Cross River State moving from oil-based to service-oriented economy –Commissioner

Cross River State has become a Mecca of sort for tourism, sports and major investment hub for local firms and foreign multinationals. Recent plans by the United States giant, General Electric to set up a billion dollar manufacturing facility in the state is evidence of the keen interest being shown in the state. In this Interview with SAM OLUWALANA, the state Commissioner for Information, Chief Akin Richett, highlights the plans to move away from oil-driven toward a service-oriented economy.

Cross River State has become the No. 1 tourism destination in Nigeria. What are the factors responsible for these?

You are absolutely right. Cross River State is presently the preferred tourist destination and business hub not only in Nigeria, but in the Sub-Saharan Region. Thanks to the vision of some young Cross Riverians who got together a while back, with Governor Liyel Imoke playing a pivotal role, and drew up a blue print towards not only changing the mindset of our people but their fortunes also. This deliberate effort has also highlighted the hospitable nature of the citizenry, which was why the present Inspector General of the Police, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar, stated categorically that Cross River is the safest state in the country. All this coupled with the setting up of an Investment Bureau, a one-stop-shop has made setting up business here in Cross River State very easy.

General Electric, regarded as a conservative company, has chosen to site a multi-million dollar industry in your state. What does this portend for the people?

In one sentence, it means economic emancipation and better living standards for our people. God in his Infinite mercy abundantly blessed us with brains, supreme human capacity and capabilities, which embolden us even when we ingloriously lost our oil wells. As a team, we the cabinet members followed our governor’s lead towards transforming our economy to being service-driven rather than oil-driven one. We are a proud people, we fight for our rights and don’t go cap-in-hand. My boss had seized the opportunity to set up an Institute of Technology and Management, in the Ugep area in collaboration with Highbury College of Portsmouth, England, which will provide our people the requisite skills so they can fill the job slots these industries will offer. In my mind, we are on the right track.

How about the attendant social challenges associated with the influx of these industries, especially community relations, compensation for lands and properties?

You can be rest assured that it’s not an exercise in land grabbing. The numerous communities involved in the land exchanges have appointed Community Relations Officers, who are directly involved when this land exchanges were discussed, compensation was paid and of course, the land owner’s are gainfully employed and offered opportunities to upscale their skills. With the influx of investors, the likes of Wilmer, who are giants in agro business, Enghaut, big in rubber, Dangote, Unicem and others our economic lives has been positively being impacted and as a result, our people are appreciative of the efforts of this administration. Challenges of funding gaps to meeting infrastructural needs of this influx may be there but we are working hard to achieve better results.

What are the challenges the state faces in terms of the provision of required infrastructures like power and roads, for example for these companies?

No doubt there are some challenges, especially in term of road network, housing and all of that. However, despite the fact that we believe that the greatest infrastructure is the human mind, we have continually invested in our roads and other facilities as much as we can. With all of these opportunities, comes the influx of people to our metropolis and of course there is also a downside because crime does follow the affluent. We are the benchmark in the area of security; our Emergency Response Squad is top notch as regards equipment and the manpower from our various security agencies to maintain our status, as being the safest state in country. We only implore our people to avail themselves of these opportunities for a better life and the state in general

What kind of support does the state need from the Federal Government, NDDC and the private sector in other for it to adequately host these industries?

We, as a state would wish Mr. President come to our rescue in many instances. First, Mr. President can, kindly as a matter of urgency direct that the Calabar- Odukpani-Ikot Ekpeme, the Calabar-Ikom-Ogoja-Katsina Ala highways be not only looked into but dualized. Presently, we are experiencing humongous erosion at Atimbo, Ikot Efangha Mkpa and Ikot Ekpo, dealing with this is beyond our financial capacity. Lives have been lost as a result of buildings collapsing during the rainy season.

The dredging of the Calabar Port and waterways are desired now. There is a desperate situation for our people up north in Boki Local Government Area after some recent awful mudslides, the Vice President visited the area last year and as God will have it, a building collapsed during his visit with women and children inside, as if to affirm our plight. The NDDC on its part can do more in terms of urban roads.

This will complement the efforts of this administration; unfortunately, there isn’t much of federal presence as should be expected. However, we talk the talk, walk the walk and deliver when necessary.

What is the plan of the state towards dealing with issues of the pollution, environmental degradation that usually come the location of these heavy industries?

Well, there are rules and regulations guiding issues of pollution and environmental degradation resulting from the operations of companies and industries. The Environmental Impact Assessment must necessarily take care of all these pollutants. The Federal Government has its angles and holds its sway in some ways too. However, our State Ministry of Environment lead by Dr. Sunday Onor, endeavours to make sure that they work within the ambits of the Federal and State Government policies and regulations, by ways of persuasion and enforcement and like I said before, adequate care is usually taken right from the onset to check mate all these side effects.

Calabar is also becoming a major destination for sports tourism, as it has been hosting all the different grades of the national teams and other international sporting events. Are there any plans towards going into it at full blast?

We are at present, heavily involved in sports tourism. That is why the Super Eagles see Calabar as their home turf, I’m sure you can attest to the fact that the Brigadier U. J. Esuene Stadium has always being favourable for the country whenever they play here. Governor Liyel Imoke has continually, encouraged them in every sense of the word, which is partly why they excel in all the matches they had played here so far.

The last three Editions of the All Nigeria/ Cross River Athletics Championship were been held in our state in spite our lean financial resources and this will continue till 2015. Our sports development policy in the past three years has resulted in the state’s steady progress in several competitions lately. Aside this year’s Obudu International Mountain Race, which is one of our flagship sports tourism events, we would be hosting the 2014 World Mountain Running championship at the Obudu Ranch Resort as well as the next National Sport Festival, for which, we have been granted hosting rights by the National Sport Commission. We are sponsors of most sporting events while we also have a deliberate sporting policy domiciled in six schools in the three Senatorial Districts under our comprehensive Sport Development programme.

The annual Calabar Carnival has become a reference point in cultural tourism in Nigeria. Does the state have any plan of showcasing it at other carnivals round the world?

That is also part of the mix that I have said before. First and foremost, our carnival is on the international calendar. This is why the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival and the Brazilian steel band participated in our 2013 carnival. I’m sure many people watched the international flavour, brought in by these foreign bands on DSTV, we have participated in other carnivals before now and with this mix, we hope to do better in the future in this regard. Don’t forget the sports event and carnivals also have significant benefits for our business and entrepreneurs.

It is usually boom time for hoteliers, restaurateurs, the transport industry and tour operators. It also helped our people raise their standards in terms of services.

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