The exclusion of Mr. Gentle Sunkio Jack from the contingent that represented Rivers State at the just concluded National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) in Jos, Plateau State capital may have been responsible for the second spot finish of Team Rivers in the nation's inter-cultural contest.
The official result saw Bayelsa State emerging overall winners while Rivers and Ekiti won the second position with Plateau settling for the third position.
Kano and Enugu States emerged fourth position. Delta, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Kaduna States came fifth place.
The one-week cultural fiesta, which opened November 23, had 26 States of the Federation in attendance.
As expected, the fiesta lived to its billing with the lavish display of the diverse cultures and arts exhibitions. Like a galaxy of stars, all the participating States came and showcased their very best.
But one personality whose absence was glaringly noticed all through the one-week event was Mr. Gentle Sunkio Jack of Rivers State. A veteran of the National Festival of Arts and Culture, Jack is an all-time great, holden the record as 8-time NAFEST King, famous for winning the competitions back to back to back with his Team Rivers.
Records show that Jack led Team Rivers to win the maiden Abuja festival in 2005 and went on to win the 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 editions respectively.
"I was denied participation in 2010 and 2011 because of politics in the ministry. Someone felt I should let some other person lead the team. Sadly, Rivers never won in those two editions", he recalled.
Could Gentle Jack be possessing a magic wand without which Rivers would not win the NAFEST unless it is wielded?
That seemed a fact as NAFEST 2012 came knocking and officials of the Culture and Tourism Ministry went in search of Jack to lead Team Rivers to the 26th National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST 2012) in Ilorin, the capital city of Kwara State. As expected, Gentle Jack did not disappoint as Rivers State emerged champions!
“My name is Gentle Jack and I do not take issues of patriotism lightly. I feel I owe my state a duty to serve and not make excuses. Patriotic citizens don't look at what to get from the state but what to give to the state. It was on that premise that I accepted the invitation”, he said.
Again, Gentle Jack was kept in the limbo, not taken to NAFEST of 2013, 2014 and up to 2017. As it turned out, nothing came out of Rivers participation in those events.
But thanks to the inception of the administration of Governor Nyesom Wike who took the bull by the horn by hosting the 2018 edition of NAFEST.
“I was called upon to join the State contingent and I proudly accepted. To the glory of God, we gave a good account and emerged champions.
“Last year, 2019, almighty Edo hosted. I call them 'almighty' because Benin is the epicenter of culture and tradition in Nigeria. Virtually all ethnic cultures trace their roots to Benin, so you can understand what it means to contest against them culturally. But we went there defeated them and took the first position”, he said.
“My appeal to our Governor: Any good child deserves the blessing of his father. What I want you to do for me, Your Excellency, is to ask the question: Why is it that Rivers State always loses when Gentle Jack is not in the competition? What is it about Gentle Jack? They can't blame me for the loss of the competition. They didn't take me to Jos. My presence would have made a great difference”
But National Network sought to know why Gentle Sunkio Jack could not make it to Jos last week. A source from the State Ministry of Culture and Tourism, confirmed that Jack's name was in deed listed to feature in the 2020 NAFEST.
As at Saturday, November 21, 2020, he was still in Port Harcourt with the opening ceremony of the event billed for Monday, November 23, 2020.
“There was no connecting flight from Abuja to Jos on Sunday, November 22, 2020 but I told the ministry not to worry as I can always make it to Jos even on Monday, the day of the opening ceremony.
“Though being at the opening ceremony isn't much of an issue, It was no fault of mine to be absent. In the eighth previous competitions I had participated and won, I didn't necessarily participate at the opening ceremony. Action begins from Day Three.
“But I tried all I could to persuade the Ministry to sponsor my flight through Abuja to Jos on Monday. Flights from Abuja to Jos happens only once or twice a week. Not more than twice.
"I told the Hon Commissioner I could still travel on Monday having failed to make it earlier. But she told me I've been replaced with someone else", Jack narrated, responding to our reporter's inquiries.
A concerned citizen and avid admirer of the rich cultures of Rivers, Mr. Jerry Freeborn blamed the state Culture and Tourism Ministry for failing to heed to the old dictum that 'you don't change a winning team'.
According to him, “Nothing really starts where we think it does, and never does crown appear in a more gracious form than when presented to a kingly king.
“The elders of our land would say "A strong man is remembered on the day of the fight, and a gluttony on the day pounded yam is surplus." The Cultural bout between states in NAFEST isn't just any fight, it is a battle that calls upon the best from regions.
“As George Eliot would have it "A man's a man, But when you see a king, you see the work Of many thousand men. Rivers State behold your son who have always given you laurels. He is the work of many thousand men, respected and doted upon across continents. Why you abandoned him this year to play second fiddle is yet unknown, but would sure unfold. He who has drums doesn't beat his stomach says our adage. We must learn to put square pegs in square holes, irrespective of cost, the overall goal outweighs everything else”.
Efforts to reach the Hon. Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mrs. Tonye Oniyide for comments failed as her phone line could not connect despite repeated attempts.