By Jimoh Babatunde
No sensible Nigerian would doubt any encomium poured on Governor Liyel Imoke for the feats accomplished in putting Cross River State as the unrivalled tourism centre of the country.
For many Nigerians given to adventure, the Christmas celebration is not complete without a view of the annual Calabar festival every December.
The Calabar Carnival that was initiated 10 years ago by the immediate past government of the state has continued to wax stronger in terms of organisation and content under Senator Imoke’s administration.
It is to the credit of Governor Imoke that the dream of using tourism as a plank for development in the state as the administration has consolidated and developed infrastructure that have grown the economy of the state through tourism.
From the onset, Senator Imoke was not ignorant of the fact that the state would not have the advantage of being leveraged with the extra revenue that comes with oil revenue like neighbouring states in the South-South region. Indeed, Senator Imoke had no choice, given the fact that the state had at the turn of the decade been removed from the league of oil producing states.
It is thus not surprising that the state has now become the third highest traffic point for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) sector of the hospitality and tourism industry.
Indeed, the governor has his sight set on pushing Abuja off the number one spot in that sector given his recent remarks at a
“Today, Calabar is the third largest destination for MICE in Nigeria after Lagos and Abuja. We think we can overtake Abuja very quickly once our international conference centre is completed. With the international conference centre comes also two new hotels. One is a resort hotel while the other is a business hotel,” the governor told Vanguard in an interview at the end of the Calabar Christmas festival in December 2013.
At the moment the state’s focus on tourism is yielding as much as $10 billion in contribution to the national economy which is equivalent to about 3% of total GDP despite the fact the state population is just 1.8% of the country’s total population.
From the Calabar carnival, the administration has proceeded to build not just a one- event or one- month- event calendar, but used it as a step to introduce multiple activities to splash tourists.
Today, the state hosts the Jazz Festival, the mountain race, boat regatta, Calabar Annual Dance Festival, and Leboku New Yam Festival among other festivals that have continued to attract both domestic and international tourists to the state.
Governor Imoke’s vision for Cross River tourism has been to create a destination where things work reasonably, where there is security and when tourists visit for them to say ‘why is the rest of Nigeria not like this?’
Cross River today parades a secured environment that contributes toward making it an enjoyable place to live and work. The state is thus known for being a safe and secure place, where tourists can walk and explore wherever they want to go.
It is also the most eco-friendly state in Nigeria. The majority of the country’s remaining rainforest is in the state and the government is working actively to conserve it. The wildlife and out of door experiences are the best in the country as the state is home to many internationally famous conservation organisations who actively promote ecotourism initiatives.
Honours have poured in from home and abroad for the governor who has kept faith with the foundation he inherited from his predecessor, Mr. Donald Duke.
It is thus no surprise that honour has continued to come the way of Governor Imoke among which is the “Global Tourism Ambassador Award 2014” awarded him by the Dublin, Ireland based Nigerian Carnival Ireland, NCI last year.