The Tale of the Once Promising, Now Forgotten Resort

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Unlike the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that of Tinapa has nothing to do with the imagination. It is a situation that is woven into the realities of the continuing Nigerian narrative.

It started as a vision of one man, Donald Duke, the former Governor of Cross River State who initiated the 80,000 square metres Tinapa Business Resort Project while in office. He not only had magnificent plans but solid financial backing which ran into millions of dollars and with the endorsement of his principal, Olusegun Obasanjo, the then president of Nigeria there was no going back.  By April 2007 it was open for business and considered one of the best things to happen to the Sub-Saharan landscape. A little over a decade later, it is now being described in less than flattering terms.

Tinapa is not a freak of nature, it’s not a one-off as such ‘accidental’ monuments are not such an unusual sight in the country with the largest black population. The landscape is littered with abandoned projects. A research by Professor Kole Omotosho on the subject, gave an amazing figure. It stated that about eleven thousand federal government projects were abandoned in the past 40 years across Nigeria. Omotosho is an authority on the subject and the Founder of the South African based Africa Diaspora Research. During such discourses, the Ajaokuta Steel plant usually gets the most mention. The project which is reported to have gulped $5.1 billion dollars and is 98% completed is thing of puzzle and shame not only to everyday Nigerians but also to lawmakers. ‘To our collective shame, the present state of Ajaokuta steel complex is more of an expressive metaphor of our ineptitude and bad governance over the years’ says Yakubu  Dogara, speaker of the House of Representatives after inspecting the complex which is located in Kogi states. A visit to other locations within Nigeria would confirm that most of the other states have such ‘monuments’ comprising of buildings and equipment that for a variety of reasons are not functional. In Oyo state there is the Ibadan Dry Port otherwise known as the Erunmi Dry Port Project. Pundits declare that if the project had been well utilized it would have created thousands of jobs. Just like that port, the textile mill industry in Nigeria is ailing not on arrival but as a result of a number of factors, ranging from the lifting of the ban on importations to a lack of proper coordination in the industry. However, in 2017, Odu’a investment Company which comprises of the governments of Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti and Ondo states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria appeared to be not too willing to beat a dead horse so the group innovatively proposed a partnership with Afe Babalola University to use the space and facilities in moribund Odu’s Textile Mills to create an industrial park. The project is still in the agreement stage.  In Benin-City, Edo state capital, the only legacy of the booming textile industry of the 70s to the early 90s can be found in a name that was given to a popular route. Residents in Benin are quite familiar with the Textile Mill Road. There is no other sign of the booming textile industry of days gone by.  Individuals like Raphael James (Phd) who is a renowned adventurer and restorer of Nigerian History are not happy with the culture of incompletion or abandonment ‘The issue of abandoned projects is as terrible as our lack of maintenance culture. We have more abandoned projects than we have completed projects in Nigeria’ the researcher and director of the Centre for Research, Information Management and Media Development laments in a chat with our correspondent.

Completing a project goes beyond the physical structures etc., it is expected by relevant stakeholders that the objectives of such projects should be met. In 2003, the All Africa Games was held in Abuja. The event had good reviews from both local and international media but something vital was missing; revenue generation geared towards making profit which is considered for such events essential in other climes.  As far back as 1984, the organizers of the Los Angeles Summer Olympics apparently knew what was at stake and prepared well before the games started ‘Due to these contracts being signed well in advance of the Games, Los Angeles found itself in an easier planning position because most of its revenue was already assured before the Games’ (gizmodo publication) And they did have something to show for it. Something that would benefit incoming generations.

‘Following the success of the 1984 Games, the Los Angeles OCOG, led by Peter Ueberroth, used some of the profits to create the LA84 Foundation to promote youth sports in Southern California, educate coaches and maintain a sports library’. (2014 media report by Alissa Walker of the Gizmodo publication) but in Nigeria such events are usually held for what can be considered ephemeral reasons. Even when questions were directed to the Amos Adamu led organizing committee of the 8th All Africa Games on whether the objectives were met, little or nothing was done. Years later in November 2010, to be precise, the same individual Amos Adamu was found guilty of engaging in unethical practices related to the larger sporting body and received a ban. He was also made to pay a fine by the FIFA Ethics Committee. This gave a lot of credence to those earlier accusations of corruption.  Such precedents made stakeholders put a lot of hope in the TINAPA project as it reared its head in year 2007. It was regarded as a project that would not only help to boost the economy but as one that would help give the nation Nigeria its pride of place in the committee of nations not only for that period but for generations to come. There was this Cinderella like feel to it because like the tale which is described by Athlyn Green in the we have kids website as ‘A timeless classic that is every bit as valuable as when it was first released’, people had similar expectations for the Tinapa Business Resort Project.

