By John Ajayi
Beyond its power of entertainment, arts and culture have become two veritable tools used by major countries and cities in recent times for destination branding. It is perhaps against this background that Ekiti state came into global and national reckoning recently when, against all odds, the administration of Dr. John Kayode Fayemi hosted the 2021 edition of the National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) 2021. John Ajayi whose agency, MEDIA EDGE Ltd mid-wifed the event as a consultant writes that Ekiti state has raised the bar for the annual event as it gave over 100,000 delegates from the 36 states of the Federation super treatments that left many in awe and admiration.
The year 2021 edition of National Festival of Arts & Culture (NAFEST 2021) may have come and gone, yet the memory of the one-week event will forever linger in the annals of National Cultural Festivals and amongst competitors and participants from the 36 states of the federation.
When Ekiti state signified intention to host this event two years ago after the Jos, Plateau state hosting, not quite a few people in the arts and culture community thought the hosting right request by Ekiti state was a tall order and a pipe dream.
First, many people had considered the ambition of the 25 year old agrarian state a mere ego trip in view of the state’s ranking on the Federal Government’s monthly revenue allocation and resources distribution index.
To cynics, Ekiti state lacked the basic and requisite facilities and resources that are pivotal to hosting such a major national event. But the just concluded festival which started 13th November and ended 20th of November this year put paid to all doubts and negative permutations.
To crown the elaborate plan earlier put in place for a hitch-free, brilliant and successful 34th edition of NAFEST, Ekiti State emerged over-all best winner in most of the competitive and non-competitive games, thereby making it a new dawn of glory and admiration for the administration of Governor John Kayode Fayemi who has not hidden his vision of turning Ekiti state to a destination of first choice to tourists and investors.
Indeed, the state has in large measure and greater abundance exciting tourist centers with numerous natural resources. Ekiti state is potentially rich in mineral deposits. Some of these tourists centers with significance and national importance are the famous Ikogosi Warm Spring, the Orole and Olosunta Hills, Arinta Water Fall, Fajuyi Parks. Others are: Esa Cave, Ogun Onire Groove, Agbonna Hill, Oke Abanijorin, Sacred Fishes River, Oroke Ewo War Centre, etc.
Prior to hosting the NAFEST, Ekiti state has ensured everything was in place to make the state a destination brand through strategic re-engineering of its assets and upgrading of infrastructure and social facilities.
As marketing authorities would concede, “destination branding is about identifying the destination’s strongest and most competitively appealing assets in the eyes of its prospective visitors, building a story from these that make the destination stand out above its competitors, and running this narrative consistently through all marketing communications.
Specifically, Tom Buncle, Former Chief Executive of Visit Scotland and Current Managing Director of an International Tourism Consultancy explained that “a destination brand cannot be created. It is up to tourist boards and destination marketing organisations to identify their destination best assets in order to invoke certain feelings, values cultures and the overall mindset that people experience when visiting a place”
Similarly, Buncle pointed out that it also means people in the destination play a part in contributing to the tourism brand values, experience, reputation, and mindset. All of these were in sufficient measure and supply at the Ekiti Nafest 2021 even to the utter dismay of delegates from oil rich states in Nigeria.
Aside the famous tourists centers and places of attractions, and other facilities that were on ground, to make the festival run with effortless ease, Visitors and delegates to state were attracted and highly impressed by the newly commissioned Ekiti State Civic Center. The Civic Center, one of the many legacy projects of the current JKF administration is an architectural masterpiece and a multi-purpose edifice of unimaginable splendor and candour.
For Ekiti people, who received contingents from 36 states of the federation and some international observers, it was the biggest crowd they have witnessed in recent history. Beyond the opportunity it provided for networking, the festival gave the locals opportunity to display their wares and make good money within the period. From the players in the hospitality business, farmers, artisans and other actors in the state’s SME, it was a boom period for businesses.
Perhaps the story can better be told by visitors from across the country who were marveled by the level of preparation put in place by the state government. Aside from the basic facilities that were on ground to make the festival run with ease, the visitors were impressed by the organized manner the event was planned and executed.
In particular, delegates from the states believed to be richer than Ekiti were jealous of the state of the art infrastructure in the state. At the Civic Center, where all the major activities were held, delegates were seen discussing in admiration facilities at the civic center which include museum, cinemas and supermart. Above all, the elegance and ambience of the civic center added colour to the event.
Of course the peak of the event was the different performances that featured at the event opening can only be compared to what obtains at Cannes Festival and the Notting Hill Carnival. The carnival which showcased colour, glamour and panache also gave participants the opportunity to experience superlative cultural diversity in Nigeria. It aptly lived up to the theme for the festival; “Celebrating, National Unity in Diversity,” as over 30 states of the federation featured during the event.
