by crossriverwatch admin
The recent decision by the Cross River State government to enter into a debt buy-back deal to transfer its controlling interest in Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort in Calabar to the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) has generated mixed reactions. In this interview, our Correspondent asked the Secretary of the National Planning Commission who is also Secretary of the National Economic Council, Ntufam Fidelis Ugbo, if the deal translated to failure on the part of the state government to run the resort.
Is it a wise decision to allow AMCON take over TINAPA?
The tendency is that people think that if AMCON takes over your establishment, it means that it has failed. To me I’ll rather think it is one of the management options open to such an establishment. If an establishment has failed, of course, it will be put up for liquidation, and that would be the end of it. But if it has not been put up for liquidation, it means it has not failed. They only need to re-energise the management to bring Tinapa out and make it more profitable.
Does that mean the state government lacks the wherewithal to undertake this turn around?
The entry of AMCON to Tinapa, to me, is a welcomed development for some important reasons. First, Tinapa was built not just for the interest of Cross River State alone but for the federal government. Most of the companies that operate in Tinapa are limited liability companies and by our national laws, limited liability companies pay tax not to the state governments but to the federal government. The federal government did not invest in building Tinapa but majority of the proceeds coming from Tinapa go to the federal government. But the state keeps putting its resources in Tinapa on a monthly basis; the state puts in over N100 million a month to ensure that Tinapa is running. Because the enterprise is a big one, the business concept was maybe not properly thought through.
Meaning the Tinapa enterprise has been besought by challenges?
The first challenge we had in Tinapa was that the Customs’ regulations guiding its operations was not properly in place such that the first anchor tenants in Tinapa when they brought in their goods, the Customs seized the goods, and that scared them away. It took the state government quite some time to correct that anomaly. Eventually, when that was corrected and the necessary legislation was enacted to enable Tinapa operate as a Free Trade Zone, most of the anchor tenants that had paid before became scared and said ‘look the environment is uncertain and we cannot continue to operate in an uncertain environment; we don’t know whether they’ll seize our goods again if we bring them in tomorrow’. It became difficult to bring them back. These were the challenges we had, and because government had put in so much money into developing Tinapa, they had to continue to make sure Tinapa continues to run even if it is on a minimal level, and that is what’s been happening over the years. So, if AMCON has taken over Tinapa to give it good management and to see how they can, maybe, inject some more funding into it, at least that will save Cross River State N100 million every month which can be applied to doing other things for the state, and running Tinapa does not mean AMCON will take it to Abuja; it will be run right there in Cross River State, and they are not going to import people from elsewhere to run it; Cross Riverians will work there and jobs will be created and eventually, Tinapa will be running again.
So it’s safe to say the Cross River State government has taken its hands off Tinapa?
No, I think that’s the wrong thing to say. The state government is not sleeping over allowing AMCON to run Tinapa. The state government is making other ancillary investments around Tinapa that can create market that will drive traffic into Tinapa. There’s a new estate which is developed close to Tinapa called Golf Estate. The International Conference Centre being built is overseeing Tinapa. These are all things that will drive traffic into Tinapa and make it a very viable enterprise. So, I believe that AMCON’s coming is to share the risks we have been bearing alone.
Some believe this take over will affect the tourism that the state has become associated with. What is your take on this?
Again, that is a wrong assumption. As I said earlier, AMCON will not take Tinapa away from its current location in Calabar. What it rather does is to allow the government invest in other aspects of tourism, including agricultural tourism. You know tourism and agriculture go hand in hand. If you attract tourists, when they come to your state, they want to eat and the variety of what they want to eat should be produced in your state because that is how you add value to your tourism. Tourism is not just building hotels for the tourists to sleep in. Your cuisine is part of your tourism. The local cuisine that we have in Calabar is part of that. This is the time for us to apply our agriculture in improving our dishes and providing variety. That is the only way we can add value to our tourism. The state should also be able to offer sightseeing facilities; we should be able to improve our environment in terms of infrastructure, good road network. We should begin to think of the possibility of running a rail line from Calabar to the Obudu Mountain Resort to make it possible for people to leave at any time in the night or day and come to Calabar and go back in the same way, making movement easy. When you do that, you promote tourism to the highest level.
Also, we have our natural forests. In Nigeria, we still retain one of the best natural forests; that is a tourist attraction. We can create an opportunity for tourists to go to our natural forests for sight-seeing and they pay for it. In the process, you create stop points where the local people could sell souvenirs that tourists who come for sightseeing can buy and take away. That’s how we can integrate our tourism into our local economies and ensure that our people in the villages are part and parcel of the tourism circuit of the state.
In other words, money saved from running Tinapa will go into agriculture as a source of income for the state?
I must commend His Excellency, Senator Liyel Imoke, for the strides he is making in the area of investment in agriculture because, we all know that the emergence of oil tended to divert the attention of state governments from the natural endowments that they have. Cross River State has comparative advantage in the area of agriculture and tourism. He saw the need to reinvigorate our agricultural sector. He brought in a number of companies that are in agriculture.
Wilmer is investing over half a billion dollars in agriculture in Cross River State and there are many other companies that are interested in agriculture in the State. That alone will transform our agriculture and plantations into commercial enterprises that can generate income for our people. Between Akamkpa and Calabar, there’s the Calaro Rubber Estate. The entire rubber estate has been brought down and they are replanting with improved variety of rubber. We need to do that to be able to change the face of our agriculture.
In Biase palm plantations, the palms are being brought down to be replaced with improved variety which will transform our agriculture. It will create employment for our people, and in the process, we should put together small industries that process agricultural produce from the various sectors which can create jobs for the rural peoples, so that wherever you find yourself, you can have something to sustain your family. We can add value to the cocoa we produce in Ikom before we take it out to export. We don’t need to transport cocoa beans from Ikom to Lagos. We can establish small industries that can transform cocoa to powder and export the powder, and I’m beginning to see that happening in Cross River State.
We have very good species of pineapple in Orimekpang (Boki Local Government Area) which grow naturally without fertilizer. Today, most of the juices airlines serve on board are products of pineapple. I am beginning to see those juices coming from Cross River State.
I believe Cross River State is already refocusing. It simply requires that we sustain what we are doing and then someone buys into the vision of what the present governor is doing and then pursues it to a logical conclusion and all our people will be better for it.
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