In 2004, I was invited to attend a presentation in Washington DC where a young vibrant Governor from Nigeria and his team where to talk about prospects of a new market place and tourist attraction in Africa. I attended the presentation. I listened with all intent as a South African Consultant talked about this vision, “a Dubai in Africa”, I listened with skepticism, but the presentation was so convincing and the vision so clear that after the meeting, most attendees I later talked to, believed, that for the first time, African governments were getting it right and putting their house together. Little did I envisage that ten years later, I will be writing a piece on “Tinapa Market Place: What went wrong”.
The last few months to the end of Donald Duke’s tenure as Governor of Cross River State, I visited Abuja for some meetings, with no intentions of visiting Calabar, however, I decided to visit Tinapa- Calabar, at most, to see for myself, and how this vision has been translated to a mission. The structures were impressive, a few stores were open, and there was limited business activity. Later that evening, I met with the Managing Director of the Resort that was when I sensed trouble.
This Project was designed without a definite plan on how the market will function. It was then I realized that all the factors or variables proposed to ensure the success of the market place were variables that were beyond the control of the operators. They were variables dependent on the action or inaction of the federal government and federal bureaucracies namely the establishment of a regulatory framework for federal agencies including the roles of the Nigerian Customs and Nigerian Ports Authority. About five years ago, to the best of public knowledge, the approval came through a commission established by Musa YarAdua. Yet, as at today, the long awaited regulatory gazettes framework, had little or no effect on the project, nothing has really changed.
Most proponents who often blame the inability of Tinapa to operate successfully further alleged that with dredging of the Calabar Port, Tinapa will have traction, this again is blaming outside factors for the inability of the resort to function. The question is, if nothing changed when the federal government gazetted the regulatory framework, why should anything change with Seaport dredging? While Sea Ports dredging will make it possible for vessels to berth in Calabar and improve commercial activities, It has very little to do with the vision of Tinapa or its functionality.
For proponents who insist on Port dredging as the final key to open up Tinapa to the world, can this dredging happen anytime soon when Akwa Ibom State Government is talking on developing Ibaka deep sea port, Bayelsa State Government is talking of a Sea Port, River Niger dredging is being considered to service proposed Sea Ports in the North, and every other Nigerian State on the banks of the Atlantic is proposing a Sea Port? I have often wondered how an export- import free port or zone will affect the functionality of a secondary market’s tourist potential and market dynamics, in a country where we have no history of the government ever completing any project.
However, if the key factors designed to determine the success of Tinapa were external factors, why then did the government of Donald Duke hurriedly embark on such a massive project without a comprehensive workable market analysis? Why was addressing these external factors not a priority before the ground breaking ceremonies rather than after the commissioning ceremonies? To be factual, Tinapa as a project, was the vision right? Yes, it was. Can we duplicate a Dubai in Calabar? Yes we can. Is the project’s failure a result of sabotage? I strongly disagree with proponents who believe ethnic and bureaucratic sabotage affected the project.
Tinapa, I will argue, from a project management perspective, is a failure in planning and implementation, coupled with a blurred business vision which is further compounded by the politicization of the project. If fifty percent of the total funds spent to build Tinapa including the 18 billion Naira debt was used to set up the market’s internal dynamics, that is, the operational side of the market, which will include creating a market niche, identifying what will be sold in the market, (primary or secondary goods) how the type of goods will derive a comparative economic advantage on primary products in the State or region, what type of tenants to operate the facility, how goods and services will be procured, identifying potential consumers and their demography, identifying how accessible the market will be to consumers in major Nigerian cities like Port Harcourt and Lagos, identifying accessibility requirements which will include such questions as, do we need high speed rail roads linking Lagos, Porthacourt, Warri via the Atlantic Sea line to Tinapa?
Do we need to include a Cargo component to the Calabar Airport? Is there need for a Mono rail connecting Calabar airport to Tinapa? Do we need to contract a major airline that will have Calabar as its hub to enhance accessibility to Tinapa? How do we link the major market needs in Balogun Lagos, Onitsha and Aba to identified products and services in Tinapa? What are major market challenges in Nigeria as it relates to both middlemen retailers and middle income consumers and how can Tinapa market place bridge this gap?
How do we identify specific production outlets from primary sources to secondary distribution outlets? How do we identify current market players in the International arena? Develop a working plan on market gaps in Dubai? And how the designated gaps can be consolidated to define the Tinapa market place? How do we ward off potential market competitors and create new customers not just with Nigeria but the West Africa coastline? How do we identify products and services needed by consumers that are not readily available in Dubai and introducing same to Tinapa?
Taking on a feasibility market study of needs analysis in the West African market region, What are proposed development landmarks, five, ten, twenty years from now if the Tinapa market place must be sustained? If all these questions were addressed before ground breaking, we will not be where we are today.
Apart from Market development, how do we explore the tourist potential of Tinapa? One of the greatest achievements of Mr. Imoke today that will be remembered down memory lane is Sports tourism. Although most Nigerians do not associate sport development as tourism, however, in developed countries, sports tourism is responsible for a large percentage of tourism income for cities. The City of Boston USA makes huge income whenever Redsox have their game, similar with New York Yankees. In the past two years, Nigerian National teams have played most of her international matches in Calabar. This is a very good development. Thousands of local fans would have preferred to watch these matches live if they had an affordable and accessible means of getting to Calabar. This explains why a high speed rail line from Lagos, Warri, through Port Harcourt, and Calabar will be an ideal development project if we must consider a long economic development plan for Cross River State.
