• Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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Returning to Calabar after a very long time


This is the month of Cross River State. December is the month the state tries its hardest, through its annual carnival, to attract tourists into the state. It has succeeded in doing so for years now. In all the years that this has gone on, I had heard all sorts said about the activities that take place there. Tony, my friend from our days at the University of Nigeria, who now works with Guinness and used to have responsibility for his company’s ground participation at the carnival, used to regale me with stories about what you could liken to total hedonism that just runs and runs for the whole of 31 days. He used to ask me to come over, if only for a change of scene. But for some reasons, since I became lazy at travelling, I always like to look for any excuse to turn down requests to leave my comfort zone, especially when it involves long travels; and that’s at the price of “no matter how much hedonism is involved”. And boy (or girl), could I use some hedonism to calm ‘me’ nerves from the pressure cooker that is this journalism!

As I write this, the 2013 version of the Calabar carnival is about to begin. My brother, Edwin, who now lives in the city and his lovely wife, Zoe, are going to ‘kill’ me if they get their hands on my Adam’s apple after reading this. I know why, but you don’t need to know. So don’t ask me why. For once, even as a loyal indulgee, just let me be. You just read and don’t ask questions. The year has only a few days left and I want to be allowed to rant without you interrupting me like you all are wont to do! Now, if I have sufficiently confused you enough with all that diversion, let me carry on. Thank you very much.

Yes, this year’s version of the Calabar Carnival will soon begin. And as I tried to infer earlier on, I had always dodged an invitation to go to the city and observe what people did at the carnival. I have been to Cross River before. That was in the mid-’90s and I did at least two times, but it was purely for work.

At that time it was a visit for a worthy cause. Or, put it truthfully, it was some company involved in logging that was trying to explain its position. The senator, Victor Ndoma-Egba, used to be a youth leader at the time and appeared to coordinate some kind of opposition against the activity. Dele Alake, who was at the Concord newspaper, was a facilitator of some sort. How times have really flown and people have really done the full circle. I think it was Ikom we used to visit. My good friend, Uffot, now at Zenith Bank, used to be on the trips and, I tell you, on my honour, there was no hedonism involved! Trust me, I didn’t understand all that then, until I actually took time out at the University of Manchester to read a bit more of philosophy. That did not change me, though. But it brought me some clarity in my understanding of myself; that I am slanted towards utilitarianism – just read some philosophy, and you’ll catch the drift.

And just in case you want to know the worthy cause I used to be interested in when I visited Cross River, Nigeria has a special species/breed of monkeys called the drill monkeys. The logging was affecting this species and it felt good to be able to write to save their habitat.

Since the mid-90s I haven’t been to Cross River. This week I made a return, for just 24 hours, staying overnight. It was interesting observing the city with some amount of intensity to see if I could match the things I was seeing for myself with what people have said about it. I have told indulgees here before how I thought that, if all hands were truly on deck across the country, not many people would be rushing to Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja or Kano to eke out a living and put a roof over their heads. There are so many peaceful, leafy, naturally beautiful places in this country, where those who like and crave for peaceful and refreshing living would so happily just love to stay in without the wahala of those concrete jungles cities, like Lagos, and the empire of political corruption called Abuja! Calabar and its surrounding towns and cities easily lend themselves to this dream place to have a peaceful life. Never mind the menace of kidnapping that has turned a few leafy places into their own equivalent of ‘concrete’ jungles. The real point is, all that is the outcome of the nonsense they are doing in Abuja!

I loved the cleanliness of Calabar. I liked the fact that people were not rushing everywhere and nowhere in particular, like they do in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Onitsha and Kano, to varying degrees. The people appear laid back, but in a good nurtured way. Then there is Tinapa! Oh My Gosh! What a beauty and what a waste. If that place was in Europe, the hotel would be fully booked at this time and there would be family fun fare, there would also be self catering accommodation (it doesn’t have to be the hotel alone), where people could come and spend a weekend or a full week with loads of activities. The shops would be selling foods and other things that tourists could buy to live on, doing their own cooking. Seeing the place, I think all that talk about having it as a duty free zone was wrongly thought out. Driving into the place it felt like driving into Disney Paris, except that it was without those facilities that Disney Paris has. That place should not be about shopping duty free. It should be about holidaying, staying away from cities for a weekend, for a week and returning refreshed. They should go and meet Disney people and ask them if they would be interested in turning it into a proper hedonistic (pleasure), fun fare, fun park, zone, for children, for adults, for families!

They should leave the greenery alone – you should drive into the place feeling you were entering a forest and on getting into the complex, to feel a sense of being hidden away from all that trouble that living in Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt and all those terrible cities give to your body and soul.

I am told there are many other beautiful places all over this wonderful country that God has given us. Obudu is breathtaking, I have been told and have seen in pictures, but I haven’t been there. Someone told me Bauchi is beautiful too. These are places to go and see. That’s what this country should be encouraging. Maybe, just maybe, one day things will really shape up and we shall begin to enjoy our country.