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By Israel Umoh

The props are ready. The stage is set. The organisers are working round the clock. Major participants are engrossed to the rituals of rehearsal. Not long from now, the main event debuting the sixth edition of this year's Akwa Ibom Government 9,999 Christmas Carol Night will unfold in a more grand scale that many may perceive to be better than the previous editions.

The carol night which forms a common platform in bringing different choir groups, gospel artistes, preachers and tourists both locally and internationally is a signature tune to commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ during the yuletide season and thanking God Almighty for His Love and mercy to Akwa Ibom people and government over the year. A pet child of Akwa Ibom Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, the event offers a blend of unique vocal and digital rendition of medley and lyrics as well as a repository of colourful visual decorations, dances, costumes and lighting effects. It creates ambience and solemnity among the audience.

Unlike the previous editions of the glamorous event, this year's edition will be a showpiece of talented and exceptionally gifted gospel singers spiced with other side attractions. The Director of Protocol to the Governor, Mr. Aniekpeno Mkpanang gave an insight to the vivacious event. “We have raised a 200-man band Ibom Choral and Orchestra comprising a 100-man classical mass choir, a 50-man Orchestra choir, 35 singers, 10 instrumentalists and 10 lead singers. We have also raised Akwa Ibom Voices to sing as ensemble comprising Aity Dennis Inyang, Pastor Goody Goody, Folake Umosen, Linda Etukudoh, Fadabasi, Freke Umoh and Nathaniel Bassey. They would have back-ups”, he hinted.

Music stars of national and international reckoning are also billed to perform during the carol night. For instance, Israel Houghton, a US internationally recognised worship leader, recording artiste, song writer, producer and a five-time Grammy Award winner and Lionel Peterson, a world renowned South African Gospel legend, famous for mega gospel hit -'Jabulani Africa' will sing at the event.

Others are Sinach, an international worship leader of Pastor Chris Oyakhilome's Believers Love-World Incorporated, also known as Christ Embassy International, notable for over 200 songs such as Awesome God, More of You, and From Glory to Glory, among others; Frank Edwards, a Nigerian exceptional, versatile and multiple award-winning gospel rock artiste and one of the music ambassadors of Christ Embassy International Church, known for such hit singles as ''You too dey bless me" and "Omemma", among others as well as St. Kitts and Nevis National Mass Choir.

Beyond the music and razzmatazz, the yearly event is significant in many ways particularly as a spiritual blood tonic, good governance booster, Christian life support, revenue fibre and “Gilgal of Nigeria” elixir to Akwa Ibom people and Nigerians as a whole. One, the event helps to open up the State to first–time visitors to behold the uncommon transformation ably exemplified by Akpabio administration in the last six years and five months. Before now, some people had argued that much revenue allocation was given to the South-South Region, yet many infrastructure were not executed to justify the huge amount. Akpabio administration has turned the negative perception to superlative performance through execution of high quality, people-oriented projects.

Two, the event is a remarkable celebration of Akwa Ibom now nick named the “Gilgal of Nigeria”, thus re-enacting the era of the biblical Gilgal in ancient Israel where people resorted to for solutions. Joshua 5:9 says "And Jehovah said unto Joshua, this day I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of that place was called Gilgal, unto this day". And 1 Samuel 10:8 corroborates the essence of Gilgal thus, "And thou shalt go down before me to Gilgal and behold I will come down unto thee, to offer burnt-offerings, and to sacrifice sacrifices of peace-offerings: seven days shalt thou tarry, till I come unto thee, and show thee what thou shalt do". For sometime now, Akwa Ibom has gradually assumed the status of 'Gilgal' by playing host to countless seminars, workshops and conferences for Nigerians and their foreign counterparts. Some major national events are usually brought to Uyo, the state capital.

Three, the carol night galvanises spiritual rebirth and oil the engine of good governance in the State. Regarded as a “Night of a thousand stars”, it serves an annual pilgrimage in bringing together a gamut of churches to sing in one accord the birth of Jesus Christ. Psalm 22:3 states, "But thou art holy, O thou that inhabit the praises of Israel". This helps to spiritually reconnect churches, worship leaders, gospel artistes, political office holders, clergy men and women, friends and families. In short, singing praises to God Almighty at the end of the year is a subtle sacrifice in opening the windows of God's glory and blessings on the people as well as unlocking the door of opportunities of a new year to attract God's favour. Only God can receive the praises of His people. Through praises, the event helps to strengthen the cord of brotherhood, love, peaceful co-existence and meaningful development among the different dialectal groups in Akwa Ibom.

Also, 2 Chronicles 20:22 declares "And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord sent ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten". Great men in the Bible time such as Hezekiah, Jehoshaphat and David used praises as a strong weapon to crush their enemies. During the 2012 edition of the event, Governor Akpabio aptly acknowledged thus “As we celebrate Christmas, this should be the time for the country to rise up and come together as one. We must put a stop to envy and jealousy for the country to have peace. As we sing to the Lord today, let us sing to break down the walls of ethnic barriers, tribal feelings, kidnapping, robbery and break barriers to prosperity. As we praise God tonight, I believe that our praises are accepted in Heaven and through our praises tonight, we shall move the country forward”.

Finally, the event is one of the drivers of hospitality industry in the state. Already, the State boasts of two five-star hotels: Le Meridian Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort, Uyo Hilton Gardens and other three-star hotels, Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Centre and alluring tourist sites, among others. Research has shown that more than 70 per cent of revenue in some foreign countries comes from hospitality industry. There are rich people with money looking for what to spend. So, the carol night if properly harnessed and consistently sustained could turn the state to one huge internal revenue spinner.

The spectacular event was premiered by the Akpabio administration on December 26, 2008. It featured 9,300 choristers from the 31 local government areas of the state, beating the Guinness World Record of the largest assembly carol singers of 7,514 singers at the Bob Jones University in South Carolina, United States of America in 2004. The 2009 and 2010 editions equally had 9,300 united carol singers while the number was increased to 9,999 choral singers in 2011, 2012 and till date editions.

Some international church leaders who shared the word of God with the audience during the previous editions of the event included Pastor Enoch Adeboye, Pastor William Kumuyi, Arch-Bishop Idem Ikon and Bishop Cletus Bassey. Among the gospel artistes included Ron Kenoly, Donnie McClurkin, Alvin Slaughter, Soweto Spiritual Singers from South Africa, the Winneba Youth Choir from Ghana, Chorale Divine de Merveilles from Congo Brazzaville, Abuja Municipal Choir and Princess Anne Inyang.

This year's edition is billed for December 21 at Uyo Sports Stadium and will be flagged off by Governor Akpabio. Based on the activities packaged by the ingenious Protocol Unit, Governor's Office, Uyo, this year's event promises to be more inspiring and soul-lifting. It will rekindle hope for the distressed, joy to the broken hearted, love to the abandoned, peace to the afflicted, liberty to the oppressed and above all bring down God's glory to Akwa Ibom and Nigeria.

Umoh writes from Uyo