Cross River state’s tourist sites rot away from neglect
These include Mary Slessor tombstone, and Biafran-Nigerian War Bunker among others scattered around the state.
However, most of these sites are in a sorry state. For instance, Obudu Cattle Ranch and Bebi Airstrip, which assists in taking passengers by air, are not functioning.
The cable car is also down, Obudu Mountain Race that complements activities at the ranch was discontinued immediately Governor Ben Ayade took office in 205 and all the athletes, both local and international, that won cash prizes are yet to be paid. Electricity at the Ranch is poor, as the generators are faulty and the few staff on ground are being owed salaries.
Abgokim and Kwa Falls do not have good access roads and are not even developed to the level of attracting tourists. Iconic places in Calabar like Mary Slessor tombstone and the European (colonial cemetery) are poorly maintained.
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. Patronage is low.
Of all the tourism sits, only the Pandrilus Drill Rehabilitation Centre in Buanchor, managed by Peter Jenkin Liza, attracts patronage but it has poor access road to it.
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 tourism.
Calabar Carnival is the only active festival, which some allege is a conduit pipe for siphoning money and the promotion of sex tourism.
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.
A few months ago, Lagos State Government launched its 20-year tourism master plan at a tourism summit, and informed that tourism alone contributed N800 billion to the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2017.
Tourism expert and environmentalist, Mr. Peter Odey, said, “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 and sex tourism.
Ayade, on assumption of office in 2015, stopped the mountain race that was gathering momentum and attracting tourists.
He claimed it was capital flight, yet we spend dollars importing girls for beauty contest and carnival; yet no growth. Is that not capital flight? No Nigerian won or came close to winning the beauty contest.
It’s a huge loss and a conduit pipe, but in the mountain race, Nigerians and even Cross Riverians won. Given the achievements of Obudu Mountain Race, World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) upgraded the status of the mountain race from just an associate member race to a premium race event by WMRA and listed it among the major races in its calendar.
“We should develop tourist sites to complement the carnival and vice versa rather than spending huge sums of money on the carnival alone. A country like Thailand develops its tourism and spreads it out across the country to attract tourists and millions of dollars.
It has good transport system by air, road and rail with mouth-watering sites but in Cross River, nothing.
How can a state with several undeveloped tourism sites budget N7 billion for event management, N4 billion for carnival and only N74 million for tourism in its 2018 budget?”
While recently delivering a lecture at the 31st University of Calabar Convocation titled ‘Tourism As Tool for National Development,’ former Cross River State governor, 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 though 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.”
According to him, “in 1999, to drive tourism, we invested heavily in our social and physical (infrastructure), and perhaps outside Abuja, had the best urban roads. We created an ambience of cleanliness.
We got the public to buy into the concept of welcoming visitors. We developed our endowments, the ranch and built a business in Tinapa. All these in world class standards.
We aggressively marketed these endowments and caused access and accessibility, such that the Calabar Airport became the fourth busiest airport after Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt with nine flights in and out daily. It sounds like another time.
“If we have the humility and wisdom to appreciate that all these investments complement each other, then perhaps that traffic that we experience in only one month in a year will become a daily one.
For where many are gathered, the market is intense… Does being politically smart require to extinguish lights lit by others so yours may shine brighter?
Or as the Yoruba adage says, ‘when you take your hands to cover the work of others, when do you free your hands to do your own work?’”
On Calabar Carnival, Dkue said, “To my mind, it has perhaps grown in numbers but not quality. It is well known that the month of December, right through to February, is the peak of the season and flights are most affected.
We made arrangements to accommodate the seasons. We encouraged homeowners to provide accommodation and security was well established. No one was ever in doubt of the daily events.
Transportation in and out of venues was assured. We prided ourselves as the place to be.
Except there is something I do not know; it all seems different today. Yes, there are more activities that have been added to the carnival, but have we added more value? Your guess is as good as mine.”
COMMISSIONER for Culture and Tourism, Mr. Eric Anderson, could not be reached for comments on the various tourism issues as he failed to pick calls or return text messages sent to him.
However, Managing Director, State Tourism Bureau, Mr. Clement Umina, said, “If you look at the general economic crunch in the nation and then in the state, it is difficult for one to really pin it down that government has abandoned tourists sites.
“There was a strategy to transfer the operational management of all tourism sites and attraction to private sector management so that they will be effectively managed for economic viability, as a commercial business which defines tourism in the proper context.
If you ask me, probably government has not been able to position the sites and attraction properly to be able to arrest the interest of tourism investors to be interested in partnering in maintaining them and developing, operating and managing them for commercial viability.
“Yes, government should be more focused at this point, having identified and developed some key sites and attraction to the level they are right now, should be more interested showing proper regulatory services.
That is, making and ensuring that those private sector that run these sites are able to bring value for money from visitors that will come to the sites.
Government should also continue to look at how they can increase infrastructure promotion by getting access to the sites, getting electricity to the sites, getting pipe borne water to the sites and ensuring that there is safety and security at the sites. That is what engineering tourism in Cross River State means.”
On whether the state is more interested in the carnival than developing other tourism products, Umina said, “From the professional point of view, I can always tell you that there are two main objectives of a programme and project like the carnival.
“One is the platform for people of the state to come together and appreciate themselves and whatever achievement gained. Any government can go to any length to make its people happy.
And if coming together to dance during the carnival is what makes them happy, that is a good thing because government is for the people.
“But tourism is business just like you have other business ventures and you see the government making moves and say, ‘come over and invest your money and do business with us.’
So that means except government continues to provide the regulatory services and make sure that the right infrastructure is put in place.
But again, how do we do that when you have other contending issues that government is looking at that also bother on our socio-economic development?
I am talking of the paucity of funds this time around and you are contending, as a government, on how to make sure that you provide good health, hospital, offer quality education, security and safety.
All these things draw a lot of government’ attention and interest while tourism is like any other business.
A government trying to provide good health for the people, quality education, safety and security can decide to keep tourism aside, depending on the availability of funds.”
UMINA also spoke on the efforts of the state government and tourism bureau to make things work, when he said, “But what we are doing as a government, especially the Tourism Bureau, is to look out for creative ways by making sure that required push that come from government in terms of funding tourism project is gotten through partnerships.
So, we are partnering with both national and international organisations that care for the environment, the people, conservation and care for preservation because we are all working towards preserving those unique things that make us say we have tourism.
So, we are partnering with them like the United Nations and REDD programme.
We are streamlining tourism, as a component of livelihood option for host communities that have reasonable catchment of some rain forest to protect or preserve for posterity.
We are also looking out for serious-minded business people, who can come and put in their funding and develop some of these attractions. We are sure that if we continue like this, in a short time, people will come out.
“But very critically, we are creating or incorporating a public liability company where individuals can also buy shares and that will be the company that will run all these tourism sites and attractions, maintain them and make sure that they become commercially viable.
The law that establishes Tourism Bureau mandates and permits the bureau to do that and we have reached an advanced level towards incorporating that company.
We think if we incorporate a public liability company that will be responsible in managing and growing tourism, and particularly taking care of all these tourism sites and attractions, the shareholders will know that it is their responsibility to make the place viable and that is the only way you can benefit tangibly by being a co-owner of Destination Cross River!”
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