Royal Visit
By Roberto Lopez and Bassey Okon

Decades from now, Karu citizens will still want to share stories about what happened on Thursday, December 4th, 2003. These stories will be shared over meals with out-of-town guests and during family gatherings with grandchildren. Karuans will tell stories of how hard the community worked to refurbish the Karu Local Secretariat. Had it ever looked so good? They will say there were seemingly endless lines of children dressed in bright pink school uniforms, all waving along the roadside to greet her. And about the community Cultural Celebration, they will say that it was one to remember. They will say they danced and sang, and that everyone on that day was proud to be a Nigerian. The images of that day will last for lifetimes.

And who was the focus of this excitement? None other than Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II!

In recognition of the cultural diversity of Nasarawa State and Karu Local Government, the Nasarawa State Government and Academic Associates PeaceWorks (AAPW) organized a cultural celebration at the Karu Local Government Secretariat and the Esu Karu’s Palace. This community event was attended by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II during her official state visit to Nigeria as part of the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Abuja. During her visit to Karu, the Queen also launched the BBC radio drama, Voices, which is sponsored by the Department for International Development (DfID) of the U.K. The Executive Governor of Nasarawa State, Alh. Abdullahi Adamu, was the host of the occasion, which had fellow governors, principal officers of the National Assembly, members of the diplomatic corps, traditional rulers, and other dignitaries as distinguished guests.

Based on the success of the Karu Unity Festival in January 2003, Karu was selected as the Queen’s only opportunity to see “real Nigeria”. The site of this event was carefully selected to highlight the unique diversity of cultures present in Karu Local Government and Nasarawa State in general. Karu Local Government is a mini-Nigeria, with virtually all of the Nigerian ethnic groups present. Nasarawa State is also a meeting point of various groups from north, south, east and west, being one of the states most centrally located in the heart of the country. With events such as the Unity Festival and this Cultural Celebration, Governor Adamu has taken a proactive approach to encouraging peaceful coexistence of people of diverse backgrounds in Karu.

On the day of the Karu Cultural Celebration and the Queen’s visit, we realized how much we had learned by organizing the previous Karu Unity Festival. Organizing our share of duties for the event between members of AAPW and its creative arm, PeaceWorks Productions, was effective and efficient. We were able to capitalize on our relationships with many of the cultural troupes and quickly direct and choreograph their performances. In the Secretariat, AAPW organized professional cultural dance troupes to perform for the visiting dignitaries and to give Her Majesty a proper welcome to Karu. In order to adequately and fairly represent the diversity of Nasarawa, Governor Adamu invited cultural troupes from every local government in the state to perform at the Esu’s Palace for a public community festival and a final show of unity. Constructed by Voices, a temporary market display was also toured by the Queen, and the Voices project was launched. From the smile on her face throughout her visit, we could all tell Her Majesty enjoyed Karu.

The Queen’s visit to Karu received national and international press. There were some misperceptions created by the BBC press release which referred to the site of the Queen’s visit as a permanent sound stage for their Voices project. In reality the site was the Karu Local Government Secretariat where an artificial marketplace had been purposely built for the launch of the Voices workshop. This discrepancy was noted by numerous members of the international press. Despite these shortcomings, the Queen’s visit did provide positive press for Karu and Nasarawa State Also although the set was dismantled the day following the visit, we are still enjoying the fresh paint and paved road which were by-products of the event.

To the citizens of Karu, they were just thrilled to catch a glimpse of their famous visitor. The images of this historic occasion will surely last lifetimes. Hopefully in the future, Karuans will look back on the occasion and remember to continue celebrating their diversity.

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