Monday 21st April, 2014 would pass not just as an ordinary day for many who are resident in Lagos Island; it was a day awash with merriments for many living within the state.
For a hitch-free operation, major streets like Obafemi Awolowo way and Igbosere earmarked as routes for the procession of young lads and adults, all clad in radiant colours were closed to the usual Lagos traffic, thus engendering heavy vehicular movement and confusion in the remaining streets left for commuters who are desperate to be in the island during the fiesta. But it was fun all the way.
Photojournalists had a field day along the routes, same with merchants who are usually very quick to take advantage of large gathering to make some profit.
Out there in the street, many are only contented with the momentary entertainment provided by participants along the routes as well as the usual conviviality. Nevertheless, they applauded the procession even on their seats, eating and drinking, discussing the fiesta and politics amidst the thunderous echo of drums from the procession.
In the amphitheater slated for the grand parade, it was fun of a different kind, as convoy of junior carnival kicked-off activities, dancing to the rhythmic tune provided by a standby disc jockey and acknowledge cheers from the teeming spectators. The excitement was vivid, coupled with enthusiasm and strength which the youths brought to play in the carnival. They had a fun-filled day, dancing to works of popular artistes like Flavour, Davido and Iyanya.
But the excitement was not just about the dances. The craft that attended it, was something else, with each of the participating schools taking on the colours and features of appealing creatures from the smallest, the ant to beetle and birds like peacock, ostrich and others. The animal kingdom was not neglected.
On exhibition were the likes of giraffes, zebras and others, heralded with beautiful sculptural piece of the former Governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, which is actually far from a true representation of the former governor.
With a few exceptions, all the schools in the state were represented from what can be described as the most insignificant schools in Epe to the elaborate and classy ones in Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki, each attempting to prove the stuff it is made of. There were traces of callisthenic and acrobatic displays in some of the performance which drew wild applause from tourists and Nigerians present at the Tafawa Balewa Square Lagos to witnessed the fiesta. The climax of the children fiesta was the arrival of the carnival queen in a well decorated motorcade.
It was a very lovely lady clad in white with a tint of black, led by a group of beautiful ladies all dressed like an ostrich. They were received by the first lady of Lagos State, Dame Emmanuela Abimbola Fashola in company of the Commissioner for Tourism and Intergovernmental Relations, Mr. Disun Holloway, paving way for arrival of the adult procession which is not too different from the children carnival but nonetheless too amorous – though not knew to carnival of this nature in the Caribbean and other countries in South America where it originated but all the same foreign to the culture of Africa and the Nigerian people. This perhaps explains the concern of the Minister for Culture and Tourism, Mr. Edem Duke who actually canvassed for more local content.
“We don’t want people to criticise us for maintaining the Caribbean style of carnival or festival alone. We must enhance the local content through the carnival. From Badagry, Epe, Ikorodu and others, there must be some indigenous or local content in the carnival,” the minister said, stressing the need to work more on the festival to attract more tourists to Nigeria.
“We need to have a carnival institute. With the institute, Nigerians can be certified as professional costume designers for carnivals. With such certificate, one can go anywhere in the world to design costumes for carnivals and festivals”, he said, noting that the festival has over the years attracted large crowd. He also alluded to Calabar Carnival which he said is about ten years old now, stressing the need to collaborate for maximum benefit of Nigerians.
“We must work to ensure that these and other carnivals go beyond entertainment to become an industry. Then whether it is the development of the content, dance steps and choreography, designing of the costumes, media and others, all of these will be a value chain. And youths can find their own fulfillment, talents and ability in any of these areas,” Duke said.
For the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, “this is the end of a whole week of fun from the regatta to the carnival, adding that “this is the real spirit of Lagos. Little by little, we have built our own carnival and it has grown from strength to strength.”
In his assessment, Holloway alluded to events that culminated in the emergence of the carnival queen. According to him, the final competition of the Lagos Carnival Queen Pageant was held at the Freedom Park on Saturday, 19th April, 2014 with ten final participants who were members of the 34 Adult carnival bands.
“Besides recognizing the physical attributes of the contestants, the pageant also focused on the contestants’ intellectual abilities, poise and personalities. The winner of the contest became the Lagos Carnival Queen 2014. The Pageant directly employed 5 professionals and 64 artisans”, he said, adding that the 2014 Lagos carnival attracted over 500 residents and tourists who watched the parades on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Onikan, Igbosere Road, Catholic Mission and the Tafawa Balewa Square.
“Thirty four adult bands and forty schools drawn across the state thronged the streets of Lagos in colourful and joyous parades dancing all the way down from Ikoyi through Lagos Island to the Tafawa Balewa Square’, he said, stressing that the array of individual/group costumes and the enthusiastic participants showed the increasing innovative spirit of the fabricators, costumiers and the support by an enabling government that provided the infrastructure, motivation and security.
Government, he said has resolved to provide Lagosians with exciting forms of relaxation, to preserve the cultural heritage of the Nigerian people, while promoting such events so that the attendant economic benefits are felt by the residents of the state.
“I am glad to also inform you that the colorful costumes and floats on display during the festival were locally designed, fabricated and tailored at the Lagos State Vocational and Skills Acquisition Centre in Isheri from September 2013 to April 2014. During that period, 9 designers, 125 tailors, 35 sculptors, 6 electricians, 85 embellishers, 32 welders, 110 sorters, 28 carpenters and 8 supervisors were directly employed.
“The number of persons who were indirectly employed was over 3,250, which included over 1,500 members of the joint security force, cleaners, fast-food vendors, fabric sellers, shoe makers and sheet metal sellers. In addition to this, many small and medium scale entrepreneurs such as hoteliers, owners of restaurants and souvenir sellers engaged in brisk business during the Lagos Carnival 2014”, he said.
But beyond some of these positive developments, there were issues that organizers of the carnival must consider as it prepares for the next festival. For instance, there are issues of security even when 1,500 people were brought in to secure the environment; some ladies were slovenly dressed, appearing half nude in procession which is quite alien to African culture. Besides, there are reports that some ladies were raped, coupled with high level of violence which landed at least one person in the hospital.