The ambiance of the procession from a distance is a colourful blend of a variety of colors like those of the rainbow, gleefully casting an illuminating shadow of beauty over the small island in the mangrove swamp merged with the serenity and bliss that dots the atmosphere and landscape best experienced than imagined.
That is the imagery projected at the just concluded Season 11 of the Benikrukru Christmas Carnival which first began in 2008 and is held every December 25th in the oil rich Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri South West council area of Delta state.
But wait, isn’t this location among the so-called coastal areas of the Delta that is painted to the outside world as a beehive of militant activities, and therefore a ‘no go’ area for visitors? However, instead of chaos, there is joy; instead of a battalion of a combined Joint Military Task Force, there are civilians adorning wonderful costumes; instead of gun shots from bombardments, there is the blazing sounds of trumpets; and instead of the faces of diehard militants, there are friendly faces painted with warmth.
As I pondered on this, familiar celebrity images surfaced on the island. And who do I see? It is the popular soap opera cast of ‘The Johnsons’ having a shoot of their next episode in Benikrukru community? Of all places in Nigeria? Yes, I see Charles Inojie (Mr Johnson), Chinedu Ikedieze (Efe), Ada Ameh (Emu Johnson), and Samuel Ajibola (Spiff). There’s more. I can see Asogwa Alexander and Efe (participants of Big Brother Naija), and then there is Bella Ebinum (the goddess of Africa Magic). Comedians ‘I Go Laff’ and ‘Baba Kome’ were not left out too.
Maybe they were all kidnapped. But wait a minute, they don’t strike me as victims of a kidnap nor do they look scared to death by their so-called captors. Instead, they are part of the procession train in an ant trail slowly gyrating to the wind of music from blazing trumpets. Everybody looked happy and the excitement that rents the air is indescribable.
Talking of the procession train, the Benikrukru Christmas Carnival began with participants all decked in regaling beautiful costumes, proceeding forth from the London-like mansion of the organisers and sponsors of the event, Engr Matthew Tonlagha and wife, Madam Esther Tonlagha. Some of the participants mounted motor bikes and golf carts, while many were on foot, making their way in droves round the community island, and finally converging at the public play field already decorated with canopies, chairs, tables and a red carpet at the backdrop in a corner, for the main menu of entertainment to be served.
The GbaramatuVoice Media House, one of Niger Delta’s finest news media outfits, had their sophisticated drone mounted in the air and could be seen in a surveillance-like mode to complement its team on the ground in capturing the event from all angles. Images generated are relayed automatically via its social media platforms through its WhatsApp and Facebook Page for subscribers to view on social media, while visual images are fed live through its GbaramatVoice Television YouTube channel for viewers to be alive to the carnival show.
Traders had a field day as they take their enterprise to the public play field in expectation of high patronage that would reap in profit. Some were expecting more supplies from Warri (which is roughly forty five minutes’ drive) to make up for the high demands resulting in stock out of products. Even though their prices are steeped when compared to prices in the urban areas, guests attending the carnival understand the effects of high transport fares on prices, and so nobody complained. After all, it’s a festivity period. Aside traders, operators of local speed boats in the transport sector also share in the profit arising from the influx of guests attending the once in a year event in Benikrukru community.
Children in their large numbers are always entitled to gifts at every edition of the carnival, ranging from bag packs, books and writing materials for them to use in the New Year when schools resume. Like adults, they are full of excitements while being entertained by celebrities and comedians alike. Surprisingly, majority of parents residing in Warri and environs, choose to take their children to visit the carnival every year, which is a treasured experience for many of these children as they get to see ships and other vessels as well as have a taste of what it feels like traversing the creeks during their journeys.
To spice up the carnival, the season 11 edition also featured a beauty contest for the second time, tagged Miss Benikrukru Carnival Queen (MBCQ), having first kicked off in 2017. The contest which had young girls of Gbaramatu Kingdom extraction competing for the MBCQ crown is aimed at giving a voice to girls in the region as well as empowering them. Unlike in most beauty pageantry, all contestants go home with a prize. Astounding it is!
Who would have thought such a carnival is possible in a region that is branded as hostile to foreign investments, for the simple fact that it plays host to the nation’s oil industry? Traveling through the channels of the creeks in the delta, one could easily behold the sights of pollution there.
Indeed, over the years, Engr and Mrs Matthew Tonlagha through the Benikrukru Christmas Carnival have proved to all that cares to listen that, like in any other island in the world, the Niger Delta is a friendly location that could help boost the nation’s tourism industry as well as help contribute to generating revenues as well as create means of empowerment for the teeming numbers of unemployed youths. What the government needs to do is show the will to clean up the Niger Delta coastal region to make it more safe, and to site infrastructures there that would encourage private investments to thrive. This will not only attract visitors as tourists but will also encourage inflows of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), as the days of crude oil are gradually waning out.