Argungu Fishing Festival 2020: Winners And Losers

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By Justina Okpanku

The Argungu International Fishing Festival (AFF) is back and it got bigger. The just-concluded Argungu Fishing Festival was held in a difficult period, challenging period when Coronavirus has already started affecting the global travel/ tourism and the world in general. AFF 2020 wasn’t even overshadowed by the coronavirus crisis. Nigeria had registered just one COVID-19 index case at the time. AFF 2020 was therefore not cancelled like other global tourism events like ITB Berlin, a travel Expo slated for March 3-5, 2020.

The 4-day cultural fiesta (AFF) in Argungu, Kebbi State therefore attracted culture-active people, traditional wrestling enthusiasts, tourists, famous personalities and the media. Obviously, Kebbi State government is counting its blessings.  Not a few said they thought Kebbi which is in North-West Nigeria is a terrorism hotbed. Not anymore. Kebbi is not alone. Tourism-reliant companies like the restaurant industry made sales. Airlines and hotels smiled. The airlines such as Aero, Arik Air and Asman, had fuller planes.

The AFF 2020 boasts an impressive line-up of programmes. It featured interesting cultural displays and performances such as water relays, swimming on gourd, diving competition, wild-duck catching competition and save their souls competition. Others include fishing competition, traditional wrestling, Kabacha display, a water-based leisure tourism activity, polo, Argungu Motor Rally. Whether in culture, arts, crafts, agriculture exhibition, tourism, sports-tourism, there was something for everybody. It was fun all the way.

 For over 11 years the animals in their natural habitat in Argungu river may have had respite. Suddenly, over 30,000 fishermen came against them at once in their bid to win mouth-watering prizes. One lucky catch was returned to the river thanks to Kebbi State Governor  Abubakar Atiku Bagudu’s  magnanimity. The  huge fish, a manatee was caught during the festival in Kebbi,  escaped being killed. Bagudu  ordered that the huge  fish be returned to its natural habitat. He knew the endangered species are worth saving.

When announcing the winners of AFF 2020, the organisers hinted that the competition was not a winner- takes -all of sort. It was not only those whose photos and moving stories they pushed to us are winners.

The winners include Argungu Town, Kebbi Tourism, farmers/ the local communities and behind-the -scene stakeholders, who were involved in the planning and ensured everything was professionally done.

The focus was on Argungu Town

Justina Okpanku at Argungu Fishing Festival 2020. Courtesy: Justina Okpanku

Argungu Town may be small size, but as a tourist attraction has been in the big league. This writer was able to take a fresher look of Argungu, Kebbi’s jewel (I also participated at AFF 2005).  Focus was on Kebbi State and its fascinating offerings throughout the fiesta, especially Argungu Town.  This past edition is no exception. Visitors were astonished to discover the beauty of the town and its environs. The beauty is, government had to upgrade everything to woo more tourists. There were infrastructure improvements. Tourism is life. What does the world wants to see?

Kebbi boasts an amazing culture which is the highly sought after fishing competition by both local and international tourists. Argungu Fishing Festival is not all about fishing. The fishing competition was the main attraction.  This year, the local interest was high.  The queue of fishermen waiting to participate in the competition was longer than before.

Thousands of fishermen were ready as at 7 AM during the Grand Finale, the fourth day of the festival. They lined up facing the object of their interest. JUSTOURS gathered that many of them believe in the saying that “early bird eats the worm” and it is perhaps the reason some fishermen passed the night at the riverside in order to get vantage position. There was also a line-up of mouth-watering prizes to be won beside them. The star prize was a saloon car.  Those in the front roll and people who could run were lucky, they quickly entered the river at the sound of a gong signifying starting time. They began to juggle.

It must have been stunningly shocking to the aquatic community when about 30, 000 fishermen like locusts began to jump into the muddy serene river.  No fisherman was allowed to enter the river to fish for ii years. Some therefore couldn’t hold back when fishing activity was permitted. Some of them grabbed the unsuspecting fishes with bare hands. Their nets were loaded to the seam.

