The much-amplified Tinapa Business Resort, conceived, nurtured, constructed and launched by the regime of former Governor Donald Duke of Cross River State, whose size is more than ten Olympic football fields, has become a forest. Daily Trust reports.
On a recent visit by our correspondent, the entire sprawling resort has been overgrown with weeds. The emporiums, the vandalised 242 roomed hotel, the Nollywood cinema complex, the water park are now inhabited by snakes, wild lizards and rodents. Reptiles are a common sight even as it has also become a den for criminal elements which seem to launch out from there and return without the knowledge of the police post far away, which often is without personnel or electricity.
Tinapa is a ghost of itself. Only one or two persons were sighted far away during the visit. A truck was later sighted still carting away empty crates, cartons of drinks and kitchen utensils from the vandalised hotel. Criminals seem to have a field day inside the ‘forest’ called Tinapa.
The grasses have grown to become mini trees. These trees have blocked access into most of the places. Any one that is courageous to enter Tinapa now will shed tears at the sore abandonment. Such a one will literally see the over $600m spent in 2004 from conceptualisation to completion in constructing it as having been burnt away.
The cost of building the resort was a loan obtained from assorted sources by Donald Duke who was determined to bring it to life. Largely, he succeeded. He had put in his all, including political will and international connections. In building the resort, Duke’s aim mainly was to turn the state into an international tourism destination of note. Perhaps, he succeeded with Tinapa, Obudu Mountain Resort, Bebi Airport, Marina Resort, the annual Calabar Christmas Festival, and many others.
Tinapa was conceived as a one stop centre for international commerce with a status of free export zone.
This was the reason several emporiums (mega shops) were constructed alongside the 242-bed international hotel, Nollywood cinema centre, artificial lake which was dredged to empty into nearby river.
The resort used to have state-of-the-art facilities like pre-built retail and wholesale accommodation on an excess of 65,000m2 lettable area composed of four emporia of 10,000m2 each, several line shops, warehouses; an open exhibition area for trade exhibitions and other events; an entertainment strip with spaces for a casino, an eight-screen digital cinema, international standard restaurants, a night club and pubs; an entertainment centre with a functional Games Arcade and a mini amphitheater, a movie production studio christened Studio Tinapa, among others.
At the height of its popularity when Tinapa was the beehive of all activities, the emporia were all rented at exorbitant costs by different big time firms for sale or display of their goods. It was deliberate in order to attract decision makers who came for their Annual General Meetings. It turned out that blue-chip firms had to compete for space at Tinapa.
Tourists, business people, visitors, holiday makers, fun or pleasure seekers, and sports persons came in from all states of Nigeria and countries to relish the resort. A visit to Calabar is not complete without a tour of Tinapa. It had brought glory to Cross River.
But today, politicking and red-tapism have killed the thriving resort. In one of the interviews he granted journalists on the state of the resort and how succeeding governments did not put in such verve he displayed, Duke said his heart bleeds whenever he thinks about the resort he invested a lot of resources to put up. “Truly, I would be a liar if I tell you that I am happy about the state of or abandonment of Tinapa…”, he said.
The resort was abandoned largely due to alleged heavy indebtedness and federal government policy that do not allow it to function as a free trade zone since there is a federal government free trade zone in Calabar. Investors and business owners that initially rented the big shops at cut-throat prices regretted and closed shops when the expected patronage drastically dropped.
Duke’s successor, Sen Liyel Imoke, could not put in the same verve, commitment and enthusiasm into Tinapa, and so the envisaged massive potentialities
waned, leading to intervention and take-over by Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON).
Before now, the state government was said to have entered into private arrangement with some consortiums which reason the Tinapa Lakeside hotel and waterpark were still providing skeletal services.
All that was gone during the October 2020 #EndSARS protest, which was allegedly hijacked by miscreants. The hoodlums took time without any restraint to vandalise and completely clean out the entire three- storey Lakeside hotel. The emporia, especially those that still had some wares in them, were all ransacked and vandalised.
