I served this nation in Cross River state for the mandatory one-year NYSC programme. I passed out on July 2nd 2015 (CR/14B). I served in Bekwarra Local Government Area; two schools located in Akpakpa and later Afrike 1. Being someone that loves travelling and seeing places, I moved around the state and was able to visit 15 of the state’s 18 LGAs so I can say I know some things about the state. These are 10 of my observations in the state of The People’s Paradise.

1. The people are warm and friendly

Cross Riverians are a warm and friendly people. They are accommodating and drawn to visitors. They are always ready to help you if they see that you are a new face there. This was evident from when we got to the NYSC camp at Obubra. They are always very ready to help and they feel easily drawn to visitors. Someone like me who’s always slow and cautious when making friend was able to make a handful of friends in a short period of time. I’ve been to a few places in Nigeria but the people of Cross River are some of the most friendly.

2. They Are Great Cooks

I once told a friend over phone while still in Cross River that “bro if your life depends on food and you want to marry solely for food, please get a Cross River chick”. That Cross River women are good cooks is an understatement. Their girls and women are experts in cooking. Cooking for them comes with ease. They have these tasty and delicious soups gosh they are fantastic. Back in Lagos we are all used to Calabar kitchens and we respect their soups but I’m telling you there is more to their delicacies than Calabar soups. Back in Bekwarra I enjoyed tasty soups like Oturukpa, Akum, groundnut soup and Beniseed soup. It was also in Ogoja that I ate plantain porridge; unripe plantain cooked with palm oil, bitter leaf, crayfish and dry fish. What a delicacy. Whenever you visit Cross River, make sure you eat their local meals. I’ll recommend beniseed with akpu. Their akpu is strong and hard jeez; more like something you can use to deworm by stoning the worms inside you to death. I nicknamed one girl fufu pounder due to her dexterity in handling the pestle. Bekwarra people cant do without eating akpu in a day.

3. It’s A Largely Rural State

The state is a largely rural state in all ramifications. Apart from Calabar and a few other towns like Ogoja, Ikom and to a lesser extent Akampka and Obudu, Cross River state is largely rural. There’s not much on ground in terms of infrastructure, development and economic activities. The government should do more in terms of infrastructure. They should stop concentrating on Calabar and allow development to spread especially to the northern part of the state. For example I don’t have verifiable data but I can say that from my observations, Ikeja LG has more banks than the whole state. Successive governments seem to be concentrating development in Calabar which is an impressive and beautiful city already. No hustling in the state, if you are not a farmer then you are a civil servant. There are few economic activities. Even in Calabar, the peeps move to neighbouring states and towns especially PH to hustle. You don’t hustle in Calabar, you spend. The city is expensive yet few economic activities happening there afford the people little opportunity to hustle unlike other big cities in Nigeria. For example Calabar is still sleeping by 6am, few people and cars on the road by that time unlike Lagos which is awake and on its feet already by 4am. I once told one of the teachers in my school that you can be caught in traffic in Lagos by 5am and he turned me to a liar. To him it’s strange.

4. There’s More To The State Than Calabar

So many people see Cross River and Calabar as the same. I used to feel the same until I went there. The state is one of the most diverse in Nigeria with over 33 languages being spoken there. Most people back in Lagos that called me during my service year or chatted with me usually told me “guy I hear say u dey serve for Calabar”. I’ll only shake my head and smile thinking that “these people don’t know I’ll spend between 5-6hrs going to Calabar from here”. There are other people with culture and languages different from that of the Efik people. There are Bekwarra, Afrike, Ogoja, Yala, Boki, Obubra, Obudu people to mention a few. For example Bekwarra and Afrike people are in the same local government but they have similar but different languages..

5. Agriculture Is A Way of Life

Many outsiders who have never been to the state before see it as a riverine state whose major source of life is fishing. Many people see Cross River as this state of fishermen who love carnivals and festivals. Except the coastal parts of Cross River South and Central, other parts of the state are largely agrarian. They are mostly farmers. They take agriculture seriously and they never joke with it both males and females. Cross Riverian kids are introduced to agriculture at a very early stage. They go to the farm with their parents. If their men are not on the farm making heaps or clearing the bush, they’ll be on the palm tree tapping or in the bush hunting. Their women are not left out; they are either planting cassava, peeling cassava and making garri, making palm oil (well refined) or back home preparing akpu and soup. These industrious people love agriculture a lot and this is responsible for cheap food. Food is so cheap and with a little amount, you can eat to your satisfaction with the exception of Calabar obviously. They have food and farm products in abundance and at cheap prices. One of the things I cherish most about them is that they are hard workers. I respect them a lot.
The government still needs to help them a lot in the area of improved seeds, fertilizers, mechanized farming (almost non-existent) and to stem the scourge of Fulani herdsmen (I witnessed a lot of confrontations between the villagers and the nomads)

