The 31st National Council for Arts and Culture officially opened in a colourful ceremony held on Tuesday at the Sharks Stadium in Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State.
Declaring the festival open, Governor Nyesom Wike acknowledged that this year’s event, with the theme, Nigeria: Our Festivals, Our Heritage, would serve as a unifying force for all Nigerians.
The governor also described NAFEST as a platform for the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory to meet, showcase and promote Nigeria’s cultural heritage and diversity.
He said, “Whether we agree or not, our diversity is what defines and binds us as a nation. Although our tribes and tongues may differ, we are a nation bound by a common destiny and firmly glued together by the spirit of brotherhood, cultural harmony, and inter-ethnic solidarity instead of discord, tribalism, nepotism and sectionalism.
“What is imperative, therefore, is for us to take full advantage of the innate strength in our diversity, our human and natural resources to build a just, united and prosperous country for the present and future generations.”
Stressing that the essence of the festival was to promote national peace, unity and cohesion, Wike added, “In addition to celebrating the rich cultural tapestry of our country, NAFEST also provides the opportunity for cultural activism with the use of creative images and expressions to engage or take on our leaders on the politics of nation-building, human rights, regional integration, inter-ethnic harmony, national peace and development.”
In his remarks, the Director-General of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe commended Wike for making history for the people of Rivers State by hosting the festival.
Recalling that NAFEST started in 1970 as a direct response from the then Federal Government to the bitterness, discord and disaffection resulting from the Nigerian Civil War, Runsewe said that the immediate objective of the founding fathers was to heal the wounds that the war inflicted on the country and its people, as well as to restore love among the people.
“It is heartwarming that since its inception, the festival has continued to live up to expectation and its objective of fostering national unity, peace and mutual understanding, as well as building bridges of friendship among Nigerians,” he said.
The highlights of the opening ceremony included a thrilling calisthenics display by youths and a parade by the various cultural groups and delegates from 17 states and the FCT.