Friday, 12 June 2009

Akata... Fishing treasures of Benue

FOR two days, May 21 and 22, people from all walks of life across the middlebelt were in Katsina Ala, Benue State to witness or participate in the Akata Fishing and Cultural Festival.
It was a celebration of the rich culture of the Tiv people and the growing fishing festival at the Lake Akata, a stone throw from Katsina Ala, the main town.
The magnitude of the last festival was such that it shocked the natives of the area. They are therefore looking forward to the next festival, which the state government promised would be more grandiose than that of this year.
If what took place this year was anything to go by, then the people have every reason to expect greater things.
On Thursday night, the cultural event took place at the Akume Atongo Stadium in Katsina Ala. It attracted participants from all the 14 local Tiv speaking councils of the state. All the known traditional dances of the people in the area were showcased.
The Kwagh Hir Puppet theatre, which has gained international acclaim, also took the centre as the contestants thrilled crowds that gathered for the event.
In the crowd were top government officials and business moguls from all the states of the North Central Zone.
There was also a traditional Tiv beauty pageant that was aimed at promoting the Tiv woman and her virtue.
It was one of the events of the cultural nights that held the people spell bound. Youths at the stadium whistled all night, as the contestants took different Tiv dance steps aimed at convincing the judges that they should be selected as the Miss Akata 2009.
On the day of the fishing festival, everything appeared classy and completely different from the same event in 2008. The organisers had stepped up the stakes and the quality of organisation and competition truly professional.
First, the Benue State Government, in an attempt to create opportunity for more visitors, tarred the road to the Lake Akata, venue of the festival, which last year was dusty.
From the main town to the venue, were beautiful directional banners that welcome visitors to the town, while showing them the way to the fishing ground.
At the venue, bulldozers had cleared the waterfront, making it very neat for participants and spectators to enjoy the activities of the day. The venues of all the events were carved out by organisers in such a manner that people could watch any of the events from wherever they sat on the platforms provided by the organisers
The competitive events on the main day of the festival included fishing, traditional dancing, swimming, power bike riding, traditional wrestling, boat racing and arrow shooting. There was also the agricultural show, which was added by the organisers to allow natives display their agricultural produce for visitors.
The two-day festival ended, with a pledge by the Benue State government that it would be turned into an international fiesta in 2010.
The fishing competition, which was the main event, saw Agbo Jonathan winning with a catch that weighed 45kilogrammes, taking home a brand new set of upholstery donated by Cherrywood, while Peter Aondover was the second with a catch that weighed 35kilogramme.
Miss Mwuese Ugbum, a 300level student of Benue State University, won the Miss Akata Beauty Pageant while Tarhule Awuhe won the wrestling competition,. The Boat regatta was won Kenneth Ihomu and Adika Emo won the swimming competition.

SPEAKING after the competitions, Governor Gabriel Suswam said that the government would ensure that the next festival attracted international acclaim through greater investment that would add glamour.
He said that the government would create the enabling environment that would encourage more private sector participation in the next edition and bring more benefits to the people of the state.
The governor also said that the festival lived up to the expectation of the government and people of the state, as it created wealth for the residents of Katsina Ala Local Council.
“I encourage more communities in the state with lakes to start fishing festivals of this nature, because beyond creating wealth, they united our people. People attend these festivals, even if they were enemies, they reconcile and the community enjoys more peace,” he said.
Suswam said that the process of making the Akata Fishing Festival, an international event has already taken a firm root, as the event now has a powerful website that sells it on the internet. He said by next year, international participants would be involved in the programme.
In his address, Benue State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Benjamin Ashaver said that the festival was meant to showcase the tourism potentials of Benue State , in order to promote tourism in the state.
He urged the state government to supply modern fishing nets and other inputs, so that the fishermen in the area would not be tempted into using environmental unfriendly means in fishing.
Ashaver expressed happiness with the manner this year’s event was organised, saying that the government after studying the situation had to commission a private firm to put professional touches in the entire programme.
“As you can see, this year’s event has grown further than was the case last year. The private professional has been able to add a beautiful touch to the programme and we are on the way to making it a truly international event. Our commitment to this project is total, because we know the benefits that would be derived from it,” he said.
The commissioner expressed happiness with the level of private sector participation in this year’s event, especially the sponsorship of prices, which attracted several participants.
One aspect of the festival that thrilled spectators was the quality of catch this year. It was a great departure from the dismal catch last year. Though the fish haul cannot be compared to that of Argungu, it was still worth the while of spectators. Last year, competing fishermen caught bloated fingerlings. But this year it was a cheerful departure.
All over the lake, local fishermen struggled in their boats to outdo each other. There were the young girls and boys who entered for the competition, not to catch fish for competition, but to catch fish to make soup in their homes rich. They had no boats, only small nets, which they used, near the banks of the lake.
The Guardian gathered that the catch for this year improved because the state government closed the lake to public fishing for months to allow the fishes in the river to grow.

AFTER the legal competition, a surprising thing happened. A fisherman Henry Ogudu and his companions caught a fish that would have easily won the competition.
The catfish that won the competition weighed 45kilogrammes, while the Tilapia that Ogudu caught after the close of competition weighed 60kilogrammes.
Upon making the catch, Ogudu rushed with the fish to the local council Guest House where Governor Suswam was taking refreshment. He got N50,000 for his endeavour.
Traders in the area took advantage of the influx of persons from the entire region to exploit people. The prices of consumables all through the period almost doubled.
For instance, small bottled water that normally sold for N60 was sold at N70. So was sachet water, which sold at N20.
However, the event was worth the investment and a clear indication that it could improved upon beyond its present status as long as there is the political commitment to draw more investors.
Christopher Agbua, a community leader in Akata told The Guardian that his people were grateful to the government of Benue State for the interest shown and the commitment to improving the living condition of the people of the small village.
He said: “We are now on the map of the country because of this fishing festival. If the government takes it a step further, we will be on the map of the world. Our community is strategically located and can easily be accessed from all parts of the country.”

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