is that the actual number of ethnic groups in Nigeria is not definitive. Somehow, the ethnic groups are further divided into majority and minority ethnic groups. The majority ethnic groups are the Hausa/Fulani in the North, the Ibo in the South-East and the Yoruba in the South-West. This had given rise, in the 1980s, to the use of the term, “Wazobia” group, a coinage from the Yoruba word for come (“wa”), its Hausa form (“zo”) and the Ibo equivalent (“bia”). Other ethnic groups found all over the country, such as, the Bini, Ebira, Ibibio, Idoma, Ijaw, Ikwerre, Jukun, Kanuri, Nupe, Tiv, Urhobo, and a host of others, belong to the minority. This is just as we have the Agatu, Aho, Alago, Chesu, Eggon, Gbagyi, Gwandara, Kantana, Rindre, Mada, and Migili, among other minority ethnic groups in Nasarawa State. One major characteristic of the various ethnic nationalities in Nigeria is that each has a traditional core territory or cultural area and a core language.

Ethnic distinctions are rarely neutral. These distinctions are commonly associated with marked inequalities of wealth and power and also antagonism between groups. Tension and conflicts regularly manifest amongst minority ethnic nationalities. The minority ethnic nationalities are more dangerous than the major ethnic nationalities, because the activities of the big ones can easily be monitored, while the smaller ethnic minorities cannot easily be figured out; some of them are hardly known outside their domains. When such conflicts erupt, their consequences are grave and very difficult to manage. Nigerians cannot forget in a hurry the long running communal clashes amongst some ethnic minorities in the past, such as, the Itsekiri-Ijaw in Delta State, Urhobo-Itsekiri also in Delta State, the Tiv-Jukun, the Plateau indigenes and non-indigenes clashes, the Zango-Kataf clashes in Kaduna State, the Ogoni communal clashes and the Okrika-Eleme ones in Rivers State, the Umuleri-Aguleri communal clashes in Anambra, Ezza/Ezillo clashes in Ebonyi State, Ife-Modakeke wars, which have claimed lots of lives. The recent Hausa/Fulani cattle-rearers’ and indigenes skirmishes in Benue and Nasarawa States and the Ombatsi in Nasarawa State are just a few cases that have posed peace and security challenges in Nigeria.

Generally, ethnic conflicts are manifested as ethnocentrism, group closure and resource allocation. Thus, developing cultural events that will boost the socio-economic development of these minority ethnic nationalities becomes imperative. But then, we will talk more about this later in this paper.

From the foregoing, it is clear that the relationship cultivated by ethnic nationalities can be positive or negative. It is positive when groups come together and build roads, schools, hospitals, market to provide pipe-borne water for their community, award scholarships to the outstanding students, and contrive ways of improving their socio-economic, religious and cultural potentialities. They can only do this when they are united. So, anything that unites them should be encouraged. This is where a festival, such as Nzeh Mada festival comes into play. On the other hand, the said relationship will be negative when they encroach collectively on the other’s property; attempt to stop government from performing its statutory functions, or when they become riotous or become tools in the hands of insurgents.

It should be noted that the minority ethnic nationalities, in spite of their segmentary tendencies, can produce positive results when properly galvanized and stimulated development-wise. There is no gainsaying the fact that a well-packaged festival brand can help in this regard.


Festivals are series of activities organized by a people at a given time and place to showcase their cultural potentials with a view to harnessing them for the socio-cultural development of the host community. Festivals are geared towards entertainment and as such involve music performances, dance, drama, acrobatics, mime, imitation, and so on. This social nature makes mass and group involvement in a festival mandatory, especially in a cultural setting where the festival largely features a homogenous audience.

According to Duruaku, a festival is a ceremonial event that involves a community to express its desires and celebrate its gains and is usually characterized by masquerading, singing and dancing (12). He differentiates them as festivals of the rites of passage, festivals of the feast of farming cycle, occasional festivals, and festivals of deity worship and ancestor veneration. Onyeneke adds that these public celebrations of events (are) considered important and of high values. They are manifested in births, puberty, marriages, title-taking, including chieftaincies and funeral celebrations marking the cycles of planting and harvesting and the veneration of local deities, personal gods, and the community ancestors (109).

