If there is anything that has changed the cultural and traditional landscape of Rivers State in the last couple of months, it is the successful celebration of the 2009 edition of Rivers State Cultural Festival otherwise called CARNIRIV. The festival has, indeed, shown to the rest of the world that Rivers State is no doubt the melting pot of all cultures and traditions in Nigeria. This year’s CARNIRIV attracted the cream of cultural dancers, masquerades, royalties, celebrities, and the razzmatazz of the entertainment industry in Nigeria and across the world to the Garden City to exploit the tourism potentials of the heart of the Niger Delta. But more importantly, the unique features of the cultural festival have blended the different rhythms of culture, music, dance and sound to promote commerce and industry, businesses, peace, friendship, development and tourism in the state.
The perfect exploitation of these unique features of culture to advance the interests of the state had been an outstanding trademark of the Rivers people for years; helping to cement the cord of mutual friendship that had bound the people together. Indeed, for anyone who took time and dissipated energy to watch the nine-day events, especially those at the Festival Village in Elekahia, it was clear now to them that the ordinary Rivers man is born with an exceptional mix of the gift of love, care and good neighbourliness. These gifts, they have often used to promote peace, tourism and development of the state, and this explains why Rivers people are so peace loving, hospitable and caring.
The hosting of this festival in the last two years also explains why the state is the fastest growing economy in Nigeria, and investors’ newest haven in Africa because of the windows of opportunity the exploitation of the different cultural values have opened for the people. This is why Development Update believes that CARNIRIV has brought not just immeasurable economic gains, but derivable benefits in other areas in the life of the state. Let’s take a holistic look at the nine-day event to enable a clearer appreciation of the impacts of the festival to the overall development of Rivers State.
From day one, it was clear to many that CARNIRIV’09 would herald a new dawn in the development agenda of the state. As the livewire of every Rivers man and woman, in the rural upland and riverine communities, the cultural traits in the way they live their lives, in their homes, fishing ports and farms have remained a manifestation of an age-long heritage. In the way he walks, dances and talks, the Rivers man or woman could easily be identified. This is why the announcement of the beginning of the festival in Port Harcourt, attracted huge response from all the 23 local government areas of the state.
Learning from the experiences of the first CARNIRIV in Port Harcourt in 2008, which lasted only three days, and the first ever cultural festival – RIVIFEST– in 1988, the state government decided to organize an improved CARNIRIV this year in terms of scope of participation, number of days for the event, funding template, business opportunities and organizational strategy. First, the government, through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, in partnership with the participating local government areas and corporate bodies, built a Festival Village to accommodate all participants. And from December 12, the participating local governments and corporate organizations started arriving the Elekahia venue of the cultural festival.
The 2009 CARNIRIV was officially declared open on December 14 by the state Governor, Rt. Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who explained the rationale and significance of the festival to Rivers people, and the derivable benefits to the city of Port Harcourt and the economies of the local governments. The governor highlighted other benefits of the festival, which include attracting investors and boosting economic activities, facilitating trade and commerce, smoothening cultural ties and communal relationships, promoting peace, friendship and good neighbourliness, as well as bridging hitherto strained bonds as a veritable means of enhancing development. He said, it was also designed to show the world that Rivers State is not just about oil and gas exploitation and production but that the state is rich in cultures and traditions, has abundant precious artifacts and crafts, safe for business, friendly and hospitable for investors and visitors, attractive for tourism, and unique for music and film production.
Honestly, the festival showcased the very best of Rivers people in terms of cultural performances and traditional exhibitions. It had on display, the different art works, artifacts and crafts from the rural folks. In fact, the Festival Village was a melting pot of cultures, business, trade and tourism. The village was the epicenter of music and entertainment for those who cared. It was a centre of excellence for sealing new business deals, establishing new bonds of friendship, contacts, and developing new concepts in tourism and economic regeneration. The festival also opened a new platform for economic empowerment and job creation.
For those who visited the Festival Village between December 12 and 20, memories of a new tonic in the economic and cultural lives of the state are still very fresh in their minds. The fun and awesome displays of cultural dances, masquerades, and the gaiety of royalties, different sounds of music and entertainment, are reminiscences that would last for ever. In fact, the various cultural dances and masquerade displays from the 23 local government areas took their turns to entertain guests and tourists from December 14 through 17 at the village. The display of local crafts, artifacts, and produce also made the festival memorable. Those who had money also made great purchases of artifacts and crafts. The wonderful foods, bush meats and fishes, as well as drinks are things Rivers people would not forget in a hurry. And many took advantage of the serenity and peaceful atmosphere of the environment to fete their families and friends to good and delicious cuisines.
