Once upon a time, the tourism industry in Cross River State was famous not just for Carnival Calabar, but with some of Nigeria’s tourism sites.
From the world famous, now almost abandoned Obudu Cattle Ranch, renamed Obudu Mountain Resort, Tinapa Business Resort, Marina Resort and museum, Agbokim Water Falls, Kwa Falls, Nkarasi Monoliths, and Buanchor, the Pandrilus Drill Rehabilitation Centre in Calabar were some of the most visited places in Nigeria.
The above attractions were not just places reserved for foreign visitors, but to many Nigerians, especially students from across the country.
However, recently, all these sites are in a sorry state. For instance, Obudu Cattle Ranch and Bebi Airstrip, which assists in taking passengers to ranch, are all moribund and been abandoned by the state.
At Obudu Mountain Resort, the cable car and the canopy walk way are a few of the facilities and activities that elicit visitors’ interest, and so also was the Obudu Mountain Race that has also been discontinued by the current administration in the state.
The troubling story of Obudu or Cross River State Tourism Industry did not start under this present administration though, but the total abandonment is however, fast tracked under it.
No one can place a figure as to how much has been invested in the tourism industry in Cross River State since 1999; however, rough estimate would place the tourism industry investment in the state to have taken over 30 per cent of the state’s allocation under the period.
At Obudu, the demons of the hill always strike. It is either the generators are faulty and the few staff on ground are being owed salaries, or the government that used the facilities has refused to pay.
The story at TINAPA Resort and the Lakeside Resort are better as the water goddess always punished them with similar fates…its either faulty generators or lack of patronage, to lack of supports from government in paying its bill regularly.
Only recently too, the Marina Resort is gone, with the cinema shut down, as the state government is unable to come up with its 25 per cent counterpart funding, forcing the contractor to pull out due to low patronage.
Apart from the Pandrilus Drill Rehabilitation Centre in Buanchor, managed by Peter Jenkin Liza that attracts school children, everything under the state has stopped functioning.
Also worth mentioning is the once much talked about Cross River National Park that has also been comatose, a park managed by the National Park Service.
Like his predecessor, the current governor is following the trend of holding on to Calabar Carnival alone, which without doubt is a ‘low hanging fruit’, through it, some allege that it’s a conduit pipe for siphoning money and a mere public relations tool for a failing state.
Also, the carnival is believed to gulp a lot of money, which some say is wasted on needless trips abroad to import costumes for the carnival in the name of cultural exchange.
As it is with most Nigerian Governments’ projects, there are no published accounts of expenditures and returns made after many years of holding the carnival.
In Cross River State today, it is a folklore that “Donald Duke built Ranch facilities, canopy walk way; Liyel Imoke brought in mountain race to boost tourism at the Ranch and Ayade, with his consultants, improved on the carnival in terms of number of participation.
Though this writer is not a friend of the Obudu Mountain Race that was stopped; it however, brings attention of government to the ranch, which this regime in 2015 abandoned under the pretence that it was nothing but a capital flight.
What is done all over the world is that, tourist sites are developed in countries to complement their main event, such as the carnival and vice versa, rather than spending huge sums of money on the carnival alone.
Unfortunately, the state has bad transport system by air; bad road network either has not been supportive of the built infrastructure.
In a recent publication by one of the national newspapers, the state budgeted N7 billion for event management, N4 billion for carnival, and only N74 million for tourism in its 2018 budget.
From the above, we now know where the interest lies and why.
Recently too, the former governor of the state, Donald Duke said he had “tortuous” stories to tell as far as maintaining his legacies were concerned, and “…our task as leaders is building, adding and improving upon what has been done.
“How else can we grow if each time we return to the starting point?”
Duke, who was governor from 1999 to 2007, berated his successors, Imoke and Ayade, for dumping his tourism legacies in a bid to shine through their own personal projects, saying, “take a look at the Obudu Ranch, for instance, with all its beauty and uniqueness, the first question always is, how accessible is it?
“As much as I love the ranch, and I tell you, it is my favourite destination in the whole world, I have not visited the ranch in two years, as I agonise on the journey to the place.
“Travelling six, perhaps more hours, on poor infrastructure to a destination is not appealing. You would recall that when flights were going to Bebi Airstrip, cutting the travel time by barely an hour, the ranch was filled to the brim and sometimes people had to book months ahead to get accommodation. I recall as governor, getting to the ranch and getting to squat at the ranch manager’s residence, as there was no available accommodation.”
While a state like Lagos is intensifying efforts to develop its tourism infrastructure, Cross River State not only fails to build any, it is neglecting to maintain existing ones to drive the tourism sector.
Shamefully, everything that made Cross River State a model are now a curse.
By Mary Okpata [Calabar]