When you throw in 4 days of festivities, fishing and a grand prize in Kebbi State, you get the famous Argungu Festival. Rumour has it that it is the most widely attended and perhaps the oldest festival in Nigeria.
The festival began in 1934 to celebrate the end of years of feuding between the Kebbi Kingdom and the Sokoto Caliphate. When the Sultan of Sokoto Hassan Muazu was visiting, the Emir of Kebbi was pleased as it would be the first time a Fulani king would visit and sleep in the town of Argungu. Both tribes had been at war for years and so he decided it would be a grand idea to hold a fishing competition to entertain him. The annual four day festival is a time of joy, celebration and friendly rivalry between all fishermen who make their way down.
The festival features agriculture, craft exhibition, boxing/wrestling and on the last day, fishermen from all over West Africa flock down to River Matan Fada with their traditional tools such as nets, calabashes, gourds and whatever equipment they feel will help them and and start to compete to catch the largest fish. You might wonder why catching the largest fish is so important but it’s because $7,500 (N1.4m) was up for grabs to whoever was able to land this great feat; so it’s no surprise why it is popular.
The festival is usually held in February and it marks the beginning of the fishing season. The festival has had the presence of state governors, the former American secretary of state, a former Russian Ambassador to Nigeria, the consul general of Saudi Arabia, most Nigerian head of states/ presidents including Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who has a record attendance of 4 times.
Apart from its entertainment value, it has also helped to improve the socio-economic and infrastructural growth of the people of Kebbi and Sokoto State as the river is on the border. Both states are also recognized as tourist attractions both locally and internationally due to the festival.
Unfortunately the festival was cancelled in 2006 due to safety concerns because of low water levels and also of the potential religious unrest. However in the newspapers this week, it was said that plans are underway to bring it back as such a great festival cannot be let to just die.
It’s amazing to see that started out as a little show of kinsman-ship and brotherly love has today grown into one of the most beloved festivals in the country. Once its back, we will definitely be there to join in the festivities.