It is not new to Nigeria’s multiplicity of religious activities, being in its 11th version this year. But as almost whatever General TY Danjuma touches acquire a national symbolism in Nigeria, so is it that the Festival of Praise is emerging into a national activity. General Danjuma is the sponsor of the activity which in itself is a solemn moment with God for the attendees without regard to denominational borders. In General Danjuma’s words, it is a gathering of all Christians “without involvement of the clergies”. For him, it is a matter of “we are all Christians, we worship the same God and we are celebrating his birth”.
But the concentration of individuals with national symbolism and significance is transforming it. First indicator of that transformation must be the point the MC made last year about the attendance and presence at the festival of men whom God entrusted Nigeria to in the past or words to that effect. He was saying something whose deeper significance he probably did not reckon with. It could not be otherwise with some historians arguing that General Gowon has replaced the Nigeria Lord Lugard put together with a Made-by-Gowon version. In other words, but for Gowon, Lugard’s Nigeria would now only exist in textbooks on colonial state making in Africa because the Biafran War interrogated that version of Nigeria. Such a person has significance beyond his religion, region and even race. And whatever he does assumes that significance. Additionally, Gowon superintends the Nigeria Pray movement, confirming the British reference to him as an avuncular Christian.
In different ways, this is the case with each of the key presences there last year: Danjuma, Prof Osinbajo and Governor Ishaku of Taraba State. When TY Danjuma turned 81 a few days ago, a Peace scholar asked Intervention to pose the question as to who he might be that he is spoken of in the league of former Heads of State when he was not one. The scholar was reflecting a popular sense of him and thereby touching a sensitive topic in the social world: the role of individuals in history. At the 10th Session too, there was Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Until he showed up, the festival had not been able to attract a serving state official. “You are the first Christian leader in government who has joined us in this festival to celebrate with us” was what Danjuma told Osinbajo last year. Tomorrow, a regular face would be attending the festival but not just as Chairman of the Festival Planning Committee but also as presidential candidate. He is Prof Jerry Gana of the Social Democratic Party, (SDP) whom the courts have just made so.
Beyond the attendance of people with national meaning is what Gowon discovered at last year’s: the growth of the Mass Choir and the technical finish displayed by the conductors of the Orchestra. They all impressed him to the point of taking note. Lastly is what the Festival does. Again, last year, for example, it privileged praying for peace and stability in Nigeria. Few would disagree that Nigeria needs peace and stability today than this time last year. While the Festival prayed for Chibok girls last year, it is the impending elections and its outcome it is most likely to be praying about tomorrow. According to General Gowon, God answered the prayers over the Chibok girls as a number of them were returned. He urged continuing prayers for those that have not returned up to this moment.
At the 10th version, General Gowon who was the Chairman of the occasion asked rhetorically, “shall we come back again next year?” He was asking General Danjuma whom he described earlier in his Goodwill Message as the one God is using to make the Festival possible. When Danjuma spoke, he replied Gowon. His answer is that it depends on the audience. “As long as you come in the numbers you are coming now, we shall continue. This is for you to enjoy”.
Beyond the big names, there are those who do not miss it. Generally regarded as the best Christmas carol in town, it has not just been transformed by individuals with significance, it is also transforming. The Mass Choir, for instance, is observably experimenting with indigenous choral musical types, making the festival into a training ground additional to the fundamental essence. It is now an understatement to ask if there would be a 2019 version!