A COLOURFUL NIGHT OF CAROLS

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong reports on the 9th edition of the Akwa Ibom Carols Festival, an event that set out to make a global mark in 2008 as ‘9999 Carols Night’. It has since been cited in the Guinness Book of World Records

Two hours before the advertised time of 5:00pm, a throng of people were already at the Uyo Township Stadium venue of the 2016 edition of one of the best attended events in Nigeria. It was a humourous contrast to observe that while the neighbouring Akpan Andem Market was progressively being deserted for the day, the stadium was being filled up. Cheerful and determined, those who came to witness the 9th edition of the Akwa Ibom Christmas Carols Festival were markedly different from their compatriots taking their leave of the market.

To be sure, another kind of trading activity was emerging at the entrance. Hawkers made brisk business selling snacks, soft drinks and water. A couple of them traded in ornamental items for decorating homes to reflect the Christmas mood, while others sold Christmas caps and other forms of bunting. Security personnel stationed at the gates frisked everyone to keep away suspicious elements and would be trouble makers. There were armed policemen who stood a good distance from the gate, keeping an eye on the stream of people who entered the stadium, but they did not take part in searching people.

Stationed on one side at the gate was an ambulance. The para-medical personnel who stood around the van wore a clearly marked bib which distinguished them. If the teeming crowd of persons haboured any concern for their safety in view of the tragic loss of lives at a collapsed church structure the previous Saturday, they did not show it at all. There was no hint of a reminder of what had become known as the Black Saturday. From the look of things, the para-medical teams were ready to handle any untoward situation. Some groups and individuals had clamoured for a cancellation of the 2016 Akwa Ibom Carol Festivals as a mark of respect to those who lost their lives in the Reigners Bible Church tragedy.

The Uyo Township Stadium was well lit. A huge Christmas Tree at one of the entrances towered high into the air and could be seen no matter what side of the stadium one was stationed. There were a few giant screens to beam goings-on, particularly to those who were a distance from the focal point. Wordings of songs by performing artistes were beamed on the screens to enable people sing along. Many of them did not need this prompting. They knew the songs by heart and they sang along enthusiastically.

Internationally acclaimed worship leader, Don Moen was particularly enthused by the reception as he made his way onto the stage singing, ‘God will Make a Way’ with an orchestra. In between taking another song, he admonished: “It is time to pray for this nation. Oh Lord, heal our land.” His next song, ‘Amen’ was both an affirmation and a request. Moen sang a series of his hits including ‘Thank You Lord’ and ‘Ancient Marks’ which were enthusiastically received. Weaved into his performance was an initiative that may grow bigger and become widely publicised in the days ahead – the God Will Make a Way Project.

Two groups from the east African nation of Kenya featured in the 2016 edition of the Akwa Ibom Carols Festival. They were the Kenyan Boys Choir, a group that was reportedly formed by a Nigerian who now resides in the United States of America. Incidentally, the Nigerian founder of the group and his wife were present in Uyo to watch the show. Their performance which was marked by display of physical fitness did not hit home with the crowd. It wasn’t until they sang, ‘One Love’, made popular by reggae music icon, Bob Marley, that they were applauded but by this time the audience wanted to see another performance. The Kayamba Africa Choral Ensemble did their best to give a good account of what Kenyans are capable of.

One of the outstanding performances of the night was presented by the Uyo Girls Choir. The Akwa Ibom State Government Choir which was conducted at some point by Governor Udom Emmanuel also gave a stellar performance that was well applauded. Mr. Emmanuel, an elder in the Qua Iboe Church led the congregational hymn, ‘Se Ko Ke Ufok Enang’. The Governor also read the scriptures from Mark Chapter 5 verses 1 to 10 and 20; and 1st Samuel Chapter 17 verses 34 and 35. The sermon for the night was preached by Ghanaian Bishop Duncan Williams.

Governor Emmanuel said, “Ever since Mary Slessor and other blessed missionaries came to our shores and evangelised our ancestors, we have come to see the church as a shelter of refuge. The Church has given us hope and inspiration. The church has showered blessings on us and raised our moral tone and texture.” He recalled with pains the incident of a church building collapse and observed a minute silence in honour of those that died in the tragic incident.