A high speed rail taking off from Lagos terminal will be in Calabar in 90 minutes. A larger more sophisticated International Stadium within the vicinity of Tinapa will not be a bad idea. The Cross River State Government need to consolidate on this sport tourism by gaining accessibility advantage to Calabar, if this is not done timely, other Nigerian States will all jump into the band wagon of hosting these football tournaments and before long, it will be politicized and commonized as has been experienced with the Carnival that is in most States today.
Tourism transcends scenic tours like Waterfalls and Cattle Ranches, tourism can also be sports and education tourism. A recent report in the dailies indicates that Nigerians spend over N70b in Ghanaian Universities yearly. I have reports where private schools in Nigeria take the children on tours to Ghana, Nigerian politicians buying real estate in Ghanaian beaches. What is it that Ghana can offer that a well planned and coordinated Tinapa could not?
If we can imagine and realize the Dubai dream in Nigeria, why can’t we realize a Ghanaian dream for Tinapa? With good planning, we can attract educational tourists to Calabar by developing foreign standard universities within Tinapa resort, and can develop a leisure park for private schools to visit. The success of Tinapa has very little to do with the gazetting of a regulatory framework or dredging the seaport, what we need is planning, implementation and defined timelines.
If Tinapa cannot attract people to the resort, then let the city move to Tinapa. One of the greatest attractions that define Dubai today is real estate. What do we think will happen to Tinapa’s real estate and land value if the Governors official residence and Governors office relocates to Tinapa Resort? What will happen to property value in Tinapa if the official residences of members of the House of Assembly move to Tinapa? Let the reader decode this answer. If this happens, the increased land value may be sufficient to pay off the accumulated debts and help us start on a fresh leaf. This may still be fantasy reasoning.
Tinapa as a concept was excellent. The vision was feasible. However, it is obvious that Cross River State government lacks the required funds and technical manpower to translate the vision to a workable mission. I will assume it is within this reasoning that the decision of Governor Imoke’s Cabinet to transfer the States assets and holdings in Tinapa to the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) is better understood. This became necessary as the responsibility of sustaining the facility and maintaining its debts became a burden on the State Government that already had very low self sustaining income in the absence of limited national oil allocation. However, if AMCON has the requisite managerial expertise to move the project forward without recourse to politicization, mismanagement, and abuse of executive privileges in respect to the project remains to be seen.
The Way forward:
To understand why Tinapa is turning out a failure, you will need to understand how Dubai has become a success. Dubai followed a holistic development model with policy formulations that affected immigration and visa free policies for some target countries including Nigeria. Dubai also implemented a financial policy for prospective investors using the Dubai sovereign wealth fund, and they invested in market accessibility for international merchants and consumers.
Dubai was planned as a national project with some of the worlds’ best consultants on board. While I strongly support the handing over of Tinapa to AMCON, representing Nigeria’s federal government, we would require AMCON to come up with a workable proposed market development plan.
For Tinapa to be accessed with a market value for onward takeover by the private sector, AMCON will need to develop the market dynamics, the proposed market structure, and a regulatory framework that will be private sector-investor friendly driven. If AMCON has the capacity to initiate this market dynamics or if it was originally set up to perform such functions remain questionable.
Nigerian National Planning Commission has to be incorporated to take care of other unforeseen market logistics favorable to investors including planning for an efficient broadband cable network within Tinapa, market credit facilities, courier mail functionality for 21st century internet markets and online stores, efficient town planning, a disciplined budgetary framework implementable within a specific time frame.
Our earnest prayer is that Tinapa does not end up as an abandoned file in AMCON portfolio. Most files currently handled by AMCON were asset based portfolios; these were companies that went down due to financial mismanagement. Companies acquired by AMCON due to financial mismanagement, it is sometimes easy to re-prioritize such a portfolio and re-list them in the market for private sector purchase. Tinapa is a different kind of Portfolio.
Tinapa’s failure is not due to mismanagement; neither does Tinapa have assets commensurate with the debts. Tinapa’s failure is conceptual misapplication; it is a failure to put in proper perspective a workable and implementable market and tourist resort plan, capable of proper functioning, given our Nigerian business and infrastructural environment.
As we start afresh with the AMCON takeover of Tinapa, I hope we do not run around another set of bureaucratic bottle necks with little or no idea on how projects of this nature would succeed; I hope we get it right this time. I hope ten years down from today, there will be no need to write a new Article on “TINAPA-AMCON: What went wrong?
Rather we expect an article on TINAPA: The Wonder Years of exceptional development and progress.
Princewill Ojong Odidi is a United States of America based Project management & Financial Advisory Consultant
follow us on twitter @crossriverwatch
Since You Are Here, Support Good Journalism
CrossRiverWatch was founded on the ideals of deploying tech tools to report in an ethical manner, news, views and analysis with a narrative that ensures transparency in governance, a good society and an accountable democracy.
Everyone appreciates good journalism but it costs a lot of money. Nonetheless, it cannot be sacrificed on the altar of news commercialisation.
Consider making a modest contribution to support CrossRiverWatch's journalism of credibility and integrity in order to ensure that all have continuous free access to our noble endeavor.