Maximising gains of Akwa Ibom Christmas Festivals

Report by Uduak Ikpantan, Emmanuel Thompson, Celestina Ukpong, Mbuotidem James and Emmanuel Atteh

Once upon a December

Once upon a December in Akwa Ibom, a captivating Christmas Festival unfolded, drawing people from all corners of Nigeria and the world to the vibrant city of Uyo. The month-long extravaganza, aptly named “Christmas Unplugged,” unfolded at the Christmas Park along Udoudoma Avenue, offering a rare blend of Christian religious and cultural activities in one enchanting location.

The festivities were intentionally designed to showcase Akwa Ibom’s rich culture, entrepreneurial spirit, and creative prowess to the world. The Christmas Park, therefore, became the epicenter of a unique celebration, projecting the state as the ultimate destination for fun-loving individuals seeking a remarkable holiday experience.

The Christmas Park, a kaleidoscope of excitement, hosted the renowned Ibibio Museum, a village square featuring 31 huts representing the state’s 31 local government areas, and 21 streets adorned with 200 kiosks. The kiosks were named after Akwa Ibom sons and daughters who had excelled in various fields of human endeavuor, adding a personalised touch to the festive ambiance.

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Since the return of democracy in 1999, successive administrations have allocated funds for Christmas decorations and lighting in the state capital, setting a trend. In the last two to three years of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration, the state capital was extravagantly adorned from the first week of December, creating a sweet Christmas ambiance.

However, during “Christmas Unplugged,” which was the theme of the 2023 celebrations, the government offered a local flavour to both street decorations and the artistes invited to the Christmas Carols. All the artists were indigenous to the state and they acquitted themselves during the night of songs and bling.

The celebrations also featured cultural displays by groups from all the local government areas of the state and heavy helpings of culinary delights.  Mr. Etetim Onuk, the executive chairman of the transition committee of Itu Local Government Area, shared his thoughts on the event, especially on December 17, designated for his local government to showcase cultural heritage and tourism potentials.

“We showcased the dynamics and cultural potentials that abound in Itu. I felt very fulfilled and proud to be the chairman of Itu transition committee.” Itu, according to Onuk, stands out with historical significance, aligning with the ARISE Agenda of Governor Umo Eno, emphasising tourism as a vital aspect of the agenda.

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Mr. Emem Westgard Sandy, a local dry gin manufacturer, highlighted the health benefits of native dry gin compared to foreign drinks, appealing for government support to expand their businesses.

Udeme Tom, a food vendor, shared her experience at the 2023 Christmas Park, praising the improved organization and patronage. Dikko Wakili, a suya vendor from Sokoto State, expressed joy over high patronage at the Christmas Park, commending the State Government for the initiative.

The director of culture in Akwa Ibom State, Akparawa John Offiong, praised the innovative approach to the Christmas festivities, emphasizing inclusiveness and celebrating the state’s cultural heritage. “This is a special innovation and I want to thank God for my commissioner, Sir Charles Udo for vividly interpreted the vision of the governor for this event.

“The Village Square you are seeing right now is the turning point of the event, where we have local government areas coming here day by day, except on Christmas Carols Day. Every other day we keep seeing people coming here. For me, it was a supper performance,” Mr. Offiong said.

Building capacity after the festivities

As the last echoes of Christmas carols faded away, the government, in collaboration with the Ibom Leadership and Entrepreneurial Development Center, took a proactive step to empower the entrepreneurs who contributed to the success of the Christmas Park. A series of training sessions were organised, facilitated by industry experts and in partnership with institutions such as the Bank of Industry, Zenith Bank, Wema Bank, and Ibom-LED.

The theme of the training sessions resonated with the government’s commitment to sustainability: “Sustaining Your Business beyond the Christmas Season.” Over 200 entrepreneurs who had brought their goods and services to the Christmas Park eagerly absorbed business hacks, strategies, and insights that would enable them not only to grow their businesses but also to thrive and make profits long after the festive season.

The Christmas Festival in Akwa Ibom had not only left an indelible mark on the memories of the visitors but had also paved the way for a new wave of empowered entrepreneurs ready to carry the spirit of Akwa Ibom’s Christmas into the future. The state had successfully blended tradition, entrepreneurship, and celebration, creating a legacy that would endure beyond the twinkling lights and festive melodies of that magical December.

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