Monday, 4 May 2009
BY ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA
WHAT was meant to be a joyous carnival for Lagos residents and visitors; and also, an opportunity for them to feel the relaxed nature and warmth of the state within the cocoon of the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) actually lived up to is billing.
From the cries of ecstasies and conviviality, it was obvious that their expectations were met.
The former Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Kofo Bucknor-Akerele, who was one of the high profile guests and celebrants at the festival, surmised the expectation of the crowd: “Everybody has had a very good time, with an out of this world’s colourful carnival.”
The event, which held on Saturday, April 25, was the staging of Eyo Festival, one of the cultural heritages of Lagos. It is held in awe and high esteem because of its unique nature; and the glamour as well as the dread it invokes on the people.
Traditionally, the festival, which essentially is a masquerade display, as explained by Bucknor-Akerele, is held in honour of a departed Oba of Lagos or ascension to the throne of a new Oba as well as in honour of a departed son of the land. “It is not usually performed on a regular basis; it is only performed as the final funeral rite of a prominent son of Lagos,” Bucknor-Akerele said.
Last Saturday’s celebration was in honour of the late Chief Theophilus Owolabi Shobowale (TOS) Benson — who died and was buried last year — for his contribution to the development of the state.
According to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Kunle Abass, “we have staged this event in his honour and to encourage the youths to be hardworking and responsible citizens.”
Another point of interest was that for the first time in its long history, the festival was celebrated outside its traditional confines – Idumota. Abass explained the reason for this. “This is the first time we are bringing the festival here (TBS). It is just to promote tourism.”
He added, “it is the first time that this is happening. After the ceremony here, we are moving to Idumota. That is the tradition. All the masquerades would have to go back to Idumota and from there to their various homes.”
THE traditional white outfit of Eyo dominated the stands with the men of substance having a brown coloured damask cloth tied round their shoulders while the women had the traditional gele to complement their dressing.
The festival, which ended up as a massive carnival with long procession of masquerades escorted by crowd of celebrants from its traditional home through the Igbosere Road into TBS, was enlivened by the presence of people of diverse backgrounds — children, teenagers, youths, adults and the elderly.
Wasiu Ayinde KWAM 1, who was the main artiste, also added colours to the celebration with his performance, especially his many chants and incantations that were the ethos of the day.
D’ Banj took over from where KWAM 1 stopped.
The Executive Director of Bruce Onobrakpreya Foundation, Ejiro Onobrakpeya, an artist and one of the cultural consultants to the festival, said: “Today is a historic day, anybody that is witnessing today is witnessing history, and history is coming to life in an organised manner courtesy of the governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola.”
He noted that the festival not only promotes unity among Lagosians, but among Africans, as it is one of the finest moments of Africa’s cultural heritage. “This historic occasion of Eyo is a celebration of Africa oneness and we believe that with this Eyo festival, the unity of the Lagosians and the hospitable nature of the people would further be exhibited.”
Frederick Vandervefe of CNBC Africa, who was one of the many foreign journalists that covered the festival, said the rich culture and tradition of the festival impressed him, describing it as a great celebration. “I think it is great because it is associated with history and tradition.”
Besides, students were not left out of the celebration. Over 12 Tourism students from the National Open University were at the event. They came not only to enjoy themselves, but also to learn as they followed every bit of the action with their video recorder, pens and papers.
Akomolafe Oluwaseun, one of the students, said, “the festival is very unique in the world. In fact, it is the best of the masquerades that you can ever see in Nigeria because of its uniqueness and colourful nature as well as the glamorous packaging.”
Part of their mission was to see what they can learn from the event and how best they can assist in the promotion of the country’s tourism industry.
Putting A Tourism Stamp On
THE state government has been commended for staging what many have described as a near-flawless event; an event that went without violent and dreadful acts, for which it was noted.
The state’s involvement couldn’t have come at a better time when it deployed good security to make the event a huge success.
Well articulated media coverage, provisions of free transportation and good management, as well as proper packaging, no doubts, were some of the elements that ensured its success.
What the government has demonstrated is a clear-cut vision, commitment and employment of the right mix of personnel and tools, especially those of culture and tourism to attract people.
FOR Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, one reason for government’s engagement in the festival is to develop it into a flagship tourist event for the state, and to create a forum for families to relax and enjoy themselves.
But one question everybody is asking is, will the tempo achieved be sustained years to come?
Trying to put Eyo on the global tourism map is something that Fashola would need to contemplate deeply on except if he wants to symbolically stage the event yearly without linking it to the funeral rite of anyone. Otherwise, we all may just be bidding farewell to the vision of ever having an en core in terms of the fun and celebration that unites all Lagosians.
Indeed, if the governor wishes this great carnival, which he has just birthed to continue as a yearly event, even in a symbolic manner, then he must seek to widen the scope and enter into immediate dialogue with tourism stakeholders.
And for it to have that desired impact on the economy, the state’s planning must be earnest.
Though last Saturday’s celebration recorded a good turnout, attendance by foreign tourists was low because of late planning. Tourists need plenty of time to decide on whether to attend events and possibly, save towards it.
Governor Fashola has already made a bold statement, he must, however, not let his dream of making Lagos a tourism hub to die.
We hope the shout of Eyo …Osun… Eyo… ooo! Would once again rend the air by April 2010. Oga governor, shall we say… amen?