In Kebbi, boat regatta is life, not fun

AYO AJOGE writes that the regatta festival in Kebbi State has continued to draw large audiences from within and without the country, while contributing to the economic well-being of the state. Though an international fish market is being expected but for lack of commitment by the stakeholders, Yauri might still experience an economic boom with all hands on deck.

KEBBI State in the North-West region of Nigeria comprises four emirate councils namely: Gwandu, Argungu, Yauri and Zuru, each with very rich and deep cultural and historical backgrounds. Their cultural festivals are no less fascinating, a situation which has bonded them together as a people over the years.

The cultural fiesta includes the famous Argungu Fishing Festival, which is now technically moribund, a situation which the state government attributed to security concerns and Uhola, which is celebrated annually by the Dakarkari people of Zuru Emirate council. Another equally well celebrated festival the Hotungo cultural festival in Gwandu emirate. Perhaps the festival that is a little different because it is water-based is the boat and canoe regatta celebrated by the people of Yauri emirate.

The regatta, according to the history of Yauri people, is a gunganci (a local language) word interpreted as ‘marine war’ which in its real context connotes buoyancy and prestige. The regatta to the Yauri involves water sports and entertainment. History has it that the festival started about 200 years ago as a display of marine strength of the Gungu people during which Gungu warriors attacked the most dangerous hippopotamus in the River Niger area on an annual basis.

Warriors, Sunday Tribune learnt, boarded various sizes of canoes with different types of weapons and attacked the ravaging wild animals. These adventures required an expertise in canoe paddling and marine warfare and it also served as a training exercise for up and coming Gungu warriors.

However, with the coming of British colonialists in the 19th century, the then colonial government banned the hunting and killing of hippopotamus in order to preserve the natural environment and the animals. For this reason, therefore, a regatta then became less frequent and only comes up occasionally as a prestigious display of wealth, power and influence during wedding ceremonies of highly placed families in the communities that make up the emirate.

The visit of the then Premier of the defunct Northern region of Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello (Sardauna of Sokoto) to Yauri was said to have revived the regatta which was organised along with an agricultural show to honour the then premier. It is, however, worthy of note to say that the adoption of the festival as an annual cultural event actually started during the reign of the current Emir of Yauri, Alhaji Muhammad Zayyanu Abdullahi, the 42nd emir of the town.

So it was penultimate Saturday, when the regatta again took place at Yauri drawing dignitaries and a large body of spectators from not only within Yauri, but also beyond. Among the dignitaries present were the state governor, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, and his deputy, Samaila Yombe Dabai; former governors of the state, Muhammad Adamu Aliero; his then deputy, Alhaji Bello Dantali; the immediate past governor of the state, Saidu Usman Dakingari and his deputy, Ibrahim K. Aliyu who is an indigene of the emirate.

The traditional institution was equally well represented. Among them were the Emir of Gwandu, Alhaji Iliyasu Bashar who is also the chairman, Kebbi State Council of Traditional Rulers; the Emir of Argungu, Alhaji Mohammed Samaila Mera; Emir of Zura, Alhaji Muhammadu Sani Sami, Sami Gomo II and the host emir, Alhaji Muhammadu Abdullahi, including members of the diplomatic corps and representatives from federal departments of arts, culture and tourism.

The two-day event was a festival of colour and pageantry as the regatta brought back memories of the days gone by. The display on the water by different groups was without comparison as spectators savoured the spectacle of one of the most popular festivals in the land.

yauriWhile speaking about his domain and the annual festival, the emir, Alhaji Abdullahi described the current Yauri emirate as a miniature of a one-time powerful kingdom south of the Sahara. Bordering Nupeland to the South and Kebbi Kingdom to the North, Yauri has a record of a long line of emirs succeeding one another, for a period spanning six centuries. This year’s edition of the festival, according to him, was not only about boat or canoe racing, but a cultural cum economic festival of major significance not only for the people of Yauri, but also the whole of Kebbi and Nigeria at large.

Inland waters have throughout the ages been a blessing of immeasurable value to communities and nations all over the world which have them. To this extent, the people of Yauri are ever grateful to God for endowing them with the River Niger which stretches over 200km from the North to the South of the emirate.

River Niger has also been a blessing of sort in the area of agriculture because the people also engage in rice and onion farming in commercial quantity apart from fishing. Just as other African rivers like the Nile has sustained countries like Egypt, Sudan, among others for thousands of years, the Niger River is also playing a sustainable role in the lives of people of Yauri Emirate.

The Rwanda Ambassador to Nigeria, who was taken around the site of the river which served as the site of the regatta, could not hide his feelings. He told his guests: “(the water resources) if properly harnessed, could make this area a major food basket.”  Specifically, Yauri town has assumed the status of an international fish trading centre as fishermen from Mali and other neighbouring countries routinely come there annually to fish. Also, fishermen from the Delta region of Nigeria come to Yauri in large number to fish.

It is interesting to note that in order to make fishing a booming economic activity for the benefit of Yauri Emirate, Kebbi State in conjunction with the Federal Government of Nigeria had initiated the establishment of a model fish market in Yelwa (the ancestral home the Yauris). Unfortunately this initiative is yet to materialise. The arrangement, then, was that the federal government will contribute 60 per cent of the cost of the project while the state and local governments will contribute 20 per cent and 15 per cent respectively, including stakeholders who were expected to contribute five  per cent.  Sadly enough, neither the state government nor the local governments had contributed anything to the fish market project.

It is important to note that the model international fish market if put in place, was bound to add value to the socio-economic development of Kebbi and Nigeria in general. To date, both the local governments on one hand and the state government on the other hand are being waited upon to bring the project into being soonest. Other public spirited organisations, enterprises, as well as individuals are also not left out in the drive to make the Model Fish Market a reality.

Apart from fishing, the Yauri emirate also has the potential of being a big gold market. Sometimes ago the Federal Government promised to improve and modernise gold mining activities in the area because it is a century-old economic activity but it is being done on a relatively limited scale and in a completely crude manner.

Hopefully, if the regatta is sustained, with an international fish market in place, the gold mining industry might just be an icing on the cake for Yauri and its people.

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