Interview with Dr. Sam Dede, Director General, Rivers State Tourism Development Agency, organisers of Carniriv: Port Harcourt Carnival
Q. Let’s start with the name of the brand itself, there seems to be some confusion about ‘Carniriv’ and the ‘Port Harcourt Carnival’. For the record, can you clarify what may be brand confusion for us?
A. There is no brand confusion. Carniriv and the Port Harcourt Carnival are one and the same brand. The Carnival is held every year in Port Harcourt hence it is called the Port Harcourt Carnival. You must have observed that most renowned global carnivals are branded according to the host city or destination. The Port Harcourt Carnival as we know it today has a history which dates back to the year 1988 when it was first held as ‘Carniriv’ making it the oldest multi-event carnival in the country. The name ‘Carniriv,’ is the linking of the first five letters of Carnival (the event) and the first three letters in Rivers (the host state) to form ‘Carniriv.’ i.e., carnival of the Rivers people (for everyone). So when people refer to Carniriv or the Port Harcourt Carnival, they refer to one and the same brand – Carniriv, the Port Harcourt Carnival.
Q. What makes the carnival unique?
A. One of the unique features of the carnival is that each year we launch it with a predominant theme. For instance, the 2013 edition was themed, ‘The Green World Edition’ in consonance with the universal crusade to go green. As expected, throughout the duration of the 2013 edition, we promoted everything organic, respect for nature and sustenance of the environment in the quest to improve our general wellness and the quality of life
This year, the Carnival is themed, One Love, One People edition, for reasons that are self evident: Our country and indeed the global community has embraced globalisation – the breaking down of barriers, the closing of ranks between people of diverse colours, creed, culture, political leaning, race etc. Our theme is well thought out because it denoted the unity of our people, diverse as we are in creed, and culture and faith and opinion – we celebrate our oneness as people of the greatest city in Nigeria – calm, peaceful, fun filled and original.
Q. What should we expect from the 2014 edition of the Port Harcourt Carnival; what is new?
A. The 2014: One Love, One People Edition, is a Carnival with many firsts. For the first time in the history of the Carnival, we are set to unveil our state-of-the-art performance stage. It is a one hundred and fifty (150) feet of architectural masterpiece with many outstanding features. The stage is collapsible and can be uncoupled into smaller units to stage multiple events at far-flung locations within the state. The stage is designed to complement our sponsorship drive as it can also be deployed for branding purposes by interested sponsors. In no small measure, this stage, which is the largest of its kind in Africa, will raise the standard and brand pedigree of the Carnival in line with our vision to position it as a global brand.
Secondly, we have packaged the different activities of the Carnival into sub brands for commercial exploitation. Unlike in previous editions, we have fully democratised the Carnival to encourage business participation from interested corporate bodies and multi-national organisations in order to make it a ‘commercially attractive and economically viable Carnival brand’. At least twelve individual events such as the ‘Free Style Street Parade’, the ‘Kids Carnival’, ‘Praise Jam’ and ‘Ekere – rhythm of the Tribes, to mention a few, are open to exclusive and non-exclusive category sponsorships. We have also created a headline sponsorship window for interested sponsors.
Thirdly, for the first time, we are staging Miss Carniriv Beauty Pageant (MCBP) as part of the carnival. The pageant, slated for the 13th of December, is a special event to herald the carnival and introduce the beauty of Port Harcourt and indeed Nigeria to the world. I will also like to add that successful participants and fans alike are set to go home with unique prizes and gifts as a token of appreciation from the organisers. And there are more that we can not reveal in one sitting.
Q. You claimed that the Port Harcourt Carniriv is one of the biggest Carnivals in Africa, is this really so and why have you not translated this into the commercial and publicity success expected of a brand of this nature?
A. Each year, over Five Hundred Thousand participants, 23 local government floats, ten costume bands and visiting troupes from all over the world take part in our carnival. The turnout grows each year and this is a known fact. Add to that over 14 kilometres of street parade and over 25 group tour requests during the carnival and you are closer to the big picture – we are big! We have always concentrated our energy and resources in delivering the best Carnival in terms of audience participation and satisfaction and without sounding immodest, we have succeeded in bringing internationally renowned musicians and chart toppers such as Shaggy, Patra, Steel Pulse – a roots reggae musical band, Morgan Heritage and their indigenous counterparts to Port Harcourt for live performances.
In the same token, we have always lined up the best-of-the-best indigenous stars to also perform alongside the global icons. Although our work speaks for us, we have since learnt that we have to sound our own trumpet too. For this reason, this year, we are upping the media and publicity stakes on a global level and we are sure that the international community will marvel at the entertainment spectacle that is the Carniriv 2014: One Love, One People edition.