Festivals are platforms for community development schemes and are found in almost every community in Nigeria, with the community sometimes having more than one or two in their repertory. Most of these festivals need to be transformed for wider audience appeal and better exploitation of socio-economic gains.

In the final analysis, we can say that, festivals are:

  1. days or periods of celebration typically for religious reasons; and

One common denominator in all of the above definitions is: “celebrations.” Festivals oftentimes, serve to meet specific purposes, especially in regard to commemoration and/or thanksgiving. They also provide entertainment as the case may be in addition to giving a sense of belonging for the religious, social or geographical area that organizes such festivals. Thus, it is essential for festivals to foster strong, competitive and resonant brands, which can be competitive, distinct from other festivals and build valuable equity with consumers.

Some notable cultural festivals in Nigeria include: the Osun Oshogbo Festival, the Ofala Festival, the Durbar Festival, the Argungun Fishing Festival, New Yam or Iriji Festival, the Eyo Festival, Igue Festival, Nwonyo Fishing Festival, Leboko Yam Festival, National Festival for Arts & Culture (NAFEST), Abuja National Carnival, the Calabar Christmas Carnival, Rivers State Cultural Carnival (CARNIRIV), and the Nzeh Mada Festival, which has brought us all here, among others. I have examined the dynamics of some of the aforementioned festivals in the work earlier mentioned.

What I have so far tried to achieve is provide a basic understanding of the terms, which I consider essential in a discourse of this nature. Now, let us look at branding and its importance in festival propagation, and how we can develop Nzeh Mada as a festival brand.


This is a feature, which, in recent times, has proved an important aspect in the business world. A brand is widely defined as a distinctive picture of an object and its association positioned in the mind of consumers. The brand heightens the interest of the consumer and eventually draws him to the product. In other words, branding is that particular feature, which draws the consumer’s interest to a particular variable. Its features can be in the form of a logo or an advertisement, which creates a strong picture in the customer’s mind’s eye. The brand gives an impression and stands for certain values, which the consumer stands to gain if he engages in the activity. It is like a magnet, which draws the consumer to the product. Branding is extremely important in the business world today. It affords one the ability to distinguish products from a wide array of choices. In Nollywood, for instance, star actors and actresses that have made names have become brands; thus, their appearance in any film enhances audience patronage and the revenue profile of such a film expectedly. Similarly, many organisations, which have successfully employed the branding process in their businesses, have reaped the financial benefits of such an endeavour.

Sports organisations have also underscored the power of branding and have used it to significantly generate public interest, increasing participation and invariably raising overall revenue. Just like sports, which has benefitted tremendously from branding in recent times, festivals can also benefit from branding. In the case of festivals, branding helps to distinguish them from one another and this is important. A strong brand is better protected from crisis, which can lead to eventual extinction. A clear case in point is the Calabar Christmas Carnival, which, like many of such carnivals in Brazil, Trinidad & Tobago, and Jamaica, among others have contributed invaluably to the socio-economic development of such countries.

As it were, identity, unity and socio-economic development are aspects of ethnic groups, which can be positively affected through festivals like Nzeh Mada festival and in turn, these festivals could be enhanced through proper and extensive branding processes. We shall now look at these factors individually.

Festivals and Socio-Economic Development

Socio-economic development is a multi-dimensional process involving the re-organization and re-orientation of the entire system. Just like culture, the process of socio-economic development is as old as man. Walter Rodney had argued that from the earliest period of human social existence, man had found it expedient to live in groups to hunt and for the sake of survival. Thus, development is the change of the state of a community, as it were, to an appreciable level, though the reverse may be the case. According to Rodney,

a society develops economically as its members jointly increase their capacity for dealing with the environment. The capacity for dealing with the environment is dependent on the extent to which they understand the laws of nature (science), on the extent to which they put that understanding into practice by developing tools (technology), and on the manner in which work is organised (2-3).

Festivals are known to be the fastest growing forms of tourism activities around the world. In some cases, festivals have been known to revitalize the local economy generating huge revenue for host communities. Some popular festivals in Nigeria, such as, the Calabar Christmas Carnival, Rivers State Cultural Carnival (CARNIRIV), Osun Oshogbo Festival, Durbar Festival, Argungun Fishing Festival, Abuja Carnival, National Festival for Arts & Culture (NAFEST), and a host of others, attract participation from all over the world. As visitors attend such festivals, huge amount of revenue is generated for the host community and the nation in general. In the Calabar Carnival experience, for example, hotels are known to be fully booked from early November to the end of December every year. In fact, some business-minded people quickly turn their residences to emergency guest houses to provide accommodation for desperate and stranded tourists.

