A festival is an event ordinarily celebrated by a community and centering on some characteristic aspect of that community and its religion or cultures. It is often marked as a local or national holiday, mela, or eid. A festival constitutes typical cases of glocalization, as well as the high culture-low culture interrelationship.Next to religion and folklore, a significant origin is agricultural. Food is such a vital resource that many festivals are associated with harvest time. Religious commemoration and thanksgiving for good harvests are blended in events that take place in autumn, such asHalloween in the northern hemisphere and Easter in the southern. In Nigeria , myriad of festivals abound , depending on the various regions , cultures , ethnicities and religions. Nigeria is abundantly blessed with hundreds of languages , various tribes and beautiful cultures.
The laconic attempt above to define what festivals mean brings us to the decades-long Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival ( AIFCF), celebrated annually only at the famous Matan Fada River , domiciled in Argungu, the traditional headquarters of the famous Argungu Emirate Council, Kebbi State. The historic event was actually started during the days of the forebear of the Kanta Dynasty in the 16th Century .Even then , it had taken a National Character.
However , in a later development , the festival actually started formally and more modernized in 1934, meaning a whopping eighty sic years ( 86 ).The 1935 festival was attended by the Sarkin Musulmi, Hassan Dan Mu’aux, whose historic visit was in response to an earlier invitation extended to him by the then Emir of Argungu, Muhammadu Sana.Between 1934 and 1950, the festival began to record a certain degree of consistency in attendance. Such was the happy metarmophosis of this all-important event, to date .
The festival is one of the four Nigeria’s inscribed elements on the representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This has since put Argungu and Kebbi State as a whole on the global map of cultural heritage . By extension, this noble and invaluable gesture has put the name of Kebbi State and Nigeria, in general, on the global map of memorable and unforgettable events .
Sequel to some extraneous factors , the festival was regrrtabbly and unavoidably suspended for over a decade , to the dismay of the Kabawas , Kebbi state people , Nigerians and the International Community. In between , sustained efforts were made by All the stakeholders to stage the festival , in spite of the formidable odds . These commendable efforts , especially by the Federal and Kebbi State Governments, Argungu Emirate Council, as well as the various security agencies , finally paid , as the 60th Edition of the Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival ( AIFCF 2020), has come and gone. It was beautifully conceived, logically and successfully conducted.
The festival was kick-started on Wednesday , February 11, 2020, with some profoundly exhilarating events with the Kick Off of the National Polo Tournament, which was also closed on the Day of the Grand Finale, stiil as the last event of the 60th Edition of the festival. Other activities on that day were the International Archery Competition, National Catapulting Competition, Horse, Camel and Donkey Race Championships, as well as cultural entertainment , to serve as an elixir to the participants, tourists and guests .
Indeed , Thursday February 12, 2020, was a day, the Argungu people , those of Kebbi State and the generality of Nigerians would never easily forget . It was on that epoch-making day that Nigeria’s number citizen, an Icon and Beacon of Hope , the impecabbly incorruptible President Muhammadu Buhari, came visiting . It was on that ,at the Argungu Ultra-modern Stadium that he flagged off the 2020 Edition of the festival, as well as the Agriculture and Trade Fair . Prominent at the venue were three giant Rice Pyramids , each made up of no fewer than fifteen thousand bags of rice , totalling fourty five thousand bags . The pyramids were put in place by the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria ( RIFAN), as direct results of the various plausible agricultural programmes and policies of the Federal Government.
Speaking at the ceremony, President Muhammadu Buhari, restated the commitment of his administration to further restore the security of lives and property , expand food production, as well as bolster the general welfare of Nigerians.The much-elated President noted that, the renowned UNESCO Heritage Festival could not hold since the past eleven years, sequel to the disturbing and obnoxious trends of insecurity, hitherto .Buhari averred , ” happily, the festival is now back and it is back for good, and its revival is a strong indication that, the security situation had greatly improved.”
