Before the advent of Calabar Carnival Festival, we only heard of carnival-Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Notting Hill in London, UK, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, USA, Santa Cruz de Tenerife carnival in Spain, Binche Carnival in Belgium and Carnevale di Venezia, Venice, Italy. Other much talked about carnivals were the Oruro Carnival in Bolivia, Viareggio Carnival in Italy, the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival in Trinidad, Torello Carnival in Spain, Las Pamas de Gran Canaria Carnival- Gran Canaria and the rest of them. In the last 13 years, the awesome Calabar Carnival has spiced up celebration of culture and tourism in Nigeria and indeed the African continent; and it has in the last years occupied a place on the world map.
Certainly not oblivious of the importance of the carnival, Governor Ayade, since becoming the chief executive of the state took it upon himself to take the Calabar carnival to another level. And in just two years, it is no longer news that the digital governor has transformed the Calabar carnival into a world class event and is now rubbing shoulders with other similar events that have been there for ages. Apparently obsessed with innovations, Ayade has vowed that his administration would continue to introduce new ideas to make the annual event more attractive.
In order to give the carnival a new identity, Governor Ayade rebranded it to the Carnival Calabar and Festival, thereby according it the status of African Festival of Arts and Culture. According to the governor, the rebranding was aimed at giving the event a continental perspective as several African countries have indicated interest to be part of it.
With the latest innovations introduced into the carnival by Governor Ayade, the Carnival, which will enter its 14th edition this year and would be a month-long festival in December, has been expanded from a hitherto a few activities by injecting more offerings thereby giving it the international colourations.
One of the colourful additions to the carnival brought by Ayade is the introduction of bikes. In the 2016 carnival, at least over 500 power-bike riders, led by Governor Ayade himself accompanied by the initiator of the carnival, former Governor Donald Duke, stormed the city in a kaleidoscopic style to the admiration of participants, holiday makers, residents and spectators. Similarly, the Governor introduced actual partying and dancing to the rhythm of the latest music blaring from powerful loudspeakers, which are mounted all the major roads where the carnival train passes as well as power-bike display, with the theme, Climate Change, deliberately coined to illustrate the importance the state government attaches to it. It was such an awesome parade seeing Governor Ayade and his wife, Linda, and former Governor Duke and his wife Onari, rode round the major roads in style on their unique power-bikes to the admiration of onlookers.
Apparently impressed with his introduction of the bikes and their impact on the carnival, Governor Ayade had explained that “the power-bike riders were not only invited to add colour and value to the carnival, as well as further arouse the interest of fun seekers and tourists, their presence was also expected to boost the economy of the state”. He stressed that the presence of bikers’ associations in and outside the country, and several foreign cultural troops from Korea, Russia, China, Korea, Croatia, Turkey, Brazil during the carnival, was a clear indication that investors were more than ever to invest in the state.
Closely related to the bikes, is the introduction of Formula K car running, which is an advanced version of the popular Formula one racing. This is a massive addition to the carnival.
A man full of ideas, Governor Ayade constantly looking for ways to improve the quality of the carnival and indeed governance, also introduced the Governor’s Band- a non-competing band. According to the coordinator of the Governors Band, High Chief Edem Duke, “The Governor’s Band is the brand ambassador band for the Carnival. It is supposed to reflect its vibrancy, inclusiveness, glamour and boisterousness. It’s supposed to be the DNA of the Carnival Calabar in its entirety and reflective of Governor Ben Ayade’s vision of dreaming a new dream for the Carnival and the state in general.
“This informs the inspirational philosophy of the Governor’s Band which is Dare to Dream. Dare to Dream is the rallying call that whatever circumstances Cross Riverians find themselves in, they should always dream because if you can dream it, you can achieve it,” Duke said.
For this year’s carnival, the Governor’s Band has unfolded plans to add spice to the carnival by increasing the scope of its participation. The Governor’s Band is expected to be involved in the interpretation of every element of the theme of the Carnival which is ‘Migration’, with a substantial increase in the number of revelers. The membership of the Governor’s Band will be increased to accommodate participants including prominent stars from the entertainment world, business leaders, government functionaries and high net-worth individuals.
In fact, the governor deserves praise for deliberately encouraging local content into the carnival. It is no official that it is now a deliberate policy of the state government that the Cross River Garment and textiles industry will produce all the costumes for this year’s carnival.
Again, the governor has also graciously included the participation of some institutions of higher learning such as universities and polytechnics in the carnival. This is also given students and the education sector a sense of belonging in the whole exercise.
And talking about investment, the Governor has revealed that the carnival had attracted endorsement from investors cutting across all sectors of the economy. Some of these investors include the United Bank for Africa (UBA), Dangote Group, Lafarge Africa. These are companies that can transform the economy of the state. Of course, saying that the carnival had also provided useful income for residents, including traders, hoteliers, transporters, printers, food vendors, is just but stating the obvious.
The state commissioner for information, Mrs. Rosemary Archibong, has collaborated this as according to her, the carnival attracted good revenue to the state. According to the commissioner, because of the carnival, the number of hotel rooms in Calabar has increased from 2600 to 8000 within five years. “The state makes much money during the carnival. Our internally generated revenue increases in triple fold. Also, families, taxi drivers, hoteliers and residents make fortunes as the Carnival Village booms on a daily basis. Many families use the profits they made during the carnival to send their children back to school in January,” Mrs. Archibong said.
This year performance at the yearly festival tagged as “Africa’s Biggest Street Party” will include performance of carnival bands such as Seagull, Passion 4, Master Blaster, Bayside and Freedom Bands. The carnival is likely to include music performances from both national and international artist of which are the likes of Fat Joe, Young Jeezy, Nelly, Kirk Franklin, Tu face Idibia, P square, etc. The festival will usher in performances such as Fashion Show, Beauty pageant, Boat Regatta, Christmas Village, Traditional Dances and the Annual Ekpe masquerade festival. Also expected to feature in this year’s carnival are the U.S. Rapper, William Roberts II, popularly known as Rick Ross.
There is also the cultural carnival, which has promised to step up a level and will be highlighted by participation from a prominent traditional ruler in the country, while the International Carnival, another innovation by the governor, is expected to attract participation from at least 20 countries. There is no doubt that Ayade’s innovations have succeeded in making the Calabar Carnival a global brand that can compete favourably with any carnival in the world.