Mar 30, 2014

An Open Letter to the Plateau State Commissioner of Culture and Tourism, Yiljap Abraham

Since the MTN Call Centre drama of August 2012, I have lost the most direct channel of communication that once existed between your honorable self and I. This followed the protest by members of the Jonah Jang administration that includes you, to express it disapproval of MTN’s decision to move the call center out of the state.

As a citizen of the state, I have nonetheless continued to keep tract of your ever active role in the administration. In view of the storms and turbulence that often characterized political administrations in Nigeria, I must extol you for remaining part of an inner caucus of such an organization for a very long time.  It is a reflection of the quality of what you bring into the Plateau project. In view of the hard work of the administration, one can say that you have imbibed that culture of hard work and you could continue to be of benefit to the Plateau people for a long time to come.

Sir, I want to believe that your switchover from Information to Tourism and Culture comes from the skies as it coincided with a period when I had just had a revelation in the area of tourism and culture and wanted to share it to whoever calls the short in the culture and tourism portfolio in the state. This revelation followed my attendance of the New Year Day celebration in the town of Miango on January 1, 2014.

It may interest you to know that as far back as 1958, the colonial administration in Nigeria marked out the first day of every year as a day of cultural dance exhibition in Rigwe land, precisely in the towns of Miango and Kwall in Bassa Local Area of our state.  Over more than half of a century, the Rigwe New Year Day celebration turned out to be very successful because of the appeal of not just the primary events of drumming and dancing but other attractions tied to them as well. In Miango, for instance, these attractions include the horse race that often follows the dance parade, the multitude of people pouring out onto the main road and axis of the town. In addition to this number of people that often exceed sand on the seashore, the spectrum of dress style of every individual, from my own point of view, is also an attraction I often looked forward to, every year. As one jostles through the crowd, there are often clowns here and there, adding another dimension to the array of attractions.  Each time there is a social gathering of any sort in Miango or Kwall, there are people from the surrounding hamlets who leave their homes hoping to boost their “fame” by fighting. Such street fights have also grown to become another attraction of the New Year Day. Bordering the axis of Miango on either sides, are scores of recreational circles that have formed the backbone of the economy of the town. If one has friends in different parts of the country that he could not meet throughout the outgoing year, the New Year Day affords him/her the opportunity to meet with such friends. Another attraction is the sight of foreigners taking pictures of nearly all these variety of events.  All these are indicative of the tourist capacity of the carnival and it has indeed served as a destination for pleasure seekers from across the country in the last 56 years since it was started.

Sir, I have attended Rigwe New Year Day ceremony since the seventies and it has all been splendid until  the 2014 edition that turned out to be a sad revelation, a revelation that the event was about to collapse, prompting me to write this letter. Across the river, in the town of Kwall, it could be said that the New Year festivity has already collapsed.  That day, Kwall was a gloomy town of depression and despondency. This happened for first time in more than half a century.

If our cultural exceptionality in the state is the strength of our tourism, then one can say that the huge contribution that Rigwe land brings is about to become extinct. Sir, I think that we are supposed to build on what the colonial administration left us. When that happens, we can say that we are making progress in the line of tourism in Rigwe land.

Why is this happening? In 1958 when the Rigwe New Year Day celebration started, people had no education and the pride it brings. They came with their native mindsets and held their dance tradition, which involved drumming and dancing barefoot in the dust, in high esteem. Today education has changed the mindsets of the people, giving them the pride that often repelled some learned folks from their own native cultures. Thus young people, who are the strength of these cultural events, wouldn’t want to dance barefoot in the dust after all the education. Though not all have become educated but the uneducated youths have seen the scorn with which people hold them when they dance in the dust without shoes. They have also seen that when they spend their time rehearsing their drumming and dancing, they don’t earn a living out of it. Hence participating in these activities has come to be perceived as sheer waste of time and energy.  Everyone is thus shifting his/her focus to activities that will sustain his/her life, enabling him/her to live fairly decently, at least. It means that for the past 56 years since the introduction of the New Year Day celebration in Rigwe land, nothing has been added to what the Europeans started.

Sir, I wouldn’t want to deceive myself, believing that this challenge is peculiar Rigwe land. It is all across Plateau State from Bassa to Langtang South and from Bokkos to Wase.

Sir we know the qualities that have placed the potentials of tourism in our hands: our diversity, geography and the hospitality of our people. We have to work hard to ensure that these resources work for us. Tourism has to move from the status of impending to reality.

There are two faces of tourism: local and international. I am afraid that the state of insecurity across Nigeria has dealt a huge blow on international tourism but at the same time the avenue for local tourism has remained. One sees the hunger for local tourism when he visits recreational centers on Sallah, Christmas, Easter, New Year, and weekend days. What has held down the momentum for local tourism is the modesty of the facilities due to the long years of administrations exhibiting laissez-faire attitudes. People often visit these facilities and come out saddened than they were prior to the visits. Thus one has to commend the administration for its eagle eyes that led to the decision to overhaul the Jos Wild Life Park.

Sir, I am sure you are aware that a fully developed tourism industry goes beyond the renovation of game reserves. A fully developed tourism domain should have a limitless catalog of resources that provides options to pleasure-seekers and gives the impression of a truly existing industry. Along this line, our cultural diversity provides a lifeline. Thus the modernization of the industry could go beyond the Wild Life Park to include the building of Modern cultural arenas in the different cultural localities across the state so that we don’t dance in the dust anymore. Modernization could also involve collaborating with experts to bring refinement to our cultural costumes so that we can wear them with pride and feel at ease. Introducing financial rewards to the best drummer, best dance groups, best young dancer … could also change the apocalyptic trend of events and re-awaken interest.

Sir, I know the pertinent question in your mind after reading this is “where would the money to build and maintain such cultural edifices and reward the dance groups come from?” My suggestion is firstly, we could legislate for a tourism restoration tax that mandates every adult residing in the state to pay an agreed amount annually. Secondly, people cannot enjoy tourism without paying for it. Thirdly, budgetary rations of the state could experience a re-adjustment to favor the sector if we consider its enhancement as crucial.

Sir, I would love to conclude by saying that the things we desperately desire have always been with us and where there is a will, there is always a way.

Finangwai Dreams Big for Plateau State

Dr Hosea Finangwai. Source Dr Finangwai There is that saying that “the things that people desperately seek are always with them.” If ...