Since its establishment in 2005, Africa’s biggest street party dubbed ‘Carnival Calabar’ has become a mainstay in terms of what Cross River [the host state] is known for. Year in, year out modifications geared towards the sustainability of the event is continually being made. In this interview with OBAJI AKPET of African Travel Times, the chairman of Cross River carnival commission, Gabe Onah peaks of some of the modifications that have been made, and the number of countries expected to hit this year’s carnival, the economy of carnival Calabar, and other sundry issues.
We’re currently witnessing the last Carnival Calabar dry run, what’s the plan so far for this year’s event?
The governor has promised that Carnival Calabar 2016 will be bigger, bolder and better; at the carnival commission, we say ‘it will be fireworks.’ The governor, in conjunction with the stakeholders, based on his revised vision, decentralized the carnival routes to introduce something new; and this is what we have experienced here by decentralizing the flag off points and muster points for Carnival Calabar 2016 and beyond.
The trick is that the public/audience had complained about longer hours on the road, and in assuaging these feelings, we went back to the drawing board when the governor said ‘how do we create more excitement?’ the new route was borne. And today, we have celebrity dry run; we had the royal dry run the other time, apart from the first dry run.
Every dry run is an experience; it’s a day out for families celebrating the week end of Sunday. And this final dry run is a replica of what will happen come December 28, 2016. Then the international carnival is another new story we did last year; we have expanded it by including the arrival.
We have over 20 countries that have signified interest to be in Calabar.
Apart from the bikers’ parade and the street rally, their participations are some of the things that are going to create more excitements.
You’ve been the chairman of Carnival commission since 2007, what can you say has been the return on yearly herculean investment in the carnival?
For us, our projection is that by 2020, Carnival Calabar should be 100 per cent private sector funded.
So far, as a responsible government, and clerking the return on investment, the socio-economic factor is huge. The economics of it, the change of life it brings about, creating jobs for our boys and girls and putting monies in their hands, has been huge in terms of success.
The milestones and data are there for us to see. But the private sector funding, which is what we call the buying, is yet to achieve where we want it to be. But 2020, yet not far, but still far; we’re beginning to create that gradual awareness.
You could see the flags of the sponsors’; we had over 20 sponsors’ flag. Through the years we have received different overtures from different sponsorship companies, some of them as their CSRs, some of them as outright supports to the government; and this is why we wanted this to be bottom up in terms of growth.
But we place it on the past mark, in terms of growth, is a private sector running with it? Yes. And this brings us to the role government has to play; government has to sit back, government has to sit in terms of our involvement, first, in funding, second, in organization because the private sector would want to manage their own; and as a businessman the governor said he is buying into that vision and that the future of carnival Calabar is in the hands of the private sector.
Could you give a quick assessment on the Carnival Calabar so far?
Having been around on this journey, the Carnival Calabar has grown in leaps and bounds, every year comes with its own, so also every governor comes with his own too.
Above all, we’ve been lucky to have three consecutive governors who have kept the dream, kept the promise. We want carnival Calabar to be a way of life of the people of Cross River State. Have we achieved this? Yes. We have achieved this.
You can see what the present governor has brought to bear. He has increased the participation of people in government; he has increased the international appreciation and he has increased the community participation; and the lot of Carnival Calabar, for its community participation. So for me, it’s grown in leaps and bounds.
Moving on, what can you say is the future of Carnival Calabar?
The future of Carnival Calabar is that it’s going to grow beyond any one of us and that’s my prayer. Carnival Calabar will grow beyond us. I want to sit back and look back and say that this was what we started and that it is doing well.