Nigerians should not forget Donald Duke in a hurry. As one of Nigeria’s 36 state Governors from 1999 – 2003, he stood out like a star, he was good looking and eloquent but Nigerians remember him more as the man who put Calabar on the map as a top travel and holiday destination in Nigeria. Whereas his colleagues mouthed the need to generate extra revenue through tourism, Donald Duke initiated agrand plan which included opening up the Obudu mountain as a holiday destination by constructing a snake-like road to the top of the mountain, building an international hotel on the mountain and installing a cable car and water-park in Obudu. In December 2004, he also started the Calabar Carnival which is today tagged ‘Africa’s biggest street party’ and followed it with the Obudu International Mountain race in November 2005. I didn’t know how successful Cross River was in its branding until i spoke to a roomful of youngsters in Ifon, a small community in Osun state and asked them what is the most beautiful city in Nigeria. I was shocked when more than 70percent of the 50-70 young people named Calabar as their choice.
In April 2007, Donald Duke launched the first of four phases of his most ambitious project for Cross-River, The Tinapa Free Trade Zone and Resort. Gulping an initial investments worth over USD350million, The completed first phase of Tinapa Free Zone and Resort included facilities for retail and wholesale business as well as leisure and entertainment. For consumers, the resort has about 80,000 square metres of lettable space for retail and wholesale made up of four emporiums of 10,000 square metres and smaller shops, warehouses, and so on. An entertainment strip contains a casino, digital cinema, children’s arcade, restaurants, a mini amphitheater, a night club and pubs. There is an artificial tidal lake that feeds from the Calabar River, a Water Park/Leisure Land and parking Space for about 4,000 cars. There is a 243 room international three star Hotel initially named the Amber Hotel, now named Tinapa Lakeside Hotel. The resort also has a truck terminal, and gets its electricity from an independent power plant.
I first visited Tinapa in December 2007, I was on a speaking engagement in Calabar and having read and heard about Tinapa, I had sworn that even if I spent 3hours in Calabar, I will ensure I get to Tinapa at all cost. As luck would have it, the organisers of the conference decided on a tour around Calabar and a visit to Tinapa. I remember standing in Tinapa turning round and round, dazed and saying to myself, ‘finally, someone in Nigeria is getting things right. Though it was practically empty, the explanation i got was the state was sorting legal framework of the free trade zone with the Federal Government, I foresaw a near future where Tinapa is bustling with Nigerians, Chinese, Africans and expanding to be the Dubai of Africa.
By my second visit in December 2010, more than 3 years after its commissioning, my initial optimism turned to fear! Why has this place remained the same, huge, empty and unused. 350 million dollars sunk in, an opportunity to create wealth and massive employment and tax revenue for the state not been utilized. I wondered how a state Government can easily go by its normal business while such a huge investment is tied down. I asked questions but found no one to answer them. I wandered in the emporium, the size of a football field and save the workers, there were only 5 – 7 shoppers, i was dazed. Many of the small shops remained shut. The digital Cinema and movie production studio named Studio Tinapa was under lock and key. After 1 hour of walking through rows and rows of empty and locked stalls, I left Tinapa sad and angry.
In February 2013, I returned once more to Tinapa for a retreat.This time, I was glad the hotel was functional as more than 100 guests for the retreat were hosted in the hotel. Beyond the hotel, the water park was also functional. As with my previous visits, I took a walk round the facility, a beautiful wooden and metal bridge connecting the emporium to the Tinapa Studio has been shut down because it was in a state of disrepair. Again, I was confronted by empty shops. I went inside the emporium and this time it was very hot, i was informed that the central cooling system was shut down because the entire facility was wired to the Independent Power Plant and running it for a day costs a fortune. Considering that activities were at the lowest ebb, alternative sources of power has been provided to power the few activities running in the facility. 6 years after it was launched, Tinapa remained a white elephant project.
Before going to Tinapa in February 2013, I stumbled on a piece of information, the Cross River State Government is building the Calabar International Convention Centre and a New Calabar Golf Course. I couldn’t believe it! While debts continue to pile over the unfinished Tinapa Project, the Government has committed new resources to another similar project. I couldn’t understand the justification for this new project. In a sane environment, one would imagine that the Government will commit all its resources to unlocking the potentials of a huge project before committing resources to a new and similar one. The convention centre is expected to be completed in 2013 but considering the level of work done, i strongly doubt it will be completed.
Two years from now, In 2015, the baton of Leadership in Cross-River state will change hands. With the previous and the current government embarking on different and repetitive development projects, the impeding change of government raises concerns for continuity in the state. The people of Cross River should be looking out for a new government which will provide leadership and put the state’s interest ahead of politicking and seeking personal glory. The potentials of theTinapa project is huge, I have not seen any such project anywhere else in Nigeria. The success of Tinapa is crucial to all Nigerians as it is a fine example of how much could be done by state governments. Making it work should be the number one task of any government!
Rotimi Olawale, co-founder of youthhubafrica.org is a youth development expert. For more than six years he has been involved in leading youth advocacy efforts mainly around the Millennium Development Goals. In 2006, he represented Nigeria as a youth ambassador at the United Nations Global Youth Leadership Summit held at the UN Headquarters in New York. Rotimi has held several global leadership positions including; member, UNFPA Global Youth Advisory Panel for 2 years; member, African Youth Panel. Rotimi is currently involved in shaping local, national and global policies to benefit youth and also leverage opportunities for young people. He was listed by the Nigerian government as one of 15 Nigerian youth on the world stage in 2008.
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