‘It (Tinapa) was a good idea for managing the already tainted image of Nigeria’ says Osa Aghadia an entrepreneur and financial specialist who reminisced while talking with our correspondent.

With the Margaret Ekpo International Airport 26 minutes’ drive away and the proximity to Cameroon and a shipping berth that was supposed to be in Tinapa itself, it was the perfect location to give tourists who may not have been comfortable with the thought of visiting Nigeria, an illusion of  not really visiting Nigeria but visiting Tinapa. This concept is not so far-fetched, it is a concept that is modelled in a certain sense in Zanzibar. Zanzibar which is made up of many Islands is located in East Africa and has become quite popular with tourists.  Though under the jurisdiction of the Tanzanian authorities, quite a number of people do not associate with Tanzania. It is mainly viewed as a separate entity and in time this semi-autonomous concept could have been transferred to Tinapa.  One would recall that even at the teething stage, the Tinapa project had a feel good feeling that was not in a sense extended to other parts of Nigeria.

“Tinapa is one of the best conceptualized projects I ever seen in the past 17 years I have been in this country. Profound planning, excellent marketing strategies, and sound feasibility study,” said George Marksa foreigner the then MD of Julius Berger during the contract signing ceremony.

The Tinapa project was indeed designed to be grand. The plan was to have a film studio, an artificial lake of about 2km suitable for boating, light railway, luxury goods shops, cultural villages where crafts and related unique items would be sold, waterpark, world class hotels, casino etc. All the afore-mentioned were expected to generate adequate revenue. At the project signing ceremony Donald Duke stated that the state was targeting an average of N300 billion annually. There was also the feasibility report that was made public which stated that about 3 million people were expected to visit annually.

Tinapa had the potential to help boost the Nigerian economy. In Las Vegas, for example, an average of 70% of visitors to the location, visit the casinos (April 10, 2016 report published in the Las Vegas Sun). As a result, the Las Vegas economy is more robust than the Nigerian economy. Another report by the American Gaming Association, states that the casinos in Nevada contributed $53 billion to the state economy in 2013. This study was carried out in Oxford University.  It also stated that ‘in addition to the general contribution to the economy, the study found that Nevada casinos supported about 425,000 jobs, more than $18.8 billion in income and that they generated $7.9 billion in tax revenues to local, state and federal governments’. The afore-mentioned is just a depiction of how much revenue on just one aspect (casino) of the Tinapa project would have been generated. According to stakeholders, another aspect of Tinapa that would have attracted huge patronage from Nigeria and other African is the film studio known as Studio Tinapa which like the Tinapa webiste is lying comatose. It was built as an ultra-modern studio with the capacity to provide production and post-production services for film and music producers.  Since, It is estimated that an average of 5 musical videos are shot daily in Nigeria coupled with the situation where quite a number of established acts like Tuface, Psquare, Davido, Asa, Dbanj etc. have opted to shoot their videos outside Nigeria or at least, taken the post-production aspect of their vidoes outside the shores of Nigeria. This would have been avoided with what was on ground in Tinapa, the trend would have been highly reduced. A rap artiste Efe Iware inadequately described the situation in a cable media interview “If structures and amenities are in place in this country and we have less hold ups, maybe artistes will not go out to do their videos”. Contrary to that assertion, the structures are in place in Tinapa but are presently being underutilized and in other situations not even utilized at all. As a result of the foot-dragging, South Africa has become a popular destination for Nigerian musicians who want to shoot musical videos. International musical acts like Drake and Jonas Blue have also shot their musical videos in that location. Tinapa had all the trappings for success. It had everything in place to give it that Wakanda feel but what exactly went wrong?

There are several views Emeka Ajoku is an architect/designer based in the diaspora. He gives his own insight to our correspondent’ Tinapa was a good idea with bad planning. It should have been started on a small scale and allowed to grow. Now it is moving backwards’ the statement suggests that since nothing like that had even been done before in the country, that the project was too ambitious for a ‘beginner’ country.   Others give a different reason for the failure of the Tinapa Business resort to reach its fullest potential.  ‘From the little I heard about that project, I saw it as a laudable and sort of forward step initiative on the part of a Nigerian state governor. As a way of internally generating revenue and not waiting for the “Federal Government Allocation but I think Security became one of its problems. How safe will visitors be as the state also became a haven for Niger delta militants and Kidnappers’ says Osa Aghadia.

