This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Leboku - New Yam Festival with Carnival Touch

Lagos — The Cross River State Tourism Calendar took off with a bang August 22, with Leboku, the annual New Yam festival of the people of Yakurr Local Government Area of the State. The people came out in their thousands. Men, women and children gaily dressed, for once, forgetting their problems and poverty. Every one was willing to share food, drinks and indeed everything. It was the grand finale of a week-long celebration and entertainment spree.

It is their Leboku, the annual New Yam festival of the Yakurr people. But what used to be the local festival of the people of the area has been taken over by the State Government since 2005. Like in the past, it was a gathering of the young and the old, the rich and the poor. It was a festival where government and the people meet, where barriers created by officialdom are, at least temporarily, kept aside.

It was a show case of the rich culture of the people as they parade their traditional dances, maidens, traditional institution and history of the people. It was the climax of what had started a week ago. For one week, the people abandoned their farms, dressed their maidens in the best traditional attires, parading them around the communities to flaunt their beauty. The only work was to go to the farms to bring home the family's harvest of yams.

This year's Leboku was also unique in its attendance. For the first time, a governor of another state witnessed the fiesta. Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State graced the occasion. Other dignitaries included Deputy Leader of the Senate, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba; Chief Whip House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha; members of the House of Representatives, Hon. George Denwa, Dr. Emeka Onwuka, Hon. John Owan Eno, Hon. Bassey Ewa, and Hon. Gab Edi amongst others.

The international community also put up a strong presence. Mr. Tom Lopez of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival Band Association and Mr. Mike Williams, Board member of Nothinghill Carnival Commission and an American couple were also at the ceremony. This year's celebration was also unique as three cars were given out as star prizes for the first time. Miss Leboku, Mr. Leboku and the Best Yam Harvester went home with cars.

As early as 9.00am, Wednesday, the people had started flocking to the Yakurr Peace Stadium, Ugep, venue of the festival. The venue itself was another attraction. MTN, sponsors of the event painted the arena with its yellow and blue colours while a temporary market for yam and other traditional Yakurr foodstuff was created so that visitors can avail themselves of the opportunity to get things they can take away.

Non-Governmental Organisations, especially those involved in HIV/AIDS were not left out. They came along with HIV screening devices to allow the people know their status. Others came with messages which they pasted all over the stadium. Some of the messages read "Human Trafficking is Modern Day Slavery," "Stop Human Trafficking Now."

The celebration proper commenced with Governor Liyel Imoke and wife, Obioma, who was decked in traditional monikim attire, paying the traditional homage to the Obol-Lopon of Ugep and paramount Ruler of Yakurr Local Government Area, HRH Obol Ubi Ojong Inah at his palace to seek free entry as well as partake in the event. Thereafter, attention shifted to the venue of the celebration; the Yakurr Peace Stadium.

Welcoming people to the arena, Chairman of Yakurr Local Government Council, Mr. Ubi Itam Ettah said the attendance reflected good governance as the council has adopted the Seven-Point Agenda of the State Government with Ugep being developed to become a tourist destination to attain a world class standard. He paid tribute to the Obol Lopon for being a good custodian of Yakurr culture. Ettah commended the state government for improving and enlarging the star prizes which has boosted healthy competition among the people of the area to perfect and improve the value of the festival. He also thanked the sponsors, MTN, for the attention which the celebration has achieved.

Acting Managing Director of Cross River State Tourism Bureau, Mrs. Elenda Osima-Dokubo, said the state government had adopted the Leboku as one of its annual events in the State Tourism Calendar and through its various tourism agencies has been working with the Yakurr Traditional Rulers Council, the Obol Lopon Advisory Council and the Yakurr Local Government Council in an effort to drive its tourism policy and promote the culture of the people, especially the cultural message of harvest, love and fertility of the land.

She said Imoke has expressed a strong desire to enhance the Leboku festival to an international tourist event that will also promote agro-tourism, while showcasing the rich culture of the Yakurr people. Dokubo added that the festival celebrates the virtues of womanhood and the strength of the male youth which is the outcome of the Mr. Leboku and Miss. Leboku pageants.

