‘IN CROSS RIVER, CALABAR CARNIVAL IS COMMON VISION’

Filed in TOURISM by on January 7, 2010

‘In Cross River, Calabar Carnival is common vision’
By SOLA BALOGUN
Thursday, January 07, 2010

•Mama Gee and Senator Ita Giwa
Photo: THE SUN PUBLISHING

Although this year’s Calabar Carnival slated for December 27 started a bit late since it fell on a Sunday, the late start eventually paid off as people said they preferred the festival in the night. With hundreds of foreign participants and families in attendance, this year’s carnival was quite eventful and delightful. Governor Liyel Omike of Cross River State explained his views about the yearly rituals.

Continuation of the carnival, despite reduced revenue
The good thing about Cross River is that we have a common vision and as you know, I wrote the first economic blue print which was implemented by Donald Duke and tourism was on that agenda.

So it’s natural for us to build on that and once you have a program that has become a brand, you don’t just discard it and each year the brand gets stronger. And I dare say the festival brand and the carnival brand clearly attracted far more visitors than last year even though we spent less than we did last year. So experience helps us to learn, it helps us to save resources and also we have more private sector support. And the product is becoming more attractive to the private sector and not just something they treat as a charity but a very good marketing tool for them as well. So as a product gets better known and is better presented, the private sector is much more interested in supportive efforts. This year, a few companies like Cadbury and Dangote joined the sponsors this year.

Tinapa

Last year was the first year for Amber Tinapa, they had just opened this time last year and Tinapa was a bit scanty than it is now and they were also trying to open a water park. The water park is now fully open, Amber is fully operational and T-Mart is also fully operational. T-Mart itself was not there last year. From my experience, we believe that it will take one anchor tenant to come in to Tinapa and do big business. Thankfully, T-Mart , from the report I’m getting did fantastic business over this holiday season so we are now talking with Shoprite.

Shoprite has indicated its readiness to come. So I think by next year, Tinapa would have much higher occupancy than it currently has. Late commencement of activities this year, affected participation
There is a law setting up everything about the carnival, and the carnival is slated for the 26th and 27th December of every year. Unfortunately, the 26th and 27th sometimes fall on Sunday and that’s the challenge. Do you now move the carnival date when everybody already knows the fixed date? At a point we thought of putting it on the last Saturday of the year. But when you hold it on the last Saturday of the year, sometimes, it falls on Xmas or new year dates. There have been so many arguments about the date. When we fixed 26th and 27th the strategy was to let people come in, enjoy the Christmas Day in Calabar, continue with Boxing Day and carnival. Private sector involvement and the vision of the carnival.

The vision for us is by 2011, the carnival would be funded entirely by private sector and we think that by that 2010, we should be able to get our big sponsors to do at least 70 per cent of the cost of the carnival but certainly by 2011, not only do we expect that the private sector would run it, we also expect more private participation in the organization of the carnival itself. Because of the nature of the carnival, you can’t throw it all to the private sector, there are issues that government has to handle but we are looking at the private sector working with us even at the planning level.

How Cross River has fared in tourism

Two things. One, as a state in Nigeria , I think we are far ahead of the rest and we are happy. They say imitation is the best form of flattery, many people are trying to copy. We are happy to see Lagos State Carnival Commission coming here to our carnival, so we are proud of that. But we are not anywhere near where we should be as a competitive destination. When I say competitive destination, within the context of the sub-region or within the context of Africa, tourists always have options.

Unfortunately when you go to Accra, you see nothing other than orderliness, this is what we try to maintain here in Calabar as well. So you have the challenge of even the Nigerian mind. Those who finally make it here are like ‘you mean that Calabar is like this? What of the expatriates? So we have the challenge of bringing in and convincing people to come in and spend some time here. But that challenge can only be addressed if we can take our tourism access to new heights and create new access so we become as competitive as other destinations within the sub-region and within Africa. The real challenge for us is regrettably the national image and the policy at the national level. There is no federal policy that truly supports tourism, the only place I see some effort is in the DG of the NTDC.

Calabar, Rio and Nottinghill Carnivals
By March or April, we give each band the theme for the carnival for the year so they now have to work with that theme. And this year’s theme was Land of Our Birth: Our Culture, Our Heritage So the bands have to reflect on the theme. So it is the band that best interpretes the theme that wins; it’s not just about the performance. So there is a lot of creativity that goes into how you interpret the theme and that’s very peculiar to our carnival, it’s not just a dance show, there is a lot of ingenuity, creativity that goes into it and all of that is displayed through the parade by each band.

The band that usually wins are the bands that have the best interpretations according to the judges, and every section in the band should interpret the theme. Our own carnival is totally different from Rio, Notting Hill, Trinidad and Tobago, some of them are just dances, very few have the combination of culture. Of course what we try to do is reflect on our own culture so it doesn’t become a purely imported carnival with a western culture, that’s very critical for us. The carnival is very unique in its development and presentation. It’s very young, probably one of the youngest carnivals in the world. The carnival is just five years old but we think we can continue to improve on it.

We are never satisfied with any edition of the carnival; we think that the next one can be better. This January, we will have our meeting where we review everything that occurred in this year’s carnival with a bid to improve it and add more value to it. Right now we are looking at having a carnival village with a carnival museum so that all the costumes that Donald Duke and his wife have worn from year one to year five, would all be in the museum and people can come to see all of that. So we are thinking of having such facilities as we develop this further.

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