AS a result of the recent slump in the price of crude oil in the global market, stakeholders have been underscoring the need to diversify Nigeria’s economy, which is hitherto oil-based.
Economists believe that Nigeria’s mono-product economy aptly explains why the negative development in global oil pricing has induced dwindling monthly allocations from the Federation Account to the three tiers of government.
As experts are battling to develop a panacea to the current economic challenge facing the country, analysts insist that pragmatic efforts should be made to develop the tourism sector of the economy.
They say that efforts should be made to develop cultural festivals and events with huge tourism potential into veritable tourist attractions which could appeal to local and international tourists, as part of designed revenue-generation schemes.
Observers at the 2015 Gani Cultural Festival in Kaiama, Kaiama Local Government Area of Kwara, also share similar sentiments.
They urged the Federal Government and the Kwara State Government to exploit the vast economic and tourism potential of the annual fiesta.
Dignitaries, who witnessed the festival, particularly urged the government to repackage Gani Cultural Festival and develop it into an international tourist event that could generate revenue for the country.
Alhaji Issa Bawa Adamu, who was chairman of the occasion, underscored the need to develop the festival into a tourist attraction by facilitating its restructuring and sponsorship via the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC).
He said that the thrust of such venture should be how to make Gani Cultural Festival a popular cultural festival and tourism event like Calabar Carnival, Port Harcourt Carnival, Eyo Festival in Lagos and Argungu Fishing Festival in Kebbi, among other festivities.
Adamu, a former Commissioner for Local Government, Chieftaincy Affairs and Community Development in Kwara, moaned that tangible efforts were not being made to develop cultural tourism in the country.
“We have not been taking our culture and tourism industry very serious in this country; this is largely because our steady focus is on oil as the mainstay of the nation’s economy.
“But with what is happening today, we ought to start looking inwards and one of the best alternatives to oil is cultural tourism.
“With what we have seen here today, if we can get the support of international donors and sponsors, Gani Cultural Festival can be taken to an international height where tourists will come from all parts of the world to witness the annual event.
“This will boost the economy of the community, the state and the country at large,” he added.
Sharing similar sentiments, Alhaji Alhassan Yahaya-Bagudu, the Chairman of Kaiama Local Government Council, said that he had been discussing with the state’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism about how to repackage the festival, among other cultural fiestas, for cultural tourism.
He said that the local government area had a lot of potential tourist attractions, pledging that he would continue to appeal to relevant authorities to develop the latent tourism sites and cultural events in the area.
Yahaya-Bagudu underscored the need to enhance the tourist appeal of the sites and events so as to turn them into a preferred destination for local and international tourists.
On the significance of Gani Cultural Festival, Yahaya-Bagudu stressed that the annual event was particularly designed to serve as a tool of identification for the people and their community.
“People of the old Borgu region, which cuts across several parts of Nigeria, celebrate Gani Cultural Festival; our kith and kin in the Republic of Benin and beyond also celebrate the fiesta.
“Therefore, Gani Cultural Festival is a unifying factor. It unites the whole Kaiama people because on occasions like this, our people from different parts of the country and those outside the country come home for the ceremony.
“Its importance also cut across the royal and individual families in Kaiama. It has been able to draw us together, enabling us to honour ourselves.
“You know the strength of the people is in their unity. So, Gani festival, by unifying us, further strengthens us as a community to be able to live together and work together in efforts to fast-track our community’s development.
“Therefore, it is not a thing we treat with levity. We consider Gani festival as one of our unifying factors, it unites us together as a family and everybody makes it a point of duty to come home to celebrate the fiesta,’’ he said.
Besides, the Emir of Kaiama, Alhaji Shehu Mua’azu Omar, said that the festival also served an avenue for young members of the royal family to be initiated into the privileged class of princes and princesses.
He expatiated that any member of the royal family, who was not initiated into the group of princes and princesses, could not ascend the throne to become the king.
The emir, who asserted that even European countries did not toy with their culture, warned that a society that failed to sustain its culture would continue to live on a borrowed culture.
Omar said that the three-day festival featured programmes like cultural dances, horse races, praise singing, acrobatic displays and speech making, among others.
Nevertheless, the emir said that he did not subscribe to calls for government sponsorship of the festival, adding that the government should only play a supportive role by providing necessary facilities that would enhance the quality and tourism appeal of the festival.
“Government’s input should be in certain areas such as provision of good roads and an environment that is conducive for those coming for the fiesta. However, I don’t buy the idea of government financing the festival.
“The people should finance it themselves, either through individual contributions or private and corporate sponsorships.
“Government should provide an environment that is conducive for people to travel to Kaiama. If the government can provide facilities like hotels, I’m sure that many people would like to come for the cultural carnival,’’ he said.
Speaking on the origin of the fiesta, Mr Usman Mora, the state Commissioner for Environment and Forestry, who hails from Kaiama, said that Gani festival was a way of celebrating the birthday of Prophet Mohammed in the neighbourhood.
He said that the festival, therefore, had some cultural and religious connotations, adding that the festival had become an enduring celebration which could not easily become extinct.
The commissioner, however, agreed with the viewpoints, calling for the development of the cultural festival into an international tourist attraction.