By Ebube Chinenye
Typical of an academic community, the debate is on and is likely to continue for some time to come! Opinion is divided on the significance of the cultural fiesta. While some people said it is mere reproduction of the fault lines, others said it was thoughtful of the students to dramatise the national question which they interpret to suggest awareness of the phenomenon on the part of the students and an attempt at the possibility of making Nigeria truly a case study of ‘unity in diversity’. The last group of assessors stress understanding the entire show as a message from an unusual quarters: a small community as Veritas University pointing out to Nigeria how peaceful co-existence is very possible. That is, although a Catholic university from head to toe, no faith is complaining of being compelled into Catholicism. Instead, every other sects and faiths are co-existing.
From whichever position it is viewed, the sight of one set of young students sauntering into the arena with pots brimming with flames or another column led by “the Obong of Calabar” and yet another entering on horseback, each trying to demonstrate the identity signature tune of the main geo-cultural units of Nigeria was just too much for the Vice-Chancellor and other high ranking university staff watching the cultural day of the students week recently.
Obviously, nobody had credited the studentry with that imaginative breadth. In the end, Prof Hyacinth Ichoku, the Vice-Chancellor whom sources claimed had originally planned to grace the occasion for no more than 10 minutes ended up spending two hours. Not only that, he convinced himself by what he saw to make a financial contribution of N250, 000 to the student body. Above all, the VC along with very senior staffers took time to savor the reportedly very tasty Nigerian dishes the students produced.
All these suggested that the students had successfully turned their student week into a creative session on the national question in Nigeria. Although the culture of the annual students’ week is not a new game on the campus, this year’s version touched on the national core. The students constituted themselves into each of the main geo-cultural units in Nigeria and sought to showcase what they considered to be core to each.
First to show up was the Arewa group whose leader rode into the arena on horseback, complete with royal bodyguards and courtiers. Next came the Middle Belt group alongside their Och’Idoma royalty, (no Tor Tiv or Atta Igala this year). The dramatic in theirs was the flame standing on the pots on both hands. They were followed by the Yoruba who stood out on the strength of the Kabiyesi show and the gyration to a Yoruba musical tune. Then the Igbos came, also with their royalties, playing the Ogene gong in a manner evocative of some of the scenes in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Lastly, the South-South group came, distinguished by the idea of a student-king, playing the Obong of Calabar with his main wives and the king’s first daughters, (Ekaetes). Each entry was a spectacle and sent the audience rollicking in laughter at the stage craft, the cultural regalia and the carriage or the mimetic attempt.
The next was the dance performance which went the same order and the clap of hands as each group. In the end, Yorubas came 5th; Middle Belt 4th; Arewa 3rd; South-south 2nd and the Igbo community 1st, for which it got an explosive cheer!
The Igbo community along with the Arewa community and their South-south counterpart danced with the VC to his office where more pictures were taken before each geo-cultural group headed back to their various blocks to eat their own food. Among these were akpu; beans soup; Oha soup; bitter leaf soup; periwinkle soup; pounded yam, abacha amongst others.
*Clearly, members of the Yoruba group were not captured in all the pictures available.