Permanent Secretary Special Services Department Mr. Aniekpeno Mkpanang described it as a concert for comfort, healing and cleansing of the land.
Governor Udom Emmanuel and wife Martha, former governors, senators, Senate minority leader senator Akpabio and wife Unoma, members of the political class, religious and business moguls were present at the carol festival.

The praise and worship session which was heralded by Esther Edoho amplified the theme of the event, ‘Let Our King be Lifted High’ powerfully. The home girl she is, she knew how to carry the crowd with well-known choruses. The stadium erupted in response when she opened her session of performance with ‘Ukara Jesus’, which talks about the reign of Jesus. As if on a queue, handkerchiefs were raised high, hands flying in the air, some even lifted their seats up when she sang, ‘Emenere Christ Ke Enyong’, meaning lift Christ up. The atmosphere was charged and the excitement infectious.

Whenever it appeared as if boredom was about to set in or the crowd had become distracted, the MC, Mr. Ralp Edem who is on Governor Emmanuel’s public relations team expertly brought them back on track with wisecracks and encouraging anecdotes. He employed frequently used gimmicks that appealed to the sentiments of the people. Who wouldn’t fall for carefully wrapped yarns like, ‘if you know you will enter 2017 in good health and happiness….Of course, Edem had the crowd eating from his palms and doing whatever he appealed their indulgence for. They clapped when he asked them to. Stood at his insistence and raised their hands in a rare demonstration of cooperation that heightened the atmosphere of good cheer and happiness.

Perhaps for being the only acapella performance of the night, the quartet called, PRM Band from the UK received a loud unsolicited clap from the crowd once they started singing. They yielded the stage for Elijah Oyelade, a worship leader whose performance was well received. Rev. Father Patrick Edet of the Family Assembly was well known to the crowd, going by the loud cheer that greeted his presentation.

The introduction of Buchi Atuonwu, a former university teacher of English Language who has become a gospel reggae musician changed the mood of the night. He began his session with a chant, ‘There is no other god who lives and never, ever dies….” The crowd took it from his lips. From then on, they sang every word he uttered, cheering wildly as he left the stage on a high note. It was time for Steve Crown who surprised many by opening his performance with an Ibibio chorus, ‘Yak Itoro’. Of course, he closed his session with his compelling and inspiring song, ‘You Are Great’.

Other renowned gospel singers who put up electrifying performances were ‘Welu Welu’ Master, Sammie Okposo, and performers like Julius Nglass and Perfecta Ekpo.
Embedded in the words of the closing prayer by Bishop Sunday Mbang were some of the heart-felt plea to God to perfect the ways of the people of Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria.

One of Nigeria’s leading telecoms operators, Globacom, was the exclusive telecoms partner for this year’s edition of the internationally acclaimed Akwa Ibom State Christmas Carol Festival. Globacom said it sponsored the Carol because of the impressive success of the 2015 edition of the event, which brought in award-winning artistes from all over the world including two Grammy award winners. “We fully identify with the Akwa Ibom Christmas Carol festival which has become one of the biggest crowd-pulling events of the Yuletide season. Our desire is to follow the passion of Nigerians and connect them with their passion.”

The event hit the ground running in 2008 as “9999 Carols Night” with a determination to make a global mark. It has since grown in magnitude and repute to become a glittering carnival of songs, dance, worship and fun recognized worldwide and cited in the Guinness Book of Records. In the 2011 edition, Akwa Ibom Christmas Carols made history when it featured a 9,999-member choir, which was reputed to be the largest choir in the world at that time.

The Akwa Ibom Christmas Carols – an evening of praise, worship, love and unity, apart from being a record-breaking gathering of Carol Singers, has become a major avenue of promoting spiritual growth, peaceful coexistence among ethnic, religious and cultural groups in the state and spiritual tourism that attracts people from around the world. The Akwa Ibom State choral group made a world record again as the largest number of carol singers in the world. This record was officially certified by the Guinness World Records on Saturday, December 13, 2014 in a concert featuring 25,272 carol singers at the Akwa Ibom International Stadium with Guinness World Records representatives in attendance.

WINNERS EMERGE IN INSHORT FILM FESTIVAL
Bhaira Mcwizu, winner of the third edition of the Nigeria Breweries Plc sponsored talent hunt show for the movie industry, AMBO clinched the Best Actress plaque for her role in ‘Cliché’ at the recent 2016 edition of Nigeria’s most popular short film festival.
The honour of Best Actor was bestowed on Jide Alli for his role in ‘Bout’. Incidentally, the same movie was not only adjudged the Best Overall, it also won in the Best Sound, Best Edit and Best Directing categories.

