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Rivers State has always been the melting pot for all cultures and traditions in Nigeria. This is why the state has hosted a large number of cultural events over the years. The state has also hosted a number of other events to attract the cream of the music and entertainment industry to exploit the tourism potentials of the Garden City of Nigeria. But what makes this unique characteristic of the Rivers State exceptional is the fact that it has for years deployed the different rhythms of culture, music, dance and sound to promote peace, friendship, development and tourism in the state.

For Rivers people, culture has always been an instrument for cementing the cord of mutual friendship that had bound the people together. It lives in them. It is the livewire of every Rivers man and woman, especially in the rural, riverine communities. They exhibit these cultural traits in the way they live their lives, in their homes, fishing ports and farms. In the way they walk, dance and talk, Rivers people could be identified. In fact, Rivers people have a unique trademark which underscores the environment in which they live, on the coastal fringes of the Atlantic Ocean. They are the epicenter of the original cultures of the Niger Delta. 

Thus, the state has always used its comparative advantage in many cultural events with special inkling in music, different dance steps, traditional wrestling, masquerade displays, boat regatta, among others, to stamp its authority and place in the comity of states in Nigeria. Even before the colonial days, the people of this circumference called Rivers State were unique in all things, particularly tied in culture and traditions. At independence in 1960, the exceptional dance steps of Rivers people were noticeable in Lagos as the nation celebrated its birth as a political entity. Since then, this singular feature of the Rivers man has remained untainted.

In order to sustain its leadership position as the melting pot of culture in the country, state has hosted several events in the last two decades. Learning from its startling performance in Nigeria’s premier cultural festival – FESTAC ’77 – in Lagos, the state organized its first ever cultural festival – CARNIRIV – in Port Harcourt in 1988. This festival showcased the very best of Rivers people in terms of cultural performances and traditional exhibitions. Indeed, CARNIRIV ’88 was an eye opener to the government that the people’s culture could be deployed as veritable means for enhancing peace, mutual happiness, and friendship amongst the people. The government also realized that such cultural events could promote tourism, and attract development and foreign direct investments into the state.

But a lot of factors stalled every attempt to sustain the momentum galvanized by the events of CARNIRIV ’88. This, in part, contributed to the disintegration of social relationships, family ties and the cherished bonds that had knitted communities together for years. And the result has been the birth of restiveness, violence, assault on respect for hierarchies and seniority or age and militancy. In fact, the near breakdown of the social system in the last two decades could be linked to the fact that the society had failed to lubricate the very cultural cord that tie the people together. 

However, the Rt. Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi administration has realized this gap, and decided to organize a number of events to promote peace, culture, tourism and development of the state on a regular basis. This gave impetus to the second CARNIRIV festival last year that ran for three days in December. The cultural festival brought different masquerade groups, cultural troupes and dances, people from various local governments and communities, including those that had been sworn enemies together from the 23 local government areas of the state to Port Harcourt. That cultural extravaganza was, indeed, an elixir to the fact that such events could spin the peace and development process of the state to next level. It also showed many people, especially those in government that culture could be a powerful weapon for uniting and re-orientating the misled to contribute towards a greater Rivers State. Of course, the festival was a litmus test of the fragile peace that was gradually returning to the state after nearly seven years of violence, restiveness, militancy, as well as kidnapping and or hostage taking that raged in the region, particularly Rivers State. These vices actually scared investors away, forced some companies to close shop in the state and sack Rivers people, cut down on the revenue base of the state.

But one memorable thing about the exemplary landmarks of last year’s cultural festival is the fact that most local government areas also organized similar events to celebrate the unity of the people and peace that was gradually returning to the state. From the kingdoms of Bonny, Okrika, Opobo, Abua and Ekpeye, cultural festivals were held to celebrate Christmas and herald 2009. These cultural fiestas helped immensely to heal the wounds unleashed by nearly seven years of unchecked cult-related activities, unbridled militancy and criminality.

Now, realizing the benefits of CARNIRIV ’08, the state government decided to extend this year’s festival by six more days to bring the number of days for the celebration to nine. Thus, from Saturday, December 12 to Sunday, December 20, 2009, CARNIRIV festival fire will ignite the Garden City of Port Harcourt, with a stream of people from the different local government areas of the state. No joke about it, for nine days this December, the state would be agog with electrifying cultural dances and floats, masquerade displays, cultural parades and other related activities. In fact, the events have been packaged along the line of the now famous Abuja Cultural Carnival between November 20 and 25, which the state won the overall best prize for 2009. The state has won this prize consecutively for the last three years as a testimony that the state is a leading destination for its strong and rich cultural heritage.  

Apart from CARNIRIV ’09 as a tool for promoting peace, tourism, development, foreign direct investments, and friendship across borders, the state government also hosted the second Miss ECOWAS Peace Pageant on November 14 in Port Harcourt. The state had hosted the first edition in Port Harcourt last year to drum the beat down the imagination of the international community that the state is not just peaceful but also hospitable and investors-friendly. The 2009 edition attracted about 15 beauty queens from different West African countries, who contested for the coveted crown in Port Harcourt. Apart from the 15 beauty queens, other top dignitaries, celebrities, investors and captains of industry crammed the state to witness the event. The peace and hospitality qualities of the state was tested and proven with the successful organization of the 2009 Miss ECOWAS Peace Pageant in Port Harcourt, which has triggered a deluge of investors to the state, and transformed Rivers State as the fastest growing economy and most investment-friendly state in Nigeria.

The hosting of the first ever ION International Film Festival in Africa on Rivers soil, particularly in Port Harcourt from Thursday, December 9 to Saturday, December 12, 2009, marks another milestone in the history of the state as the number one music and entertainment destination in Africa.  The fact that the sixth ION International Film Festival would bring together more than 17,000 entertainment industry experts and celebrities from Nollywood and Bollywood to Port Harcourt is no mean feat. This is a huge boost to Rivers economy because the event would give impetus to the government’s drive to take the development of the state to the next level.

Rivers State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Hon Marcus Nle Ejii stressed the significance of these events to the state’s desire to boost international friendship and cooperation as the choice destination of tourists across the world. Nle-Ejii also noted the window of investment opportunities the plethora of cultural festivals and showbiz events have brought and would continue to bring to the state. Besides, the three events in a space of two months promise to usher in a new dawn in development for the state as the peace already achieved has created another climate for new employment opportunities and empowerment of the people of the state.

Now, if there is anything that has the potential of improving the economic vibrancy of the state, Development Update thinks that it is the religious utilization of culture as an instrument for fast tracking the development process of the state. For those who know the penetrating power of culture in enhancing human relations, they would stop at nothing to deploy culture and tourism as tools to facilitate the development of the state.

Therefore, as the ION International Film Festival begins in Port Harcourt tomorrow, and heralds the 9-day CARNIRIV 2009, Port Harcourt, and indeed, Rivers State is poised to once again show the world that it is the centre of peace, culture and tourism in Africa. This is a tool to drive development that has little or no barriers. In fact, culture is knows no boundaries.  So, let Rivers people show the world that they could use what they have to strengthen the bonds that hold they together as a people united in one destiny, one state.

 

Nelson Chukwudi