Women and youths took centre stage at this year’s Leboku international new yam festival of the Yakurr people of central Cross River State in southern Nigeria.
The weeklong festival commenced with the pouring of libation at the community shrine located within the palace of the traditional ruler of Ugep and Paramount Chief of the Yakurr people known as the Obol Lopon Ofem Ubana Eteng.
Sequel to the opening festivities, traditional rulers from all the villages and clans paraded the town in a single, slow meandering procession, making incantations led by the chief priest.
Fifteen women emerged winners of different competitions such as best yam farmer, best female wrestlers and Miss Leboku 2019, where nearly three thousand maidens adorned in large waist beads called njigiza with the brass leg bangles known as amakufe and enormous ivory bracelets referred to in the local dialect as kenikaw.
More than 50 young men also took part in 2 kilometer race, wrestling and best dressed male contest, where the winners would be presented with brand new salon car and five motorcycles.
Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State commended women and youths for their active participation in this year’s international event, which was encouraged by government to promote farming.
Ayade, who was represented by his deputy, Professor Ivara Esu urged “Through the festival, we hope to re-engineer a focus on the need for our youths to return back to agriculture and participate actively in food and cash crop production.”
To the traditional rulers, the Governor charged called for concerted efforts to nip communal crisis in the bud especially within their domain.
According to him: “Different parts of the State have been engulfed in one form of communal crisis or the other ranging from Odukpani to Abi, Yala, Obudu and even Biase local government areas.”
“These are quite unfortunate as the crisis has retarded development and lead to the decimation of our youthful population. As custodians of our traditional norms and native authority, our traditional rulers must rise to the challenge of holistically dealing with this unwholesome menace,” Ayade stressed.
He emphasized: “I call for calm and restraint from our people as this unwholesome development impedes the socio-economic growth of affected communities and seeks to draw our state backward in development. No investor will be willing to set up a business in a troubled and an insecure environment.”
The governor stated that the intervention by the State Government in the celebration of Leboku as an international festival 14 years ago was to enhance unity amongst the people of Yakurr as well as other tribes.
Ayade explained: “The introduction of the celebration of the Leboku New Yam Festival to the Cross River tourism calendar was aimed at further cementing the homogeneity of the people and consolidating on the gains of unity that the festival has engendered among the several communities in Yakurr nation.”
In an earlier remark, the Paramount Ruler of Yakurr, Obol Lopon Ofem Eteng disclosed that Leboku was started in 1548 AD and by 2015 was taken over by the Donald Duke administration.
Noel Ugbong, the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Events Marketing and Tourism, disclosed that the prizes, which include 2 pickup trucks, 2 brand new salon cars, motorcycles, sewing machines and hair making equipment, would be presented to the winners of all the competitions at a later date.