By OLUKOYA IDRIS
In a bid to develop cultural tourism in Nigeria, some states of the Federation have embarked on organizing carnivals where they showcase aspects of Nigeria’s popular cultures and traditions through street performances.
Cross River, Rivers, Lagos State, and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, are at the forefront of this initiative. The carnivals organised by these states includes; Abuja Carnival, Lagos Street Carnival to mention but a few.
Calabar Carnival in Cross River State is probably more popular than the rest, judging from its organization, publicity, patronage, utilitarian thrust and artistic profile.
Its ripple effects on the indigenous culture are remarkable, particularly in cultural dances, arts, local craft and musical performances.
The thrust of the carnival appears to be utilitarian to a large extent, and this feature is unique. This is exemplified by the fact that every year, the carnival theme addresses a particular development issue within the society. The fact is that Calabar Carnival has been developed to become a medium through which societal shortcomings can be addressed.
Carnival is defined as a public celebration or a parade combining some elements of a circus, masks and public street party. It creates room for organization and expression of thoughts toward improving the unity of the society.
Calabar Carnival shares the burden as a theatrical form to find links and connections to all committed to the power of theatre in making a difference in the human life span.
It is in the mold of applied theatre which creates a practice that seek to debate vital issues and see those concerns transformed into new stories, and provide people with a means to work their way through difficult periods.
The acclaim of the carnival also arises from the nature and quality of artistic display and performances. The carnival, an assemblage of visual and performing arts, was displayed as costumes, make-up, dance, choreography, props, and carnival float on wheels, special effects and sound production.
Many of the presentations are products of complex creations usually put together by groups of artistic and technical personnel with the aim of depicting indigenous culture.
Calabar Carnival festival in Nigeria, also tagged: “Africa’s Biggest Street Party”, was created as part of the vision of making the Cross River in Nigeria, the number one tourist destination for Nigerians and tourists all over the world.
The carnival which normally begins on every Dec.1 and last till Dec.31 annually always boosted the cultural mosaic of Nigeria people while entertaining the millions of spectators within and outside the state, and boosting industry for all stakeholders.
The carnival has come a long way. It all started in 2004, when the then governor of Cross River, Mr Donald Duke, had a vision of making his state the hub for tourism and hospitality in Nigeria and in Africa.
It presents a perfect platform from brand visibility for consumers and market awareness. The carnival aimed 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. In recent times , Calabar, the capital of Cross River has become the pride of Nigeria or Africa as far as tourism, carnivals and hospitality is concerned.
The 2017 Carnival Calabar with the theme, “Migration” received a boost as the five bands who participated went away with a whopping N100 million each, compared to the previous N50 million as preparation fee.
Mr. Eric Anderson, the Commissioner for Tourism, Cross River, said the money goes a long way to ensure that adequate preparations were made by the various bands and to participate in other activities outside the Calabar Carnival.
The five traditional bands that benefited from this largesse are; Freedom, Master Blaster, Bayside, Seagull Band and Passion 4.
These bands also competed in other activities including the street party, which usually takes place ahead of the carnival proper.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has said that the Calabar Carnival is a platform for the youth to demonstrate their creative ability, and a practical demonstration of the nation’s drive to turn the creative industry into a viable creative economy.
Mohammed; represented by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Mrs Grace Isu-Gekpe, disclosed this at the flag-off of the final dry run of the Calabar Carnival in Calabar, Cross River State.
The Minister pledged to help turn the event into a major global attraction. “I make bold to say that what is happening here today will reverberate throughout the world as we shall leverage on the power of information and technology to bring this event to the notice of the entire world.
“There is no substitute for preparation and that is why this dry run is very important,” he said.
Mohammed said the Calabar Carnival has grown into a major unifying factor in Nigeria because it serves as a rallying point for people all over the country.
He said the Calabar Carnival is now a platform for the youth to demonstrate their creative ability, and a practical demonstration of the nation’s drive to turn the creative industry into a viable creative economy.
