CALL IT THE BIGGEST ASSEMBLY OF CAROL SINGERS IN THIS CONTINENT AND YOU WON'T BE WRONG. 9,999 CHORISTERS HELD A MASSIVE AUDIENCE SPELLBOUND AT THE AKWA IBOM STATE GOVERNMENT CHRISTMAS CAROL NIGHT LAST MONTH AND IT WAS A NIGHT TO REMEMBER. FAR FROM THE AVERAGE RELIGIOUS GATHERING COMMON AT THAT TIME OF THE YEAR, IT ENCOMPASSED FERVENT WORSHIP, MUSIC AND AKWA IBOM'S RICH CULTURE.
Uyo...security, serenity and Cosmopolitan Vibe
The last flight into Uyo was delayed for about an hour and a half. Quite scary for a flight leaving after 6pm but concern for safety seemed to be the last thing on my fellow travelers minds, some complained about not being able to see their loved ones that night but most worried about not missing the Christmas carol night (what better indication of what lies ahead than this). Getting into another state at that time of the night and having to encounter the long drive from the airport into the city would have left both indigenes and tourists jittery but not Akwa Ibom known for its low crime rate.
As we drove to the hotel on Ikot Ekpene road, I saw some of the most breathtaking yuletide outdoor decorations last year, from the eclectic lights, fixtures and accessories on streets to sparkle of festive decorations strewn all over the city (including the new roundabouts and their fountains) that will put even the most ardent atheist in the festive mood. Even at the feverish pitch of Christmas celebrations at that time of the year, Uyo's serenity as a city was a welcome change from the chaotic pace of Lagos.
But much more that that was the cosmopolitan vibe the city of Uyo gave. From its beautiful landscape to its expanding basic social infrastructure, the city is set to compete favourably with any other cosmopolitan cities in the nearest future.
9,999 choristers and a Night to remember
A departure from the calm and serene environs was the capacity filled Uyo Township Stadium with its rich mix of crowd: choristers, audience, security operatives and hawkers giving off a pulsating synergy that can only be found in events like this. As you managed to get inside the outer bowl of the stadium that evening, you were confronted with mobile traders and hawkers of different wares, from drink vendors to souvenir merchants, all cashing in on the opportunity to make brisk business. The multitude represented a city engulfed with the celebration of Christmas.
An intimidating assembly of carol singers (9,999) gave it their all in an outstanding performance leaving every one present including both local and foreign tourists, top clergy men, distinguished personalities and thousands of crowd filled with joy and happiness as beautiful Christmas Carols sung (mostly in Akwa Ibom local dialect) to the delight of the crowd it a night to remember and one of the top events of our social calendar.
A far cry from carnivals and social gigs prevalent during the month of December (20th of December), it was a night of joy and blessing as the people and government of Akwa Ibom State chose to praise the Lord and give him thanks for his faithfulness to the state. The mass choir of Akwa Ibom is considered by some to be epically historic and awesomely significant because of its size making it the biggest choir group in the world, having clinched this prize from the previous winners, 7914 choristers of Bob Jones university, USA two years ago. Add the sonorous voice of the state governor, Godswill Akpabio whose singing talent was on the upswing that night and you have 10, 000.
The synergy of the 9,999 choristers made up of different choir groups including the Ibom Orchestra, the AKSG choir, choir groups from the thirty one local government areas of the state and visiting gospel groups like the Divine Wonders Choir.
Just like the streets, Uyo township stadium wore a carnivalesque look, from the different uniforms of choristers to decorations to different attires of the crowd. One constant feature all through the night were floating balloons adding more grace to the ambience. The sitting arrangement was well co-ordinated with articulated viewing ranges for everyone in the Olympic-size stadium. There were two large stages planted on the football pitch. One was for the special guests of honor which included the Governor and his Exco and other special invitees. Facing this in the far end was the one where the Brass band and other invited bands. Between the two large stages were two podiums, one was to the Governor's stage and the other on to the brass band stand. Adjacent these podiums were sets of chairs neatly arranged where members of the public were seated. There was a walkway overlaid with red a carpet which connected the governor's stage with the podium which faces the Brass band stage.
