Its Christmas once again in Cross River and as usual, the state, especially Calabar, the capital city is wearing a new look. Clean streets, gaily dressed people, newly painted houses and well paved lawns. Carnival Calabar groove is on, writes ERNEST CHINWO
The joints and eateries are busy, with many new ones opening to take advantage of the sales of the season. The excitement is on and palpable. You can feel it as soon as you enter Calabar, the seat of the celebration. This is the mood of Calabar, the capital city of Cross River State. The State Government says its 32 days extravaganza of fun, sunshine and rest. Never mind that. The people do everything but rest. How can you rest in the midst of blaring music, exotic sites and kiosks beckoning with chilled drinks and choice chops. A period when every woman looks beautiful and every man prized. A period when the people forget their sorrows and reality will dawn after the festivities when people will have to beg for transport fares or trek to their offices; beg for food or return to their villages; avoid their landlords or reschedule their rents.
Who cares! It is Christmas time in Calabar and neither the people nor their government is ready to forget that. On Monday night November 30, Governor Liyel Imoke officially performed the Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the Millennium Park to signal the beginning of the Calabar Festival.
This year it was the Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Commission, Otunba Segun Runsewe that lit the tree at about 9.30pm. Runsewe said that the federal government is making a statement through the Calabar Festival that the nation has abundant tourism potentials.
He predicted that in the next two years, the impact of the Calabar Festival would be felt in the economy of both the state and the nation. â€œNo carnival in the world is as colourful and has the beauty of nature like the Calabar Festivalâ€, he said, adding that â€œIf you have a beautiful sitting room, you will not be afraid to invite your friends to come into the houseâ€.
Imoke said that was the beginning of 32 days of fun, laughter and enjoyment for all people of goodwill.Â He said that although the state faced many challenges this year, the State Government was poised to â€œdo what we know how to do bestâ€.
Â â€œToday begins the day we celebrate 32 days of festival of our culture, our heritage and our potentials; presenting to the world what we have to offer. We do not do tourism because we want to show off but to relate that to our economy, to create wealth for our peopleâ€, he said.
The Special Adviser to the Governor on Tourism Development, Mr. Gabe Onah also said there was need to celebrate the Festival because of its immense benefits to the people.Â â€œThe people of Cross River State have love and we share itâ€, he said. But the real activities of the festival started the next day, December 1, with the AIDS Walk to mark the World AIDS Day. It was the same Imoke that led a crowd of more than 5,000 people through a four-kilometre walk from the UJ Esuene Stadium through major roads to the State Cultural Centre Complex to commemorate the day and raise awareness about the HIV/AIDS scourge.
Â Imoke restated the stateâ€™s commitment to reduce the prevalent rate of HIV/AIDS from six to two percent by 2012.Â He said it was traditional to do the walk in support of the campaign against the dreaded disease, stressing that it was not just a walk but also the message attached to it, which is more important.
According to him, the walk was meant to create attention to the issue which has created a level of concern in the State as it has not seen the decline as expected as the campaign has to be stepped up even though Cross River is leading state in the fight against the scourge of the dreaded disease as there is more to be done in areas of creating attention, awareness and support in order to reduce prevalence of HIV/AIDS.
He disclosed that the state has evolved programmes targeted at those suffering from the ailment and it will continue with the message against the stigmatisation of AIDS victims, saying that the state must respond to those suffering from HIV/AIDS because they are part of the society and must be fully integrated.
Imoke emphasised that if the disease must be eradicated, the state must continue with the campaign as well as step it up, stating that government intends to undertake a blanket coverage across the state from Bakassi to Obanliku, through the Cross River Broadcasting Corporation (CRBC) because radio is a veritable medium to carry the message and advised that all advertorials on the station by partners will be free of charge.
Imoke advised that â€œas we end this year, keep close to the Almighty, we should continue to pray for those living with HIV/AIDSâ€ while calling on those in attendance to join him in shouting â€œCross River Says No to AIDSâ€. But Imoke recorded another first by commissioning the Calabar Suya Arcade in its effort to maintain the aesthetics and serenity of the city.
