Former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, has punctured some people’s perception that the World Black Festival of Arts and Culture, held in Nigeria in 1977, was fetish.
Some people have argued that it was the fetish nature of the festival that brought socio-economic and political problems to Nigeria.
But Obasanjo, who was the military head of state at the time, said this was far from the truth and that the festival was a celebration of the identity of the black race.
He said this in Lagos on Monday at the opening of the 40th anniversary programme of FESTAC, organised by the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation.
At the event where Obasanjo was conferred with the King of Ruby award by CBAAC, he stressed the significance of culture and history to national development.
Obasanjo said, “We celebrated FESTAC to show the world what black and African peoples have culture and know where we want to go. I think we must remind ourselves about having those things. It is not a fetish celebration or a fetish festival. FESTAC ’77 is what it was for – culture.
“And what is the meaning of culture? It is the totality of the way of life of our people, their food, their dances, songs, the way they marry, the way they bury their dead. Culture is the totality of the way of life of any people. And if you want to kill any group of people, if you want to destroy them, take away their culture; and they would have no identity left. So, what we did that time was meant to bring to light the diverse contributions of blacks and African people. Some people even say we have no history, and yet human existence began here in Africa. We are the ones who globalised the world, from Africa; and they say we have no history. So, it is important for us to remind the world that we all emanated from Africa. And that was one of the things that I said at FESTAC ’77.
“And let nobody deceive you, culture and development are not opposed to each other. In fact, if you are going to develop outside your culture, it will be a mismatch. You must develop within your culture.”
According to the former President, another thing that he said then was that the event would provide a forum for the rediscovery of ties which bind together all black and African peoples the world over.
“We wanted a symbol, which was taken away from here and it’s in London; we said, ‘Give us this symbol or even lend it to us; we know you have taken it, we didn’t say that you are a thief. But lend it to us.’ They refused. And we said the expertise that created that one could still remake; and we said we would make another one. And we made it, and the symbol was exactly the same as the one that the British had taken away.
“This is where human beings moved out from to occupy the rest of the world as we have it today. So, when we are celebrating, our objective is to say to ourselves, ‘We are going to change the narratives that others have given us; the names that are not our names that they have called us. Africa is not a poor continent.”
CBAAC ‘s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Ferdinand Anikwe, said the honour accorded Obasanjo was in recognition of his valued contributions to the promotion and development of African culture and heritage as well as his role in the emancipation, unity and development of continental and Diaspora Africa.
“Named after the precious stone Ruby, the Ruby King award is a representation of an inextinguishable flame,” he said.
Among others, the anniversary is featuring an art exhibition, cultural dance, dance drama, poetry, musical performance, wrestling and food exhibition.