However, the beauty of CARNIRIV’09 manifested last Friday as the governor led all participating groups in a float procession from Artillery Junction to Aggrey Road. This procession, covering not less than 14 kilometres, witnessed a large crowd of participants, spectators and admirers. In fact, all sides of Port Harcourt/Aba Expressway, Azikiwe and Station Roads were crammed by thousands of people who thronged the designated route to have a feel and actually participate in the festival. The floats were decorated in different glamorous styles, with expensive fabrics and paintings. Each also had a musical band, powered by an electricity generating set. Some cultural dancers and masquerades also trekked the distance, dancing their hearts away for the fun of it. Alongside the floats were also bicycle riders, professional cyclists, power-bike riders, horse riders, clowns, musical bands, cultural troupes and dancers.
The floats, decorated at the premises of the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA), rolled out to the Port Harcourt/Aba Expressway, where the procession began from Artillery to Air Force Junction, at which point the governor joined the train after walking for some distance, acknowledging cheers from admirers and spectators. The governor’s float, which also had members of the State Executive Council (SEC), was followed by that of the members of the Rivers State House of Assembly. All the 23 local government areas were on the float, just as some ministries, Rivers State Cultural Troupe, Elekahia Estate Residents, among others, and all corporate organizations that participated, including Zenith Bank, Skye Bank, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), and a host of others.
But one startling revelation of the festival was its ability to create a new business platform for the small business owners and low income earners. Indeed, the festival was an amalgam of culture, business, entertainment and tourism. All these, nevertheless, fused in a complex mix to boost the economic development of the state. In fact, those who sold bottled and sachet water, soft drinks, yoghurt and chocolate drinks, fruits drinks and fresh fruits, groundnuts, and snacks took advantage of the various activities at the Festival Village and the procession on Friday to make brisk business and swift profits. And whether anyone likes it or not, CARNIRIV’09 was undoubtedly, an engine for triggering new economic impetus for Rivers people.
This much was echoed by the state Commissioner of Information and Communications, Mrs Ibim Semenitari, when she addressed journalists shortly after the last scheduled events of this year’s cultural festival. Hon Semenitari stated that the festival has added a new boost to the economic performance of the state, as it has created hundreds of jobs and employment. She highlighted the various business opportunities created by the festival and the new development impetus added to the state’s drive for accelerated transformation of the different sectors of the economy.
Of course, the festival was also a new window for broadening the information and communication landscape of the state as well as integrating the cultural and traditional elements of Rivers State. It was a strategic instrument for fostering peace, creating the potential to widen the tourism opportunities in the state. The festival also brought with it a new atmosphere for the establishment of fresh relationships, smoothening of existing ties, and healing shattered dreams and wounds.
The advancement of the cultural texture and menu of the state, the improvement in the interactions between the different traditions, ethnic groups, and peoples are some of the salient benefits of the 2009 CARNIRIV. The fact that some of the members of the global music and film industry, especially film producers, directors, actresses and actors, as well as their fans, who were in the state for the 2009 ION International Film Festival, also took their time to witness and participate in the cultural festival is another added feather on Rivers’ cap as a one-stop destination for investors, business moguls, tourists, and experts in the oil and gas business globally.
This is why the state Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Hon Marcus Nle-Ejii, while making an assessment of the performance of the festival before journalists, noted with satisfaction, that CARNIRIV’09 has brought a new meaning to Rivers State and its people. The commissioner stressed that CARNIRIV was designed not just to create jobs and employment for Rivers people but to also boost the tourism potentials of the state as one of the safest and hospitable states for investors and tourists. He said, CARNIRIV was a platform for the state to interact with people, tourists and investors from far and near, and to invite them to come and enjoy the abundant gifts God has bestowed on Rivers State.
Development Update thinks that this is one fastest way of growing the economy of the state. We also believe that the peace that has returned to the state would be cemented and consolidated better as the gains of CARNIRIV’09 trickles down to all Rivers people. Now, it is possible to say that CARNIRIV’09 has facilitated the promotion of peace, tourism, development, foreign direct investments, and friendship in the state. So, let’s keep the spirit of CARNIRIV alive with better preparations and organizational strategy for next year. That is the only way CARNIRIV can remain part of the history of Rivers State. Let’s keep the momentum of the celebration going. That is the essence!