If you are wondering why the streets of Calabar bubble the most during the festive season, those who have been there will attest to enjoying the biggest street party in Africa.
For 31 days (starting from December 1 of every year), the entire city is a stage.
It woos dancers, choreographers, revellers, and discerning spectators on the streets to perform some specially curated dances, acrobatics and songs, amid colourful costumes for the opportunity to win prizes and for many, just for the fun of it.
Once again, the city witnessed a beehive of visitors and indigenes alike who thronged the streets for Carnival Calabar, a 31-day fun-pack event that ended a few days ago.
The 2023 edition was truly a spectacle to behold as it lived up to its theme, ‘Season of Sweetness’.
It was ‘sweetness’ all across the one-month-long event, and the first for Bassey Otu, as the governor of Cross River State, who in his earlier meeting with stakeholders at Wheatbaker Hotel Ikoyi, Lagos, late last year, assured on superlative performance and entertainment offerings.
From cultural fiesta, music concerts, beauty pageant, children carnival, bikers parade and other offerings, the 2023 Carnival Calabar lived up to expectations.
However, the highlight was the street carnival on December 28th, which was flagged off by top dignitaries led by Governor Otu at Millennium Park.
The flag-off allowed the seven competing bands to slug it out on a 12-km carnival route across the streets of Calabar, dancing and entertaining the cheering crowd, while also enjoying the fun they were creating.
The seven competing bands include; Passion 4, Seagull, Bayside, Calas Vegas, Diamond, Freedom and Master Blaster.
The colourful costumes, all made by indigenous designers, the well-decorated carnival floats, the dance, choreography and displays were a spectacle to behold.
While entertaining the cheering crowd, the bands had in mind that they were in a competition.
They went out of their way to create works in line with the theme of the carnival, creatively interpreting the theme and bringing the intellectual aspect of the carnival to the fore.
The bands did so by stopping at every adjudication point on the carnival route to performance with the hope of impressing the judges to award them good points.
This they did for all four adjudication points, especially at the U.J. Esuene Stadium, the final adjudication point.
After over 13 hours, the carnival, which crossed into the early hours of the next day, December 29th, produced new winners and a record-breaking result for that matter.
Calas Vegas, one of the two new bands that joined in 2022, became an underdog, as well as the winner of the 2023 Carnival Calabar.
With its victory, the new band went home with N10 million out of the N55 million on offer for winners in the different categories of the carnival competition.
Moreover, the winning band is led by Edem Duke, a former Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, while Diamond, the other new band, is led by the immediate past Commissioner for Tourism in Cross River State.
Also, Passion 4 won the second place, while Seagull clinched the third Place.
As rightly observed by Ebele Enemchukwu, Mrs Tourism United Nations World 2015 – 2017 and the anchor of the 2023 Carnival Calabar celebrations, the older bands underestimated the two new bands added to the competition last year, despite the formidable resumè of their band leaders.
“The two bands, especially Calas Vegas, did their best in 2022, and improved on their performances last year to be able to win,” Enemchukwu said.
“The other bands had a 15-year headstart, but this ‘new kid on the block’ caught up and overtook them in their second year”.
For Edem Duke, leader of the Calas Vegas Carnival Band and a high chief in Calabar, it was all about hard work, sacrifice and commitment by the band members to be different that enabled them to win.
Earlier in the carnival, Akwa Ibom won the Cultural Carnival by Nigerian states, Ebonyi State emerged second, while Edo and Ondo states won the third place.
Odukpani won the Cross River State Local Government Area Cultural Carnival, Akpabuyo and Calabar South emerged second and third place winners respectively.
In the Children’s Carnival, now rechristened Junior Carnival, Passion 4 won the overall prize, while
Seagull and Calas Vegas came second and third respectively.
Meanwhile, Gabe Onah, chairman, Cross River State Carnival Commission, could not hold his joy as the carnival lived up to expectations, especially the Children’s Carnival, which returned after eight years hiatus.
He was also impressed that thousands watched the event on Holiday Channel on DSTV 198 and GoTV 49 to feel ‘Christmas in Calabar’ and ‘Season of Sweetness’.
But the most excited is Governor Otu, who lauded visitors, tourists and fun seekers for gracing Calabar with their presence and savouring the spectacle.
“This is one of our campaign promises that we are definitely going to bring carnival back and on a bigger platform. What you have seen is the tip of the iceberg because we are going to move it to the next level,” the governor promised.
So, watch out for a bigger show this year.