The economic power of tourism was re-enforced this weekend in Wukari, Taraba State and its environ when tourists and guests trooped into the town for the annual Nwonyo fishing festival. The entire hotel in the town were fully booked leading most guests who arrived late on Friday to sleep in their cars or travel to neighbouring towns in Benue state to pass the night.
Fish caught during the competition being weighed. The biggest catch weighed 318kg. The fishing competition took place at the Nwonyo lake which is said to have been discovered in 1816 by one Buba Wurbo, the founder of Ibi town.
The Nwonyo lake was said to have been discovered in 1816 by one Buba Wurbo, said to be the founder of Ibi. Even though the lake's importance as a fishing area and unifying force were recognized at its early stage of its discovery, the lake remained no more than a source of fish supply for the fishing/farming community of the new Ibi settlement.
The Nwonyo fishing festival, a great cultural event that has come to be associated with the lake for the past 93 years, has put Taraba State on the Nigerian tourism map. Indeed, with the massive construction work currently going on at the festival site, Taraba State will get another item on the world tourism map.
It was during the reign of Abgumanu 11 (1903_1915) that the first 'public' fishing festival was held. Even then, the participants were mainly from Ibi, with spectators from Wukari and surrounding villages.
In 1943, the first custodian of the lake (Sarki Ruwa), Mallam Muhammadu Sango, was appointed by the late Chief of Ibi, Mallam Muhammadu Jikan Buba (1931-1954). The duty of the Sarkin Ruwa is to guard the lake against unauthorized fishing and to offer commencement of each fishing festival.
The scope of participation and attendance was widened further in 1954, when the Nwonyo fishing was witnessed by the then Aku Uka, Mallam Adi Byewi; Ukwe Takum, Alhaji Ali Ibrahim; Gara Donga, Mallam Sambo Garbosa, and the Divisional Officer_in_charge of former Wukari division, Mallam I. D. Muhammad. In 1969, a more elaborate fishing festival complete with water and traditional sports was organized.
This year's edition of the festival which commenced as early as 8 a.m with different cultural troops drawn across the state and some top government officers like the Governors of Taraba, Danbaba Danfulani ; Adamawa, Muritala Nyako and Niger, Aliyu Babaginda as well as the wife of the Acting President, Mrs Goodluck Jonathan. The Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Otunba Olusegun Runsewe was equally there with his staff from Abuja.
Traditional rulers from the state were in attendance and they were received by Alhaji Abubakar Salihu Dan Bawuro 111 of Ibi.
Before the fishing competition commenced the cultural troups from the state and beyound took time out to entertain the teeming crowd of tourists that were at the lake side to see who will catch the biggest fish this time around.
With the arrival of the Acting President's wife around 11am, the chief priest of the River, Sakin Ruwa, Alhaji Abubakar Dan Sango walked to the river side to pray for the safety of all participants as well as flag off the competition. He was joined by the traditional ruler of Ibi, while the Governor, Dan Fulani Suntai also joined in the prayers for the river to open up for the fishing competition.
With the rituals over, the fishing competition started, the grand fishing was keenly contested with hundreds of fishermen cutting across different age brackets gunning for the top honour.
While the fishermen of Argungu used fishing gourds and nets, the people of Ibi use canoes in order to prevent any attack from crocodiles and other dangerous reptile in the water.
The organizers should be commended for the success of the festival, as some residents of the town said they have been able to attract attention to the community. Hon. Beatrice Kitchener said the organisation was fantastic as the organisers did well in the site demarcation. "In the past it was rowdy, but the organisers have done well. The festival has opened up our community for tourists and investors. We hope we will be able to maintain this tempo.|"
But for a journalist with Standard Newspaper, Charles Agellah, he said the festival has enhanced the the community as people now see tourists in the community. " It has opened up business, economy and our youths now have jobs. The people will not want it to be politicized, for we want to see it hold annually.
"There should be involvement of the traditional ruler in the organisation of the festival, if the Sarkin Ruwa is involved in the organisation, the event will be more successful. In 2006, he was provoked and a mysterious storm blew the pavillion away until he was appeased by elders."
He added " since this is a traditional festival, tradition should be maintained and it will help us to generate revenue for the community and the state."
BEFORE the events of Nwonyo started, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) team, led by its Director General, Segun Runsewe, visited Sarkin of Ibi, Alhaji Abubakar Salihu Dan Bawuro 111, who appreciated the group for partnering with the state government to organise the event.
Runsewe pledged the support of the government and parastatal in developing the festival into both national and international events that will have mass appeal and also bring both economic and socio - cultural developments to the community.
At the end of the festival, various prizes were given out to the winners, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation donated Bicycles; Sewing machines; coolers; grinding machines; footballs and tennis kit among others to the organizers for distributions to the winners and participants.Bulus Joshua with a catch of 318kg won the first prizeof a car while Dan Adata came second.