By Gbile Oshadipe
It is now two years and four months since the 2019 Calabar Carnival took place but the contractors, vendors, musicians, travel agencies, street performers and even widows who swept the streets and ensured the success of the landmark cultural event are still waiting for their money. As the good book says: “And the labourer is worthy of his reward.” Why is the Cross River State government refusing to pay? The governor, Prof. Ben Ayade allegedly said he had problems with some of the bills and that the COVID-19 pandemic created some problems in 2020. Will they have to wait till eternity before the government will do the right thing? Or is it just a man’s tendency to deny people of their lawfully earned income?
While some vendors had considered this as insensitivity by the government, others see it as part of a pattern that is consistent with Ayade’s unnecessary disdain for humanity, integrity, good governance and accountability. A report in August 2020 noted: “Some vendors had raised concern over the insensitivity of the Cross River State Government to their plights despite several appeals to Governor Ben Ayade to pay the debt.”
According to them, “the Commission had forwarded the audited copy of the bills owed to the vendors to the governor since January but unfortunately 7 months after hosting of another carnival the money is yet to be paid.” That was in 2020. It is now year 2022!
Just like the others, the air travel agents that handled the air tickets of diplomats and other VIPs that participated at the carnival are yet to be paid, thus putting their travel agency licenses in jeopardy of sanction from the International Air Transport Association, IATA. To avoid punitive measures by AITA, many of the travel agencies borrowed money from the commercial banks to pay the airlines which unfortunately with the delay in the repayment terms has led to the loss of their collateral to the banks. In the process, some have died and others have fallen sick. Others, because they could not recapitalise with IATA have lost their licenses.
The Travel agency in an appeal letter to the Governor, the Deputy Governor and the Speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly had urged the governor to approve the payment of the debt owed to them or else they may be pushed to seek legal action.
In a phone interview, Gabe Onah, the chairman of the Calabar Carnival Commission noted that the mandate is in the bank awaiting payment in May or June. According to him, the mandate is being re-validated to go along with the 2022 budget. Hopefully, Prof. Ayade will now pay up having won his battle of carpet-crossing from the PDP to the APC. Or, is he planning to use the funds for something else?
The Calabar Carnival, also known as “Africa’s Biggest Street Party” and the “Pride of Nigeria” is an annual carnival in Cross River State, in south eastern Nigeria. It was started by then Governor Donald Duke in 2004 as a way to promote tourism and improve the local economy. It showcased the dynamic local heritage and culture while strengthening the peoples’ capacity to participate in an economy that benefits them. It was to make the state a home of tourism and hospitality in Nigeria and Africa. This it did and it has grown over the years and truly become an international festival.
It used to be a month-long event, starting from the 1st of December until Benedict Ayade, governor of the state reduced it to two weeks. During the 2017 carnival, Governor Ayade said in his speech that the carnival is to showcase Africa as the richest continent and a blessed place where people should be proud to belong.
A committee in charge of tourism and cultural activities and new initiatives present different topics every year. These include football competition, colorful bands, music performance from local and international artistes, Boat Regatta, fashion shows (introduced in 2016), Beauty Pageant (Miss Africa introduced in 2016), Christmas Village, traditional dances and the annual Ekpe Festival. There is the “Hollywood-themed” film production city, essay writing competitions for secondary and tertiary students aimed at promoting reading culture among the youths. Other annual themes include Climate Change (2015), Migration (2017), Africanism (2018) and Humanity (2019).
Humanity was to challenge mankind that every human being has a right to existence. It was also to charge mankind not to be a source of pain to another person’s life. As Governor Ayade flagged it off in 2019, he emphasized the need for all to shun war as this does not depict the true personalities of those who claim they are humane to humanity. How ironical that the same governor would hesitate about the people’s plight.
Now that Ayade’s humanity has been affirmed in the courts, about his fundamental rights to cross-carpet and associate with whatever political party he so wishes, it is only right that he should equally do the needful by promptly paying all those owed for their contribution to the 2019 Calabar Carnival. Not only is it overdue, he should pay with interest and tender an unreserved apology to them. This will truly show that he is indeed a person of character.