Calabar Carnival: The Glamour, the Arguments

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Although the 2017 edition of the Carnival Calabar and Festivals may have come and gone, fun lovers and millions of tourists who thronged the ancient city would, no doubt, continue to savour the memorable experience.

The carnival, which has grown in leaps and bounds since 2004 particularly with the introduction of new attractions by the Gov Ben Ayade-led administration, is the brain-child of former governor Donald Duke who elevated Cross River to a tourist destination with upgrade of facilities at the Obudu Ranch resort and other tourist sites across the State. 

The Glamour

Investigations revealed that more than 20 countries, including Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, Greece, Brazil, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, took part in 2017 edition of the event. Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State led more than 26 States to the 2017 fiesta.

The carnival village at the Calabar municipality field, the eleven-eleven roundabout and the UJ Esuene stadium are always where to be at this period. This was in addition to the main carnival through the 12 km route.

The 2017 edition witnessed high class performance from both international and local artists. Tuface Idibia, MC Galaxy, Naeto C, Sunny Neji, Big daddy, comedian MC George and other notable artists thrilled the audience at the U.J Esuene stadium on December 22 and 23. The entire visiting troupes also performed to the admiration of spectators.

Troupes from Mexico, United States of America, Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia, India and  Croatia, amongst others, displayed inspired dances which earned a sustained applause from the audience.

Kenya’s performance saw them climb a pole with unbelievable skills leaving the audience in disbelief and fear of a catastrophe, while South Africans nude maidens danced acrobatically with indescribable energy, holding the audience spellbound. It was breathtaking and thrilling.

The Benefits

Apart from the glamour which normally goes with the carnival, the 32-day long festivities have inevitably become a gift to hotel owners, food vendors, artisans, cab drivers and many other service providers. Findings indicated that there is no hotel in Calabar which is not fully booked months before the December carnival. Eateries and even sachet water hawkers appropriate the opportunity to the maximum.

In a chat, the Chairman of Cross River State Carnival Commission, Gabe Onah, told our reporter that with the level of acceptability and progress the Carnival Calabar was making each year, the annual fiesta, would become one hundred percent private sector funded by 2020.

“The Carnival Calabar is making incredible progress each year since we started thirteen years ago as many countries, private and cooperate organisations are joining in the celebration each year. The carnival Calabar and festivals are becoming money spinner to our grassroots businessmen,” he stated.

New Side Attractions

The introduction of power bike parade, the Utomo Obong and the Miss Africa beauty pageant in the last two edition of the event seems to have taken the festivities to its zenith. During the bikers parade which was led by Gov Ayade himself and former governor Donald Duke and their spouses, spectators watched in utter disbelief acrobatic display by more than 250 state-of-the-art exotic power bikes and vintage cars as if they were watching movies.

Ayade, explaining the wisdom behind the parade, said it was an economic model to connect the wealthy in the society with the young people, and added “if you look at the audience in the carnival, it has undergone dramatic change in the last 10 years-from the elderly to the middle age, now to the young people and if you don’t change the content of the carnival to reflect the enthusiasm and the adrenaline pumping nature of the young people, you will be boring to them.”

2017 Miss Africa beauty pageant was another attraction as beauty queens from 26 African countries took part in a keenly contested event, which had the theme ‘Climate Change and Migration.’ While Angolan beauty idol, Miss Neurite Mendes, took the crown last year, Miss Gaseangwe Balopi of Botswana emerged winner of the 2017 edition, and carted home star prize of $35,000 and a Ford Edge Sport Utility Vehicle.

Governor Ayade had posited that the theme of the event was chosen to create awareness on the need to protect the environment and caution youths against illegal migration, and that the beauty queen was expected to use her beauty to create awareness on the need for Africans to see themselves as one.

The Boat Regatta and Utomo Obong Cultural Festival

Another new side attraction was the boat regatta introduced by the Calabar-based administration as prelude to the Utomo Obong cultural festival at Adiabo, the country home of Obong of Calabar in which the Efiks normally used to pay customary homage to their king, the Obong of Calabar, His Eminence Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi-Otu V.

The colourful regatta which took part at the beautiful Marina resort by the Calabar river, saw 12 Efik clans slugging it out and at the end, Enwang clan emerged a winner and went home with N500,000. Itu and Eki clans were runners-up and were given N350,000 and 250,000 respectively.

The Calabar Monarch, in his remarks during the event, commended the Governor for adding value to the annual Utomo Obong with the regatta, saying Calabar has indeed become a destination for all Nigerians to come, live and be at rest. He challenged youths to eschew gangsterism cultism, kidnapping and all other vices so that they could fulfil their destiny.