Branding has a vital role to play in all of the above, in the sense that, the branding given to a festival in turn generates tourists’ interest for them to attend such a festival. Thus, if properly harnessed through effective branding, cultural festivals have the potentials of boosting the socio-economic development of this nation, especially in the face of the downturn in the revenue accruing from the country’s crude oil. This forms the focus of my paper on the choice between crude oil and cultural festivals in national development.

The fact is that culture, which encapsulates festivals, remains a veritable panacea for our common socio-economic problems. Some African countries like Gambia, Kenya, Senegal and South Africa have capitalized on this avenue to improve their economy, just as Brazil, Canada, Dubai, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States of America. For instance, many Caribbean countries, like the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago depend on tourist attractions, such as leisure winter holidays, site visits and cultural festivals as the major contribution to their gross domestic income, simply because their festivals have been developed to various brands and have appeals. According to Patricia Meschino, festivals in the Caribbean,

  1. help to market Caribbean Tourist Destinations
  2. stimulate local economics; and
  3. help many business bottom lines

Citing a 2001 “Festival Tourism in the Caribbean: An Economic Impact Assessment” prepared by Dr. Keith Nurse for the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington DC, Meschino noted that festivals in the Caribbean,

  1. create jobs and boost the economies by generating revenue for airports, hotels, restaurants, taxis, car rental, companies craft vendors and other businesses;
  2. benefit the local populace in the area of sale of goods and services created by visiting local and foreign tourists;
  3. boost the local economy through the dynamics of demand and supply built around the festival locations; and
  4. enhance the development of structural amenities like roads, hospitals and telecommunications.

One wonders why our dear country Nigeria is yet to harness the full potentials of our vast cultural festivals as many foreign countries have done. This undergirds the sensitization drive of National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), the apex cultural institute in the country, through its numerous cultural orientation programmes, aimed at repositioning our cultural festivals to enhance socio-economic development. Our elders say: Never leave till tomorrow what you can do today. An Igbo adage also says: If it begins to be well today, it has been well long ago. This should be the spirit behind our cultural renaissance.

Developing a Festival as a Vibrant Brand

Today, the Nzeh Mada festival, celebrated by the Mada ethnic nationality of Nasarawa State, features cultural activities, such as dance, music, masquerade display, cooking competition, wrestling, debate, Mada heritage exhibition and even Beauty Pageant. The festival has attracted visitors from within and outside the State. Also, indigenes living outside the state come home in their large numbers to witness the ceremony and reunite with their families. Little wonder then that, at the 2014 event, the FMC disclosed its intention to transform the festival into a tourist attraction. While this dream is laudable, the fact remains that it can only become a reality if the festival is repositioned and becomes a significant brand.

In developing a festival brand capable of projecting the people’s identity, unifying them and enhancing their socio-economic development, the following attributes of festivals need to be considered:

