Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation recently opened a ‘Black and African Hall of Fame’. It is a rich cultural and historical treasure that celebrates black personalities and professionals that have played prominent roles in the emancipation of Africa and contributed to the development of the continent in diverse fields
Africa is a continent endowed with a diverse and rich cultural heritage. But over the years, most of the rich cultural heritage have been greatly eroded, with some phased out completely due to certain factors like colonialism, westernisation, and even religion.
The Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC), a department under the Ministry of Communication and Information, was born to tackle these issues. Its strategic mandate is to preserve, present, and propagate the African Culture in its entirety and restore Africa’s rich cultural heritage
In fulfilment of that strategic objective, CBAAC recently unveiled the Black and African Hall of Fame in Abuja. It primarily targeted the curated pieces at reliving the echoes of FESTAC ’77 by celebrating those that participated. Also included in the rich plethora were other black eminent personalities.
Festac ’77, also known as the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (the first was in Dakar, 1966), was a major international festival held in Lagos, Nigeria, from January 15 1977 to February 12, 1977. The month-long event celebrated African culture and showcased African music, fine art, literature, drama, dance, and religion to the world. About 16,000 participants took part in the event, representing 56 African nations and countries of the African Diaspora, performed at the event.
Hall of Fame
Fulfilling its primary objective of preserving history, arts and culture, the centre recently unveiled the CBAAC Black and African Hall of Fame in Abuja. Situated at the information ministry in the Federal Secretariat, the Hall of Fame is a celebration of black personalities and professionals that have played prominent roles in the emancipation of Africa, including its development.
Some of those curated include former presidents during FESTAC ’77 like Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria; Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya; Muammar Muhammed Al-Gaddafi, Libya; Ahmed Sekou Toure, Guinea; Jean Bedel Bokassa, Central African Republic; Robert Gabriel Mugabe, Zimbabwe; Leopold Sedar Senghor, Senegal; Moktar Ould Daddah, Mauritania; Felix Malloum Bey-Ndi, Chad; and El Hadj Omar Bongo, Gabon.
Other personalities include Chinua Achebe, Moshood Kashimawo Anjola, Oluwafunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Obafemi Jeremiah Awolowo, Kobe Bryant, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Malcolm X, Tafawa Balewa, Chief Abdul Ganiyu Fawehinmi, Nnamdi Azikwe, and Mike Adenuga.
Not left out were foreign musicians like Mighty Sparrow, Archie She’ll, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Stevie Wonder, Nadi Game, Randolph Edward ‘Randy’ Weston, Sun Ra, Gilberto Gil, and Donald Byrd.
At the unveiling, dignitaries and even traditional rulers thronged into the hall to experience the beautifully curated art, as well as the library containing the historical story behind each piece. Whilst the tour was ongoing, traditional drums belted out tunes to the delight of all, with the dancers wriggling their waists in rhythm.
For CBAAC Director General, Oluwabunmi Ayobami Amao, the relevance of the Hall of Fame goes beyond tourism as the rich history behind each frame would aid the younger generation in the proper understanding of the nation’s historical antecedents.
According to Amao, former special adviser on Arts and Culture to the late Governor Abiola Ajimobi, FESTAC 77 is more relevant now as history is returned to the school’s curriculum.
“The knowledge of FESTAC 77 is key as it enables the students to know who were around about that time and those who performed,” she stated.
Preserving Arts, Culture from Extinction
After a tour of the historical art, Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, represented by the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Information, Arts and Culture, Dr. Ifeoma Anyanwu, said the Hall of Fame would preserve the country’s arts and culture and also prevent it from going into extinction.
The minister, who stated that his vision is to see the recreation of another FESTAC in years to come, added, “I am marvelled because what has been done here will be able to preserve arts and culture so that they don’t go into extinction.”
He further noted that this history “will be there for the younger generation who are coming up to come and see how Nigeria and Africa evolved and see the great heroes of Africa, great heroes of Nigeria in their own country and so forth.”
Boost for Tourism, Economy
For Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, the feat achieved by CBAAC was a step in the right direction to open up tourism in a bid to boost the economy better.
According to her, tourism is great potential in the arts and culture sector of the country’s economy, noting that “it was a pleasant surprise to see the quality and number of historical items”. The items include images of heads of state, famous black leaders, and musicians depicting the history of FESTAC 77 at the commissioning.
While commending the DG for a job well done, she urged the Ministry of Information and the management of CBAAC to expand the place to get students from different schools to learn Nigerian history.
“We hope to be able to open up tourism if we are able to continue to manage the economy better, and this is the kind tourists would love to visit. It is great potential in the arts and culture sector of our economy,” said Ahmed. “We should really encourage this, and we should find a place where we can expand this so that we can get our students to come and learn our history- history of black Africa from this centre”.
Input by National Assembly
Gracing the occasion were both Chairmen, Senate and House Committee on Culture and Tourism, Owelle Rochas Okorocha and Hon Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, respectively.
According to Okorocha, the display was an appreciation of culture and tradition and men and women who have made history.
“I’m quite impressed. This provides an inspiring arena for the younger generation, and this is how role models are made. It is a must-visit for school children, university undergraduates, and everybody,” said the former Imo governor. “When the history of this nature is kept alive, then it inspires a future generation. It reminds me of what we used to read during our primary school days, and to see it here is something great”.
He believes that the government must support CBAAC, noting that CBAAC will bring huge resources as revenue for tourism if well developed.
“I do know that every Black American, British Black, Canadian Black will like to visit here, at least, to see their history and see what makes them black, thick and not inferior,” added Okorocha. “This also goes to show that we have produced great people, and there are greater things to happen from this very country.”
On the possibility of replicating this in every state across the nation, he said, “Every state should have their state department that talks about their state level. But this national one should be one here in Abuja. They should get a bigger building.”
He noted that it required “a bigger centre, where each of these great leaders or their sons will come and unveil the history of their fathers or their countries will come and unveil because this is the centre of the Black.”
In turn, Ogbeide-Ihama noted that the DG had done something strategic to come up with something as laudable as this, adding that other agencies should emulate the innovation.
“Things like this will continue to make us support government agencies. I think they should consolidate on this and expand it. This shows there is a new driver at CBAAC with this type of development in the heart of Abuja,” said Ogbeide-Ihama. “She requires a lot of support from the legislative and executive arm as it shows she has a lot to offer”.
Pride in Nigeria’s Heritage
Lauding the initiative, chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said: “I was amazed to see my pictures on the wall. I didn’t even know. It really encourages you to work harder. It was also a celebration of black people all over the world. We need to celebrate ourselves as Nigerians and Africans. It’s about telling the world that Nigeria is the centrepiece of Africa.”
She pointed out that the history displayed at CBAAC was “inspiring.”
“The younger generation would be encouraged to come and even schools. This is a tourist attraction,” Dabiri-Erewa added.