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Cross River North : Between NorthFest And Obudu Mountain Race By Inyali Peter

The much talked about Northern Cross River Cultural Festival (NORTHFEST)  has come and gone. The maiden edition of the event was held on Saturday 29 September in an open space purported to be a site earmarked for the construction of a rice factory. Now that it has come and gone, it's is time to try to understand what it was all about and its importance to Cross River State economy.

Although touted to be conceived because of Governor Ben Ayade disappointment with his reception during his visit to the senatorial district which is also where he comes from, the festival has been perceived by many as an event introduced to strike a balance with other senatorial districts in terms of big festive programmes. The South has the Calabar Carnival while the Central senatorial district has the famous Leboku festival hence, after a hostile reception, he decided to introduce the festival to appease the people of the north.

Again, considering that the Governor has nothing to show after two years of his administration in the north, he may have probably thought that the NORTHFEST was a viable programme to use to retire money from the state coffers into the pockets of a few leaders from the area.

Whatever be the case, the question of whether the festival was necessary or not or economically as viable as the famous International Obudu Mountain Race has continued to pop up each time the issue is discussed. How has this contributed to local economy of Bekwerra, Obanliku, Obudu, Yala and Ogoja that constitute the zone?

Former Governor Donald Duke that introduced Calabar carnival made sure he strategically designed other programmes of international repute in other senatorial districts.  Duke internalised the Leboku festival in the Central Senatorial district while in the North, he established the international Obudu mountain race.

All these were introduced not just to strike a balance among the senatorial districts but also to showcase the rich tourism potentials of the entire state to the world. While the Obudu mountain race was designed to take place within the first quarter of the year, the Leboku and Carnival covered are celebrated in the middle and last part of the year respectively. This means that three times every year, the state was having inflow of visitors from across globe to participate in the three international events.

All these events were contributing hugely to local economies of the three senatorial districts at different times in the year. Traders, taxi drivers, hospitality industries, eateries and all sphere of the economy were affected positively across state.

Among the three international events, the one that had lesser financial burden on the state was the Obudu Mountain race which enjoyed massive sponsorship from the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). The athletes were paying their own hotel bills and other logistics.  Cross River State was contributing only N200 million to the hosting of the event while IAAF alone had a sponsorship of over N200 million too.  This is outside what other sponsors were dropping too.

The racing events was listed by IAAF as one of the World Athletics events in their Calender. People different countries including America,  Australia, Kenya, Scotland etc to participate in the event.

With this, the state was on the receiving end economically therefore it's almost impossible for anybody to try to rationalise the decision of the Governor to replace the mountain race which had the same or more international recognition like the carnival and Leboku all to introduce NORTHFEST in the name of striking a balance or for whatever reason.

From what the Governor said in the occasion, the festival was to showcase the rich culture of the zone yet no state participate. Who are we showcasing the culture to then? Ourselves?

Politically, the festival may be very valuable to the Governor but this is at the detriment of the zone in particular and the entire state at large. . This is so because when there is an economic boom in any part of the state despite the size of Cross River, it affects other parts too. But in this case, money is leaving the state coffers while nothing is coming in. The only person benefiting from this is the Governor who's trying to buy patronage ahead of 2019.

In over two years, what Gov Ayade has given to his people is to mobilize caterpillars and bulldozers to destroy people's farms, economy trees, shops as well as destroy the existing roads without replacing them. All the good programmes former Governors started to bring the zone which is the old Ogoja province to limelight have all been stopped for a one day festival that has no direct economic importance to the state.

May I remind Governor Ayade that what the people of the north need is an accessible road not a festival where immorality in the name of pageantry is promoted. The Mbok/Obudu road he has destroyed completely with the promise of completing before the end of last year is long overdue for  commissioning. To travel from Ogoja to Obudu that used to be N300 is today N1000 and above. The pounded yam and drinks are not the things the people need now.

The Obudu Dam resort that Donald Duke established should be revived to create jobs for our frustrated youths who have taken to criminality to survive. The Dam has huge tourism potentials and would put Obudu in the news positively again.

Instead of NORTHFEST which is obviously a scam designed to retire funds from the state coffers, the ultramodern stadium former Governor Liyel Imoke was building in Yala should be completed to open the zone for sporting activities. This would also affect local economy and that of the state positively as businesses will boom during sporting events.

Similarly, the ban on the famous International Obudu Mountain Race should be lifted. This has more economic viability than gathering people to eat pounded yam and drink alcohol. The state was not spending too much to organize this event but was making huge fortune.

Since Gov Ayade assumed office, the state internally generated revenue has dropped drastically because he has undermined the real things that hitherto contributed immensely to the growth of the economy.

What is necessary is for government to build sustainable programmes that will grow local economy across the three senatorial districts and not mass feeding programme. Let the right thing be done at the right time. We want roads, stadium, functional dam and the revival of international event like Obudu Mountain Race not a festival that has no bearing whatsoever with the betterment of the lives of the people.

What will endear the Governor to people to support him for second term come 2019 are projects that have direct impacts on the lives and economy of the people and not the number of pageants or festivals organized by his administration.

A stitch in time saves nine!

Note : This article is solely the opinion of the writer and does not represent the official position of Fearless Reports. 
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