Who could ever believe that a carnival that is not held in Johannesburg, Nairobi, Lagos, Cairo or Accra could become the continent’s biggest street party with unimaginable international participation? Nine years ago, a good looking governor had vision; he wanted to make his state the hub for tourism and hospitality in Nigeria and in Africa. Today, the consensus is that he has been able to achieve it. His name is Donald Duke.
During his two terms as the governor of Cross River state, Nigeria in West Africa, he made tourism his goal by piloting the $400 million TINAPA Resort project, Obudu International Mountain Race and the Calabar Carnival which has grown to be Africa’s biggest street party.The festival kicks off on December 1st of every year and runs throughout the month. It is designed around cultural mosaic of Nigeria, West Africa and entertains Africa and the rest of the world. Osima-Dokubo is a member of the organizing committee says the goal of the organizers of the carnival every year is to include “more aspects of local heritage and culture and at the same time strengthen the capacity of the locals to participate in an economically beneficial way.”
Throughout the month of December, various events are organized by the organizers. They include contests among the various carnival bands which include Seagull, Passion 4, Masta Blasta, Bayside and Freedom. Last year’s competition was won by the Masta Blasta band. It also features live stage performances by local and international artistes. The list of past performers includes Wyclef Jean, Akon, Don Moen, Lucky Dube, Fat Joe, Kirk Franklin, Young Jeezy, Nelly and several others across various genres.More activities such as a boat regatta, Christmas Village, traditional dances, Ekpe Festival attract tourists from various locations on the planet to the city.
Beautiful ladies also battle for the prestigious Carnival Calabar Queen Beauty Pageant.“This is a charity event organized by the Cross River State Carnival Commission in collaboration with MACA (Mothers against Child Abandonment) whose primary objective is to preserve the lives of vulnerable mothers and children. MACA has as shelter called the Refuge which is a home for pregnant teenage girls at risk. It was initiated by the wife of the Governor of Cross River State, Nigeria, Mrs. Obioma Liyel-Imoke, who is passionate about the plight of these vulnerable people and believes that every unborn child has a right to live,” says the organizers. Their goal is to encourage and educate young women to uphold the virtue of abstinence from pre-marital sex and preserving the sanctity of womanhood. “The queen is a role model for budding young women faced with the daily pressures of society and their peers. All proceeds from the Grand Finale Dinner go to support the refuges, the upkeep of vulnerable girls and the rescue of abandoned babies.”Organizers have also incorporated several other activities that contribute positively to the society into the Carnival Calabar; one of such is the Essay and Short Story Writing Competition sponsored by Golden Penny, a pasta brand and subsidiary of Dangote group of companies owned by Aliko Dangote, the richest black man on the planet.
The competition is in various categories for tertiary institutions and secondary schools. Many who have participated in the carnival see it as a great promotion for tourism in Africa and provides various forms of relaxation for participants.“We work from January till December; we barely rest. But attending the carnival with my family gives us the relaxation we so much need,” says Mr. Akande Akinola.“I travel every year with my family and many of my friends are doing the same. It is good for the kids because they get to learn more about Africa.”The economic gain for the host city is impressive. During the period, hotels are overbooked by tourists, relaxation centers are full and commercial activities are on the increase.
“December period is the best business season here in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria, West Africa. Many traders come from distant and nearby West African cities to make money. We are happy that for almost ten years the carnival is growing and more people are coming to participate,” says Funmi Aihmaku who sells memorabilia in Calabar during the festival.While unveiling this year’s carnival, Liyel Imoke, governor of Cross River state said the carnival is now an exportable brand.“Carnival Calabar can be identified internationally and exported around the world. It has become a brand that everyone has identified because it is about the people, so with or without government behind it, it has become an international brand.”
“After Nollywood, Carnival Calabar is the highest brand in Africa and it is unique because unlike others, it is designed, programmed and costumed through passion and creativity.”The theme of this year’s carnival is ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us’. It would cover a total of 12 kilometers and the various bands would be joined by a band from Brazil according to Karen Sauza, representative of OCIC and sponsor of the Brazilian Samba team of 2014 Carnival Calabar.