Each year the festivity gets better, and Calabar Carnival 2018, not being an exception, left a resounding echo. People adjudged it “one of the best so far.”

Musa Jibril (Words), Sam Opoku (Photos)

“Elo, Oga.” His calls came in three days before Christmas. The caller wanted to know if I would be travelling to Calabar. He was excited, like a kid on his way to Disneyland.

Festivals of December

That was Sam Opoku, calling from Accra; formerly a professional colleague, he was about to set out on his way to the Calabar Carnival where he hoped to end the year in style.

In the dying hours of December 2018, a horde of other people like Opoku, jetted out from cities across the world––especially from Latin America and Africa––to the Niger Delta city of Nigeria where they were sucked into the vortex of Africa’s biggest street party.

Although, the Times Square ball drop and the fabulous fireworks at Sydney Harbour, Australia, and perhaps the incredible pyrotechnics at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE, are some of the outstanding New Year Eve (NYE) events around the world, out of Nigeria comes the Calabar Carnival, which has gained traction as a veritable NYE spectacle that pulls pied spectators from all over the globe. Like clockwork, an avalanche of tourists and participants annually converge on Calabar, capital of Cross River State, as the year winds down, bringing with them a pastiche of pomp and performances that transform the city into a palette of cultures and camaraderie hardly seen elsewhere on the continent. For 14 years, the tradition stands. Each year the festivity gets better, and Calabar Carnival 2018, not being an exception, left a resounding echo. People adjudged it “one of the best so far.”

Though, a 32-day event––from December 1 to January 1––the climax is usually in the last four fun-filled days.

Officially flagged off on December 27 by the state governor, Prof Ben Ayade, the 2018 edition, titled “Africanism,” attracted 25 states and as many countries from Africa and outside the continent. This diversity brought a zing––a Latin flavour from Brazil, Columbia and Mexico, and a Baltic spice from Lithuania.

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Prof Ben Ayade

Despite the miscellany, the carnival was fully African. This much Gov Ayade had hinted in his speech: “We are here to tell the African story ourselves. Africans have a platform to use the opportunity of this dance and drama to tell the African story in a way that we know…and the platform offered by this event is to show that Africans have really matured.”

A major attraction that people look forward to is the Biker’s Parade, which took place on Dec 27. By 10 am, the bikes were busy on the road, from Tinapa Junction to Millennium Park through a dedicated 12-kilometre Carnival Route.

When bikers stormed the street

Later in the evening, at the Calabar International Convention Centre (CICC), spectators were treated to the spectacular Miss Africa pageantry, which recorded contestants from 25 countries including Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon, Zambia, Burundi, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Contestants from Malawi, Tunisia, Tanzania, Botswana, Angola and Uganda also entered the fray, likewise those from Somalia, Algeria, Togo, South Sudan, Kenya and Gambia. Namibia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Morocco and Nigeria were also represented in a contest where beauty was adjudged by the African paradigm. And the winner of the third edition of the Miss Africa pageant was Dorcas Kasinde from the Democratic Republic of Congo. There was a little twist as her hair momentarily turned into a ball of flame as her wig caught fire from fireworks sparking around her. the The occasion was spiced by performances from the trio of Tiwa Savage, Mr Real and 2baba.

The Carnival Calabar on Dec 28 was the main course. The parade had always been a big draw for dignitaries and celebrities. In 2018, Presidential candidate of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Oby Ezekwesili, and Senator Florence Ita-Giwa came to the parade, just as Nollywood actors, led by Zack Orji and Segun Arinze, also took part in the street procession. From the takeoff point at Millennium Park, the cavalcade flowed through a 12-kilometre Carnival Route.

Senator Ita Giwa at the carnival 

On the fifth day of Christmas, Dec 29, it was international carnival show time as various countries tried to outdo the other with a variety of performances staged in the bowel of the U.J. Esuene Stadium. The South African contingent won the first place with trademark Zulu dance delivered with a blazing bravura that held the crowd spellbound, despite a glitch in their sound equipment. Mexico, with its colourful costume, won second place. Lithuania captured the third position with a fire dance that was unarguably one of the best reminiscences of the 2018 event. Other crowd favourites include Ethiopia, Ukraine, USA, Kenya, Ghana, Swaziland and Brazil.

They ended in explosives, figuratively, as the dying hours of New Year Eve segued into the early minutes of January 1, 2019, with fireworks at the Cenotaph Christmas Village.

At noon on New Year day, Sam Opoku’s call came again. He was on the Badagry road in Lagos en route to Accra. His voice was calm, with an undertone of satisfaction. For someone who earns a living from beautiful pictures, Carnival Calabar was a visual paradise. Professional pursuit aside, attending the carnival afford tourists the opportunity to explore length and breadth one of Nigeria’s beautiful and clean cities, and enjoyed its attractions viz. Tinapa and Calabar cuisine––and perhaps test the verity of one or two fables about Calabar people.

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