6. Backward Educationally

This is a general problem in Nigeria. Education in this country is a joke but some states are still better than others. I can’t vouch for any northern state but in the context of southern states, education in Cross River still has some catching up to do. I can’t say for South East and South South states but placing Cross River state beside South Western states, there is a very big gulf. Education is not really taken serious us here and the government also is not really helping matters in this regard. Their children and parents don’t take education serious and the few who do are not encouraged by the government. Majority of schools in the rural parts depend on corp members for staff strength. The quality of education is low and examination malpractice is rampant and encouraged. I can recollect my VP once telling the students to learn how to write fast when note is being dictated because during their external exam nobody will slow down for them when answers are being dictated. The bitter truth is, the state still have a long way to go in terms of education.

7. Calabar Girls Are Not The Real Deal

Whenever you mention Cross River, Calabar comes to mind and merely hearing Calabar, two things come to mind; their soups and girls. Many people do have the erroneous belief that Cali girls are so beautiful, exotic and refined more than any other in the state. Although, Cali girls are more popular and more exposed but when it comes to beauty, I’ll unequivocally give it to Ogoja girls especially those of Igoli and Ishibori. They are beautiful in the pure and real sense of it. They are ravishing, homely and naturally beautiful. Worthy of note are also some Bekwarra girls (not many), Ikom, Boki, Obudu and Obubra girls.

8. They Love Burial Ceremonies

This is one of the highlights of many villages. Burial is only second to Christmas. Burial ceremonies are big occasions. Naming and wedding ceremonies are more of rarity but burial ceremonies are the big deal. The whole place is always agog with preparations and they spend a lot on it. They don’t like burying their dead outside their villages so they don’t mind bringing them in from other parts of the country where they died. Their burials last for weeks or more at times. Although I didn’t witness any naming ceremony and only witnessed a single wedding ceremony, I witness lots of burial ceremonies which not only for old people. A 30-year old man’s burial will see food being cooked and guests been fed.

9. They Have The Best Palm Wine

One of the things that made me enjoy my stay in Cross River is palm wine. Cross River especially the northern part is a land of palm wine. If you’ve been there before, you can’t but attest to the fact that they have superb palm wine. I’ll say it’s the best in Nigeria. I had many drunken days there. My students spoilt me with it, my VP being a tapper too was also culpable. They have two varieties; the up one and the down one. The up one is fresher, richer and definitely costlier. It is the one that’s tapped from the top of the palm tree. The down one is cheaper but greatly more intoxicating. You get drunk easily while drinking it. It’s gotten from palm trees that have already been cut down. You can get the best palm wine in places like Afrike (Bekwarra), Mbube (Ogoja), Okpoma (Yala) and Obudu. They have it in abundance and it is cheap.

10. They love to enjoy themselves.

No matter how poor this people are, they still find time to enjoy themselves. They love dancing to a fault and not only that, they are expert dancers. Gosh these people can dance. The way they wiggle their bodies is something else even the small ones among them. They love their ceremonies and most especially new yam festival. The Calabar Carnival is a shining crown on all their festivals. There are lots of other festivals and events to witness in Cross River. Sundays are always bubbling even the most rural villages. People go out to drink, see friends, hold meetings and unwind. In short they love to unwind and enjoy themselves. Their Christianity does not stop them from drinking and making merry.

Other notable observations are that they are generally Christian mostly Catholics and Assemblies of God members, it is a very big state, only Oyo state is bigger in southern Nigeria, there are some parts where you’ll have a foot in Nigeria and the other in Cameroun (there are some parts in Lagos state where you won’t know whether you are in Lagos or Ogun state, the same is applicable in Cross River), life is serene and generally peaceful, no hold ups, no shouting and cursing and the hustle and bustle of city life, if you’ve never seen a witch in real life go to some parts of Bekwarra like Ebegang and Anyikang, nature is at its best here with nice scenery.

These are my observations of about a year that I spent in the state. My stay their was enjoyable and fulfilling, a few disappointments and a lot of memorable moments. I’ll love to visit the state again. I may be wrong in some of my observations but those are the things I observed as a CrossKopa who served in Bekwarra and was able to visit 15 out of 18LGs. Your views are welcome from both indigenes and non-indigenes.