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Top Five Carnivals in Nigeria

Updated on July 30, 2015

Planning on taking a holiday trip to Nigeria soon? Then, there is no better way to explore and experience Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage than joining in the colourful celebration at the cultural festivals. With a lot of inimitable rich carnivals for one to choose in Nigeria from the Africa’s biggest street party in Calabar to the exotic and bizarre performances in Abuja, and then the rich cultural carnival of Ndi-Igbo. Just take a look at them;

Maidens at famous Calabar Carnival
Maidens at famous Calabar Carnival
Calabar Carnival
Calabar Carnival

1) Calabar Carnival

This Carnival is the first and most popular street party in Nigeria since making its debut in 2004 when it was launched by the then Governor of the state, Donald Duke. It is held in the month of December every year in the city of Calabar located in Cross River State, south-south Nigeria. No festival can ever beat this Calabar Festival when it comes to amazing performances. This is the celebration of creativity and culture that blends with both the traditional and modern lifestyle of the people of Cross River State. The carnival has become increasingly popular as tourist and foreigners book ahead of time to grace the event in thousands. Over the last four years, popular international artist like the late legendary Reggae musician Lucky Dube, Akon, Fat Joe, Joe, Nelly, Kirk Franklin, and many more have thrilled and wowed the large crowd of tourist from all over the world.


The carnival which may have as many as 50,000 costumed participants and 2 million spectators, and is broadcasted all over Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa, took close resemblance to the famous Rio de Janeiro Carnival in Brazil. The long feathered headdresses, the colourful costumes, the mesmerizing dancers and dance steps, the street parades and the bands attract thousands of people to it.

Costume participants at the Abuja Carnival
Costume participants at the Abuja Carnival
Fire-eaters at Abuja Carnival
Fire-eaters at Abuja Carnival

2) Abuja Carnival

What most people don’t know is that Abuja carnival is not just celebrated by the 35 states in Nigeria, it also involves about five neighbouring African countries making over 2 million people in attendance and over 300,000 costumed participants coming down to participate in the one of the largest carnival event in Nigeria. The carnival is a yearly program that holds in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria in the month of November. This carnival is one that you get to witness exotic and bizarre entertainers such as the fire-eaters, acrobats and gymnasts, magicians and jugglers, live animal handlers, and comedians and jesters among others. Other features include musics, cultural dances, masquerades, durbar; and lots more with participants from all over the states of Nigeria. Previously, several news organizations have opted out of the carnival for some unknown reasons like the News247 shunned the event in 2014, and Leadership newspaper also chose to stay away last year. Some prominent persons and organizations regard it a show of shame, but that does not stop the show from getting larger with more sponsors every year. It's a great occasion and has spectators from around the globe.

Participants at Lagos Carnival
Participants at Lagos Carnival
A bare-chested man at Lagos Carnival
A bare-chested man at Lagos Carnival
A painted face man at Lagos Carnival
A painted face man at Lagos Carnival

3) Lagos Carnival

The Lagos Carnival is another fast rising carnival in Nigeria and is just so colourful. It is always categorized into two groups; the Junior Carnival and Adult Carnival. The Carnival has always been held annually during the Easter weekend, precisely starting from on Easter Monday but it has not gained much popularity. In year 2015 however, the carnival was shifted due to the postponement of the general elections in Nigeria. The Easter weekend fell in between the two election dates. It would have been impossible to hold carnival at the time. Beauty pageant competitions are also organised. There will not be a Junior Carnival this year as the date is well within the school session without a holiday weekend. The 36 adult groups will however perform as always.

Like the Calabar Carnival but slightly different, Lagos Carnival is one of the most vibrant parties in Nigeria. You can feel the excitement in the air even before the carnival kicks off yearly. People are seen travelling from different parts of the world to experience this carnival. You can join in the fun of the Carnival. You will definitely enjoy yourself at Lagos Carnival. Just try coming out to have fun and take your family along. Make new friends because it is meant for both kids and adult.

Would you prefer any of these Carnivals to Western Carnivals?

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Carniriv carnival entrance point
Carniriv carnival entrance point
Carniriv
Carniriv
A group participating in Carniriv
A group participating in Carniriv

Carniriv

Carniriv is another huge carnival that takes in the popular Garden city of Port Harcourt in Rivers State, Southern Nigeria. It is held for seven days, few weeks before Christmas in the major streets of Port Harcourt. The festival of Carniriv held in 1988 is the direct precursor of this modern day Carniriv which combines two carnivals; a contemporary Caribbean style carnival and a purely cultural carnival. Traditionally, 6 bands participate in this procession; with 5 bands (namely: Jubilee, Liberation, Dynamic, Fusion and Treasure Bands) all wrapped-up in fervent competition. For this simple fact, the Carniriv is very unique and always very colourful when compared to other Carnivals in the country.

Although the state is home to Nigeria’s crude oil reserves and multinational oil companies, but the government of the state still recognizes Carniriv as her biggest tourism export.

Igbo Uturu
Igbo Uturu

Igbo Uturu Cultural Carnival

This is one of the newest carnivals in town after the first edition was held in 2008 with a huge success and it is the only event in the South East Nigeria, which is devoted to the celebration of rich Ndi-Igbo culture. It is scheduled to hold annually between December 27 and 31 after Christmas, during the holiday season when many Ndi-Igbo came home to celebrate with their kits and kin. The six-year-old event was financed by Chief Greg Iyke Ibe, through his Foundation, Greg Iyke Ibe Foundation. But in 2013 since the carnival gained popularity, it is now funded by Gregory University Uturu (GUU), a private institution established by Ibe and organised by the Centre for Igbo Renaissance of GUU, as part of propagating and entrenching the Ndi–Igbo cultural values.

A group performing the Atilogwu dance at Igbo Uturu carnival
A group performing the Atilogwu dance at Igbo Uturu carnival

The event normally features Ohafia War Dance by one of the culture-active people in the Sub-Saharan Africa, acrobatic, masquerade, cultural troupes from Edo, Akwa-Ibom, and Anambra States among others. Other performers are Igbo Uturu Cultural Carnival Troupe, Eminent Ladies of Uturu, Arondizuogu masquerade troupe and representatives of Northern Central States. There were also the Great Ladies from Cross River State, Chimemeze Dance Troupe from Okigwe and Ugo masquerade of Uturu. A number of children’s groups also took to the stage to entertain in dance drama, songs and choreography.

Abuja Carnival

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