Though an entertainment platform, Ekiti State sure took it a notch higher this time around through the infusion of modern marketing that provided an advertising platform for sponsors. It thus became a unique platform to showcase goods and services thereby creating more bonding between the consumers and brand owners. At the end, it turned out to be a commerce and cultural festival.
In a way, the carnival confirmed the earlier position of Dr. John Kayode Fayemi that Ekiti had put necessary machinery in place to make the state the nation’s entertainment and tourism hub in the country. This was also the position of the Mayor of Tianjin Province, Xiao Song, who stated last year during a courtesy visit to Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi in Ado Ekiti that the Civic Centre which was then under construction would be a long-term legacy project for the Ekiti State Government when completed.
The Mayor who was then represented by his Deputy, Hu Xiaoynang, added that the Civic Centre would upon completion showcase quality and expertise in construction work. The just concluded carnival gave credence to this opinion.
With the success of the carnival, it was obvious that unlike its counterparts, the state government had set out early to prepare for the hosting of the national festival. Since the close of last year’s edition of NAFEST in which it emerged the most- culturally creative and innovative state, beating 29 other states and carting home various prizes and laurels, it has not rested on its oars.
Delivering his keynote address during the official opening of the event, the Director-General, National Council for Arts and Culture, and President, World Crafts Council (African Region), Otunba Olusegun Runsewe had noted that the festival is necessary to promote patriotism in the face of separatist agitations in different parts of Nigeria.
“NAFEST does not only provide a platform for Nigerians from different ethnic backgrounds to showcase their unique cultural manifestations, it also brings to the fore, the role of culture in national peace and harmony as well as the vast opportunity in the culture sector for job creation and economic empowerment,” he remarked.
In his welcome address, Honourable Commissioner, Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism, Professor Rasaki Ojo Bakare had observed that “hosting of NAFEST by Ekiti State is a milestone because for the first time, such a huge event would be coming to Ekiti land whose resources are very low if compared to other states in the South West of the country.
However, he said “the opportunity to host the event was made possible because of the tremendous support enjoyed from the administration of Dr. John Kayode Fayemi (CON) and his amiable wife, Erelu Bisi Fayemi (Mama NAFEST) who he said relentlessly supervise and co-ordinate the activities of the sector from time to time”.
While declaring the festival open, the Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi had observed that the critical state of the nation requires harnessing the diverse culture as tools for social and political change.
“It is imperative to build our unique cultural economy to attract global attention,” he said. He added that culture is one of the main pillars of development. For him, apart from sports, NAFEST is an opportunity for all the 36 states to meet and celebrate national unity.
Since 1970 when NAFEST was instituted, it had served as a platform for talent hunt, skills development and marketing Nigeria’s cultural content. With entrepreneurial workshop as well as free medical testing and counselling, the festival proved to a holistic experience.
Back to back, as the hosting state, Ekiti State, the land of honour, again emerged overall winner of the 34th edition of NAFEST. This was announced during the closing ceremony at the Ekiti Parapo Pavilion Ado-Ekiti. The state was followed by Rivers State, then Bayelsa and Benue States as joint third position, Delta and Nasarawa States came fourth, while Ogun and Lagos States got the fifth position.
Indeed the outcome of the yearly event favourably justified the views of destination branding experts. This was further corroborated by the earlier disclosures by Governor Kayode Fayemi when he said during the welcome address at Fountain Summit 2021 that Ekiti State is open for business.
Welcoming guests at the Fountain Summit, an economic forum earlier held in the state, Dr. John Kayode Fayemi had disclosed that; “in Ekiti State, we are in a hurry to develop. We are very intentional about development planning, and at the core of our efforts and strategy is a partnership approach that places a premium on creating the right condition that would attract investors and development partners, to support our aspirations”.
Besides, he told his audience that his administration “has put in place requisite laws and policies to ensure investor confidence and made massive investments in critical infrastructure and security-all geared towards making Destination Ekiti attractive and Competitive”.
As a buildup to what happened during the festival, Ekiti, had in 2019 organized Ekiti State Festival of Arts and Culture (EKIFEST) the festival, with the theme, Arts and Culture, Tool for Restoration of Values and Socio-economic Empowerment, was held ostensibly as a dress rehearsal for the hosting of the National Festival of Arts and Culture. Interestingly, while other states were still undecided on when to formally bid for the festival, Ekiti State had submitted a bid letter to National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) in February 2020.
Meanwhile the hosting right for NAFEST 2021 was fiercely contested by Ekiti, Anambra and Taraba States. But Ekiti finally won the bid due to a combination of factors. Ekiti was the first state to submit a bid letter. At the end of the festival, it was easy for all to know that Ekiti State now has one of the best performance facilities in the country- the newly completed Civic and Cultural Centre. The super visibility that Ekiti State has acquired in the Culture and Tourism Sector since 2019 was also an added advantage.
John Ajayi is a Lagos-based Journalist and Public Affairs Commentator