Here are the historical facts which have continued to make Calabar (Cross River State capital) organically great.
Retrospectively, Calabar was the first Capital of Southern Nigeria, known then as the Oil River Protectorate (1885 – 1981) under Clande MacDonald.
The first Army Barracks in Nigeria was built in Calabar in 1903.
In terms of sports, the game of football in Nigeria was first introduced in Calabar in 1902 by Reverend James Luke of Hope Waddell Training Institute, Calabar from where it spread to other parts of Nigeria.
And the first recognized football league match was played in Calabar (1906).
The game of cricket was first introduced in Hope Waddell Training Institute, Calabar in 1903 by Mr. F.A. Foster, a Jamaican tutor who also was Headmaster of the school. And from Hope Waddell, Calabar, the cricket game also spread to other parts of Nigeria.
The first national newspaper in English published in Eastern Nigeria was called The Nigeria Eastern Mail, and it was first published in Calabar.
Still in publication, the first indigenous newspaper in Eastern Nigeria was called “Unwana Efik”; it was published in Efik language in 1899 by the Church of Scotland Mission, Hope Waddell, Calabar.
And on the theater, the first Cinema House known as Pastol Cinema in Eastern Nigerian (and the second in the entire country) was opened in Calabar in 1933 by Late Chief Patrick Solomon.
At the health level, the first general hospital in Southern Nigerian was Saint Margaret Hospital, established in 1897 and was reputed to be the cleanest in the young protectorate.
On scientific education, the first botanical garden in Nigeria was established in Calabar in 1893 as branch of the famous Kew Gardens in London . That famous botanical site is today occupied by the State branch of the Central Bank and the defunct Mercantile Bank of Nigeria Building (now named Okoi Arikpo House).
On security, the first maximum security prison was built in Calabar in 1890. It was called “Brickfield Prison”, so called because it was built with bricks, some of which were manufactured at Brickfield in Itu. The historic building was destroyed during the Nigerian Civil War (1967 – 1970), and in its place now stands the State Public Library.
Calabar was the first city in Nigeria to be visited by a British monarch,Queen Elizabeth the Second, in 1956 with the main reason to lay wreath on the tomb of Mma Mary Slessor. She was accompanied by her consort, Prince Phillip. The Duke of Edingburgh and Prince Phillip himself visited Calabar on the 10th of February, 1980 in connection with the World Wild Life for Nature during which time he regretted the dwindling functioning of the Calabar Zoo.
Mary Mitchelle Slessor arrived Nigeria in 1878 under the auspices of United Free Church of Scotland, now the Presbyterian Church Mission. She resided in Odukpani Local Government Area, where she vehemently fought for the abolition of the ancient custom of killing twin children and their mothers. She built herself a two-bedroom mud house with a veranda, a store and a palour. She called it a Caravan while the villagers called it “Fine Pass All”. In 1889, a missionary carpenter, Mr. Owens, was made to put up a more permanent structure for her. The walls were made of iron sheets while the doors and windows were made of wood. The staircase leading to the first floor had 21 steps and was supported by two pillars and wooden railings. Cross River State continued with marking of the birthday of Mma Mary Slessor about a hundred years after her birth.
All necessary infrastructure for a national capital were present in Calabar. It was therefore the worst political decision to have denied historic Calabar the national capital status, or better still capital of Eastern Nigeria.
Yet today, Calabar – the Cross River State capital – towers over most of its counterparts in infrastructure like airport, seaport and general aesthetics.
When William Shakespeare once said:
“Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them…”
It would be agreed with many unique historical facts that Calabar, the capital of Cross River State, squarely fits into the second paradigm of that philosophical saying, that is, some are born great.
Calabar was born great, and is indeed great!