Placed second in the honours roll was the movie ‘Kodinga: Defenders of Pahuma’ which scooped three trophies in the categories of Best Costume, Best Production Design and Best Special/Visual Effects
Cliché was one of 60 films considered by the Shuaibu Hussein-led jury. Other top winners Best Animation awarded to ‘Gyrow’, Best Documentary won by ‘ And the Chain was Hot’, Best Music Video trophy lifted by ‘Mr. President’ and the award for Best Child Actor which went to Daniel Udah for his role in ‘Opeyemi’
Special Jury Prize were awarded to Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen – The Gbege Series and Nuhu Dalyop – who submitted up to 10 films for the 2016 festival.

Fidelis Duker – the founder of the Abuja International Film Festival, the longest running festival in Nigeria, Ayo Makun (AY) – who started doing skits and short videos many years before venturing into film production and Emmanuella Samuel, the six year-old comedienne, who recently starred in a Hollywood film, Survive or Die went home with Special Recognition Awards.

SEUN BAKARE GROWS IN STATURE
With each passing day, SB Live, an ensemble of professional instrumentalists led by Seun is gaining more popularity with party lovers residing in the mainland axis of Lagos.
From the days of playing at Troy, a popular lounge in Ogba, SB is now getting greater attention from event organizers, corporate organizations such as Cocacola, Guinness, Mouka Foam, UBA and important individuals who have come to appreciate his talent and the fact that his dexterity is second to no other band in Nigeria.

The Mushin-born talented keyboardist is an Afro Pop artiste whose style has earned him and his band the popular tag, ‘Master of all trades’. He has gradually become the toast at some end of year parties, annual general meetings, celebrity weddings and birthday parties among others.

‘I am in surprised at how far we have come in such short time. Corporate organizations, event agencies and individuals now pay a lot of attention to us. Fortune has smiled on us and this yuletide season holds more promise. The story has changed, people now patronized the places we play in regularly. I am thankful to God and people God has used to support the brand.’
SB who recently release a single titled, ‘Gbemileke’ featuring 9ice has been getting lot of because of his mastery at combining all genre of music.

AFRICA’S FIRST PRIVATE ATELIER OPENS
Some of Nigeria’s top oil magnates, captains of industries and government dignitaries that included billionaire Bola Shagaya and business mogul Julius Rone gathered recently to celebrate the opening of Alter Ego Private Atelier, the first-of-its-kind private Atelier in Africa.

The invitations only event held at Alter Ego Private Atelier inside Rachel’s Court, IL Bagno building in Gudu district, Abuja also had Special Adviser to the Minster on Budget and Planning, Ben Ifeanyi Akabueze, Retired Chief of Administration, Nigerian Navy, Admiral Joe Aikhomu and General Manager, Marketing & Corporate Communications, Coscharis Group, Abiola Babarinde in attendance. Others were President, MGM Marbles and Stones Italy, Laura Olivari, Chairman Arden Miles, Jude Ifedi among many distinguished guests.
Alter Ego Private Atelier offers bespoke luxury solutions through world-renowned Italian style with a touch of tailor-made interpretations for discerning men and women who love tailor-made Italian chic and glamour furnishings including travel accessories.

In partnership with Black Pelican Ltd, the grand opening of Alter Ego Private Atelier signals a remarkable difference in the growing Nigerian luxury industry. According to CEO, Black Pelican Ltd, Michael Owolabi, this shows Nigerian luxury industry is coming of age. There is a huge potential in the African market for Alter Ego bespoke luxury expertise.

CEO, Alter Ego Project Group, Julia D. Lantieri enthused over the opening of Alter Ego Private Atelier as Alter Ego has a mission to bring up perfection, exquisite style and elegance into the daily life of the most demanding clients.

Other guests present at the deluxe event included Senior Pastor, Trinity House, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, Chairman, Aerotech Offshore, Prince Rotimi Ibinabo, Partner, AELEX Legal Practitioners and Arbitrators, Soji Awogbade, Partner, Cardinal Stone Partners Limited, Mohammed Garuba, Founder, Laolu Adeyeye & Co, Michael Laolu Adeyeye, Darey Art Alade, DJ Jimmy Jatt and more.