North Fest 2017: Ntufam (Dr) Peter Ojie unfolds Plans
With a well-built body that matches his impressive profile, Ntufam (Dr) Peter Ojie, Chairman, Central Planning Committee for North Fest 2017, is a man whose aristocratic looks belie his humility. Always elegantly dressed but taciturn looking, he attracts rapt attention from anyone within earshot, whenever his lips move. His deep voice and impeccable command of English language would have been an asset in broadcast journalism if he had veered into it rather than in print journalism where he excelled, when he worked with Guardian newspaper.
Ntufam Ojie has served in several capacities including Chairman, Caretaker Committee of Ogoja Local Government Area, Deputy Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Cross River State and Commissioner of Local Government Affairs, also in the state. Before his current position as Special Adviser, Political Affairs in the cabinet of Senator (Prof) Ben Ayade, he vied for nomination as PDP’s Gubernatorial candidate in the 2015 general elections. He lost that bid to Senator Ben Ayade who emerged as the party’s flagbearer and proceeded to win the general elections. He is also the only political office holder in Cross River State known to LinCornellah’s blog who took time to study and get a Ph.D while in office.
Ntufam Ojie showed his humility when I called him two days ago to seek an appointment for an interview, in view of his current position as Chairman, Central Planning Committee of North Fest 2017. North Fest seeks to promote the agricultural capacities of the Northern Senatorial District of Cross River State. Although Ntufam Ojie did not pick my call, he called my phone line some minutes later, to apologize for his inability to pick that call. To me, that was uncommon because in Nigeria, “big men” in eminent political positions seldom call to apologize over their inability to pick calls from “small men” like me. Rather, they seem to always feel “disturbed” by calls. The outcome of Ntufam Ojie’s humility as manifested in that call, is what you are about to read. It led to an interview with him in his private office in Calabar.
He spoke with Linda and I, on what North Fest 2017 is all about. Please read on.
“North Fest” has never been organized. What gave rise to this initiative?
Ntufam Ojie: In the wisdom of His Excellency, the Governor of Cross River State, Senator (Prof) Ben Ayade and in consultation with the traditional institution in the northern Senatorial District of Cross River State, it was decided that there is a need to create a unifying festival for the people of the north. Firstly, one of the most critical thing that is prevalent in the north is agriculture. The main preoccupation of the people of the north is agriculture and in all ethnic communities in that part of the state, you will find that agriculture is the mainstay and people’s lives and culture revolves around agriculture. To the extent that, you will find that all ethnic communities celebrate the beginning of harvest every year. That celebration is backed by the level of respect that they give to the king of all crops, which is yam. So, you will find that in every community in the northern part of the state, there is a new yam celebration.
Secondly, Cross River State, being a tourism destination keeps developing new areas of tourism that boost our culture. Over time, celebrations have taken place. Festivities and carnivals take place in other parts of the state. The northern part of the state doesn’t seem to have anything particular that is celebrated in terms of the things that are generated from the north. Calabar carnival, for instance, is celebrated at the end of the year in Calabar. Beyond that, there is the Utom Festival, which is celebrated among the people of the Southern Senatorial District. And of course, you have the Leboku festival, which has become a Yakurr festival that has become symbolic for the Central Senatorial District.
So, in the wisdom of the Governor and talking with the traditional institutions, it was resolved that there is the need to celebrate what is common and what is unifying among the people of the north. Beyond the fact that it would bring the people together, there was the need to also expose our occupational identity, as people who are involved deeply in agriculture. Also, it would expose our agricultural produce to national and international markets. Besides creating a third leg in the tripod of celebrations in Cross River State, the main reason why this initiative is coming now is that it helps to encourage and further expose the people of the northern part of this state.
Some people claim that North Fest is sudden. What level of awareness has the government of Cross River State created about the festival?
Ntufam Ojie: I would not say that it is sudden. For every initiative, you need to have a take-off point. You may say that the planning period of the maiden edition may not be as much as you would like to have, but once you have hit the ground, you would know that you begin the process of planning for subsequent editions. New yam celebrations or the celebration of agricultural produce generally, is a traditional thing. So, there was the need to consult extensively with the traditional institutions. It was after that consultation that what is happening now was arrived at.
Secondly, the idea of having a celebration of this nature in the north is not to obliterate or substitute all other celebrations by the ethnic communities there. By the end of September, for instance, every community in the northern part of Cross River State must have celebrated the new yam. So, in that way, you have not distorted the calendars of the communities that are involved. So, the traditional institutions along with His Excellency, the Governor, now chose the last Saturday of September every year as the day that would be used for such celebrations. That’s where we are. Within the period that we are, we believe that we can deliver a world class festival.
Talking about exposing the festival, part of what we are doing, even talking to you, is to help us expose the festival. As much as possible, we are trying to reach out to as many people that would be interested to attend by way of ensuring that information gets to all corners of the country and even beyond. We believe that we would have people who would be willing to attend. Don’t forget that this is getting to the tail end of summer. A lot of people are holidaying and may want to take the opportunity of joining the festival to round off their holidays.
