It will be 40 years in February 2017, when Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) was last celebrated in Nigeria’s former capital city, Lagos. That was back in 1977, after its first outing in Dakar, Senegal in 1966.
Already, the Director-General, Sir Ferdinand Anikwe is making spirited plans to celebrate the 40th Year Anniversary of that landmark event that showcased the immense diversity of the culture of the black race.
Anikwe’s Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), the institutional body and secretariat that emerged from FESTAC 77 to oversee future festivals and documents that emanated from it, is already reaching out to blacks within Africa and the Diaspora and friends of Africa to support and be part of the 40th anniversary celebration.
In an interview in his office on Broad Street, Lagos, Anikwe is upbeat about the celebration, saying it would re-enact in a small way how FESTAC 77 event happened, especially for young Nigerians who were not born at the time. He said it would also evoke nostalgia among older folks, who witnessed the last one.
According to Anikwe, “We want to re-enact the experiences of FECTAC 77 because I witnessed it as a young man back then. It was the year I wrote my WAEC. A singular, cultural event like FESTAC has not happened in a long time now. One of the reasons why we want to commemorate FESTAC is that we want to recapture the physical display of cultural knowledge and creativity, the cultural experiences of visual arts, performances and so on. In our office here, you will see the portraits of 59 former African presidents and six other communities that participated in FESTAC.
“One significant impact of FESTAC was the mobilisation of Africans and everything African to liberate the rest of Africa that were still under the clutches of imperialism and colonialism. This was at the centre of most of the intellectual displays that took place”.
Anikwe also praised the intellectual output of FESTAC 77, adding, “Some of the most important legacies of FESTAC were the colloquiums. The colloquium papers of FESTAC are among the finest documents one can get anywhere. Recently, we spoke to Wole Soyinka on commemorating FESTAC at 40 and he was excited. We played clips from FESTTAC 77, where he made presentations as a young man. He was a firebrand scholar, very young and he showed his intellectual direction. When I asked Prof. Soyinka whether the position he held at that time still holds today, he said, “yes, without apology.”
Anikwe lamented world economic imbalances, which has the black man in stark disadvantage on almost all fronts. As he put it; “The politics and economics have so much degraded the African continent and its peoples. Soyinka felt that the continent has been deprived historically. The kind of unique opportunities presented by FESTAC in the early days of Soyinka no longer exists, and we want such opportunities, no matter how small they may be. That way, scholars of Africa can convert contemporary challenges in their world to something positive. Today, we are saying that contemporary issues demand contemporary suggestions and ideas, and we can only draw from our pool of history, from our scholars, our culture and environment.”
The CBAAC Director-General noted that he was reaching out to friends of Africa all over the world to be part of this unique celebration. He envisaged that celebrating FESTAC@40 would present Africa the opportunity to correct certain misconceptions and misrepresentations about the continent.
According to him, “We are inviting people of African decent and we are also extending invitations to Europe, America, the Caribbean and the Americas. They will see how we do things through our culture and, of course, this includes the promotion of our own artists. Nollywood has encapsulated significant ideas to the whole world and other people are now coming to learn from us. When I was going through the document of FESTAC, I saw that filmmakers like Hubert Ogunde and others were among the prominent organisers of FESTAC. Current Nollywood took over from those that prepared the way for FESTAC. So, if we are able to package programmes through Nollywood, then the whole world will see and learn. And more importantly, there will be money flowing into the country from outside”.
Anikwe said he was expecting funding for the celebration to come from the private sector, international donor organisations and from businessmen and women, adding, “We are reaching out to international bodies that are interested in culture.”
He also noted that not only filmmakers but the entire culture sector would be part of the pan-African celebration.
On hosting venues, Anikwe said former capital city, Lagos, where FESTAC was originally held in 1977, and Abuja, Nigeria’s current capital city, would host the events. He added, “We have divided the venue between Lagos and Abuja. But obviously, Lagos is the home of FESTAC; National Theatre is here, as well as, FESTAC 77 Hotel. We are also trying to collaborate with the Lagos State government to play some roles for us in terms of security and infrastructure. As you know, Lagos will be 50 years next year. So we want Lagos State to partner with us. Some of our guests, for instance, Brazilians, have chosen to be in Lagos, and some other people have also chosen Lagos.
For the first time, the CBAAC boss explained why FESTAC has not been held since 1977, when Lagos hosted it during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s era as military head of state. Anikwe said Ethiopia would have been the next host after Lagos, but political instability in that country on the scheduled year scuttled that proposition. Ever since, hefty funding required to host the cultural fiesta has also contributed to the disinterest from most countries.
As it is, Anikwe said Nigeria was given official mandate to be custodian of FESTAC materials and from where all FESTAC-related activities would be pursued. With increasing difficulties in hosting the festival on the grand scale in 1977, Anikwe said he was exploring the possibility of organising African countries to contribute cultural troupes as part of contingents to the bi-annual African Cup of Nations football fiesta. That way, Anikwe said, a continent-wide cultural celebration would be held in the Cup of nation’s host country and kept alive to take advantage of the following football engenders.