From Judex Okoro, Calabar
It was celebration galore when Okpambe community in Obubra Local Government Area (LGA), Cross River State, hosted the 2021 fishing and cultural festival.
As gathered, it was part of state government’s commitment to boost tourism at the grassroots in the oil-rich state
The Okpambe Fishing and Cultural Festival, popularly known as OCAFFEST, dates back to the early 16th Century. It is an annual festivity that last for one week.
According to sources, the festival could only take place after Ogabor, which is the king having had spiritual consultations with his chiefs and kingmakers, called Al’Atumamb, together with the festival planning committee.
It was revealed that once that is done and a date is chosen, it is subsequently announced by a senior member of Al’Atumambe who goes around the town beating the metal gong to herald the event.
Okpambe community is surrounded by Okum and Eminyi lakes which gave rise to the annual fishing festival. Each of the lakes has the capacity to accommodate a crowd of between 10,000 and 20,000 participants. Beside the lakes, the community is blessed with other tourist sites such as the “wonder slab of stones”, brought along with the people during their migration from Abachor Okpamhe in the present Yala LGA of Cross River.
The community is also noted for its ancient monoliths spread across the ancestral villages of Omindom, Ukpochi and Ogana as well as beautiful sand beaches, waterfalls, a mysterious secret bush and a beautiful traditional palace.
Perhaps, it is the abundance of this rich cultural and natural heritage that may have prompted the annual OCAFFEST to see how it can tap into the social, economic, cultural and tourism goldmine.
And this year was not an exception as the festival was marked by various activities, including cultural carnival, display of native delicacies, business expo, farm produce and indigenous technology exhibition (fishing tools and other arts) and symposium on Yala-Obubra language.
The climax of the festival was the fish-catch competition where thousands of local fishermen trooped to Okum and Eminyi lakes to showcase their fishing prowess.
Speaking at the grand finale of the event, the coordinator of OCAFFEST and CEO of Coneri Magazine, Eriacy Confidence Oba, commended the commissioner and his entourage for identifying with the community during the 2021 edition and appealed to the ministry to make the celebration a state’s affairs.
According to Obla, the CEO of Coneri Magazine, Okpambe community is blessed with numerous tourism attractions, agriculture, culture and commerce potential. He decried the deplorable roads condition which hampers economic activities in the area.
He called on the government, non-governmental organisations, corporate bodies and individuals to partner with them and see how they could transform OCAFFEST into a global brand just as he wants the event to be added into Cross River tourism calendar.
Speaking also, the Clan Head of Yala-Obubra, Ochuole Gabriel Inaku, called on the government to make Okpambe fishing festival a state affairs just as he wants priority to be given to provision of roads and other social amenities to attract tourism investors to the community.
Also speaking at the event, the commissioner for culture and tourism development, Hon. Eric Anderson, commended the people of Yala-Obubra for the warmth reception and promised that government would partner with the leadership of Obubra local government council, the management of Coneri Magazine and the host Community to make the festival bigger and better.
Anderson said: “The state government would try to develop new tourism sites and is willing to take over the festival as a government event. We would ensure the Governor Ben Ayade attends next edition just as we would communicate the plight of the community to him especially as it concerns the road.
“I promise the people of Yala-Obubra that the government of Cross River will come into the festival and make it bigger and better. And as for the road, we are going to engage the ministry of works and ensure tourists have access to the community to witness the festival.”