The mono-rail, which the government of Senator Ben Ayade came to revive in order to convey visitors from the resort to the nearby massive Calabar International Conference Centre (CICC) built by Duke’s successor, Liyel Imoke, was also vandalised.
Two teenagers were seen close to the main entrance clearing parts of the expansive road. They said it appeared some actions were about to return to the place.
One private security officer manning one side of the security post at the main gate said the contractor who pays them hinted that their backlog of salaries would soon be paid as there are indications that the government may do something about the place.
In an earlier interview, Commissioner for Finance in the state, Asuquo Ekpenyong jr, had said “few months ago a private firm, Cliqit International, signed an MoU to pull traffic into the place through staging of trade fairs as a way of breathing life into it.
“…Where Tinapa is today unfortunately is not where it was conceived to be. But we are a new team, recently put together by Gov Ben Ayade. I have been the managing director only for some time now.
“We have identified most of the challenges that inhibited the full blossoming of Tinapa. Now, we have gone back to the blueprint which gave birth to it, and are confronting these clogs and are tackling them with a purposeful plan.
“We are hoping to partner with capable private firms knowledgeable in trade fairs and have capacity in driving traffic to bring this about.
“I am sure you know that there are no modern infrastructure facilities that you will not find in Tinapa. This resort has huge capacity to host assorted International events of any capacity. Another reason for that envisaged trade fair will be to use it to showcase these facilities, hardly available in many West African cities.”
One of the investors at the resort, Chinedum Okezie, said that the moribund nature of Tinapa is caused by the Nigerian Customs Service whom he accused of illegally imposing import duties on goods coming into Tinapa, which was supposed to be a free trade zone.
He claimed to have lost millions of naira on demurrage due to the non-clearance of containers coming to Tinapa at Onne Port.
He said: “The laws establishing Tinapa Business and Free Zone Resort recognises the fact that Tinapa is the transit hub for goods within the sub-regional Africa and the existing gazette says Tinapa is 100 per cent import duty-free.
“Custom has no right to hold any consignment coming to Tinapa. For Customs to come and ask us to pay duties in Onne is a total violation of the law establishing Tinapa. Nigerian Customs is frustrating us.
“We are indeed shocked and bewildered why customs at Onne command stopped the processing of investors’ consignments which are on transit to Tinapa Free Trade Zone.”
Governor Ayade had lamented that the lingering heavy debts which accrued from the construction of the resort had weighed him down. He told journalists that he has not been able to break because the debt was claiming over 80% of the federal allocation to his state because it is deducted at source. “All the Tinapa debts, all those loans have crystallised on me. And they are deducting the money at source…”
In an interview with Mr Francis Ekom, the general manager of Tinapa Business Resort, he said they could not completely function as a free trade zone as envisaged because they did not have all the basic requirements, including a conducive environment for government agencies, to enable them to operate as such. He however said before the impact of the endSARS weighed so heavily on them, they had submitted proposals and reports and are also working with appropriate authorities regarding activation of the free trade zone status.
He alluded to the fact that Tinapa has lost substantially. “The so-called #EndSARS protest completely devastated Tinapa and even the third party shops and their goods. I can say that what we have lost so far runs over several Billions of Naira, and may yet take several years to fully recover.”
Nevertheless, he said that the future of Tinapa is very bright as the state government has set up a committee to look into the wanton destruction. “The 242 rooms in the hotel were completely looted. 24 transformers, not usual run-of-mill ones, were all destroyed and their cables stolen. About ten containers of fabrics and other goods which were ready for export got vandalised.
According to him, reconstruction and refurbishment of the resort has started in earnest.
“Our prayer is for the business plan of Tinapa to be revisited and for the government committee to hasten up. The state has usually and will continue to benefit much from the resort even though COVID-19 persists.”
He confirmed that as reconstruction work has started, they hope to open shops soon.