Present at the event, were foreign and Nigerian artistes. Other important dignitaries include the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye; Prelate of the Anglican Communion, Sunday Mbang, former governor Chukwuemeka Ezeife, members of the house and other important dignitaries.
Before the 9,999 (in its sixth year), was flagged off by the first family, the Ibom Unity Brass Band (resplendent in their white and gold ceremonial wear) was a deal maker, sending participants to the celestial world with their soulful music rendered in tempo moderated melodious voices. Later the Ibom Orchestra and AKSG choir sang the national anthem melodiously as the first family proceeded to kick off the event.
Akpabio remarked that Christmas must be a period of togetherness and peace amongst Nigerians, for the country to move forward.
Reading the Bible lesson taken from Luke Chapter 2, verse 4 to 20, Akpabio while declaring the Christmas Carol open said that the state made praise and worship a part of the administration's policy. According to him, the state must offer itself as a vehicle for God to use. 'We must also offer ourselves as a rebirth to God, Nigeria must also embark on transformation to God and bring our children closer to God". The governor after reading the Bible lesson ran back to its seat in an athletic style.
"We realized that God would not accept gold or demand silver for the marvelous things which he has been doing for us without asking, and even when we asked, he usually did it beyond our expectations. Hence the only thing he accepts is to acknowledge him and thank him by praising his name."
At the event, Governor Godswill Akpabio noted that it was designed to give the people the opportunity to come together for the common purpose of showing their love for one another, urging Nigerians to demonstrate love and kindness in their relationship with others.
Akpabio, who was accompanied by his wife, Unoma, however, regretted that despite the blessings bestowed on the country in many areas, Nigerians have chosen to act differently and even waxed prophetic when he started to predict future benefits indigenes of the state stand to enjoy in the new year and in future.
According to him, "Such persons should not be subjected to criticism. Let us try to put Christmas in their hearts. Just as it is the duty of those who have physical sight to lead those who are physically blind, so is the duty of those who can see with their minds to lead those who are blind in their minds.
Praise and Worship like never before
The beautiful quartet of Aity Dennis-Inyang, Pat Akpabio, Anne Inyang and Linda Etukudoh rendered soulful songs in different Nigerian languages to the delight of all.
Pastor Adeboye, the special man of God was given a rousing welcome. He spoke about some attributes of God we need to imbibe. He preached the sermon using real-life incidents and followed with prayers for the state, people of the state, state officials and visitors.
Divine Wonder Choir from Congo Brazaville thrilled the audience with their songs and energetic dance steps. Alvin Slaughter, the popular gospel singer thrilled the audience to another level as he performed popular tracks of his songs, keeping the audience permanently on their feet.
Award-winning Donnie McClurkin came on stage next and the stadium went into a frenzy, thanks to his melodious voice and spirit-filled songs. A multi-linguist, he performed songs in Akwa Ibom language, Carribean, German, Dutch and Swahili to the delight of the crowd.
Ima Bassey, an indigene of Akwa Ibom looks forward to this time of the year. 'I live in Abuja but this is one time of the year I always visit to put myself in the mood for Christmas and also have a special worship with my God. It's the best way to round off the year and spiritually prepare for the next year. This is my third visit,' she revealed. Though it was held in the evening and lasted long into the night, its timing did not present any hurdle, thanks also to the gradual return of night life to the town, aided by huge investment by the state government in expanding basic social infrastructure such as roads and drainages.
The Christmas carol night with the decorative lights in selected locations within the city provided residents with an evening that was filled with fun and relaxation, particularly as it had the blessing of providence, as seen in the presence of key ministers of the gospel.
From 'Las Pala Bras de Armor' (the theme song) to 'Joy to the world' to 'Mme Okpono Abasi', the group glorified God in both English and traditional Akwa Ibom dialect. A rich blend of music, instrument and performance, 9,999 Christmas Carol Night was the perfect Christmas present.