By Jimoh Babatunde
Despite the intensity of the sun, the people of Calabar and tourists that throng the state for the annual Calabar festival started gathering at the millennium park as early as 8 am for the flag off the Carnival Calabar.
At about 12 noon, when the State Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke arrived in the company of the wife, the state deputy governor, Efiok Cohbams and the wife, Minister of Culture, Tourism, High Chief Edem Duke and his wife, as well as a host of other top government officials and personalities, the crowd just wanted the show to commenced.
When it was finally flagged off, there was nothing to stop the people and the bands from enjoying themselves as they turned and twisted with magical ease in their various costumes, music, and choreography, depicting their interpretation of the theme of the carnival “Ain’t No Stopping Us”.
The people flooded the 14 kilometers carnival route stretching into the U. J Esuene Stadium, the terminating point and theatre of communal celebration for the day, till the early hours of the day to party, feel the sensation and vibration as well as experienced the convivial social atmosphere of the yearly feast, which has be described as the biggest street party ever in the annals of the African continent.
Speaking on the choice of the theme, chairman, Cross River State Carnival Commission, Gab Onah, said the theme was a carefully carried out research by the governor from his thought and summarized.
Onah said the state has come through a period of ups and downs from the seizure of their oil well which has impacted on all aspect of their economy and “in spite of this, as a people we are still on, not just on but waxing stronger.”
The Carnival bands, Passion 4, Freedom, Bayside, Masta Blasta and Seagull, with beautifully costumed girls that captivated the audience with their curves tried to undo one another with their dances and floats.
At the end of the day, Masta Blasta band, with its presentation of unity that brings about peace, vision and manifestation of wonders, was again adjudged the best band.
The band won the coveted crown and the prestige that goes with being the band of the year back – to – back. Seagull band came second and followed by Freedom band in the third position.
Minister commends winner
Speaking on the Masta Band, the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Edem Duke, who is a member of the band, said “the band is the largest of the carnival band in terms of population, it has a lot more of the masses as its membership.”
The Minister added that the band has come to be regarded as the spirit of the carnival, because is an aggregation of people from all strata of the society and it is very informal organization and we all just have fun which culminated in winning the carnival in 2012 and 2013.
Speaking after the announcement, one of the band leaders, Bassey Ekefre, said Masta Blasta Band intended to maintain the feat for the next ten years. Mr. Ekefre, who is a NEITI board member, thanked all band members for their ingenuity, resilience and effort which he said paid off.
The victory of the Masta Blasta could not have surprised traditional bands like Bayside and Seagull as Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, a member of the Bayside band was not too convincing when asked about the chances of the band winning.
“The Bayside band is one of the oldest bands. It has been there since the carnival started and I think the first four edition of the carnival was won by the Bayside Band and it is because we wanted to be generous that we are now allowing others win. When we decide to win, we will start winning again.”
For Seagulls, led by ageless Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, their efforts at winning with the inclusion of some notable Nollywood stars like Funke Akindele, Osofia and others amounted to nothing.
Speaking on the success of the carnival, Governor Liyel Imoke said “For us for this particular outing, as usual is better than the last one. It is what I demand of the bands and that is why I make it so competitive. These bands compete, they are not there just to play, and they compete because they win awards.
So, you see the standard for the carnival continue to improve every year, because we have this post mortem event, we can now deal with issues and challenges we face with each carnival and our greatest challenge still remain crowd control.
Every year we under estimate the crowd, it is very hard to estimate the crowd and the great challenge is the amazing number of people that come into Calabar for this event and each year it just keep going on and increasing.
It is a wonderful crowd; it is a peaceful, responsive crowd. All they are doing is just excitement; it is not a hostile crowd, they are just happy to be part of the fun. “
For the audience who thronged the streets all through the month-long festival and in some cases kept vigil till the next morning, there was not a dull moment but rather what a celebratory and fulfilling Calabar festival.
And they were rewarded with a fantastic performance by some of Nigerian best artistes like 2face, Iyanya, Davido and Sound Sultan who held the people e spellbound and thoroughly overwhelmed.