ince its inception in 2006, the Calabar Carnival has become a relatively recent addition to Nigeria’s yearly festival calendar; however it is now held annually and termed “Nigeria’s largest street party.” It is a month-long carnival that takes place every year from December 1 to December 31 and features a variety of events such as dance, music, and other cultural events, with something new happening every day. It is a fantastic tribute to Nigeria’s rich cultural diversity.
The Calabar Carnival was first initiated by Donald Duke, the then-Governor of Cross River State, who had a vision of making the state a tourism and hospitality powerhouse in Nigeria and Africa, with the goal of celebrating and promoting local heritage and culture to the rest of the world. It has grown in leaps and bounds to the point of being tagged, “Nigeria’s biggest street party”, since then, well beyond anyone’s imaginative expectations.
Every year, the carnival’s programme of events is created by the tourist and cultural activities committee, and new ideas are introduced, but there is always a focus on local heritage and culture. Football tournaments, music performances by local and international artists, the yearly Calabar Carnival, boat regattas, fashion exhibitions, beauty pageants, traditional dancing, and even essay-writing competitions have all taken place in the past, all with the goal of showcasing Nigerian culture.
Since 2005, the Calabar carnival, known as Carnival Calabar and branded “Africa’s Biggest Street Party” by its organizers, has been held annually on the 26th and 27th of December. Since 2000, when the Cross River State government began commemorating the annual Christmas holiday, now known as the Calabar Festival, the carnival idea has been on the drawing board. The carnival is based on the Trinidad and Tobago carnival in its current form. Seagull, Master Blaster, Passion 4, Freedom, and Bayside are five bands that were formed in 2005. Each band is led by a leader who develops a guiding philosophy for the groups’ operations in consultation with other prominent band leaders. Each band’s membership is open to the general public and can be expanded to any size. Corporate sponsorship, advertisements at carnival locations, membership donations, annual registration fees, and revenues from year-round entertainment activities are all sources of revenue. Every year, the Calabar carnival grows in terms of participation and finance. Banks, airlines, telecom, and insurance companies are among the corporate sponsors who contribute to the carnival’s different parts through their public relations campaigns. The carnival is primarily supported by individual donations. The bands’ operations is regulated by the State Carnival Commission, a government regulating body, so as to ensure that their activities are in line with the laid down rules. The commission seeks funding and technical assistance, generates publicity, obtains marketing rights, develops themes, provides logistics, organizes dry runs, and engages in various carnival-related activities.
Carnival Calabar’s children’s carnival is an important prelude to the main event. Children, organized into bands, parade a short distance in colorful costumes and dance prior to the main carnival. Children’s participation ensures that the carnival custom is passed down to future generations. Prizes are awarded to the overall winners in the children’s division. The cultural procession along the carnival route serves as a prelude to the main carnival. Cultural groups from around Nigeria, as well as residents of Cross River State, take part in this procession.
The biggest carnival parade takes place along a 12-kilometer course in Calabar and is quite competitive. Judges come from a variety of sectors in the arts, as well as academics, the entertainment business, and other related fields. There are certain criteria for judging each band’s ability to interpret the carnival theme.
The Calabar carnival is complemented by ancillary events like a beauty contest – the Carnival Queen competition – that raises funds for a charitable cause; and an essay writing competition aimed at encouraging students in primary, secondary, and higher schools to pursue creative writing. Winners in several categories receive prizes. The carnival commission hosts a post-carnival interactive session, bringing together both organizers and participants to review operational protocols in order to correct any abnormalities. Separate delegations are also sent to the annual Carnivals in Trinidad and Tobago and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to observe production processes and adapt what they learn to Carnival Calabar.
The Calabar Festival is without a doubt West Africa’s largest and most comprehensive multi-dimensional, multi-faceted tourism leisure and entertainment event. 32 days of thrilling events, vibrant activities, and unparalleled annual involvement by millions of people from around the world. Calabar Carnival is regarded as Nigeria’s pride. Every year, Calabar has a variety of carnival festivities throughout the month of December.
Since its commencement, the only year the Calabar carnival did not hold was in 2020 due to a Federal Government decision prohibiting large gatherings and activities in the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Carnival had always been consistent ever since its renamed in 2006. This was not peculiar to the Carnival alone as the unfolding event in 2020 affected all and sundry both at home and in the diaspora.
This year, the Cross River State Government has begun planning for the 2021 Calabar Carnival to make up for the lost year of 2020.
The government’s decision to start planning the carnival early was announced in a statement by Christian Ita, Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to Benedict Ayade, Governor of Cross River State, who stated that the Governor had since established a team in the first week of February to start making every necessary preparation for the festivities scheduled for December.
“To kick off the preparations for 2021, Governor Ayade established a content creation team in the first week of February to work out procedures for incorporating all kinds of entertainment into the carnival.
The goal is to have a carnival with more content, as well as one that is larger, bolder, and more organized. The same crew was in charge of organizing this year’s Valentine’s Day event,” according to the statement.
With that said, we are all in for a fun of a lifetime like never before in the beautiful city of Calabar come December 1 all through to the 1st day of the New Year. I cannot wait!
See you there!