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Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Four days in Calabar, Nigeria’s Canaan City
From Wednesday, September 9 to Saturday, September 12, 2015, I was in the Canaan City of Calabar, the capital of Cross River State on an official assignment. It was a two-day retreat organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission for the heads of the Department of Voter Education, Publicity, Gender and Civil Society better known as VEP across the country as well as its partners in National Inter-Agency Advisory Committee on Voter Education and Publicity. I was a resource person at the event. The retreat was mainly to appraise the commission’s voter education strategies and contents in the lead up to the 2015 general elections as well as chart the way forward.
It was not my first time in Calabar. I have been there several times. However, the city has never ceased to thrill me. This was why, this time around, I took more than a casual interest in understanding what makes the Canaan City tick. I took time off the busy programme schedule to move round the town and observe the goings on. I also spoke to a couple of my friends living in the city. I had an intimate chat with my long lost but found friend, Dr. Joseph Ukwayi of the Sociology Department of the University of Calabar, with whom I lost contact for over two decades, as well as a youth leader, Ignatius Oli, who I met during my African Union Election Observation Mission to Egypt in May 2014. I also did a bit of Internet research and what I found was newsworthy hence my decision to write about it.
It turns out that Calabar has a long history behind it. It was first known as Akwa Akpa which were Efik words. The indigenous people of the town are Efik , Qua, Efut, Biase, and Akamkpa. How many Nigerians know that the Canaan City was the first capital of Nigeria? How many people knew Calabar produced the first indigenous Inspector-General of Police in the person of Louis Edet? How many knew that the first Nigerian to become a World Boxing Champion, Okon Asuquo Bassey better known as Hogan “Kid” Bassey was from Creek Town in Calabar? Did you know that EyoIta, the first Nigerian professor is from Calabar?
Did you also know that Cross River State is the only state where both the governor and his deputy are both ‘eggheads from the ivory towers”. I mean both of them are professors. The governor, Prof. Ben Ayade is a first-class graduate of Microbiology from the University of Ibadan while his deputy, Ivara Ejemot Esu, is a professor of Soil Science from the University of Calabar.
Prominent figures in the history of Calabar include King Archibong III – the first King in southern Nigeria to be crowned with regalia sent by Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, in 1878. The paramount ruler of the town is Obong of Calabar. A quintessential daughter of the soil is Chief (Mrs.) Margaret Ekpo, who was the first woman special member in Nigeria’s Eastern House of Chiefs and later Eastern House of Assembly (the Calabar International Airport is actually named after her as a mark of recognition of her pacesetting political achievements). Another illustrious son of Calabar is Etubom Oyo Orok Oyo, premier football administrator, first and only Nigerian so far to be elected into Executive Committee of FIFA (1980 – 1988) and the first African to be made an Honorary Vice President of the Confederation of African Football (from 1988 for life). The city is the home to Calabar Rovers Football Club.
According to additional information sourced from Calabar Forum online, due to her early role in international slave trade and colonial administration, Calabar hosts the earliest military barracks, the first Presbyterian Church (Church of Scotland Mission) in 1846, the first Monorail and the first modern road network in Nigeria. The city also boasts the first public (general) hospital in Nigeria – St. Margaret Hospital, the oldest post office and one of the first two Botanical Gardens in the country. “As a social centre the city boasts of the first social club in Nigeria – The Africa Club – and also hosted the first competitive football, cricket and field hockey games in Nigeria. Among the city’s firsts include the first Roman Catholic mass (held at 19 Bocco Street, Calabar – 1903) and the oldest secondary school (Hope Waddell Training Institution – 1895) in Eastern Nigeria. The school later produced the first President of Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe.”
You probably do not know that it was in this ancient town that the Scottish lady, Mary Mitchell Slessor, who stopped the killing of twins, did her missionary work. You possibly also may not know that Africa’s biggest street party holds every December in Nigeria’s Canaan land during the Carnival Calabar which is now in its 11th year.
There are some things about Calabar girls that make them the envy of their peers from other part of the country. These are their beauty and culinary skills. The myth is that Calabar girls can snatch husbands from those who do not know how to cook as they are proficient in cooking and lovemaking. There is no gainsaying that the Efiks culture of preparing their young maids for womanhood through the “Fattening Room” initiation rite named Mbobi helps in sharpening their home management skills. Calabar people own Edikang Ikong, a vegetable soup with a highly nutritious content. The people’s culinary skills have been turned to money spinner as they now run restaurants popularly called “Calabar Kitchen” all over the country. I did observe the indigene’s addiction to snacks like roasted plantain and roasted fish as well as banana and groundnuts. These are found, for sale, at every street corner.
Truth be told, Calabar is very neat. The roads are mostly tarred and well paved with pedestrian walkways. The streets are swept sparkling clean everyday by government engaged street sweepers and woe betides you if you litter your environment. I did also observe that the most popular brand of car used for commercial purpose in the city is Audi followed by Volkswagen Golf. Transportation is very cheap in the Canaan City despite the fact that motorcycles and tricycles popularly called ‘Keke NAPEP’ have been banned from the major streets. It’s also noteworthy that the traffic lights as well as the street lights work giving the town an ambience of orderliness and beauty particularly at night.
A visit to Calabar is incomplete without sight-seeing of its tourist centres which include: Old Residency Museum, Mary Slessor’s Tomb, Marina Resort, and a host of others. I have visited all during my previous stay. What’s more, Calabar is rated high among the top 10 safest cities in Nigeria. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Nigeria’s Canaan City, the people’s paradise.