What is today known as ‘FESTAC’ sprang from the 2nd Festival of Black Arts and Culture hosted by Lagos in 1977. The Festival which was under the grand patronage of former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo who was then a Lt. General of the Nigerian Armed Forces and the Head of the Federal Military Government. The President of the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts was the then Cmdr Ochegomie Promise Fingesi, who was then Nigeria’s Commissioner for Special Duties.
Festac which is originally referred to as Festival town or Festac village lies gallantly along Lagos-Badagry expressway – a hub of traffic gridlock.
Festac is a residential estate initially designed to house the participants of the World Festival of Black Arts and Culture of 1977 as earlier stated. Consisting of 5,000 contemporary dwelling units and seven major avenues, the town was designed in an efficient grid in order to accommodate upwards of 45,000 visitors as well as any Nigerian employees and officers working at the Festival. The Nigerian government invested substantial sums of money and resources into building festac town, which sported state of the art electrical generators, police and fire stations, access to public transportation, supermarkets, banks, health centres, public restrooms, and postal services. The village was therefore intended to evoke the modern age and the promise of state-sponsored economic development fuelled by oil revenues.
After the Festival, the Federal Government of Nigeria allocated the housing and landed properties to eventual winners who participated in a ballot. Initial regulations forbade such winners from renting and disposing off the properties to third parties although all that is now history.
The status of festac is somewhat confusing as the Federal, State and Local Government all lay claim to the management of the estate and occasionally issue the residents with various charges ranging from valuation fees, local government levies to tenement rates
There have been thoughts and suggestions that Nigeria was cursed the moment left her doors widely opened to Idols, ancestral spirits and black magic from around the world in a city that is now home to over 21 million people; insinuating that the festival was a ploy to celebrated the black forces of evil. In fact it is believed that the present moral decadence of the youths in festac in recent times and the growing decay in festac can be attributed to the spiritual abomination that took place there 38 years ago. However having grown up in Festac, I don’t totally agree with that notion.
When the British imperialist looted all the idols in Benin Kingdom, why didn’t the export of the idols destroy the British economy which is listed as the 5th largest economy in the world? We seem to have forgotten that the idols that were celebrated in festac were mere carved wooden images and iron artifacts. If they had any demonic affiliations then the British war ship that fled on shore with the Benin wooden demi gods would have sunk like the Titanic.
I don’t agree that Nigeria’s problems started in 1977, it was way before that. The Country’s problems began the very day the South and North became one confederate in 1914, but I won’t dwell on that because we ain’t discussing politics. If countries that are known to be unsympathetic idolaters and Juju exponents like China and India, have a flourishing economy and don’t appear cursed then who are we to attribute the problems of a country that has been ran mostly by thieves for donkey years to a festival of black arts and culture. Was there festac when the civil war claimed the lives of millions in Biafra?
Albeit what was once a beautiful, well organized and thoroughly planned housing estate has become a mecca of sorts. Festac now thrives on past glory as it has gradually transcended from its high plexus and accentuated environment to a glorified ghetto. Everything that once worked in festac has stopped working. The decay in this supposed citadel of near perfection is almost irredeemable and like most infrastructures in the country that were once spectacles, most part of festac have tales of woes. If the visitors that came from several countries 38 years ago to celebrate the festival of world black arts and culture were to return to the same place they were housed, they will think they are having a bad dream they would want to wake up from earnestly if told they were in the same place they were with their idols in 1977. They would even want to believe the place now houses the same black idols they celebrated in the late 70’s, that’s how far festac has gone into oblivion
You would find the good, bad and the ugly in festac all co-habiting; there seems to be no distinction unlike what we have in Lekki except in some peculiar areas. Back in the days we use to refer to the high brow areas of festac as cocaine avenue due to the magnificent houses and luxury those areas boasted of and it’s still obtainable till date However in the early days the rich, middle class and lower class co-habited since none of them really had to buy or rent the houses bestowed to them. So its not hard to fathom why we had all manner of people and civilizations in festac. Life there was just different and unique as compared to what was obtainable in other parts of lagos.
There was an era of the 419ers, when it was believed that festac was a haven for advanced fee fraud(419). It was even posited in some quarters that the international headquarters of 419 was festac. Then came the advent of the internet and once again festac stood tall and appeared equal to the task has youths once again exercised their prowess in internet scam. Festac became flooded with yahoo boys. I could swear it had the highest population of them. I remember one 16 year old boy in 512rd who painted the town red after acquiring a jeep from proceeds of his ‘yahoo yahoo’ enterprise. The ‘get rich suddenly’ teenage boy drooled out money carelessly in public as people scampered to share in his largesse.
However all of that is lost now. Today what remains of festac is only a figment of my imagination.
Though the original festac may be a lost cause let’s look on with faith has we await the new festac called festac phase 2.
An entire beautiful large city was built just to host this great occasion, and this Festac city is now a shadow of its old self in the former capital of Nigeria.
Who should we then blame? The idols that were celebrated or the government?
Is festac truly a lost cause?