By Jonathan Ugbal: Government House Correspondent
The people of Obudu, Ogoja and Yala local government areas of northern Cross River State weekend stole the show at the maiden Cross River North Festival tagged; NORTHFEST.
Competitive participants from the three local government areas claimed all prizes in the pageant, farming, dancing and yam barns competition with the state governor promising that the event will only grow bigger and better as the years go by.
“We are proud we are from the north, we are the northern star. As I see the large crowd here, I know that the northern senatorial people are truly united, this is our first edition, we will take it bigger and better,” said the Governor, Senator Ben Ayade.
He applauded the traditional institutions of the five local government areas that make up the senatorial district who attended the event with full regalia and displayed with elegance their culture.
Mr. Ayade who also said the way forward for the state was agriculture and the festival was a way of showcasing this; lauded his predecessor, Senator Liyel Imoke whom he described as a “A political mahogany,” and a “great man that is iconoclastic.”
Mr. Imoke attended the event alongside his then deputy, Barrister Efiok Cobham and in his goodwill message, commended Ayade’s creativity and charged the people to take ownership of the event as that was the only way it can grow.
“Having set the pace with this festival which is the celebration of our culture, heritage, wealth, capacity and resourcefulness, it is now left for you as a people to take it from here to the next level.
“I believe that this is just the beginning and it is important that we give him all the necessary support to take this festival as big as any other in Nigeria,” Imoke said.
The two day festival which began with a pageant on Friday night saw Miss Perpetual Adie and Mr. Sylvester Unimashi; both from Obudu clinch the crown as maiden King and Queen of NORTHFEST.
This did not go down well with some who claimed there was tribalistic bias in the judgment but, Miss Adie who has now won three pageants in a row since 2015 told CrossRiverWatch on phone that she was unperturbed by the criticisms.
The zenith of the festival featured a male and female wrestling competition which Ogoja local government won gold in both categories.
Mr. Ayade was then led on a tour of yam barns set up by different local government areas with the panel of judges scoring Ogoja and Yala high on the size and number of yams as well as the arrangement of their barns.
The cultural dance competition was again won by Obudu which displayed its war dance, cane dance led by Mr. Bruno Ukeh among others to thrill the mammoth crowds which security personal found difficult to control.
Agricultural produce were also paraded by the different local government areas.
And, Senator Rose Oko who represents the district in the red chambers of the n
National Assembly said: “today’s celebration will encourage our people to do more, farm more and give us a new lease of life,” adding that, “this is not only a festival but through this we will galvanise our culture in the polity of the state while broadening the economic base of our people.”
Her position was reiterated by Nigeria’s former envoy to Korea, Ambassador Akpang Obi Odu who described the festival as one of empowerment and extolled Mr. Ayade and his spouse for reminding the people of their age long cultures and traditions.
“Ayade has made it clear to us that the sky is our limit. The British, Chinese and Americans want these our yams so paraded today, please help us to market these yams to them,” Ambassador Odu said.
But, is the NORTHFEST a sustainable venture?
A tourism development expert and entrepreneur, John Offiong while discussing tourism development on The Dialogue With Agba Jalingo on Hit FM Calabar on Sunday warned that the state’s tourism sector is now more “activities based.”
He said that while this formed a vital part of leisure tourism, there were almost no plans to sustain them as they are mostly funded from government coffers.
He called for a more robust approach to properly brand and market the little activities already on ground and warned against creating more.
However, the Chairman of the planning committee and an aide to Mr. Ayade on Political Affairs, Mr. Peter Ojie in his remarks explained that what is being showcased was an indication that the people of Cross River North are united by their culture and occupational identity, pointing out that the gesture will move the people from subsistence to commercial agriculture.
Two Hyundai i10 saloon cars were later presented to the winners of the pageant by Mr. Ayade’s wife, Dr. Linda Ayade and Mr. Imoke.
Despite the rich cultural displays, attendees were however stunned when an elated Mr. Ayade who could not hide his amazement at the singing and dancing skills of paralyzed singer, Kelly B who performed his single; “Cross River people, beautiful, intelligent and united people,” stole some dance steps with him and said: “Every human being has a destiny, today you have found your destiny. I hereby support your life with 10 million Naira.”