The President further expressed delight that, the National Food Security Programme headed by Governor Atiku Bagudu , was now yielding myriad of dividends .According to Buhari ,” Nigerians have seriously and positively embraced all the programmes and policies of the Federal Government, as such , they are now able to feed themselves .” Six years ago, we cannot conveniently boast of many large scale rice producing firms that now abound across the nation , as direct results if these policies .” When we Nigerians our heads together, we can solve our problems . Many festivals bring Nigerians together, shore up our bonds and closeness.” The Tourisim sector is however not yet fully developed and festivals like the Argungu International Fishing and Cultural festival should be supported by all Nigerians .” Buhari lauded Governor Bagudu, Emir of Argungu, Alhaji Samaila Muhammadu Mera, the Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed , as well as all the Local Organizing Committee members for a diligent job.
Speaking, Gov. Atiku Bagudu scored Preaident Muhammadu Buhari high for transforming Nigeria into a self-sufficient country in rice production in just nearly five years .Bagudu appreciated President Buhari for his special interest in Kebbi State, noting that, the people of the state had immensely benefited from the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor-Borrower Programme. The Governor appealed to Buhari to extend the programme to other staple crops, to enable farmers of other farm produce benefit from the invaluable gesture.
The governor said, ” the State Government in collaboration with NNPC was implementing an ethanol plant at Gwazawa in Zuru Emirate, Danko/Wasago Local Government Area.” The festival was not celebrated for over ten years due to security challenges, however, under President Buhari’s leadership, patriotic and realistic policies were put in place which paved the way for the celebration.”Bagudu futher lauded the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative which according to him, had brought succour to the farmers by making assorted fertilisers readily available across Nigeria.
On border closure, Governor Bagudu said , “you have closed it not because you are at war with other nations, but because of your patriotism.”
In his welcome address, the Emir of Argungu, Alhaji Sama’ila Muhammadu Mera, commended the Federal Government for the concerted efforts in addressing the security challenges that culminated in the conduct of the festival .According to him, ” the concerted efforts made by the federal government in addressing the security challenges are what made the event realistic.
“We commend the federal government for improving the security situation in our country, and also the closure of borders that, the government deemed it as a measure to improve our economy and security in the country.” We thank President Muhammadu Buhari for the launch of Anchor Borrower programme in 2015 that resulted in the establishment of rice processing mills, foreign investment and employment generation to our teeming unemployed youths in the state, ” he commended.
Mera further commended Governor Bagudu for his untiring efforts in making sure that the ABP was successful, as well as supporting the farmers with farm inputs and techniques for the improvement of rice production.The Emir happily recalled that, the the fishing festival dated back to over 86 years ago.
There were other activities on that same day . They include goat skinning and tug of war competitions, Turbaing of Sarkin Nima, flagging off of the National Bicycle Rally and Traditional Boxing Championships, music and assorted dances .
Friday , February 13, 2020, was the day for another crucial event , the Kabanchi Display . They ranged from men and boys bare hands fish catching , two men canoe race , men swimming with clay pot balanced on the head , water relay and swimming on gourd . Others were boys canoe race , diving competition, wild duck catching , save their souls swimming, Palm trunk climbing , water ski and boat regatta, among others . There was also an International Cultural Night , to soothe tired nerves .
Saturday , February 14, 2020, was the D-Day , the Grand Finale .It was the much -awaited and the most important day to the over 50,000 fishermen , who came from across Kebbi State, Nigeria and the globe. They eagerly plunged into the Matan Fada River at around 10.30am to the happiest admiration of the thousands of guests and tourists, drawn from across the world . Indeed , fishes , fishes and fishes were hauled . The weightiest three weighed 78 , 75 and 70 kilograms , respectively .
The winner , the: man with the biggest catch, Abubakar Ya’u, from Augie Local Government Area of Kebbi State, got N10m, two new cars and two Hajj seats, for catching the biggest fish weighing 78 kilogrammes, Bala Yahayya Bagaye, also from Augie Local Government, caught the second biggest fish weighing 75 kilogrammes, while Maiwake Sani Silame, from Silame Local Government in Sokoto State, came third for catching a fish weighing 70 kilogrammes. Both the second and third place winners also got millions of naira , vehicles and hajj seats , among others . All the competitors also smiled home with consolatory prizes , as well as cash . At the end , all of them went home happy .