  1. Image-making: Cultural festivals that are well-structured and well-packaged provide good image for the host communities as hospitable and culturally endowed people.
  2. Entertaining: Many festival events have abundant artistic contents that incorporate thrilling entertainment. Since art entertains, dancing and other arts merge with feasting to generate a festive atmosphere
  3. Attracting Tourists: A cultural festival carefully planned and staged can attract wide range of visitors, who come to gather vital information and experience to better their lots(satisfy their cultural needs). Thus, using cultural festivals as a tool for generating large-scale tourist in-flow should be a priority, as this will enhance the capacity of such festivals to serve as catalysts for socio-economic development.
  4. Creating Jobs: Festivals offer a great deal of employment to the host communities in the areas of printing, craftsmen, GSM call booths, marketing, transportation, tour guides, photographers, catering services, and so on. The universal nature of festivals attracts large crowds that have to be adequately catered for. This generates a variety of small businesses that provide needed services. Also, there are job opportunities for construction workers needed for roads and hotels, medical personnel in new hospitals and artisans.
  5. Uniting the People: The compulsory social interaction inherent in festive events strengthens community harmony. In a cultural festival, stringent regulations dissolve feuds and enmities during the period, thus, enforcing peaceful co-existence.
  6. Showcasing the People’s Cultural Heritage: Festivals are opportunities to showcase the artistic heritage of the people exemplified in songs, music, dance, acrobatic displays, mimes, costume parade, masquerade displays, craftsmanship and other activities that project the people’s identity.
  7. Building Friendship and New Relationships: The interactions and opportunities, which the festival atmosphere creates, encourage visitors to build relationships. As a result, inter-community peace and unity are maintained as festival periods are times for peace.
  8. Enhancing Socio-Economic Development: Revenue generation to improve the lives of the host community and the participants is usually put into consideration when developing a festival brand for sustainable socio-economic development, especially these days when there is drastic fall in the global prices of crude oil. Commercial activities during festivals are heightened; the hospitality industry, transporters, advertising agencies, photographers, telecom services, food and fashion industries are all boosted, which automatically translates to socio-economic development of the people.

Developing Nzeh Mada as a Brand: Towards a Blue Print

At this juncture, it is pertinent for us to proffer certain suggestions, which are imperatives, for the FMC to gradually brand Nzeh Mada.

  1. Formalise the Event Protocol: Registration of the festival will create room for corporate investments and access to corporate funding by government, financial institutions, non-profit organisations/ foundations or donor agencies;
  2. Get the endorsement of relevant government agencies;
  3. Canvass for sponsorship from reputable organisations;
  4. Partner stakeholders in the hospitality industry;
  5. Provide good road net-work into and within the festival community, portable water and uninterrupted electricity supply;
  6. Construct or renovate vital infrastructure: exhibition stands, press galleries, and pavilions for clients;
  7. Maintain a secure, peaceful and conducive environment;
  8. Train vibrant tour guides to work with tourists;
  9. Provide well-designed tour vehicles;
  10. Produce good content audio-visual jingles to advertise the festival effectively;
  11. Use items and costumes specifically branded with the festival logo;
  12. Provide reliable communication system: producing daily news bulletins, spotlights or updates on the festival;
  13. Partner renowned artists: comedians, musicians, dancers, Nollywood film stars, theatre practitioners, etc. to promote the festival;
  14. Strategically develop a unique quality that differentiates the festival from other brands;
  15. Carry out periodic review of services to ascertain their level of effectiveness; and
  16. Evolve a business plan and proper programming with artistic strategy that can make the festival stand the test of time.


There is no arguing the fact that, ethnic conflicts are prevalent amongst the minority ethnic nationalities probably because they harbour bitterness emanating from several years of neglect and marginalization. As a result, they are always agitating for one thing or the other to attract the attention of the government. With the dwindling allocations from the Federation Account, the minority ethnic nationalities are left with whatever meagre amounts the State Governments pinch out to them through their Local Government Council. In order to make their voices to be heard, they resort to communal violence at the slightest provocation.

Festivals, if well packaged, have the capacity to project the identity of a minority ethnic nationality, while fostering unity amongst them and their neighbours, and at the same time enhance their socio-economic development. They can divert the attention of warring parties to direct their energies to more friendly and profit-oriented ventures. This is where effective branding comes in. Just as Nigerians come together, in spite of their religious and ethnic differences, to support our national teams during international soccer competitions, warring communities can stave off hostilities, while basking in the euphoria of a well-programmed festival brand.

Conclusively, let me reiterate here that festivals have the capacity to improve the developmental state of a people, if well-packaged. In this light, I wish to urge the organisers of the Nzeh Mada festival to consider the recommendations given in this paper, which are by no means definite, in the attempt to develop the festival as a brand. If Nzeh Mada, which happens to be the major festival of the people, is properly packaged to national and even international standards, it has the capacity of projecting the identity of the people, foster unity amongst them and their neighbours, and above all boost their socio-economic development.


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***** Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, PhD, is the Executive Secretary/CEO, National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), Abuja and Visiting Associate Professor, Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK), presented this paper at the Colloquium Event of the Nzeh Mada Festival at the Kini Country Guest Inn, Akwanga, Nasarawa State, on Friday, 3 April, 2015.