It was a night of uncommon grandeur and celebration as the people of Akwa Ibom rose in unison above the tragic event of the previous week, which threatened to put a dampener on Christmas festivities in the 29-year-old state.
The State Governor, Emmanuel Udom, in an emotional opening speech called the Christmas Carols Festival an expression of perfect submission to the will of God and a demonstration of the resilience of the state to pick itself up and trudge on with faith and hope in a better future each time it is beset by mind-numbing set-backs.
Udom declared to the capacity crowd including top government officials, members of the diplomatic corps, clerics, international artistes, tourists from across the world and citizens that in spite of the tragedy “our love for God is sacrosanct.”
He said Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, whose teachings made it clear that death is not the end of man, adding that therefore, the state would not be cowed, and will not succumb to evil.
He thanked everyone who supported the state in its time of tribulation and also the sponsors, including Globacom, who committed their resources to ensuring that millions of Akwa Ibomites sing songs of joy again through the carols.
He then ushered in the world renowned American gospel artiste, Don Moen, whom he called adopted son of Akwa Ibom to lift up the spirits of thousands of people gathered in the arena in worship of God. Moen launched into a string of occasion-suiting numbers such as ‘Thank You, Lord’, ‘Father forgive us’, ‘God will make a way’, among others.
The Uyo Girls Choir, consisting of girls under 10, joined Moen on stage to give a beautiful rendition of ‘Lord, make us instrument of your peace’ to wild applause. They were followed by the Kayamba African Orchestra from South Africa who rendered ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ and ‘Noel’ in quick succession. Earlier, the young girls had released a pigeon each to represent all the local government areas in the state, signifying the flight of peace and tranquility across Akwa Ibom State.
The arrival of Esther Edoho sent the arena into wild excitement, underscoring her immense popularity among the local audience. Actively supported by enthusiastic sing-along crowd, she delivered ‘Ukara Jesus’ (Rain of Jesus), ‘Abasi afon ubok eno’ (God is good in giving) and ‘Emenere, emenere’ (Lift Him [Jesus] higher’ among others. A number of other local artistes that were to later achieve similar or even higher level of acclamation and appreciation from the crowd, also performed.
Other artistes who entertained the gathering at the event that lasted till the small hours of Sunday include PRM Band from the UK, Akwa Ibom Choir, who provided excellent back up to all the artistes including Don Moen, Buchi, Elijah Oyelade, Julius Nglass, Fr. Patrick Edet, Steve Crown, Perfecta Ekpo who rendered a flawless National Anthem, Sammy Okposo and the Kenyan Boys, among others.
In the night’s inaugural speech, Permanent secretary, Special Services Department, Akwa Ibom, Aniekpeno Mkpanang, who coordinated the event, had lauded Globacom and other sponsors for showing solid commitment to the prosperity of the state. He implored them to continue to show support for the project which will enter its tenth year in 2017.