In 2013, Prince Edwin Ochai founded and sponsored an event tagged Agila Social and Economic Carnival and became its president. The annual cultural festival has since morphed up to become known as Idoma National Carnival. Recently in Port Harcourt, Prince Ochai spoke to JAMES IBECHI and OGI JOHN on the journey of the carnival so far. He also unfolded the plan for this year edition of the festival, among other issues.
Looking at Agila Carnival how is the journey so far? How have the past editions been like?
To be honest, the journey has been so far so good and interesting. There have been a little bit of challenges here and there, but they are all parts of the day-to-day activities. You know every business or organization you start always has its own ups and downs. That’s notwithstanding, it has been an interesting journey so far.
Since you started the carnival, what do you think have been its achievements in Idomaland?
Unity. It has created unity among the Idoma race and this depends on how you see it. I believe that the carnival has a lot of angles to it. For example, the cultural angle, the beauty of the Idoma girl, and the richness of our culture, the food fest and the economic part of it. It has been all of those things and very interesting moments so far.
How will you describe the interest of your home people? How are they embracing this project?
When we started in 2013 a lot of persons really did not understood where we were coming from. Some viewed it as a political movement; some felt maybe ‘he wants to contest for one political post or the other.’ As the years went by they began to see that this is all about the Idoma culture, all about the economic empowerment of our people and the turnout of the last two years could actually show that yes, everybody back home had actually embraced the carnival and a lot of sensitization is still up and running to ensure that we have more persons and communities equally participate in it.
What is the preparation for the participation this year? How are you strategizing to get it done this year?
Before now, when you mentioned Agila Carnival, a lot of people found it difficult to understand. This year, we want to try and reach out to all the Idoma sons regardless of their political affiliations. We are reaching out to a lot of local government chairmen. We will try to reach out to the governor of the state. We are equally trying to reach out to the deputy governor of the state, who happens to be our own son as well. We are reaching out to all our House of Representatives members. We are reaching out to all our senators. It is all inclusive this year. We are trying to make it a bit richer. The elite club of Idoma people and the umbrella body of the Idoma people are fully on board this time around. They are partnering with us to ensure that it becomes a full Idoma entertainment, cultural and food fest.
What is the level of government interest in Agila Carnival project?
So far so good. The government is very much aware because every year the Arts and Culture ministry is always involved, helping us to ensure that necessary things from both registration and supervision; they are always there. Coming to the monetary aspect of it, maybe someday the government will eventually finance us, but as at the moment we are not getting any financial support from the government.
Let’s look at Calabar Carnival. The government is interested in it. Why do you think the government is not supporting you in Benue state? Is it that they don’t have money or what? Why are they not investing in the carnival?
Calabar Carnival started with a process and the process was actually started by the governor of the state. So it started from the top, they made that as part of their priority. Benue state was not as buoyant as most of these states and at the end of the day too am sure the governor of the state too had a lot of meat on the plate to bite. The entertainment industry or the cultural industry is something I will like them to look at and embrace it, to see how they can develop it, because it can actually turn out to be an employment cycle for our people. I am advising the governor today to please invest in that area, because it is an area that will open up our society, it could be an area that will create jobs, it will equally be an area that will employ the youths, taking them off the streets. Imagine every typical African person you see is very proud of what their culture is and wants to embrace it. I think maybe in due course the state government sees what we are doing and how we are packaging all of this someday. If the promise of the local government chairman is anything to go by, then I see a lot of changes in the entire process sometimes soon.
Do you think they will still misunderstand Agila carnival for any other political reason?
I think I have made my point very clear in the last five years that this has nothing to do with politics. You could be a politician but not a practicing politician. Am interested in who governs Benue state, who becomes my leader but to become a practicing politician is not my call and I have told everyone that cares to listen in the last five years that this has nothing to do with politics. It is all about our people, is all about the love for our people, it is all about our culture, it is what will bring development to Idoma and Zone C as a whole, it is what will bring development to Benue state. If this could be the only little thing I could do to empower the youths in our community and to empower the youth in the state and equally to create an environment for our people to showcase their talent and of course yes, this is my calling.
Any form of partnership or sponsorship at the moment?
Partnership as at the moment is still very much on the pipeline and we are talking to so many companies, so many telecoms, and individuals. But there is a company that I will not fail to mention. The company that produces Hero Lager Bear, they have been supportive since day one; that is in 2013. They have been with us when nobody believed in what we were doing. They stood by us providing key artistes to perform, giving us free drinks, giving us free logistics here and there. I will not finish this interview this evening without saying a big thank you to that company for their continuous support and I can tell you this year that they are still going to be fully on ground even bigger and better.
Can you actually say Idoma artistes – musical artistes, performers, actors, actresses and all have been supportive?
Apart from the upcoming artists, I can’t beat my chest to say any one has actually taken it upon themselves to say look am taking this head on as an artiste to partner with the organization to make this thing my own. I know Tuface from the beginning used to show up but I think he could do a lot more rather than just what we have now. I think if all of us could come together like what is happening in Calabar, Uyo, even in Rivers state here we could achieve much – they embrace it as their own and every one tries to contribute their little quota to ensure that it is a success. I will like to see that happen.
