The 2012 Abuja carnival may have come and gone, but its international dimension that saw over 12 countries participate left behind indelible memories.
South Africa, Ghana, Senegal, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Botswana, Rwanda, The Sudan, Egypt, Cuba, China, India and Trinidad and Tobago, all had their representatives at the just concluded Abuja carnival. It was a parade of colours and beauty.
Perhaps it could not have come at a better time that the country is in dire need of image laundering and cheerful news in the light of incessant terrorist attacks that seems to have blighted the atmosphere of tolerance and peaceful co-existence predominant in the country despite cultural differences.
Indeed, the 8th edition of the Abuja Carnival may have come and gone but its impact would for a very long time lingers on the minds of Nigerians and the international community particularly those countries that took time out to showcase their rich cultural heritage as well as make the statement that culture is indeed life and without it everything on earth would be lost.
The colourful event lasted from November 24 to November 27, 2012 with the theme; "Carnival of Peace and Harmony." For the 2012 Carnival, a minimum of 15 events were witnessed as against nine usually witnessed during the previous years.
There is no doubt that the huge success witnessed during this year's event, especially within the international community partly stemmed from the marketing of the carnival to a global audience during the 2012 London Olympic Games.
In July, the FCT Administration (FCTA) led by its Minister of State, Chief Olajumoke Akinjide staged a successful maiden Abuja Carnival Photo-Exhibition in London and further replicated it in Washington DC, Hong Kong, Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Uyo.
FCTA held an international photography exhibition of the Abuja Carnival at the Tiwani Contemporary in London alongside the 30th Olympics, where the essence of the carnival was conveyed to the international interest groups through images and pictures. The result of that was the presence of foreigners at the event.
Renowned artworks from the annual Abuja Carnival were put on show at the exhibition attended by Nigeria's Deputy High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ambassador Oluwatoyin Lawal; Prof. Brian Catling of the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, the representatives of the University of Oxford; the Special Assistant to the Minister of State for the FCT, Mr. Niyi Olagunju; the Special Assistant to the Minister of Trade and Investment, Mr. Kelechi Ekugo; the Managing Partner of Ezana Capital, an investment firm in the United Kingdom, Mr. Abraham Soquar; and Business Analyst, Marketing and Institutional Banking Division of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Mr. Faud Animashaun.
Over 50 classical shots from various previous events of the Abuja carnival were adapted into framed pictures, brochures and e-photo book format to showcase the beauty of the country's diverse cultural heritage and to tell the story of the Nigerian people.
Among the artworks displayed at the exhibition were Nupe Boat Regatta from Niger State, Kano, Kebbi and Bayelsa Boat Regatta on Jabi Lake, Oyo and Ogun Masquerades, Niger State Durban, Yobe Durban, cultural dancers from Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Nasarawa States and South West, and masquerades from Cross River, Edo and Nasarawa States respectively.
Before the event, Akinjide had disclosed that the Abuja Carnival would kick-off with a range of activities such as street carnival, durbar, primary and secondary schools' performances, food fair, boat regatta, children's fiesta, masquerade fiesta, and contemporary music fiesta.
The minister who supervises arts, culture and tourism in the FCT through the Social Development Secretariat, stated that the carnival had become a beacon of unity amongst the diverse states of the Federation and also enhanced inter-cultural and cross-ethnic friendships.
"The FCTA has been collaborating with the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism to stage a world-class carnival annually in the FCT. The Carnival is a platform to showcase the rich cultural heritage and tourism potentials of Nigeria to the world", she said.
"We have 12 foreign countries participating in the Carnival this year. The Carnival has become a major driver for Nigeria and the FCT in particular. We want both local and foreign investors to take advantage of this unique opportunity to invest in the country and FCT," she added.
Accordingly, the four days cultural festival which was declared open by the wife of the president, Dame Patience Jonathan, saw participants dance from the area one axis of the FCT to the eagle square venue of the celebration.
Dressed in different colourful attires, reflecting the traditions and aspirations of the various ethnic groupings in Nigeria, the participants thrilled residents of Abuja who had trouped out in their thousands to catch a glimpse of the carnival.
For the entire four days of the carnival, Nigerians used the opportunity to send a clear message to the international community, which is, in spite of the country's challenges and differences, Nigerians are indeed united more in their diversity. In their different ways and styles, the contingents from the participating states of the federation spread the message of peace, tolerance and unity as a prerequisite for national development. Worthy of note is the concept of Ebonyi state which was in tandem with the theme of this year's celebration -
"Carnival of Peace and Harmony"
The foreign community was not also left out as countries such as Egypt, Trinadad and Tobago, Namibia, Cuba and China took turn at the opening ceremony to thrill culture enthusiasts who had gathered to be part of the national event which is fast assuming an international dimension. Particularly captivating was the troupe from china who held the audience spellbound with their martial art performance.
In his appraisal of the event, President Goodluck Jonathan, who was represented by the Secretary of the Government of the Federation, Chief Pius Anyim maintained that the carnival which has succeeded in attracting participation of other nations had helped reposition the country in international communities. In his words, "The carnival has contributed in no small way to project the identity of our country as a friendly, peaceful and prosperous nation". Jonathan said his administration has put in place measures that would help harness the immense potentials of the tourism industry and expressed the belief that with the ongoing turnaround of infrastructures which is the most important, the non oil sector, and tourism inclusive will definitely pick up.
On her part, the wife of the President, Dame Patience Jonathan who was visibly excited by both the local and foreign performance described the carnival as a most valuable expression of our rich, diverse and vibrant cultural heritage.
She said: "I must congratulate the organisers of this carnival, for the considerable efforts they have made to deliver a colourful carnival that will certainly make our dear country proud."
In view of the immense socio-economic benefits that the nation is able to derive from the annual cultural fiesta, the first lady therefore urged private and public sector organisations to support the sustenance of the carnival, through sponsorships and collaborations. The tourism sector has been perceived to be a high revenue earner for many nations and it is believed that if well developed it may as well create thousands of jobs and tackled the issue of unemployment in the country.
She added: "I am aware that for the first time in the history of this carnival. Participants from several other countries are here to participate and enjoy the opportunities presented by the carnival. This is a confirmation that the carnival has assumed high dimension and become a highlight on our national calendar, besides also becoming an income earner for the nation.
This is reflected in the fact that the potentials of the sector are been transformed into source of economic empowerment and employment generation for our people, especially women folks and the nations teeming youths. A look at the various businesses that sprung up during the duration of the festival corroborates the claim that tourism apart from being an income earner for any nation has capacity of job creation. Apart from emergency food vendors that emerged, businesses particularly in local fabrics penetrated the various centres of the celebration."
According to the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Mr. Edem Duke, the success of the 2012 carnival is an attestation to the fact that Nigerians are peace loving people. The minister disclosed that this year's edition was geared towards mobilising Nigerians for peaceful co-existence and harmonious living to create a peaceful society. " This annual carnival has become a brand that binds Nigerians together and promotes our beauty and strength in diversity," he said.