Q. You spoke about major acts that you assembled in the past. Let’s talk about the present, who should we be expecting?
A. The Carnival thrives on the element of surprise and we do not wish to let the Cat out of the bag, so to speak, at this stage. What we can say is that our guests from every part of the globe will find the Carnival a most memorable experience not only on account of our intimidating assemblage of a constellation of international stars but the because the indigenous flavour will be unbelievable! You only need to look at the past editions to fully appreciate what we do here at the Rivers State Tourism Development Agency, RSTDA and I consider myself lucky to work with a very hard working, dedicated and creative team of professionals. For information about our line up for the carnival watch this space a few weeks to the event
Q What else is in the carnival for the people apart from the entertainment value?
R. One major trust of the carnival is empowerment. Every year, we attract different musicians, performers and entertainers who are given rare opportunities to connect with their fan base, develop their talent and ride on the carnival platform to market themselves to local and international audiences. At the Rivers State Tourism Development Agency, RSTDA, we have a deliberate policy to line up our local talents to perform on the same stage and to the same audience with their international counterparts. For instance, last year, about 60 local talents shared the centre stage with global chart toppers. This potentially translates into more revenue for them in the mid and long term. Again, all carnival costumes are made by local designers and costumiers based in Port Harcourt and membership of the bands is free. We give out cash awards and other prizes to participants to encourage them to grow. For instance, the 2013 designer is currently undergoing a capacity building training in South Africa. Evidently, the carnival serves in mobilising the people to share ideals, celebrate what is common between us, bond and connect with one another.
From a commercial perspective, SMEs and other businesses profit every year from the increased human traffic and patronage from the huge crowd that pours into Port Harcourt during the one week period. Let’s not forget that tourism is also boosted for the state before, during and after the carnival as hotels, recreational centres, tourist sites, arts, culture, advertising, publishing and creative companies, plus food and beverage companies etc all profit from the increase in human and vehicular traffic during the period of the carnival. Hundreds of direct and indirect employments and sustenance is created along the value chain through the carnival as millions of naira exchanges hands every day.
Q. Are you mindful that the scale of the carnival may pose security challenges?
A. Yes, we are and each year we work with various security and non-security stakeholders to deliver a hitch-free carnival. Our Governor, His Excellency, Mr. Rotimi Ameachi, who is the major impetus behind the success of the carnival because of his passion and love for the arts, culture and entertainment accords us all the necessary support every year to ensure that we host a hitch-free event. Therefore, because of his unflinching support, our security dragnet is both intensive and extensive. We take security seriously in the state so our guests should be rest-assured that we will deploy our formal and informal security network to ensure that they are safe and well protected, as always, during the period.
Q. What about the treat of Ebola?
A. Thanks to the efforts of all and sundry, the World Health Organisation has designated Nigeria as an Ebola free country; however, we are still working with the health ministry and other health stakeholders to ensure that we are not taken by any surprises before, during and even after the carnival as far as health matters are concerned.
Q. Take us through some of your major events that are part of the carnival; what is unique about them and why do you think they will be commercial and entertainment successes?
A. Let’s start with the kids. The Kids Carnival has proven to be a huge favourite not only for the kids but also for the parents and adults alike who seize rare moments that the carnival presents to connect and bond with the younger generation. Praise Jam, with an estimated turn out of many thousand people bodes a veritable opportunity for corporate bodies to connect with their fan base and customers. Dance of Fireflies which pulls in thousands of fans every year is set in the natural ambience of the old moonlight tales and has a huge followership
If you have not seen Ekere – the Rhythm of the tribes, then you need to be in Port Harcourt this year to experience it. For those who like to see real men take on each other in an undiluted gladiatory show of masculine prowess, Egelege – Champion of the Sand Arena comes highly recommended.
Most lovers of undiluted musical entertainment affirm that Hosh Jam has proven to be the best of its kind within an outside the shores of our country while the International Aquatic Fiesta is a showcase of our rich aquatic splendour and everything that makes life at the river side a wonderful experience.
The Black African Musical Festival is one which evokes feelings from the inner crucibles of the hearts of all of us. Closely allied to it is the Reggae 360 which is the ultimate centre stage for reggae musicians with potentials to take you on a-360-degree odyssey into the spiritually uplifting world of music as popularised by the ‘Rastafarians’.
The International Heritage Parade is an all-comers’ affair for those who relish the enduring memories that the parade presents every year while the Garden City Free Style Parade is unique for its long retinue of cultural and artistic human traffic snaking through the major streets of Port Harcourt to rhythmic music and different dance steps.
Of course, the carnival is incomplete without the World Peace Concert which attracts both foreign and indigenous singers and groups. I have just given you a sneak preview of what to expect but as the popular saying goes, ‘seeing is believing’. All the sub-brands that make up the Carniriv 2014 carnival are open to sponsorship opportunities for both indigenous and foreign brands/companies.
Q. There was speculation that the carnival may not hold this year before you made your announcement. Why did it take the Rivers State Tourism Development Agency so long to make this announcement?
A. The delay in announcing the 2014 edition was inevitable because of developments outside our control. You will recall that some months back the challenge of the Ebola Virus Disease which particularly threatened Lagos and of course Port Harcourt became a national issue. We therefore could not talk about launching the 2014 edition until today, a few days after the World Health Organisation declared Nigeria as an EVD free country.