What is the plan or new thing that you are doing ahead of this year’s carnival?
If you watch carefully, Idoma race as at today was divided by political differences. We all watch football, I could be a fan of Arsenal, you could be a fan of Chelsea, you know the funny thing, they play the game and after the game they embrace each other and shake hands. I do not understand the reason why politicians cannot do the same thing? Why do we have to play politics and at the end of the day we are brothers and they will be fighting against each others, picking up guns and encouraging our youths to kill each other all in the name of politics? At the first instance, why do you want to become a leader? Who do you want to lead?
For me I think that the theme for this year would capture the heart of every one. Number one; it is all about our unity and when you unite what comes out of it is love, strength. So we want to preach more about our unity and our love and when we come together as a people then we can achieve more, because I cannot tell you that the success story of Agila Carnival depends on me alone, I cannot do it alone. It depends on lots of other persons who share the same vision with me, who buy into the vision and decide to drive it on no cost whatsoever, doing it voluntary, giving their time and energy without me paying a kobo. For me, seeing that alone makes me want to do more, because such a person encourages me. The theme for this year in Idoma is “Opiatoha K’Idoma – Ihotu Idoma,” meaning the coming together of Idoma people is the love of the Idoma people because if you are together you will love each other. The other angle to it is “Opiatoha k’Idoma of ech’Idoma,” which means the coming together of Idoma people is the strength of the Idoma people because if we are together we will have the strength to conquer anything and everything. You can’t build a house without foundation and what is our foundation? It is our people. So, ‘One People One Love’ is the theme for this year. We need to know that whatever we do whatever we are for example the mistake we all keep making; what will the society remember you about when you are no more? What will your children remember you about? This is my biggest concern. You can pile up money and fill this room where we are, you can own 20 houses, you can own 10 cars but you know what, how many of the rooms can you sleep in at the same time? How many cars can you drive at a time? How many chairs can you sit on in a car at once? If you think very deeply about this, you will come to realize that money is just a necessity. What I will achieve today is what you miss about me not the money. The difference between the poor man and the rich is privilege not because the poor man has one head and the rich man has two, no. The rich man has the privilege to have the money to be where he/she is while the poor man doesn’t have that kind of privilege. Privilege could be in different forms; maybe privilege to go to school, when you go to school and get a job and be where you are, or you are privileged to be at the right place at the right time and at the end of the day you make money. I think it is time for the elite to start thinking inward, empowering the youths in other for our society to get better.
What is new about this year’s carnival?
It is going to be relatively the same thing. Maybe we will do something differently. Maybe the packaging might be differently. We are still going to have the wrestling competition a bit better than what we have last year; we are still going to have football competition a bit better than last year. The good thing about it is that when you give birth to a child you expect that child to keep growing and that is what we are doing. We are still going to have the pageant but it is going to be a bit different from what we had last year. We are not going to reveal what we are doing in the pageant yet. For now we are still baking the ideas. The Idoma got talent; we are looking at key sponsors for that because it is deeper than we thought. We noticed that when we get the star the winner, it shouldn’t be all about the money, it should be what do we do with the person eventually, how successful can we say whoever becomes the winner will be. But I think the young ones that will be coming for this Idoma got talent are just all about winning the money and after they win the money they do not want to pursue career. I will love to see some like Makowi; he is the first Idoma got talent winner and we hope and pray that he gets better than who he is today. The others that came, we didn’t really see much out of them. So we will be designing it in such a way that at the end of the day that we should be able to tell the success story of that person. That is for Idoma got talent. For the road procession; I intend to see something colorful this year. We started with three bands, it went to five bands. Maybe this year we might actually go to six or seven bands. Like the conversation we are having with a lot of stakeholders as at today with the INF been part of it, the Otukpo Local Government Chairman, Hon. George Ali, has been part of Board of Trustees and setting up the zone team to partner with us, and he is our host. Everything we are doing is within his domain. As at today we recognise his impact. With all of these additional hands coming in to the entire organization I can guarantee you that we are going to be big, better this year.
We will go into politics briefly, but we would like you to shed more lights on the Agila Carnival. You did talk about the potential of Agila Carnival creating employment opportunities for the youths and as well helping to curb social vices. I also see the carnival having the potentials, to unite the Idoma as well as Benue people entirely. At what level do you crave that Agila carnival attains before this could be done?