Imoke, who inaugurated the arcade while undertaking city walk to mark the World AIDS Day, said with the popular suya spots from Bogobiri and environs being moved to Slaughter Street, the congestion and filth identified in the area will be a thing of the past.
Imoke said the Suya arcade though an innovation in the country to boost the tourism potentials of the state, is located at a vicinity which was hitherto the place whereÂ the first abattoir was located in Calabar before being moved to Nasarawa, where the Calabar Free Trade Zone is situated and then to Bakoko, all in Calabar municipality.
Mr. Elegance Edim, executive secretary, Calabar Urban Development Authority, (CUDA) handed over the place to the governor for inaugurating, saying it is the first of its kind in the country in governmentâ€™s effort to maintain the cleanliness status of the state.
Edim disclosed that apart from the section where the suya is sold and roasted, there is provision for buyers to also sit and eat and that there is constant water supply in the arcade to keep it clean. The governor later inaugurated the Calabar Festival Village, which include some, shopping units at the cultural centre grounds.
With that done, it became fun unlimited as, on a daily basis, residents and visitors to the city are treated to an endless flow of music, food, culture and entertainment. There have been theatre performances featuring plays like Woe Unto Other Gods, Last Circumcision, The First Wife (Iya-Ile), Igwe Bu Ike, Mutanda among others.
Â Homegrown artistes like Fada Kane, Breeze, Nfaso, Dâ€™Adshas, Freewindz, Neola, Divine, Kosoboy and several others have had their chances to thrill the ever-growing audience.
Popular artistes including Ola Balogun & Iroko Group, King Feladey, KC Presh, Sunny Neji, Dede Mabiaku, Muma G, Shan George, Ras Kimono, African China, Blackky, Tuface, Stone Cold and others have also been on parade while gospel singers like Sammie Okposo, Cheville Franklyn, and Marvelous Odiete were not left out.
Comedians have also had a field day. AY, Gandoki, Helen Paul, Klint da Drunk, Monkals, Julius Agwu, I Go Die and many more have not stopped thrilling the people. But the Festival has not been only laughter and music. The 18 local government councils have also used the Festival to showcase their rich culture and natural endowments as each day is earmarked for one local government area to highlight its endowments.
However as the date for the star attractions of the festival; Carnival Calabar and the Carnival Calabar Beauty Pageant crowned, the state announced innovations to make the events even more colourful and attractive.
Special Adviser to Governor on Â Â Development, Mr. Gabe Onah, said the innovations included the admission of none competing bands for the Carnival, which holds on December 27, which has grown from 10 to 15 this year with religious bodies participating. He also said that for the first time, children will be adjudged during their carnival, which is slated for December 26, 2009 with prizes for the best performing bands.Â Â Â Â Â Â
He maintained that this yearâ€™s event which promises to be the best so far is meant to celebrate the stateâ€™s icons as well as its culture and heritage and pointed out that prizes will only be given to bands that give best interpretation to the carnival theme, â€œLand of Our Birth, Our People, Our Heritageâ€.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
He further disclosed that the Carnival Commission is also introducing a Durbar during the masquerade parade, which precedes the main carnival which is expected to hold on same day with the children carnival while masquerades from all over Nigeria and the 18 local government areas of the state are expected to participate.
On the main Carnival which is scheduled to hold on Sunday, December 27, the Special Adviser said that modalities have been put in place to ensure a hitch free carnival while arrangements have been made to alleviate possible hardship by road users that day, especially church goers, adding that the carnival which is part of Christmas Celebrations will not be used as a tool to mar any other person or group who will be celebrating the same event that day.
In the meantime, the five official bands; Passion 4, Bayside, Master Blaster, Seagulls and Freedom have intensified their rehearsals to ensure that they lift the prize money. They have also held three dry runs to perfect their acts in readiness for what the State Government refers to as â€œThe Biggest Street Party in Africaâ€.
From all indications, residents of Calabar Metropolis are catching their fun while the hospitality business is thriving in the city. The people are out for fun and not even the recent ban on commercial motorcycles, the popular mode of transportation in the city can dampen their spirit.