Argungu BURSTS OUT
By Chuka Nnabuife
Beyond its array of trees on the major highways and a few branches of government entities as well as a branch of a big bank that dot the road, nothing really inspires an excitement except the pervading ambiance of nature and serenity that cloaks the town – a suburban zonal capital in Kebbi State.
But sometimes one or two big firms may make unpopular decisions. Not always do such companies and brands as Maltina, Access Bank, Coscharis Motors, MTN, Virgin Nigeria, Ford, Alliance Autos, Elizade Motors, Unity Bank and others do so.
These were the corporate sponsors of the 2009 edition of the Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival (formerly, Argungu Fishing Festival AFF) which was held March 11 through Saturday, March 14.
In the four days, about 50,000 international tourists and holiday makers were in the town, sweating enthusiastically through a milieu of humans, horses, camels, and especially fishes. It was hot sun and dry windy harmattan but everybody just felt like not leaving the town again.
All through the days some of the world's most influential media house and news agencies hustled to get some broadcast footage from Argungu as the small but historically big sub-urban town played host to some of the most thrilling vista in news repertory. It was the 60th edition and the 75th year commemoration of the festival.
Saturday, March 14, tens of thousands of fishermen rumbled in the shallow waters of Matan Fada, the Argungu River, in search of the biggest fish. And when 31-year-old Abubakar Tarasa of Brinin Kebbi emerged with the huge catch it was clearly an eventful find. An imposing tilapia colossal and still panting breathlessly. It weighed 65kg. For that feat, the man who vividly, could not hold his flush of surprise was called the to the podium where he received his trophy, the keys of a Maltina-branded Honda Civic car parked conspicuously at the shores of the river and a N30,000 cheque from President Umar Musa Yar'Adua. He also got a free all-expense paid Hajj ticket from the president's wife, The First Lady, Dr (Mrs) Turai Yar'Adua that afternoon. Sixty nine other contestants got prizes ranging from motorcycles to power generators and television sets from the Governor of Kebbi state, Alhaji Sa'idu Usman N. Dakingari. But the three who joined Tasara as top-prize winners were Alhaji Sa'idu Indire who came second with his 25kg catch, Hussaini Sai'du, third for his 20kg fish, and Muhammed Dajide who caught a 19kg catfish.
The fishing contest was actually a keenly contested rumble in the muddy water. So engaging was the spectacle that viewing the mostly topless fisher as the struggled for space and grappled to make a catch with the webs of fishing nets and dots made by the calabash gourds in all their hands struck like watching buzz of bees rummaging in on a honeycomb.
For the almost two hours the contest lasted, millions clicks exuded from the array of zoom lens-fitted cameras from journalists and tourists. Some of the news men nearly fell into the water in the zeal to get shots.
About 16 other events were added to the customary fishing contest this year. Among them a motor race won by the only competing woman, Mrs Lizy Ukpabio, an auto bike tour involving 50-power bikes that toured the eight hour route from the Federal Capital Teritory, Abuja to Argungu. There was archery, catapulting, cultural dances, agricultural exhibition, fish fair, traditional boxing, wrestling, Fulani cultural activities, kabanchi display, camel, donkey and bicycle races. There was also the very colorful durbar horse parade as well as the swimming and rowing contests.
But the most engaging visage was the overwhelming crowd of people spanning through all classes. And the city's almost religious attachment to the fiesta.
As the chief executive and director-general of Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Otunba Olusegun Runsewe noted, there is a healthy myth around the yearly festivity.
That mythical aura has made the AFF attract the participation of the high and mighty while also remaining genuinely a masses' thing.
“In 1977, six presidents took part in the festival. In 1980, nine governors were there. This is the only festival of its type where you can find over 40,000 fishermen slugging it out in a river and at the end you see them emerging with huge catches that will surprise anybody.
“The unfortunate thing here is that we do not celebrate ourselves. We must celebrate our own thing,” urged Runsewe.
In the NTDC boss' opinion, AFF is so unique that it really should be a diamond mine that every business-minded investor should desire to have a piece of.
Dakingari and his deputy, Alhaji Ibrahim K. Aliyu echo the same thought line. Dropping a hint of what to expect of the event in future.
He stated: “We will continue to look at ways to improve and add new events to the festival so as to make it more attractive and dynamic as it is in any competitive sports such as the Olympics.”
Indeed, more than any other outing, this year's AFF underscore a conscious effort to lift it beyond a mere national event. ...more