How can any responsive government feel the true pulse of its people over any crucial matter or concern? Go to the streets!
Skeptics may have had a run for it last week Friday, December 19, 2014, for the mammoth crowds that greeted  the climax of the first ever Edo State festival of arts,culture and tourism which ran for over a week.
As youth bands, cultural troupes, masquerades in their various hues, shapes and numbers painted the town red in musical and cultural frenzy, being led on an endurance trek through some major streets of Benin City by the festival director, Hon. Aanena Jemitola, the State Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism and her team, The NIGERIAN OBSERVER was busy observing the true reactions of ordinary people of the State to the EDOFEST concept.
The Long Road to EDOFEST: It is on world record that Edo State arts and culture have a history which is as long as the story of its royal lineage. EDOFEST, the Edo State festival of arts, culture and tourism is an all-inclusive vision to celebrate the history, culture and heritage of all the people of Edo State. It is also a platform to rediscover, reinvent and reinvigorate the Edo “culture and lineage which had stood the good stead for centuries”.
According to Honourable Jemitola, the EDOFEST idea was first muted in 2009 by the Edo State Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism, with a vision “to make Edo State a first choice holiday destination for people from different parts of the world”, and clear-cut aims and objectives: “ To promote the revival, resurgence, reinvigoration and propagation of Edo cultural relics and heritage; to present Edo culture and heritage in its highest and widest conception and form; to promote Edo artists, performers, and writers and facilitate the widest acceptance and access to world artefacts; to provide a platform for periodic relics to roots,” amongst others.
Hon. Jemitola said, “An objective of EDOFEST is the recovery of Benin artefacts and heritage symbols from museums abroad. As a gesture of his support, Omo n’Oba n’Edo, Oba Erediauwa, presented an ivory carving of elephants on the move, representing Edo strength and resilience throughout the ages, as the mascot of the festival”.
However, over the past years, several attempts have been made by the authorities concerned to see that EDOFEST saw the light of day, but cut no ice for many reasons, some of which were not unconnected with the fundamental issues of funding and sustainability, logistics, and bankability.
Alas! This year, against all odds, the Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, inaugurated the EDOFEST2014 committee, with a matching order to deliver at all costs; writing in the EDOFEST2014 brochure, Governor Oshiomhole said to Edo people and friends of Edo State, “…I invite you to participate in the maiden edition of the Edo State festival of arts, culture and tourism.
“This is a long awaited event that successive administrations have worked tirelessly to organize. The efforts of several generations of Edo civil servants, politicians and past chief executives have finally yielded fruit. I salute their tenacity and courage in the face of daunting obstacles.
“We can be sure that this festival will hold this year, 2014, with your support. As in all things, I urge you to join me in making this festival an extravaganza that we will all be proud of.
“I have exhorted the Ministry, committees and other participants, to stage a world-class event. Nothing less, as we say in Edo State, will be acceptable,” Governor Oshiomhole concluded.
And the jinx was finally broken on Saturday, the 13th of December, 2014, when the Edo State Deputy Governor, Dr. Pius Odubu, on behalf of Governor Adams Oshiomhole, declared EDOFEST2014 open by lighting the bonfire on a night of musical frenzy that was preceded by a riveting road show and publicity parade round the city, led by the Commissioner cum festival director, Hon. Jemitola.
What the People Say: It all started like “a child’s play” as one local artist and cultural practitioner in the State put it few days into the festival, citing poor management and funding. To him and others like him, the festival was a far cry from what a State government was handling. Reliable sources within the festival implementing team, however, conceded to the NIGERIAN OBSERVER that there were indeed logistic and funding challenges; yet the organizers were learning better, being the first time ever such great event was holding in Edo State, and with stubborn faith and audacity to succeed, Honourable Jemitola and her team were determined to put smiles on the faces of Edo people. And did they succeed?
With some adjustments made here and there on the festival programme of activities apparently to contain the unprecedented challenges being faced during the festival, EDOFEST2014 came to a climax on Friday, December 19, 2014. Major streets of Benin were jammed for hours as the heritage street parade lasted for almost six hours round town.