The Utomo Obong event, which came up two days after the regatta, was also very colourful as 12 clans of the Efiks, dressed in their traditional attires, stormed Adiabo to pay homage. The Obong also used the opportunity to call for unity and increased support for Gov Ben Ayade’s administration.

The Carnival Proper

The universally acclaimed carnival, which took place on Thursday, December 28, witnessed unprecedented mammoth crowd along the 12 km carnival route particularly at adjudication points. Apart from participation of many non-competing bands from across the world, five competing bands – the Passion 4 Band, Freedom Band, Bayside Band, the Masta Blasta and the Seagul bands slugged it out.

At the end, it was the Passion 4 Band which emerged as winners of the 2017 Carnival Calabar while the Freedom Band and Bayside Band came second and third respectively.

The Arguments

Despite the euphoria and applause which greeted the event, the 2017 Carnival has been viewed by critics as a misplaced priority as they questioned the wisdom in spending an alleged billions of Naira on an event which had no direct benefit to government and greater percentage of the residents.

Onabe Edward, a social commentator, in his argument asked rhetorically; “assuming just N3billion was given as business grant to business owners in the state, can the aftermath glory be compared to this fanfare?”

He also found fault with the costumes which he said made female band members appear half naked against the customs and tradition of the Calabar people. He said “the idea of continuous display of nudity must be scraped and replaced with intellectual initiatives.. Without the show of nudity, the tourism potentials of Cross River State can match and possibly exceed that of any nation on the earth.”

This was also corroborated by many clergy men who spoke to our reporter, including Bishop Tunde Adeleye, the Anglican Bishop of Calabar Dioceses. The Bishop opined that it is not advisable for women to parade themselves naked, saying such scenario invokes curses on the land.

Some other respondents regretted that despite committing huge resources to play host to 26 contestants with their aides, no Nigerian emerged even as a runner up in the beauty contest and could not win a dime.

The State government also received bashing for allegedly organizing the event poorly. The carnival, which started in the late hours of Thursday and ran into the early hours of Friday, could not be covered by the television network, the DSTV appropriately due to lighting challenges at different adjudication points.

The flag off for the carnival was billed for 10 am on Thursday at the millennium park but was delayed till 4.30pm while spectators, who had gathered along the 12 km route, waited under the hot sun impatiently. Some of them elected to retire to their hotels in order to watch the fiesta through the DSTV but were disappointed.

The cherished plan of the five bands mustering at different adjudication points along the 12 kilometres Carnival route for everybody to see at least three performing bands within four hours was jettisoned with an announcement that all the bands should muster at 11-11 roundabout.

This plan slowed down the bands’ performance as the first non-competing band, the Governor’s Band, arrived at the UJ Esuene stadium late on Thursday night while the last band, the Passion 4, performed there at about 5 am of Friday, thereby causing untold exhaustion to revellers. Many of the spectators had also left the stadium before the last tthree bands could perform. Analysts believe such scenario was not auguring well for the future of the event.

A resident, Pamela Braide, who took to her Facebook timeline to vent her frustration that night, said “the Ayade administration needs to review the mess it is making of our hard earned carnival and even festival in general. How can carnival start at 5pm? Tired troupes are giving a lacklustre edition of what used to be the most electrifying part of the night.

“Attention was focused on placing useless speakers on parts of Marian (road) instead of (placing) lighting for DSTV and others covering it. So coverage halted until they got to the stadium. (It was)too dark. We have lost viewing content.

“No one could stand up and say we must start procession in daylight…No one could explain that the carnival date is gazetted for 27th December and appears thus in international carnival calendars. Why shift the dates without rhyme or reason? People actually travelled down expecting it to be 27th…

“No one (should) toys with the sort of structure, capacity and attention we have built with our December events… It’s not too late to turn this around. This is not a good look. (work)”

But others disagree. Speaking, member representing Bakassi in the Cross River State House of Assembly, Rt Hon Ekpo Ekpo Bassey Calabar South, lauded efforts of Cross River state government at sustaining the event, saying the carnival was uniting Nigerians.

The lawmaker said “apart from the carnival uniting us, it is a laudable vision as all Nigerians from all walks of life look unto the carnival to release accumulated yearly stress of life, I commend the State government for sustaining the carnival and even going ahead to add new activities.”

He also commended the State government for introducing other side attractions to the carnival especially the Utomo Obong into State tourism calendar, and added “with this the Efik cultural heritage and tradition have been recognised as unique.

It is believed that government would look into noticeable weak points with a view to improving on content of the carnival, seen as the largest street party in Africa.

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