Speaking at the occasion, the Special Guest of Honour, Senate President, Dr Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan said that, the festival was a demonstration of Nigeria’s rich culture. He averred, “When I looked at the fishing pond, I said ‘oh God we are blessed’; what we only need is for us to harness the resources that we are endowed with in this country. “The history of the festival is long, dating back to 1934. I learnt that the celebration could not hold for over 10 years due to insecurity. “We have to thank God for making it possible and commend our armed forces for their efforts to secure of our nation. “We will not get tired of making sure that you have a good working environment. “This is an international event that drew people from neigbouring countries; this is a bond that must be sustained.”
Lawan lamented the number of out-of-school children, especially in Northern Nigeria, and called for proper action to reduce the menace. While congratulating the winners, the Senate President urged those who did not win not to be discouraged, urging them to redouble efforts for a more competitive challenge in subsequent years. He announced a donation of N5 million to be shared among all participants, to give all a sense of belonging.
Gov. Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State, described the event as “historic and worthy of celebration” by people of the state and beyond. “It is a celebration of historic people; we must celebrate what unites us more than what divides us. “Today, we are happy to host many dignitaries who converged here to celebrate with us. “It is a celebration of equitable competition where fishermen come from all over both from within and outside Nigeria. This certainly is a symbol of unity. This is a challenge for all of us as Nigerians. “As people of Kebbi, we are very proud to have you here and we pray Almighty God will take each one of you back home safely,” he said.
Earlier in a welcome address, the Emir of Argungu, Alhaji Sama’la Mera, appreciated President Muhammadu Buhari for paving way for relative peace that culminated into organising the fishing festival. He also appreciated the state governor and all others who contributed towards ensuring the success of the event, especially the Senate President, Dr Ahmed Lawan, GSM operators and others sponsors. He said: “We have been waiting for this event for the past 10 years. We are grateful to Almighty God for making it possible for us to witness the 60th event.”
The festival drew dignitaries from far and near, including from outside the shores of Nigeria. Dignitaries at the occasion included the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Justice, Alhaji Abubakar Malami, SAN, Minister of Police Affairs, Alhaji Muhammadu Maigari Dangyadi, Senate Leader, Dr Yahaya Abdullahi, and other members of the National Assembly. Also in attendance were Gov. Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Gov. Sani Bello of Niger State and Gov. Simon Lalong of Plateau State. Others included the Sultan of Sokoto, Dr Sa’ad Abubakar III, Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi, the Emir of Gwandu, Muhammad Bashir, the Emir of Gombe, Abubakar Abubakar III, King Alfred Diete-Spiff from Bayelsa and other traditional rulers.
Another major highlight of the festival was the famous Argungu Motor Rally that featured twenty one locally assembled vehicles . The National Flag off was performed by no less important person than President Muhammadu Buhari, at Abuja ,on Wednesday , February 11,2020. The competitors traversed five states and ended in Argungu and Birnin Kebbi. The flag down of the rally was done by another key blue-blooded personality , the Oni of Ife. At the end , Peugeot Automobile Nigeria Ltd, PAN, Honda and Stallion , with trophies presented to them as a mark of appreciation .
However, the Chief Celebrant and General Facillitator of the festival in the person of the Grand Host , Governor Atiku Bagudu MUST be holistically praised and eulogized for his remarkable and tangible efforts in committing colossal resources towards ensuring the success of the great event and all the activities imbued therein . His invaluable efforts in releasing a whopping N 600million ( N .6 billion ), for the general renovation of the decayed structures at the various venues, the Grand Fishing Hotel in Argungu town and the construction of new internal roads in Argungu town are profundly commendable , just as they unforgettable. These giant strides are agreeable and attestable to by any person, with a discerning mind who was there or who just passed through the town.
Worthy of note , commendation and emuation are also the giant strides of the Wife of the Governor , Her Excellency, Dr.Zainab Shinkafi Bagudu, who needs a pat of the back for her presence, cash donation and a vehicle to the winner, as well as for facilitating the cash gift of the wife of the President, Her Excellency, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, to the tune of N 900,000. Her supportive roles are also laudable .
Certainly, the 60th Edition of the AIFCF has recorded tremendous successes , while it was conducted hitch-free . The festival serves as a catalyst for national unity and integration , while it glaringly bolstered food security .
Mani, the Dan Masanin Mani, is a Sokoto-based Journalist .