THE active participation of a large contingent of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) at the 2012 edition of the Abuja Carnival was a demonstration of the fact that relations between the Caribbean country and Nigeria are growing fast. Known for their carnival tradition which spans centuries, the interest of T&T in the Nigerian carnivals points to the huge potentials this cultural product holds for Nigeria and her people.
Determined to consolidate on the gains of the relations which have risen in profile in the last two years, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke, led a Nigerian delegation to the T&T capital, Port of Spain, to participate in the 2013 Carnival. And participation in this sense refers not only to joining in the revelry and ambience of celebration and culture showcase, it was also an avenue to discuss serious issues relating to the organization and growth of carnivals globally and the specifics of the ongoing collaboration between Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago in that area. Thus, the Nigerian delegation engaged officials of the Culture Division of the Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism and stakeholders in carnival business and organization with a view to gaining deeper insights into carnivals and their socio-economic impacts around the world.
Interestingly, Nigeria is not alone in this pursuit as Government officials from Kenya and Uganda were also in Trinidad and Tobago for the same purpose. Kenya for instance, is planning her 50th Independence Anniversary and has decided to hold a big carnival as part of the celebrations with the intention of holding an annual national carnival afterwards. The same goes for Uganda whose artiste and singer, Angela Katatumba, (also at the meeting) was invited to participate in the carnival and even sing the national anthem of Trinidad and Tobago. Such is the importance that some African countries now attach to carnivals which, apart from the huge economic prospects they offer, are also a platform for cultural showcase and propagation of national unity.
At the meeting chaired by the Trinidadian Minister of the Arts and Multiculturalism Dr.Lincoln Douglas, issues such as content, packaging, ownership, sponsorship, technical collaboration and cooperation were dominant. It was observed that any cultural product or feature that ignites the passion of the people should determine the contents of any carnival. For instance, calypso music has been used as the engine room of the T&T carnival for ages because that is what the people are passionate about. At every corner and any time during the carnival, this brand of music, which has become the identity of the Caribbean around the world, is blared on huge sound systems with old and young Trinidadians swinging and jumping to the sounds. Carnival officials in Trinidad who have witnessed the Abuja, Calabar and Port Harcourt Carnivals identified cultural staples such as the Durbar and the Boat Regatta as items that can be used to drive carnivals in Nigeria.
On the issue of ownership, participants agreed that carnivals are owned by the people and called for concerted efforts to ensure the active participation of all categories of citizens in the process. One way of achieving this is to propagate the idea of using carnivals as a means of preservation of cultural identities and not a mere cultural activity. This approach has been a huge success in Trinidad and Tobago as all regions of the country as well as every neighborhood in the regions participate actively in the carnival with activities peculiar to these regions. For example, the Nigerian delegation witnessed spectacular display of Traditional Mas ( Masquerades) on Cipero Street in San Fernando and on Waterloo Main Road in Carapichaima as well as a vivacious display of energetic dances and colours at the Paramin Blue Devil Festival on the hilly neighborhood of Paramin. At every turn during the carnival, the participation of the people is total as the whole country is connected to that moment of national unity in an atmosphere of flamboyant cultural expression.
Sponsorship is a challenge to sustainability of carnivals all over the world but the meeting observed while this may be slow in coming, sponsors will eventually buy into the process as the carnival grows and mass participation improves. According to the Chairman of National Carnival Development Foundation T&T, the carnival did not attract private sponsorship immediately but merchants started to fund it in the 19th century when they noticed that sales went up during the event.
The meeting also agreed that Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago have been benefiting from technical cooperation and collaborations between the two countries. The exchange of carnival experts from both countries has continued as carnival officials from Cross Rivers State were on ground to serve as adjudicators on the invitation of the National Carnival Commission of Trinidad and Tobago. This is an indication that the synergy initiated by the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Edem Duke, is yielding encouraging results not only for the Federal Government but also for states where carnival is gaining popularity and contributing to the economy.
The Minister did not stop at expressing his happiness with the gains of the collaboration and the level of talks on the issue of carnivals in the last one year, he also praised the progress being made with the establishment of the Nigeria- Trinidad Joint Commission which as an offshoot of the cultural relations between the two countries. The purpose of the Joint Commission is to widen relations and explore other areas of partnership and collaboration for the benefit of citizens of both countries. The inaugural roundtable of the Joint Commission was held in Port of Spain in 2012 while the second edition is scheduled to hold in Abuja about the second quarter of 2013. The Nigerian High Commission in Trinidad and Tobago indicated that preparations were in progress towards the meeting.
In addition to the participation of citizens in the carnival process, the patronage of international tourists is also important. And armed with flyers and other promotional materials of Abuja Carnival, Artistic Director of Abuja Carnival, Professor Rasaki Ojo-Bakare seized the opportunity of every event during the visit to distribute the materials inviting the world to the 2013 edition. The Calabar and Port Harcourt Carnivals were also promoted.
In all, it was a fruitful outing for Nigeria with useful policy guidelines coming from officials of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation and its parastatals including the Director of Culture, Mr. George Uffot , Deputy Director (External ) Mrs. Dayo Keshi and Senior Special Assistant( Technical and Special Duties) to the Minister, Mrs, Chika Balogun. Also on the Nigerian delegation were Special Assistant to Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Ferdinand Agu, DG CBAAC, Professor Tunde Babawale, DG NCAC, Mr. M.M Maidugu, DG NCMM, Yusuf Abdalah, DG NGA, Abdulahi Muku, Executive Secretary NICO, Dr. Barclays Ayakoroma DG NIHOTOUR, Dr. Munzali Dantata and Artistic Director, National Troupe of Nigeria, Martin Adaji. Others are DG Rivers State Carnival, Sam Dede and the state Commissioner for Culture and Tourism as well as carnival officials from Cross River State.