December 28, the D-day for the 2018 Carnival Calabar, may be days away, but the whiff of celebration is all around the ancient city of Calabar. The city is gradually tuning into festivity mode. This was very much apparent during the third and final dry run of the 2018 Calabar Carnival.
From the Margaret Ekpo International Airport to the city centre, the buzz is on. Calabar residents have put on the charm to woo tourist visitors. ‘Welcome Home’ is a common greeting method that a visitor gets on arrival to the city.
Participating in the third and final dry run was like being part of the main carnival. It is to the credit of the Carnival Calabar Commission that there is so much attention to details in the build-up to the main event that every effort is made to make a spectacle for thousands that would spend their money to travel to Calabar for the carnival and millions that would watch it live through the cable television and online streaming.
The Deputy Governor of Cross River, Prof. Evara Esu, led the revelry for the final dry run.
He explained that Carnival Calabar was apolitical and as such, he urged presidential candidates contesting the 2019 presidential elections to come to Calabar and hit the streets to join the party. He said he was looking forward to see the best dancers and hope that would help in endearing them to the people.
Among those that joined him were Senator Florence Itta-Giwa, FTAN President Saleh Rabo, FTAN Deputy President Nkereuwem Onung, Chairman Carnival Commission Gabe Onah, Special Adviser to the Governor on Events Mr. Ben Akla, International Consultant to Carnival Calabar, Mr. Ikechi Uko and many others. The bike gangs were also on hand to rev up the atmosphere with their power-bikes.
Professor Esu did up to three kilometres dancing the music with other top government officials and bands joining to finetune the preparation. The colour and enthusiasm during the dry run could be compared to the main event. Based on the quality and entertainment on display, some tour operators promised to package the dry runs for tourists next years
Gabe Onah, the Carnival Calabar Chairman, spoke on the dry run: “This is the third and final carnival dry run. The dry run is an effort to try the system, inform the public and then calibrate the routing. This is because along the carnival route itself, we have utilities, the adjudication points, the rest point, the refreshment points, the merchandising points and, of course, for revellers to keep fit. We also host, during the dry run, some VIPs, stakeholders and tour agents who market us, who sell Carnival Calabar.
“The next level is to see that people come as tourists based on invitation by tour operators who are here on familiarization tour to see for themselves so that they will be able to market to potential and existing tourists.
“We usually hold three dry runs. Today the special effect is motorcycling, the power bikers and the wonders on wheels whose primary purpose is to activate and create excitement along the carnival route. Again they have expendable income. We believe that when a tourist arrives at a destination, his naira or dollar should stay. This is what we experience.
“This year, four bikers’ gangs will be participating. They will be led by the governor’s gang called the Scorpio Gang, followed the Metallic Knights, Tinapa Knight and of course the Aviators led by the former governor of Cross River State Mr. Donald Duke. The excitement this brings is unimaginable.”
Onah said tourists visiting Calabar this year would definitely have value for money entertainment: “One thing is certain. We believe that we have the warmest welcome in Africa to offer our tourists, and if they come, they recreate and go back to produce more.
“We are ready to the extent that the hotels, the environment and those who provide the hospitality are geared towards making a difference and provide that which tourists look out for and ensure that there is a repeat visit.”
Onah talked about the festival village. He said: “It is part of Carnival Calabar. It is the industry behind the Carnival Calabar. Then, the emotional angle and the consciousness of the people, where people sit around for life changing experience.
“It is a place where people hang around under the family setting to share and enjoy the joy of the season. Yes, it is the first week, yet you see how busy the festival village. For us, the bottom line is the visitor element. We have visitors from the Cameroon, Ghana and other neigbouring countries. Then, we have the British chefs all out there. So we are very honoured.”
The icing on the cake for the dry run was the governor of the state, Professor Ben Ayade, joining the revelry, first with a display of some dance steps on the streets and later hit other parts of the city on his power bike.
By Okorie Uguru