Africa’s Biggest Street Bash: Calabar Carnival

Carnival Calabar 2015.

When the Nigerians said that the Calabar Carnival is the largest street party in Africa, I chose to take that statement with some slight reservations. The Nigerians already have the largest economy and population on the African continent. Now they lay claim to hosting the largest street bash in Africa? I will only believe it when I see it. So, I thought to myself.

The carnival is hosted in the city of Calabar in Cross River State in south-eastern Nigeria over a 30-day period. However, it hits a crescendo in the last week of December, just between Christmas and the eve of the New Year.

This year, and for the first time in the carnival’s 12-year history, the organizers toyed with the idea of hosting the local carnival alongside the international carnival, which was taking place for the first time. The organizers went a notch higher to spice up the event and invited bikers who brought their loud and big mean machines to town. A hundred strong delegation of bikers from all over Nigeria and the African Maghreb descended into Calabar and with them, they brought in a crowd of another 500 motor biking enthusiasts.

And that marked the recipe for some controlled chaos – if there is anything like it.

The city of Calabar welcomed to its shores a total of 10 international teams drawn from Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Brazil, Belize, Italy, Spain and France.

Logistical Nightmare

However, it was the organization of the international teams that generated a logistical nightmare for the organizers. Right from receiving the international teams at the international airport in Lagos and organizing their entry visas to checking-in the international teams at their respective hotels in Calabar; the organizing committee of the Calabar Carnival seemed to be overwhelmed and not have made adequate plans to receive such a large number of people coming from overseas.

Moreover, the diary of events from the first day to the last day of the carnival was not readily available leading to more confusion amongst the international participants. Some did not know where they were supposed to be at specific times or when and where they were supposed to perform. The logistical challenges were glaringly obvious to both the organizers and the international visitors.

However, the hiccups seemed to quickly fade into the distance when the carnival was finally flagged off by the Governor of Cross River State H.E. Senator Professor Ben Ayade. This was clearly what the doctored had ordered as everyone was looking forward to having a wonderful time together. And so the music played, the bands marched, the flags waved. The biggest street party in Africa was now underway.

The grand march of the carnival started at Calabar’s Millennium Park with the first teams to arrive on the grounds being Kenya and Italy. They were met by a large number of both local and visiting Nigerians who had converged into the city to witness the carnival. It was selfie and groupies galore with the residents keen on snapping memorable pictures with the cultural groups adorned in their cultural garb.

Order and Co-operation

Also in attendance were visitors and observers from all across West Africa and the rest of the world. Theirs was to experience the continent’s largest street bash. And indeed, it was time to make merry as soon as Governor Ayade cut the tape to official kick-start the Calabar Carnival 2015.

With the governor were a number of high-ranking government officials from the Cross River State as well as other invited guests. These included members of the Cross River government, legislature, ambassadors and high commissioners and Nollywood stars.

The carnival slowly made its procession through the streets of Calabar. But what seemed to be quite interesting is that in spite of the carnival attracting more than 2.5 million people over a three-day period, there was so much orderliness and untold patience, especially by the huge crowds of people that patiently waited along the route of the carnival and at the Calabar Stadium in central Calabar. To me, this seemed so much unlike Nigeria. It was a pleasant surprise.

On the first 2 days of the carnival, the show ran non-stop for 48 hours. Ikechi Uko one of the key personalities involved, especially with the international visitors said thus: “The procession was so long that the head became the tail, quite literally.”

I was pleasantly surprised by the co-operation the entire city of Calabar and its citizens gave to the organizers and the participants. The procession snaked through commercial and residential areas where residents would patiently sit on the sidewalks and along the roads dancing, waving and cheering.

In the commercial areas, companies would put up tents of all sizes and invite their employees and clients to sit under the shade as snacks and soft drinks were served. In the residential areas, families brought chairs from their houses and invited their friends, neighbours and relatives to sit by the road-side to watch the procession.

There were four official stop-over points along the entire route, but due to the size of the crowds, participating teams decided to walk a little bit longer just to entertain the swelling crowds while some teams made unscheduled stops to offer the enthusiastic visitors a taste of their cultural dances.

To ensure that the show got the coverage it deserved, there was a battery of accredited journalists from across Nigeria and the rest of the world. The event was covered live on multiple television channels that included DSTV, Ebonylife and the Cross River Broadcasting Corporation [CRBC].

Green Carnival

This year’s theme of the carnival was also cognizant of the fact that global warming was making a negative impact on the environment. Cross River State is one of the greenest states in Nigeria and also plays host to the last remaining virgin tropical rainforest in the country.

Governor Ayade and his government are alive to this fact and made it clear that they wanted to engage the residents and all the participating teams and visitors coming for the Calabar Carnival to the need of preserving and protecting the environment.

He announced the Green Carnival, which ran on the third and final day of the carnival. The city of Calabar has designated a park where residents and visiting teams were given tree seedlings to plant.

According to Governor Ayade, the State Government of Cross River State plans on planting more than 5 million trees under this campaign to ensure that the state and his government play a role towards helping save our planet.

And after the flags stopped waving, the bands stopped marching and everyone returned to their homes, the organizers and the visiting teams agreed that this was one of the best carnivals, in spite of the logistical challenges. The organizers were sent back to the situation room to plan for the Calabar Carnival 2016.

Source: Denis Gathanju, Safari Communications Nairobi, Kenya.

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