story by crossriverwatch admin
Obudu, once a serene and obscure town in Northern Cross River State has in the past few years become the toast of tourists around the globe. This is largely due to the presence of a ranch resort located on the Obudu Mountain top.
There is folklore about the early European explorers and the diplomatic crossfire between colonial Germany and Britain over the ownership of the Cattle Ranch which provided the best place for them to settle. The Germans got there first but through the employment of its effective expansionist mechanism, London cornered the ranch into Nigeria.
The resort has now been transformed and elevated into a tourist destination. The ranch provides the rare luxury of temperate conditions with temperatures between 80C and 210C all year round in the tropics!
Obudu Mountain Resort is one of the finest tourist destinations in the world. Deep in the tropical rain forest of Cross River State, Obudu and the Ranch present enchanting scenery and breathtaking vistas.
The resort which is located on the Obudu Plateau at an altitude of 1,576 metres above sea level is equipped with modern facilities like an International Hotel, an airstrip, a Golf Course, nature reserve, Waterpark and is equipped with a Cable Car and a Canopy Walkway (both first in this part of the World).
The Cable Car ride presents a more beautiful view of the ranch, making it a lasting experience for every visitor. It also boasts of a 250 seat ultra modern International Convention Centre, and the Presidential Retreat, Nigeria’s version of Camp David, both of which were commissioned by late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua in October, 2007.
In 2005, the Cross River State government under the leadership of Donald Duke initiated the annual Obudu International Mountain Race. Since inception, the International Obudu Mountain Race has grown to become a key aspect in the calendar of the International Mountain Running Association.
Only last week, Obudu was handed the hosting rights for the 2014 International Mountain Running Race. This, no doubt, is a vindication of the amount of energy, enormous resources, in capital and manpower, the Cross River State government has put into the Obudu Mountain Race venture over the years.
In line with its drive for the desired inflow of the much sought after foreign exchange through tourism, the Cross River State government gave the Obudu Ranch Resort priority attention.
Government has developed a lot of infrastructure including apartments and other places of interest and the popular cable car on the mountain top.
Apart from the Mountain Race, the ranch has hosted numerous other notable events, local and international. Political parties, government agencies, the armed forces and some multinationals have held retreats, seminars and other forums at the ranch and all agree to its topographic splendor and environmental friendliness.
Since inception in 2005, the Obudu International Mountain Race has gulped over $2m US Dollars in cash prizes. In 2010, the total cash prizes rose from $245,500 to $278,000. The race has a harmonized prize regime for both male and female winners. The winner in each category takes home $50,000, $20,000 for the first runner up while the third place finisher wins $9,000. Yet, the 4th to the 10th finishers also go home with various consolation prizes ranging from $4,500 to $1,000. The 4th placed runner receives $4,500; the 5th gets $4,000, $3,000 for 6th person and so on.
The organisers’ generosity knows no bounds as Obudu International Mountain Race which is touted as the highest paying race in the world also has a category that takes care of African interest; the African Championships. This was largely because of the early dominance by Europeans before the Ethiopians, Ugandans and Kenyans came into the show.
Mountain running was alien to this part of the world and the Europeans dominated the early editions of the event.
There was an outcry for an African category in order that the less endowed runners from countries like Nigeria, Cameroun amongst others could have a share of the largesse. Never in short supply of funds, organizers immediately reacted by creating the African championship. $15,000 is dished out to the first Africans in the male and female categories. The second prize is $10,000 and $7,500 goes to the third place winner.
The least rewarded group is the Nigerian category. The first Nigerian in each category, to reach the finishing point goes home with $2,000. The second and third place finishers get $1,500 and $1,000 respectively.
This group was considered necessary in order not to leave Nigerian participants empty-handed because –apart from the first edition of the race when Nigeria’s Danjuma Kopkuddi placed second, on very rare occasions—do Nigerians come near the first thirty.
The children race was initiated by the Liyel Imoke regime in 2010. This was because of the heroics of one little boy, who, in a rare show of courage and determination, finished his race and breasted the tape even before some older competitors. Governor Imoke, then still new on the throne was moved to initiate a race for the kids.
This was meant to inspire others like the young lad, later discovered to be an indigene of one of the communities on the ranch– to come out and take part in the race. Perhaps, with time, the natives could catch up with the foreigners who take home handsome prizes every year.
The first prize for the children’s category is N100,000, second prize is N80,000 while the third place finisher takes home N5,000. The total prize money for the children’s category is N590, 000. Even journalists covering the event, have their own race. $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 are the prizes for the fastest journalists in both male and female categories. As a result, some journalists have become traditional champions of the Obudu Mountain race. The outcome determines the shape of their Christmas plans.
With so much funds dished out as prizes alone, if money spent on accommodation, allowances for members of the organising committee, publicity, expenses on foreign guests, elite athletes and LOC members, medical, security, catering services, transport and other logistics are summed up; the Obudu Mountain Race Project would have gulped at least $300 million since inception in 2005. It could be more.
This is in sharp contrast to what one finds on ground. Of what benefit has Obudu Mountain race been to the natives?
The road from Calabar to Obudu is in a very bad state. Despite promises by the state government to put it in a better shape, the road has perpetually been under renovation. Work always begins and ends with the period of the Mountain Race. Worse still, the road strip from Obudu town to the Ranch Resort is a death trap.