Osima-Dokubo explained that the Miss. Leboku pageant had also received a boost from the office of the wife of the governor, Mrs. Obioma Liyel Imoke as her reign would promote the ideals of a cultural ambassador of the state, the face of agriculture in the state's new determination to reawaken the famed agric prowess in the nation where it is almost losing a generation of farmers who are worth their salt.

But it was the Obol Lopon of Ugep and Paramount Ruler of Yakurr Local Government Area, Obol Ubi Ujong Inah who added words of truth and concern.

Inah referred to the celebration as an annual valentine and commended those involved for its success. He lauded Imoke for improving the star prizes for Miss. Leboku, Mr. Leboku and the Best Yam Harvester.

He appealed to government to inherit the various tourist sites around the area, locate an institution of higher learning there to boost economy of scale as well as create an Ugep Urban Area as it has met the requirements. Inah listed the problems of the area to include increase in cult activities, armed robbery, youth restiveness, perennial inter ward wars, rumour, chieftaincy disputes and petition writing. He called on the three arms of governments to join forces with the security agencies to wipe out the vices and enjoined the police to enforce its patrol.

Addressing the crowd, the visibly elated Imoke described the Leboku as the celebration of yield of harvest, hard work and celebration of woman hood. He said although new yam festivals take place in various areas in the state, Yakurr has gained the highest recognition because of its uniqueness. He said the celebration is building up as this year's edition is better than 2008, adding that government will continue to work with the people of Yakurr to make it an international cultural festival because everything about Leboku will be celebrated and taken beyond the shores of Cross River.

Imoke commended Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State and other visitors for celebrating with the people and enjoined the awardees and honorees to carry the message across the land, while lauding the organisers. He urged them to build and strengthen the achievement, the recognition which it deserves as the prizes become more attractive.

Then it was award time. Miss Kedei Okoi was crowned Miss Leboku by Mrs. Obioma Imoke and went home with a Hyundai Accent Car; the key of the car was presented to Mr. Usani Nicholas, Mr. Leboku by Amaechi, while Imoke presented the key of Hyundai truck to Mrs. Felicia Oboma - the Best Yam Harvester.

Other winners included Miss. Miriam Ewa second position Miss Leboku (Hair Dressing Kit) and third Miss. Koton Ekapang (Sewing Machine). Mr. Leboku, second position Olu Arikpo (Motorcycle) and third position Sampson David (Generating set), Best Harvester, second position Mrs. Clara Ikpi James (Cassava grinding machine) and third position Mrs. Agnes Ubi Lekam (Motorcycle).

Best wrestler, first prize Kanu Onen Eyong (Motorcycle) and second prize Usani Ibiang Okoi, (Barbing Kit). Those awarded chieftaincy titles included Mr. Ubi Itam Ettah Chairman Yakurr Local Government Council, Mr. Eno Ndidi Offem, Assistant Controller of Customs, Hon. Paul Adah, member of the House of Representatives and Chief Ikpi Akusen Akpama.

Mrs. Imoke presented items to Amaechi, Senator Ndoma-Egba - Deputy, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha - Chief Whip House of Representatives, Hon. George Denwa - House of Representatives, Dr. Emeka Onwuka, Hon. John Owen Eno - House of Representatives, Hon. Bassey Ewa - House of Representatives, Hon. Gab Edi - House of Representatives, Mr. Tom Lopez - Trinidad and Tobago Carnival Band Association, Mike Williams - Board member Nothinghill Carnival Commission and an American couple.

Mr. Kester Osuenye of MTN, sponsor of the Festival, in a vote of thanks noted that the company saw the festival as a corporate project and was determined to promote the rich cultural potentials of the country which is worth celebrating, adding that like the Argungu Festival and Osun Oshogbo Festival, the Yakurr New Yam Festival known as Leboku is a celebration of note and worth promoting. Like last year, there are great expectations that the next Leboku will surpass this year's in both grandeur and expectation.

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