But some argue that security would have been in place because of its location and what was at stake. Some place the blame closer home ‘Tinapa was a project of great foresight, the administration of Gov Donald Duke had a dream, a great dream and that was manifested in Tinapa, there is no difference between Tinapa and Disneyland, the only difference I see there is that of bad management which is more of as a result of political wickedness. What I mean here is the fact that when an administration lives office and another comes in, they will frustrate all efforts of the previous administration and honestly, it takes us to nowhere’ says Raphael James.

Based on the history of political tensions in the country during pre and post-election period, Raphael’s statement may not be far-fetched. An incident that may come to mind is the cancellation of the June 12th elections in 1993 and the ensuing fracas. Even in relatively recent times Politics is often a situation of winner takes all, hence the desperation involved. Sometimes even candidates of the same party have been known to be at loggerheads.  In 2014, two siblings Chris Uba and Andy Uba of the same political party after purchasing forms worth N11 million showed interest in occupying the same senatorial seat (Anambra South). Even though they were of the same party. Several media outfits used the opportunity to highlight, the protracted crisis at that time in the Anambra State branch of the PDP.  In general people were not impressed with either candidate. ’Please we need sound and educationally matured minds in the senate’ was the view of Ben Akudosi a neutral observer‘ Both of them will fail’ said Emmanuel Chibueze a more vocal respondent.

Such infightings are not uncommon. At other times, it involves individuals from different political parties making it rare to find an individual who loses at the polls in an election to accept the results. They usually go to court.  Governor Oshiomole of Edo state who is a member of the All Progressives Congress went to court to challenge the victory of Sen Usonbor of the People’s Democratic Party and he won the case, on the other hand in 2016, Ize iyamu of the Peoples Democaratic Party, challenged the victory of Godwin Obaseki at the polls and lost. From Kano To Kafanchan, such scenes are replicated all over the country.  The exception being the 2015 presidential elections when Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP conceded victory to the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari who is of the APC. It was considered as an unprecedented move in the history of Nigeria.  Based on the afore-mentioned incidences, pundits wonder if such tendencies are responsible for the ongoing Tinapa issue. Omo Wengbe a social media advocate expatiates ‘The Tinapa situation is something that generations of Nigeria would bemoan. In Ghana as much as political candidates have verbal fights with predecessors, especially with those from other parties continuing with the ongoing projects is something that goes without saying’.

Observers opine that Liyel Imoke who contested on the platform of the same political party that Donald Duke belonged to, who won the elections and who took over the office of Governor after Donald Duke completed his tenure, did not view the Tinapa project with the same enthusiasm shared by his predecessor. They say that the rot in Tinapa started being obvious from his (Liyes’s) administration. They wonder why Imoke was not impressed with the project, one that received rave reviews all over. the project that people like Festus Odimegwu former managaing director of Nigerian Breweries accepted to be part of as an unpaid volunteer, a project that attracted the interest of personalities like Ahmed Dasuki, Arnold Meg etc.  By Oct, 2017, it appeared that Liyel Imoke washed his hands off the matter by endorsing the privatization of the project. In a letter to the state senate Liyel stated ‘It could be recalled that the Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort was commissioned in 2007 by President Olusegun Obasanjo with the aim of boosting the socio economic development of Cross River State. But regrettably, several challenges have hampered the achievement of this objective. Over the years, Cross River State Government has explored several avenues to ensure the realization of the objective for which Tinapa was established?

Such actions are making Nigerians and indeed other observers wonder what the present situation is in Calabar as a whole and Tinapa in particular. Emmanuel Ulayi, media aide to the present governor of Cross River State Ben Ayade in a chat with our correspondent gives a hint

‘The two core projects initiated by the present Ayade led government in Cross Ricer state are 256 kilometers super highway expected to link the northern part of the state with southern part by reducing travelling time from present six hours to just two hours. It is also expected to be an easy gateway linking the northern part of the country to the south. The debushing of the project from the southern part of the state to the north has been concluded with the EIA recently approved by the federal government he says. In relation to Tinapa he says ‘The other core project is the construction of the Bakassi Deep Seaport project currently under construction’ Pundits may observe that such skeletal strides towards the Tinapa project may not be enough. That what it entails to actualize the dream of not only Donald Duke but quite a number of Nigerians to see that the full potential of the project is realized, is more conscientious efforts and they wonder as is peculiar in the Nigerian political climate that maybe the dream can only be realized if by some twist of fate, Donald Duke’s recent bid to assume presidency in 2019 is actualized.





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