The audience went wild with excitement. Some clapped while others snapped recording the action with their cameras. Within a few minutes, some young men started bringing in their harvest. Which is the “biggest catch” was the watch-word? At this time there was poor crowd control. Argungu fishing competition is bigger than words. The fun is their dexterity and the strategy they employ while aiming to have a big catch.

If there is a clue to the future of Kebbi Tourism, it may be its tourism offering and rice production. Little wonder they insisted on holding the AFF this year.  It was not clear why AFF didn’t hold as advertised by the stakeholders in 20i9. More features were introduced to the uiue festival in 2005 edition. Former  President Olusegu Obasanjo did not only attend, he also made sure the event was  the talk-of-the-town . The festival however suffered a rare defeat when insurgency took over northern Nigeria.

Lai Mohammed

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed was a clear winner. Without going into the making of AFF 2020, it’s perfectly clear that the  minister was at the driver’s seat in the making of the successful Argungu Fishing Festival 2020. High profile personalities including President Muhammadu Buhari and Senate President Ahmed Lawan visited Kebbi State during the 4-day cultural, tourism/sporting event and a lot of people thanked Lai Mohammed for his effort. Some were overheard asking him “how did you do it?”

Mohammed who is also the Tourism minister must have helped promote tourism to Kebbi, North-west Nigeria. He called the world’s attention to the zone which was wrongly lumped together with North-east as a terrorism hotbed. With his involvement Kebbi Tourism got the push it deserved.

Perhaps the tourism minister is poised for a U-turn in his effort to revive Nigeria Tourism, following pressure from the media and the organized private sector tourism in the country. Mohammed was blasted for doing “nothing “while the tourism industry in the country is collapsing.

The minister organised a press trip to Kebbi during the festival to report the fascinating culture and by so doing the state was showcased to the outside world.  He said the revived tourist product is expected to offer investment opportunities and he was looking at the multiplier effects of tourism.  Indeed, Alhaji Lai Mohammed added flavour to our much loved Argungu festival.

The Local Communities

The main winner is the local communities. No doubt, benefits have trickled down to the Kebbi people and their neighbours. Sokoto, Zamfara, Kano States and beyond participated in the festival.  Fishermen whose catch were placed on a scale became instant ‘celebrities.’

Farmers both in the North-east and North-west zones took advantage of Kebbi’s distinctive efforts in rice production to showcase their produce to teeming visitors to the state.  President Muhammadu Buhari and other high profile personalities graced the occasion on the second day of the event which was a potpourri of sort.

The following winners were announced at the grand finale on Saturday March 14, 2020. Abubakar Ya’u from Augie Local Government Area of Kebbi received  N10 million, two new cars and two Hajj seats for catching the biggest fish weighing 78 kilogramme at the 2020 Argungu fishing festival. Ya’u’s catch was adjudged the best among the fishes caught by thousands of fishermen that participated in the annual cultural festival.

Bala Yahaya-Bagaye clinched the second position with his fish that weighed 75 kilogramme, while Maiwake Sani came third for catching a fish weighing 70 kilogramme.

How the  funds were raised. Chairman, Northern Governors Forum, Gov. Simon Lalong, donated N3 million to the first position, N2 million to the second position, while N1 million went to the fisherman that clinched the third position.

Hassan Bello, Executive Secretary, Nigeria Shippers Council, presented N1 million to the first position, N750,000 to the second position, and N500,000 to the third. Gov. Aminu Tambuwal donated N3 million, N2 million and N1 million to the first, second and third positions respectively, and a Hajj seat for the third position.

West African Cotton Company Limited (WACOT) donated a new car, N1 million and Hajj seat to first position, while Zainab Bagudu, wife of Kebbi State Governor, also donated a brand new car to him.

Maltina donated tricycle and motorcycles for the second and third prize winners respectively.

 Kebbi State Governor Atiku Buguda

Kebbi State Governor Atiku Buguda is also a lucky winner of AFF 2020. He exuded a passion to excel in agriculture and tourism.  The first time visitor was praising Bagudu saying that he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Kebbi State capital, Birnin Kebbi. ” Everywhere is clean and peaceful”, he noted.

