The Afan National Festival and the Strategic Importance of Kagoro in the Politics of Southern Kaduna.
An Open Letter To Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State.
Your Excellency, it is exactly 4 weeks today when the people of Kagoro celebrated their annual Afan Festival. A festival that predates Colonial Rule and which the Kagoro people hold dear to their hearts.
Your absence as a special guest of honor and by implication Chief Host of the occasion being the governor of our state is the reason I am writing you this letter.
Before I espouse my views on your inability to honor our invitation to the Festival, it is important to put the festival in historical perspective for you to appreciate our concerns as well as our grieves.
Brief History of Afan National Festival.
The annual Afan National Festival is the oldest and most glamorous Cultural Festival in Kaduna State and perhaps in Northern Nigeria. Because of its uniqueness and significance, the Festival is celebrated with fanfare every 1st January of the Year by the people of Kagoro. It is celebrated customarily to mark the end of a successful farming season and the onset of the hunting expeditions on the hills. The hills are of great significance to the people of Kagoro as we share a common belief that the hills protected us from our adversaries in the olden days.
The Festival takes place at the Chief’s palace, by the foot of the hills beginning with a cultural procession in the form of a Durbar of all the 11 Districts in the Chiefdom and spectacular cultural displays.
In the past, a ritual of sanctifying the hills, a (hunting campaign) takes place early in the morning of the succeeding day. The hunters climbing to a place named ‘Jiyo’ (trouble) which they surround and set alight (an act referred to as ‘burning the bush ‘) is done before they begin their hunting expedition.
However, with the coming of civilization, the Festival has now been merged with the New Year celebration and the hunters now dress in traditional hunting attires symbolizing the return from the first hunting expedition of the year.
Lately, due to the popularity of the Festival, it has taken an international dimension with the Sons and daughters of the land coming together to brainstorm on pressing issues that affect the land and to showcase our rich Cultural heritage. Tourists, mostly from the US and Europe always look forward to coming to witness this amazing celebration. Also, cultural troupes from neighboring states such as Nasarawa, Benue and Plateau States with their traditional rulers participate in this event giving it a multicultural appearance.
In addition to the aforementioned, the Festival serves as a platform to pay commendation to the proud Sons and daughters of the land. The Chief of Kagoro takes the opportunity to present trophies to the Districts and distinguished persons to show gratitude for their contributions to the development of the land. The celebration gets to a climax with varying displays of cultural dance steps by the Youths. In gain, a novelty football game usually takes place in the evening of the day.
Having educated you on the significance of the Afan Festival to the people of Kagoro, it is equally important to appraise you of the historical and Strategic importance of Kagoro and its people in the politics of Southern Kaduna. In Kagoro, there is pure human warmth and it is truly a bit of surprise that there are no warm springs in this hilly Community. When the European Missionaries first visited Southern Kaduna, they encountered much resistance, but it was only when they came upon the charming people of Kagoro seated within a circle of enchanting hills that they experienced true hospitality. Today, the impact of the Missionaries clearly expresses itself in Kagoro, and this is seen in the fact that the English language is spoken with typical Anglo -Saxon attention to detail, and allied to this is seen in the fact that virtually every household has a minimum of three graduates some of whom have read to the PhD level. Then there is the infinity of educational institutions and Church houses.
Like historians will argue, history is very important in analyzing and understanding why Kagoro is the epicenter of Southern Kaduna. In fact, with all humility, Kagoro is regarded as the Rich Heart of Southern Kaduna. A few examples will suffice here. The late Chief of Kagoro (May his soul rest in peace) (Dr) Gwamna Awan MBE OFR prior to his demise was the longest serving Monarch in the Country. His Court mirrors Nigeria’s history down the decades. First is a rare picture or painting of the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, a smiling portrait of Mr and Mrs Archibald, the first Missionaries to settle in Kagoro, a picture of General Yakubu Gowon with others, and then subsequent Heads of State. Here is Nigeria’s history in pictorial form.
In fact, the late Sardauna was so close to the Chief that he visited the late Chief several times to seek support for his party, the NPC and in the process tried to convert our Chief to Islam. The Sardauna believed then that if the Chief of Kagoro was converted to Islam, the whole of Southern Kaduna will readily follow suit.
Another important milestone that makes Kagoro fundamentally significant in the politics of Southern Kaduna was the convergence of the newly born APC leaders in Kagoro on the 1st June 2013.
A group of like -minds made up of former Chief of Naval Staff, Rtd Rear Admiral Iko Ibrahim, Mr Emmanuel Dale Bagaiya, Senator Caleb Zagi etc formed the Democratic Emancipation Movement in the heat of the government of Goodluck Jonathan. This Movement played host to the epoch gathering of our President, Muhammadu Buhari, Chief Bisi Akande, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola, Rochas Okorocha, your humble self and a host of other leaders. The ground breaking public acceptance by PMB to change his mind and contest the Presidential election was made in Kagoro. The story of Kagoro did not start yesterday.
Now to the Reason for this Letter.
Your Excellency, your absence at our most important occasion as a people cooked many theories. One of which was that you did not want to break protocol by attending the Festival in the absence of the Chief of Kagoro, Mr Ufuwai Bonet OFR CON who was away on a medical trip abroad. Another theory was that you stayed away because our people did not vote for you in the April 2015 elections that brought you to power. Yet, another theory has it that your Deputy convinced you not to attend our Festival in order for you to be physically present at the Moroa Day which was about 24 hours after our Festival.
Your Excellency, of all these theories, my take is that the absence of our traditional ruler must have informed your reasons not to come and felicitate with us. I however will like to fault your advisers on account of the fact that the people of Kagoro are more important than our Chief. The Festival is about the people of Kagoro and their rich cultural heritage. Since it is the people you are ruling, the onus lies on you to honor them on their most important day. If however you did not come because the people of Kagoro did not vote for you as the third theory is peddled, then you have failed us we the minority that stood up for you during the campaigns. In politics, you don’t gain anything by staying away from the few supporters in a dominant opposing zone.
If the second theory is the reason you stayed away from us, the truth must be told. The Kagoro people are not in competition with any other Ethnic group in hosting our Festival. On the contrary, the Afan Festival is in a class of its own because of its pedigree. We are in a different pedestal hence the struggle by others to compete with us.
I make bold to say here that this letter speaks the minds of the generality of the people of Kagoro who have fallen in love with your people’s oriented policies.
Wishing you God’s guidance and protection as you pilot the affairs of our state.
Thanks you for your time.
Written by Aaron Abun – Lagos