What challenges do you foresee especially for tourists who would want to attend the North Fest festival, knowing that roads to the northern part of Cross River State are not as good as desired?
Ntufam Ojie: The issue of bad roads is a Nigerian problem. If you live within the territorial space called Nigeria, you would confront the issue of bad roads. It is not peculiar to Cross River State. The festival is taking place in Ogoja. The Local Government Area is accessible very easily for those coming from Lagos and other far areas. If you fly to Enugu, a two-hour journey from there on that busy road through Abakaliki, would lead you to Ogoja.
Those coming from Abuja also have a fairly usable road that would take them to Ogoja. We know that movement by road in Nigeria has remained a challenge for a long time, but we are hoping that as we progress, it would be overcome, because I see that a lot of work is already being done on the road between Calabar and Ogoja. There is a lot of improvement. A lot of people would attend.
To what extent would the festival add value to rural areas, particularly rural areas in the northern part of the state?
Ntufam Ojie: Part of the content of the festival is that there would be certain levels of competition. There would be competition for the best farmer and the process for choosing the best farmer are processes that engage every community. We have 54 (fifty four) wards in the northern part of the state. We want all farmers from around to be involved in the process. We have local government coordinating committees who would engage and screen farmers who are ready to enter the competition until it gets to the number that would be involved in the grand finale.
The idea is to stimulate interest in farming. We are hoping that in the fullness of time, we would make a difference because a lot of what has been happening in the northern part of the state is that, maybe because of the lack of big markets and all that, a lot of subsistence farming takes place. We just farm to support our families and ourselves. But the opportunity of the festival would sensitize the people to the point that they would begin to think of farming for the purposes of making profit. So, it is going to tell heavily on the economy of the people of the northern senatorial district.
The bulk of the rice that is produced around this part of the country is produced in Ogoja, which is one of the Local Government Areas in the northern Senatorial District of the state. But, that rice is milled and packaged in another state and that state takes the name and glory. These are the things that we are hoping that our people would get encouraged and get to a point where the government of Cross River State would build an ultra-modern rice mill. Hopefully, by the end of December, as the Governor has told us, there would be Ogoja rice. This would encourage rice farmers to now say, “Look, I can do rice, mill it here at Ogoja, sell and make more money”. We believe that this festival would open up a lot of things. The agricultural economy of the people of the north would receive a heavy boost.
Is there a likelihood that the venue of the North Fest would be rotational across Local Governments in the Northern Senatorial District in subsequent editions?
Ntufam Ojie: The dynamics of the planning for subsequent editions would determine what would happen. It would be a nice idea for it to go round the Local Government Areas. But I think that decision would be left to the traditional rulers and the government to make. But certainly, North Fest has come to stay. North Fest is worthy of support and North Fest is something that would help the people of the Northern Senatorial District to find a base outside what they are doing to improve their economy.
How long would North Fest 2017 last?
Ntufam Ojie: This maiden edition would last about three days. The activities would start on the 28th September where there would be a festival float in the five Local Government Areas of northern Cross River State. Decorated and mounted trucks with musical devices would drive round the major streets of the five Local Government Areas to sensitive people. On the 29th September there would be the pageant. There would be Mr North Fest and Miss North Fest, and there would be also a parade of costumes and parade of maidens. The grand finale is on the 30th September. That would be where most of the events would take place, including the competition for best farmer, best palm wine tapper, best cuisine and several others.
We are even introducing a novelty where pounded yam would be eaten there. This would be something akin to what Chinua Achebe described in his novel, “Things Fall Apart”, where some people on one side of a bowl of pounded yam meal did not know those on the other side of it, until the bowl had been reduced to a certain level of consumption. We are hoping that the festival would bring a lot of attractions and expose so much to people who are available to participate.
What message do you have for the people of Cross River State and tourists from other places, as they all await the festival?
Ntufam Ojie: For me, I think that we should begin the process of moving away from a mono economy. Cross River State has lost all its due of oil. Rather than cry over spilt milk, we should begin to look inwards and think outside the box. Yesterday, a young man came to me to show me a very well packaged product called moringa product that he wants to market during the festival. I was very pleased with what he did. It told me that if we do this festival we would encourage a lot of people to go back to agriculture. Another young man came to me to say they have an idea of ensuring that they can popularise ‘one man, one hectare’. Just get our people to begin to farm. Whatever you are farming, just farm one hectare and then we can organise ourselves to ensure that we buy up your products. That way, I believe that we can boost our economy because we would have so many people working in their farms and earning good money instead of just having so many unemployed young people all over the place.
I believe that this festival is something that should be encouraged. In doing so, we would have engagement for our young people. We would also boost our economy and the entire Ogoja which constitutes the Northern Senatorial District would not be the same again.
- Cornelius Ellah
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