This writer was witness to an auto accident involving a jeep conveying a former (now late) President of the International Mountain Running Association who was in company of the then defending champion in the women’s category, Anna Pichrtova in 2006. They were both in the jeep that skidded off the narrow path and plunged into a ditch. It was only a miracle that they did not plunge into one of the shallow depths of an arm of the mountain rift.
They were brought out in very bad conditions. While the IMR President was able to witness the race the following day, the athlete could not defend her title as she was flown to Calabar for medical attention. Despite that sad episode which the LOC chairman, Williams Archibong tried, albeit, unsuccessfully, to sweep under the carpet, government didn’t seem to have learnt any lesson on road maintenance.
The Duke administration constructed an airstrip, just a few kilometers to the ranch resort. One begins to wonder how much it would take to upgrade the airstrip to a full airport, even for smaller aircrafts, to begin with. This will reduce the risk these athletes and officials are exposed to annually.
To date, Obudu town remains the least patronized in terms of commerce and serious economic activity. The streets are dusty and untarred. There are no enough hotels to support the giant strides taken on the mountain tops. For the natives, the Ranch Resort is like the proverbial Castle in the Air as only very few can afford the trip up. A two-way flight on the cable car to the ranch gulps about N5, 000. Dinner for two could take at least N10, 000. Indeed, the Ranch does not provide any succor for the natives.
During the annual race, the natives are made to come out with various cultural groups to perform and entertain the visitors for pittance. In ignorance, the natives revel in the rare sight of European and other international athletes.
The farmers, who have been driven to the remotest parts of the ranch to give way for unhindered development, bring out their wares; natural honey is sold at random, dairy products and a few other items, mostly cherished by city dwellers are offered at ridiculous prizes. How much of this is taken as a serious aspect of the entire project by the state government remains to be seen.
Except government can argue that the ranch resort has placed Obudu on the global tourism map and has succeeded in creating new millionaires, it is hard to see the positive impact of the Obudu Cattle Ranch and the accompanying International Mountain Race on the people, seven years on.
Below are facts from the official Obudu Mountain Race website:
FAST FACT ABOUT OBUDU MOUNTAIN RESORT
Located on an altitude of 1,765m above sea level.
With 22 breathtaking ‘U’ bends.
Temperate climate in the tropics with temperatures between 80C and 210C all year round.
4.2km long cable car and a 70m long canopy way suspended above the forest floor.
With capacity for 300-500 conference visitors.
180 room hotel accommodation, a 9-hole golf course, spa facilities including Jacuzzi, treatment rooms etc.
Utanga Safari lodge (Hotel Annex) to cater for an additional 248 visitors
Dairy/Meat processing farm with capacity for 20,000 head of cattle spread over 26 ranges of 40 sq.
Cool climate honey farm with potential for producing 500,000 litres per annum.
Cable Car with an estimated annual traffic of 13,000 visitors.
5 lane/70 m long slide Water Park with a huge revenue potential.
1.8km airstrip with lounge, control towers and Navigational Aids equipment to support the Resort.
How it all Started
Obudu Mountain International Race was conceived as one of the vehicles, to drive world attention to one of the finest tourist destinations in the world, the Obudu Mountain Resort.
The race which is endorsed by the World Mountain Running Association, covers a distance of 11Km uphill, to an altitude of 1,575m (Over 5,000ft) above sea level. The maiden edition held on November 27th, 2005 with local and foreign participation. Prize money ranged from 1,000 to 50,000 USD making it the highest paying mountain race in the world.
The star prize of 50,000 USD in 2005 was won by an Australian, Ben Dubois, while a Nigerian, Danjuma Kopkuddi and another foreign athlete, Robert Krupicka of the Czech Republic won the second prize of 20,000 USD and the third prize of 10,000 USD respectively. The female event was won by Anna Pichrtova of the Czech Republic.
The 2005 event, was widely acclaimed to be a huge success, hence its immediate recognition by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) as a permit race. The 2nd Edition in 2006 received a record entry, with over 20 countries participating.
Africa presented a strong challenge as Kenyan, Francis Kibiwot and Ethiopian, Rehinma Kadir won for both male and female categories respectively.
The 3rd Edition of the race was won by Ethiopian Habtamu Fikadu Awash, for the men, with a time of 42.50 minutes, while Rita Jeptoo Sitieni of Kenya won the women’s race with a new course record of 51.42 minutes. The men’s course record remains 42.26 minutes, set in 2006 by Francis Kibiwot of Kenya.
The 4th Edition of the race was won by Ethiopian Abebe Dinkesa for the men, while Andrea Mayr of Austria won the women’s race.
The 5th edition was highly competitive as it saw records falling for both male and female. In the male race, Ethiopian Habtamu Fikadu Awash ran a time of 42:03 minutes to erase the old record of 42:26 minutes set by Kenyan Francis Kibiwot in 2006. While in the female race another Ethiopian Mamitu Daska beat her compatriots with a time of 49:12 minutes to erase the old record of 51:42 minutes set by Kenyan Rita Jeptoo Sitieni in 2007.
The 2009 edition also witnessed the introduction of the African Nations Mountain Running Championship. The 1st edition was won by the Ethiopian National team, followed by Uganda National team and Nigeria National team in 3rd position.
The race in its 6th year, has received tremendous support from His Excellency, the Governor of Cross River State, Senator Liyel Imoke who has brought more exciting innovation into the race like Chldren’s novelty race, which debuted two years ago.