To be honest, I want to believe that we are already beginning to see that. The reason why I say so is that there are certain groups of persons that before now they wouldn’t have anything to do with the carnival. Now for us to unite everybody because a lot of us see the name as a concern as one sectional carnival, why not the umbrella name in Idoma and we decided to do the adjustment. We made out the adjustment and it is up and running now and trying to get the documentations and everything done, we have spoken to over ten boards of trustees and they are all on board. We have gotten the blessings of the royal highnesses and we have gotten the blessings of the who-is-who in Idoma land and I can guarantee you that the issue of unity is already beginning to happen. Let me tell you how important this is; the issue of culture is something that a typical Idoma person, the typical Benue person beat their chest very closely. Now by the time you want to come out and watch your masquerade, you want to come out and watch the colorful dance of the youths, do you know at that point it is like someone who is watching football? You let go of your pain, you think less of who is who, you mix up with people and I can tell you that as a rich man, as a big man or whosoever you are, when you mix with the common man you actually know the pain or the happiness, the difficulties of that common man. That’s the rallying point I think our leader should seize the opportunity to either encourage the youths or either to make them understand the need for them to embrace what can become of their future. So the unifying factor is already up and running as far as I can see. But we will do a lot more as we progress, as the day goes by, as the carnival keeps growing. I pray every day that everything we do will not be politicized, because when you start politicizing issues like this you lose the key factor. I heard there is whole lot of other carnivals that is springing up left, right and centre and of course it is encouraging but automatically it begins to create another division that we do not need. What stops everybody from embracing the entire thing or coming together? It is the same thing we are actually creating, our culture is just one. Rather than we creating A and B we should bring everything under one umbrella and try to showcase what we have to the whole world. These are my only concerns; but I can tell you that in due course as the days go by am sure everybody will see the need for us to start working together as an entity and we will grow bigger than where we are.
Let’s go into politics briefly. You are a stakeholder in Benue state, we would like you to take a look at the performance of the present administration in the state. We all know that there was a change of government in 2015 and the people yerned for change, real change. Are the people enjoying that change that they voted in 2015?
Politics is one thing that I do everything to run away from because sometimes when you are trying to be sincere and honest people tend to misjudge you for what you have said. So, I try as hard as I can to stay away from it. It depends on where and how you are looking at it, like as I said the day I want to talk about politics I would talk about politics on a different cycle. For today I wouldn’t want to dable into that because today I am talking more about our culture. I want to bring us together as an entity, as families. The only thing I need to say is that one thing I have observed is that there is a lot of division in Benue state as a whole, in the Idoma race as a whole. It depends on who you are talking to. Some will tell you it was better before and when you meet some other person he will tell you, Oh! It is worse, another will tell you I have not received my salary for several months and some will tell you this is the best I have seen that there was lot of stealing before and now no more stealing. That is the reason why I said look today is not the day for me to talk about that. Maybe any other time you want to take me on politics, in political issues. I read political science; I am leaving it out because I just felt I would rather want to stay on the course.
You did a kind of project like Mark the Ball and I understand that it did not hold last year because some Idoma people truncated the activities. How do you react to that because you are trying to build a brand that is Idoma and then you have Mark doing the same thing: they are into entertainment that is another form, yours is a carnival and then you have the same set of Idoma people coming to make sure that the event do not hold and that event is supposed to be a unifying factor. Do you foresee this kind of things for Agila Carnival?
Any one that does that is an enemy of progress because who sees good thing and wants to destroy it? Anything that brings development home, that brings joy to the people, that makes people happy, forget their sorrow for that moment. As I am sitting down here I can give anything for joy and I am sure every normal human being except a sadist will do the same. I live my mind open like I told you before and I am still saying it that Agila carnival has now become Idoma International Carnival. It is not all about me. Agila carnival is beyond any one to stop right now, it is on auto drive as at today. So whether I am seated in as a president or not it is still going to be driven by somebody else. So anyone that is trying to stop it will be standing in front of a moving train. We are slow but we are steady, we are the first of its kind. It is single handedly done by an individual. If nothing else, me and my entire team can beat our chest and say yes if nothing else we have done well but we have this. When we started pageant in Benue they said they don’t give brand new cars, they don’t do this. When we started we were committed that we would do this but the biggest problem has always been discipline. A lot of young girls these days see pageant as an avenue to do the unthinkable. It is not all about you coming to sell your body or we are not trying to make you become our queen and then go from one place to the other, I don’t encourage that. But the moment we see that you are beginning to deviate we were very strict. You know face of Idoma pageant is not any other pageant, we are very strict. People might not like what we do but we are standing on our standard, our principle and our standard and principle is who we are.
Let us just imagine a December without Agila carnival, how will it look like to you and the people?
I will be sad because for me it is a period where the Idoma youths are going to meet up with me, party with them. I am going to put myself in their position and see what it feels to be young again. So I look forward to it. Otukpo without the carnival in December is like a town that just lost their king. That is how it will look like and I am sure nobody wants to be in such a situation. You talked about mark the ball, it is something that in Otukpo every young man and woman in Otukpo looks forward to. Last year they felt the absence, I hope this year they will have something bigger and better.
Finally, I will use this medium to urge everyone and everybody that being part of any political group doesn’t really matter, let everybody embrace Agila carnival. It has come to stay, it is a uniting point for every single one of us. We have heard your yearning, you ask us to make the change, we have done the needful, bring it on if you are a dancer, choreographer, you are an artist, you are a shoemaker, whatever you are that you want to showcase to the world this is the platform where you can come and showcase those things. If you know how to make hats, if you know how to make shoes, if you know how to make cloths come and tell us, bring it on there will be visitors from all over the place. And I want to equally hope and pray that the state government will actually come to be part of the entire organization. It is a blessing in disguise for Benue as a whole.