“I want to take this opportunity to appeal to the world to see this street party beyond dancing and beyond the costumes. Let’s see this Calabar Carnival for what it really is, which is a platform for our youths to vent out their creativity and a platform to turn our creative industry into a veritable creative economy,” the Minister said.
According to him, the Calabar Carnival is the biggest street party in Africa with many unique selling points, and being the longest carnival route in the world covering a 12-kilometre route.
The Federal Government says it will make the annual Calabar Carnival a major foreign exchange earner for Nigeria having united the people over the years and had attracted wider participation.
He said that it was time for people to start seeing the carnival beyond entertainment but see the seriousness and the message it conveys. “We are pushing the Calabar Carnival to be a major foreign exchange earner for the country.
”We have here today 26 beauty queens from 26 African countries who are contesting for the 2017 Miss Africa pageant. That is a big statement because each of these young ladies is going to spend two weeks here and will go back to their countries as our own ambassadors.
“They will tell the story of what they have seen and the hospitality of Cross River and that is a big plus for the state and the country. What is happening here today is reverberating throughout the world because this dry run is unique in the sense that it gives the organisers and participants the opportunity to perfect their act.
“I also want to take this opportunity to appeal to the world to see this street party beyond dancing and beyond the costumes’’, he said.
“I am delighted to know that everything being used in the carnival is manufactured locally by Nigerians. Calabar carnival does not only create an economy, but also unites the whole of Nigeria because it has enlightened the people of Nigeria and the world about Climate Change and Migration’’, he said.
Also, the Chairman of the Carnival Commission, Mr Gabe Onah, says this is the first time that a Minister will attend the dry run of the Calabar Carnival.
He commended Alhaji Mohammed for his uncommon support for the carnival, having earlier sent the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Mrs Grace Gekpe, to flag-off the second dry run last November.
The Calabar Carnival dry run is marked by dances, processions and displays by various groups across the major streets of Calabar.
According to Gov. Ben Ayade of Cross River, this year’s Carnival Calabar with the theme: “Migration’’, will tell a very powerful story about Africa and ultimately end the menace migration had brought to Africa.
He said: “We are gathered here to tell the African story ourselves and we have to put an end to migration. We are calling on the entire world gathered here to celebrate with us that Africa is so blessed and rich. Why should Africans go through such perilous routes and then end up being used as slaves and sub-humans in Libya and other parts of the world, just because they are looking for greener pastures? We must put an end to that.
“Today, our young men taking risks and pass through perilous routes to seek greener pastures in Europe and America. This year’s carnival is to tell everybody that Africa is the richest continent and the future belongs to her. Africa is so blessed and there is no reason for the young men in Africa to struggle to leave the continent. We have to tell the story that the best place you can ever be is in Africa.
“The festival is not just about dancing and celebrations but telling a very powerful story that ends in hope. Today, we are going to tell the story in the form of a dance procession and tell the story of migration which is the problem of Africa. America and Europe are the past today and Africa is the future. The future is Africa because it is the last continent to be discovered”, the governor said.
This year’s carnival procession has five competing bands and other non-competing bands that include a 1,500-man delegation from Imo State led by the deputy speaker of the state house of assembly.
The delegation is participating as part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which was recently signed between the governments of Cross River and Imo State.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that no fewer than two million visitors, tourists and revelers attended the 2017 edition of the Carnival Calabar. Seventy –five per cent of the tourists were youths below the age of 35 years.
NAN also reports that all the hotels operators across the state smiled to their banks from proceeds realized from visitors and guests who lodged , eateries enjoyed huge patronages, while tourists centres, tour operators, airlines, tour guards, travel agencies, small scale business owners, exhibitors, commercial cab drivers and tourists site were beneficiaries of the Carnival.
NAN also reports that eighteen countries that includes : Brazil, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, U.S.A, Mexico, Italy, Ukraine, Senegal, Switzerland participated at the 2017 edition.
Brazil emerged the overall winner of the cultural display by the countries; South Africa came second while Ghana came third position.
At the local level, five local bands participated; Passion 4 came first, Freedom came second while Seagull came third.