The parade commenced from the Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre, on Airport road, at about 12:30pm, some three hours behind the scheduled time of 9:00am, and lasted till about 5:45pm when all the groups converged at the Oba Akenzua Cultural Center for the main cultural displays, youth band parades and concerts, etc that lasted till dawn. Various contingents of youth bands, cultural dance troupes, masquerades and visitors from different parts of Edo State and Nigeria were present to showcase the stuff they were made of.
Along the streets, people rushed out of their shops, some parked their cars while some carried their foods, snacks and wares along the parade, making brisk businesses while other observers and passers by photographed or videographed the heritage parade and road show.
“Beautiful…beautiful…” exclaimed a clergy, who gave his name as Bishop Philip Egbu, who couldn’t resist the sights and sounds of EDOFEST as they painted the town red. He had parked his car to get a glimpse of the heritage parade, and when asked by The NIGERIAN OBSERVER what he felt he continued, “I was surprised…can this kind of thing happen in Nigeria? These are the kind of things we see on television only. I didn’t know what’s really going on but I was amazed at the beautiful displays and I had to stop and take some shorts with my phone…who are they really?” the man of God later asked, an indication that not all got the publicity of the festival.
Another man, who did not disclose his name, said, “E no easy…wetin dey happen for other places don come Benin…”
As the parade progressed, an elderly woman ran out of the crowd of onlookers on the walkway, and embraced Hon. Jemitola, shouting, “God will bless you… God will bless you…Well done…God bless you”. Other women and youths joined her in showering praises on the profusely sweating Commissioner along Dawson Road.
The colourful youth bands, especially those from Trinidad and Tobago, stole the show on the streets of Benin as people could not resist taking snapshots with them at every opportunity they had. The heritage street parade went from Airport Road through the King Square, to Akpakpava Road through Dawson Road, Iyaro, Five Junction, Wire Road and back to the King Square before ending up at the Oba Akenzua Cultural Center, venue for the final showdown.
Some of the cultural groups that made the day included the IviukweIgbokobia cultural group from Etsako East local government area, the Caribean culture group from Trinidad and Tobago, Abgejafe social Club of Ososo, Iko Cultural group from Somorika in Akoko Edo local government area, the Ojirami Afe masquerade festival group from Ojirami community in Akoko Edo.
Others were the Benin Royal Dynasty Trust cultural troupe from Benin City, the He Sole-Sole cultural group from Benin City, the Edo State Brass Band Association of Nigeria (Benin chapter), and the Eluemosi Dance Group from Fuga in Etsako Central local government area.
More participating bands and troupes were the Federal Government Girls College cultural group, Benin City; Oredo Girls College Cultural group; Imaguero College Cultural group; the Ekinede Theatre Troupe, Benin City; the Obasuyi Theatre Troupe, Benin City; and many more.
The festival came to a head when the Deputy Governor, Dr. Pius Odubu, and his entourage arrived the stage around 6:00pm for the Main cultural displays and concerts at the Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre. Everywhere was jam-packed and security operatives had a tough time controlling human traffic within the festival venue as one after another, various groups were called up stage to perform. The show went on until, in the words of Hon. Jemitola (during a press briefing two days earlier) “the last act stops”.
Observations:  EDOFEST has come and gone and the jinx is finally broken. What is next?  From the reactions of the public to the maiden edition of EDOFEST, the people are saying “CARRY GO” to the Adams Oshiomhole’s administration. The government of Edo State should, therefore, pride itself in the fact that it has once again made a remarkable impact in the direction of the people’s desires and needs, culture and tourism-wise. But the question still remains: will EDOFEST be sustained and improved upon? Are we going to have another (and better) EDOFEST in 2015?
As one respondent (name withheld) said, “I commend the government of Edo State for taking the bold step. But they can do better than this. They should do aggressive sponsorship and partnership drives to be able to fund and sustain the festival. Edo State is the home of arts and culture; we shouldn’t have problems getting sponsors and partners, if we are serious about it and if there is proper management”.

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