Archive for July 2013

CALABAR’S RISING INTERNATIONAL PROFILE

“Calabar is the best city I have seen for a long time in Africa. I recommend it to the whole of Africa and to the world.” –Adel Amrouche, Kenya’s national football team coach

Calabar, the capital of Cross River State, with a population of over 371,022 residents, according to the 2006 census, is increasingly becoming a prominent international city. Recent events hosted and projects earmarked or under construction are helping to raise the city’s international profile.

In June 2012, Calabar hosted the United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s Commission for Africa Conference, with over 56 African tourism ministers and 25 top UNWTO officials in attendance.

In May, a high-level Chinese delegation, led by the Deputy Mayor of China’s Chang Chung city, Gui Guangli, visited Cross River and, after two days of investment exploration, announced that they would open a truck manufacturing plant, at the Calabar Free Trade Zone. Guangli explained that the manufacturing company, with eleven global outlets including in Japan, Germany and the US, will produce high-tech driven trucks in Calabar.

Similarly, on June 18, 2013, following an agreement it signed on January 31 with the federal government, General Electric, the American energy giant, performed the groundbreaking for the construction of a $1bn (₦158bn) service and manufacturing plant also at the Calabar Free Trade Zone. Sadiq Kassim, the General Manager of the Calabar Free Trade Zone disclosed that the plant would be used for the manufacturing of generator turbines, coaches for trains, aircraft engines, hospital equipment and others. On his part, Information Minister, Labaran Maku, said: “The announcement by General Electric to set up a plant here is the most important international endorsement of Nigeria as a safe haven for investment in Africa. It is the single most important investment for Nigeria since 1960. What is significant about this project when completed is that Nigeria will now acquire the technical capacity for high-level manufacturing on the continent.”

In addition, after their 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Nigeria’s Super Eagles in Calabar earlier in April, Kenya’s coach, Adel Amrouche, who spent three nights in Calabar was very impressed by what he saw and experienced, so much so that, in an interview, he said: “Calabar is a very good place. It is such a wonderful place to visit. I am very happy to have met the people of this city. They are friendly. Calabar is the best city I have seen for a long time in Africa and I recommend it not only to other Nigerian cities but to the whole of Africa and to the world. I was really surprised by what I saw and I love this place. I love Calabar.”

Furthermore, the maiden edition of the Calabar International Jazz Festival, which attracted guests from other parts of Nigeria, held in March, with performances by South Africa’s Jimmy Dludlu and Jonathan Butler, America’s Eric Benet, Nigerian singing sensation, Asa, among others.

Moreover, and like the Bishop of the Living Faith Church (Winners’ Chapel), Dr. David Oyedepo, had promised in October 2012, construction is ongoing for his church’s third university in Calabar, after Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State and Landmark University, Omu-Aran, Kwara State. Oyedepo said the varsity, to be known as Crown University will focus primarily on maritime studies. Consequently, it is to be expected that this will further promote Calabar as an international destination considering that its core academic program is a hugely sought after one and will attract students and researchers from around the Gulf of Guinea and beyond.

The foregoing developments and many more, are great indications that Calabar is an emerging international destination. Indeed, the state government is taking bold steps towards upping the ante of Calabar’s international attractiveness. A major undertaking in that regard was the signing of a contract on June 5, 2012 between the Cross River State Government and a construction company, BNL Engineering and Construction Limited, for the construction of a 2000-seater purpose built International Convention Centre, at the cost of ₦9.8bn. Speaking at the signing ceremony, Cross River Governor, Liyel Imoke, was upbeat that the project will boost Calabar’s economy, as it will become a preferred venue for national and sub-regional meetings, conferences, and exhibitions. “The Calabar International Convention Centre will be outstanding and will have the best conference equipment and facilities to compete in the global economy because of its advantage,” Imoke said.

It is important to note that these developments are reasserting what is actually Calabar’s special standing. Long ago, in the 16th century, Calabar was a recognized international sea port, shipping out goods like palm oil. The city also played a significant, albeit negative, role by serving as a major port for the transportation of African slaves during the slave trade. Indeed, Calabar was once the seat of the Government of the Niger Coast Protectorate, the Southern Protectorate and Oil River Protectorate thus, effectively, Nigeria’s first capital city. Furthermore, Calabar’s International Museum, its slave history park and other historical and cultural landmarks, together with its annual Carnival and other festivals that bring in thousands of tourists every year, all contribute to enhance the city’s regional and international reckoning. Again, in November last year, the Minister of Culture, Edem Duke, disclosed that Nigeria’s second National Arts Theatre will be built in Calabar.

Calabar’s growth and progress as an emerging international city is not only good for the city itself and Cross River State but it is equally a thing of pride for Nigeria, especially as it aligns with Nigeria’s status and aspirations as a leading African nation and a promising force in the global arena. Beyond that, the rise to international prominence of Calabar should also help to end the use of Abuja as a default location for important global events hosted by Nigeria. Most G8 and G20 summits, for example, are held in cities other than the political or economic capitals of the host nations. South Africa recently hosted the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, away from its political capital, Tshwane (Pretoria) and its commercial hub, Johannesburg. It will therefore be in the federal government’s interest to seize the opportunity and position Calabar as one of the alternatives for the hosting of international events in Nigeria.

Also, the Cross River State government and the Calabar South and Calabar Municipal Local Government councils must continue to ensure that Calabar remains clean, green and secure. Again, the federal and state governments should see to it that Calabar has the right transport infrastructure to match its growing international status. The main artery into Calabar, the Odukpani road, should be urgently repaired and the city’s seaport and airport expanded, in view of the increasing traffic they will be receiving. Minor repairs at the seaport and the construction of a new airport building are good but a lot more has to be done. It is unfortunate that the dredging of the Calabar Channel, to allow bigger ships to berth at the Calabar port, is yet to begin more than a year since April 2012 when the federal government announced it had concluded plans to commence the project. The FG should get serious and hand the project to a very competent contractor for prompt and efficient execution. Similarly, the TINAPA Business Resort should be given all the support it badly needs to succeed. The project, which cost the state government billions of Naira has huge potential for business, tourism and entertainment and must not be allowed to wither.

Gradually, Calabar is beginning to fully live up to its special nickname – the Canaan City. Calabar has what it takes to fulfill its glorious destiny as a major Nigerian and international city. I believe she would not disappoint!

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