A record crowd attended the maiden edition of the Northern Cross River Cultural Festival (NORTHFEST) which held recently at the ultra-modern rice factory constructed by the Governor Ben Ayade-led administration.
Hundreds of thousands of people comprising critical stakeholders, religious and traditional leaders, youths, politicians as well as market women dressed in different traditional attires complimented by dance groups gave the event a carnival feel.
Although it was a cultural festival for the five council areas of Bekwarra, Obanliku, Obudu, Ogoja and Yala, it was viewed more as a test of the governor’s popularity in his own senatorial district.
The huge turnout was therefore, a resounding affirmation of the support he still enjoys from his immediate constituency.
At a scene typifying a political rally and which also had in attendance the immediate past governor of the state, Senator Liyel Imoke and his deputy, Efiok Cobham, banners, flags, posters and hand bills bearing different inscriptions such as “No vacancy in Diamond Hill”, “Ayade, you began a good race, you must reach the finish line”, “Our votes are waiting for you,” among others, were boldly on display.
Political leaders, paramount rulers, youths’ groups, market women, transport workers from the five council areas that make up the Northern Senatorial District took turns to eulogise Governor Ayade for what they described as his sterling performance in less than three years in office.
They urged him to use the occasion to formally declare his second term bid.
The Northern Festival, christened ‘NORTHFEST’ was a maiden edition of the celebration of the rich cultural heritage of the zone to be held every last Saturday of September each year.
Speaking at the Ogoja venue of the event, Ayade said: “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 make it bigger and better.”
Applauding the participants from the five local government areas including traditional rulers, bedecked in their royal regalia, farmers, wrestlers, as well as tappers, Governor Ayade maintained that for agriculture to serve as a way forward for the economy, the people must come together.
Lauding his predecessor, Senator Imoke, Ayade described him as “a great man, an iconoclast and a political mahogany, who gave his commitment that power must shift to the north and at the fullness of time, he gave his time, energy and experience to make it happen and today, we have a governor.”
The governor further charged the people not to be distracted but join him in transforming the fortunes of the district and state at large for a better, brighter and wealthier future that will be the envy of others.
Senator Imoke thanked Ayade for his creativity and initiative that will tremendously turn around the fortunes of the people.
“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,” said Imoke.
For the Senator representing the district in the apex lawmaking body, Rose Oko, “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.”
Ambassador Akpang Obi Odu who described the event as a festival of empowerment, also extolled Ayade for reinventing in the people their age-long culture.
Presenting the governor with an award of endorsement for his exemplary leadership as well as achievements for the state, Odu, on behalf of the people of the district said: “Ayade has made it clear to us that the sky is not our limit but a starting point. The British, Chinese and Americans want our yams on display today, please help us to market these yams to them.”
Earlier, the chairman of the planning committee, Chief Peter Ojie, explained that what was 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.
Highpoints of the event were the inspection of the various local governments’ yam barns by the governor, the parade of maidens, cultural displays including the age-long war dance of Ikpatemana in Obudu, wrestling competition as well as the parade of agricultural produce from the five council areas.
Two Hyundai i10 series saloon cars were presented to the winners of Mr. and Miss Northfest 2017 respectively.
Iyadim, a civil servant lives and works in Cross River State