Birnin Kebbi, a less known town, is a pleasant surprise. Wife of the Governor, Dr. Zanaib Atiku Buguda and her team prepared well and they did a good job of ensuring visitors follow the World Health Organisation (WHO) measures in the face of the health challenge, COVID-19. Their people were on ground to give out hand sanitiser to visitors.

Mrs. Buguda also played host to journalists on the press trip. She used the opportunity to enlighten newsmen on her pet project aimed at reaching out to women with breast cancer and other health needs.

Human impact on the environment

It’s not about winners. Sadly, Argungu and its habitats were not spared during this AFF 2020. For over 11 years the animals in their natural habitat in Argungu river may have had respite. Suddenly, over 30,000 fishermen came against them at once in their bid to win mouth-watering prizes. A lot of them were caught and some were helpless as they were showcased to humans on the set time. One lucky catch was returned to the river thanks to Kebbi State Governor  Abubakar Atiku Bagudu’s  magnanimity. The  huge fish, a manatee was caught during the festival in Kebbi,  escaped being killed. Bagudu  ordered that the huge  fish be returned to its natural habitat. He knew the endangered species are worth saving.

 

What They Said

The event was well attended. Dignitaries at the occasion included Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, Minister of Police Affairs, Maigari Dangyade, leader of the Senate, Yahaya Abdullahi, and Kabiru Gaya.Also in attendance were Gov. Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Gov. Sani Bello of Niger State and Gov. Simon Lalong of Plateau State.

Others at the event included  the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi, the Emir of Gwandu, Muhammad Bashir, the Emir of Gombe, Abubakar Abubakar III and  King Alfred Diete-Spiff from Bayelsa.

The Special Guest of Honour and the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, said the festival was a demonstration of Nigeria’s rich culture. “When I looked at the fishing pond, I said ‘oh God we are blessed’; what we only need is for us to harness the resources that we are endowed with in this country. The history of the festival is long, dating back to 1934. I learned that the celebration could not hold for over 10 years due to insecurity. We have to thank God for making it possible and commend our armed forces for their efforts to secure of our nation.

“We will not get tired of making sure that you have a good working environment. This is an international event that drew people from neigbouring countries; this is a bond that must be sustained, ” he also said. Lawan lamented the number of out-of-school children, especially in Northern Nigeria, and called for proper action to reduce the menace.

While congratulating the winners, the Senate President urged those who did not win not to be discouraged, urging them to redouble efforts for a more competitive challenge in subsequent years.

On his part, Gov. Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State described the event as “historic and worthy of celebration” by people of the state and beyond.

“It is a celebration of historic people; we must celebrate what unites us more than what divides us. Today, we are happy to host many dignitaries who converged here to celebrate with us.

It is a celebration of equitable competition where fishermen come from all over, both from within and outside Nigeria. This certainly is a symbol of unity. This is a challenge for all of us as Nigerians.

“As people of Kebbi, we are very proud to have you here and we pray Almighty God will take each one of you back home safely,” he said.

The Emir of Argungu, Sama’la Mera, appreciated President Muhammadu Buhari for paving way for relative peace that culminated into organising the fishing festival.

He also appreciated the state governor and all others who contributed towards ensuring the success of the event, especially the Senate President, Ahmed Lawal, the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, GSM operators and others sponsors.

“We have been waiting for this event for the past 10 years. We are grateful to Almighty God for making it possible for us to witness the 60th event.”

Lai Mohammed also praised the Argungu unique culture.I’ve travelled far and wide and have never seen anything diversified as the Argungu Festival. In terms of culture, entertainment, I’ve never witnessed this kind of festival. We must not look at this festival from the viewpoint of entertainment, what we’ve witnessed since three days ago is culture, sport

“I’ve travelled far and wide and have never seen anything diversified as the Argungu Festival. In terms of culture, entertainment, I’ve never witnessed this kind of festival. We must not look at this festival from the viewpoint of entertainment, what we’ve witnessed since three days ago is culture, sport, agriculture and technology. “The archery, the traditional boxing, the traditional wrestling, the swimming all come under sports, the agricultural exhibition, the fishing also agriculture; while the water motorcycle is science and technology”.

Contact us: just_tours@yahoo.com

 

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