The 2012 Calabar Festival got off to an impressive start early Saturday with a colourful lighting of the Christmas tree at the Millennium Park, Calabar.
Cross River State Deputy Governor Efiok Cobham, who led the spectators, which included legendry South African composer and trumpeter Hugh Masekela, was treated to a full bouquet of fun.
Masekela, who has performed in the festival four times now, described Cross River State as one of the safest places with peace loving people.
The musician said he was proud to be part of the celebration, which grows talents and allows every community to enjoy life in a free environment.
Senior Special Adviser to President Jonathan on Ethics and Values, Mrs. Sarah Jibril, described the occasion as a sense of joy and beauty.
Jibril said it was a wonderful experience which other states should emulate, adding that the cleanliness and orderliness of the state should be sustained because it makes it unique.
While lighting the Christmas tree, Cobham, who was assisted by his wife, Glory, Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Hon. Larry Odey, Makesela, Jibril and representatives of sponsors and development agencies, said the 12-year-old event has grown bigger in scope and volume.
Cobham said the state government would continue with the festival because it is a celebration of love, hospitality, courage and resilience of the people in the face of challenges.
The Deputy Governor commended the sponsors for identifying with the festival in different ways and described the lighting ceremony as a tip of the iceberg as the best would come during the other days of the festival.
Special Adviser Governor's Office, Mr. Nzan Ogbe, described the festival as a great gift which the state has for the nation as one the best ways in its rebranding process.
Ogbe appealed to the Federal Government to partner the state in the 32- day event which is delightful to the soul.
The Group Managing Director/ CEO First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Mr. Bisi Onasanya, in his address, said as a partner, the mutually beneficial partnership had enabled the bank to return value to a key stakeholder community by improving the social and cultural calendar of the state of the state.
According to Onasanya, who was represented by Mrs. Nkiru Harry Eze, the bank prides itself on its corporate social responsibility and sponsorship initiative which reflect its commitment to being a major contributor to the socio-economic and cultural development of the country.
Later Saturday, Cobham also led a four kilometre Paradise City Walk against HIV/AIDS as the state marks the 2012 World AIDS DAY as well as the opening of the Calabar festival village at the Cultural Centre ground.
The deputy-governor said over the years the state had made tremendous efforts to combat HIV/AIDS scourge and the reduction which has been noticed is due to the effort in partnership with State Action Against AIDS (SACA) and the development partners.