Rivers At 50: Entertainment, Arts And Culture

Governor Wike and his wife

Located in the South-South geo-political zone of Nigeria, Rivers State, the Treasure Base of the country was created on May 27, 1967 by the General Yakubu Gowon’s administration. The state is presently divided into 23 local government areas with diverse ethnic nationalities, distinct languages and age-long cultural heritage.
Today, the state is known across the country and beyond as the hub of oil and gas activities and home for the second busiest seaport in Nigeria; her unique culture, peaceful co-existence and legendary hospitality stand her out among the rest of the states.
As the State celebrates her Golden Jubilee of success, peace, unity and even development under the people-oriented administration of the amiable golden governor, Chief (Barr) Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, it is important to reflect on the past laudable achievements of the state in the last 50 solid years of eventful existence. This will be incomplete without the contributions of our indigenous entertainers whose exploits have turned them into stars and celebrities of international repute viz-a viz movies, music, comedy, tourism, arts and culture.
In Nigeria’s movie industry popularly known as Nollywood, Rivers State indigenes are not playing second fiddle, rather the state boasts of leading stars in the make believe industry. Since the emergence of Nollywood in 1992, Rivers State has contributed immensely towards its development and global recognition. It is on record that most of the leading stars in the industry passed through the state on their way to stardom, graduating from the Theatre Arts Department of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT). Apart from that, indigenes of the state also hold sway in the industry which today comes just behind  Hollywood of America and Bollywood of India.
Some of these indigenous stars who have made the state proud include: Ibinabo Fiberesima, President, Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), former Glo Ambassador, Monalisa Chinda-Coker, Nollywood screen goddess, Tonto Dike, celebrated Nollywood costumier and AMAA Award Winner, Amb. Milliscent Jack, Maureen Ihua, etc. Also on parade are veteran actors and producers such as Dr Sam Dede, Columbus Irosoanga, Prince Tonye Princewill, Gentle Jack, Walter Anga, Alaso Wariboko and former state chairman of Association of Movie Producers, Engr Reginald Orlu, among others. The State has a good number of cinema houses where most of their movies are premiered such as Silverbird Cinemas, Genesis De Luxe, The Film House, etc.
The development of modern music and dance in the state has its foundation in the culture and traditions of the various communities. These communities have their unique music and dance patterns which they use in entertaining themselves and important guests or to celebrate important cultural events. Rivers State remains a state to be reckoned with in the Nigerian Music Industry as she has produced some of the veteran highlife musicians who have distinguished themelves locally and interenationally such as cardinal Rex Lawson, King Sunny Brown, Prince David Bull and Jackwest Omodu of the defunct Garden City Band, all of blessed memories and the Great Sinya among others.
It is obvious that today, the number of stakeholders in the music industry in the state is ever increasing. Most of the present day artistes are enjoying corporate sponsorships and endorsement deals for their unique talents. Some have recorded unprecedented album sales sometimes running into hundreds of thousands of copies, others have  won prizes and prestigious awards in international contests and other events, hence attracting more investments from many sources.
Some of these modern indigenous artistes are Daniel Wilson, Duncan Mighty, Muma Gee, Lexy M, Lady IB, Peter Stone Cold, Kikis, Oba Omega, Sotty Horsefall and Robin Maja, current state chairman of the Performing Musicians Employers Association of  Nigeria (PMAN) among others. These stars have left indelible footprints in the Nigerian Music Clan and the international community.
In the comedy clan, the state has produced the best of the humour merchants the country could boast of, who have paid their dues in the industry. Gone are the days when comedy was regarded as a pastime of the unserious, the uneducated and jesters who were paid pittance for their folly. Today, comedy has  transformed into a big business, turning its practitioners into millionaires and throwing up a huge industry with several direct investment opportunities and support services.
Among the wave-making indigenous comedians are Julius Agwu, Prince Hezekiah, Dan D’ Humerous, Angel D’ Laugh, Rugged Pastor, Yibo Koko, Micheal Ogolo, Iyowuna Obomanu, Basorge Tariah, late Boma Erekosima and several others. These rib crackers have metamorphosed from mere clowns who were paid peanuts into millionaires.
It is also on record that within the past years, the state has distinguished herself as a centre of arts, culture and tourism in the country as showcased in the various achievements recorded so far.
Arts generally refers to the use of imagination to express ideas or feelings particularly in paintings, drawings, sculpture and literary works.
The high quality works of Arts in the State represent the evidence of early civilisation and ancestral cultural heritage of the people, patronised by tourists, royal fathers and wealthy personalities in society.
Some of these works include swords, scepters, royal drums, various royal regalia, carvings, iron and marble objects etc. The Rivers State landscape appears to be incomplete without works of art. Most public places and museums are adorned with artistic works that tell tourists about the dominant cultural heritage, values and activities of the people of Rivers State. Art exhibitions are held regularly to promote these works. There are also art galleries that showcase the various art works. This sector is also a source of tourist attractions and revenue to the state.
The Nigerian government in September 1988 launched the national cultural policy. The policy defines culture as “the totality of the way of life evolved by people in their attempt to meet the challenges in their environment which gives order, meaning to their environment, social, political and economic aesthetics and religious norms and mode of organisation, thus distinguishing a people from their neighbours”.
The Rivers State Ministry of Culture and Tourism has the mandate to put in place programmes and events that will attract international, national and local tourists to savour the rich cultural activities and tourist sites for relaxation and education as well as promote the diverse cultural heritage of Rivers people and identify and develop  the tourism potentials of the state as a means of job creation and wealth generation, as well as inculcate pride and dignity in our local artwork and cultural values. This is to establish and brand Rivers State a choice destination for cultural tourism beside oil and gas.
Some of the age-long cultural activities of the state include the annual Opobo International Boat Regatta, the Nwaotam Festival celebrated every 25th of December to welcome the new year and to eliminate the bad spirits of the previous year, celebrated by Opobo, Bonny and other communities of the state. There is also the Oki Festival, a ceremonial dance festival of the Kalabari Clan of the State, the “owu aru sun alali” of Kalabari was celebrated on 30th and 31s January 2009, performed by the Ekine Sekiapu Society.
It is  a series of masquerades, it was celebrated in Buguma City previously in 1908, 1927, 1973 and 1991 by the Ekine Sikiapu under the leadership of the OPU Edi. Tradition has it that various masquerades are owned by both the community and the group of compounds which usually last between 15 to 20 years. Another important festival of the people of the State is yam festival. In most communities of the State, yam festivals are celebrated to mark the harvest period after which the people are free to eat the new yams complemented by delicious delicacies amidst the legendary hospitality and goodwill of the people. Musical instruments are usually rolled out in such occasions as well as wrestling contests to entertain the people and visitors alike.
Rivers State is also blessed with literary icons. Writers all over the world are regarded as cultural engineers of society because they help to create and lubricate the fabrics of society through their creativity. Rivers State has enjoyed greater patronage since the creation of the state, a leading example of the indigenous literary gurus is late Captain Elechi Amadi who wrote several novels and plays including The Concubine, The Great Ponds, Isiburu etc. These are best sellers that have succeeded in highlighting the culture and tradition of the state. The annual Garden City literary festival holds in the month of September to celebrate literature and arts in the state and many literary gurus attend the event.

Jacob Obinna