N10bn Obudu Mountain Resort Wasting Away

The popular Obudu Mountain Resort in Cross River state, believed to have gulped a whopping N10 billion to upgrade into a world-class tourist haven, is lying waste hopelessly with costly facilities wearing away without any attention whatever. In this report, Joseph Kingston writes on the desolation which has become the lot of the sprawling project.

Obudu Mountain Resort, which was formerly known as the Obudu Cattle Ranch, is located north of Cross River and stretches from the Benue and heads towards the Cameroon. Its tropical high forests and mountains boast of natural resources which are yet to be tapped in commercial quantities.

The aesthetics of Obudu Mountain Resort typifies Europe with its climate robbed in indescribable effulgence, and fires up the spirit of adventure of a typical Nigerian. The green mountains, the sedate and chilly weather are attractions which visitors to the resort do not forget in a hurry.

History has it that the Resort was developed in 1951 by McCaughley, a Scot who first explored the mountain ranges in 1949. He camped on the mountaintop of the Oshie Ridge on the Sankwala Mountains for a month before returning with Hugh Jones, a fellow rancher who, in 1951, together with Crawfeild developed the Obudu Cattle Ranch. Few years after, the ranch was abandoned and served only as breeding ground for cattle, nothing more.

But the Ex-Governor, Donald Duke, in an effort to develop culture and tourism potentials of the state so as to rescue the state from financial crunch after the ceding of the oil rich Bakassi peninsular, decided to upgrade, renovate and promote the resort to an international standard with facilities such as world class convention centre, presidential lodge, honey factory, water park, fully equipped gym, two floodlit tennis courts, canopy walkway, natural swimming pool, modernised traditional villas, a 9-hole golf course as well as the longest cable car in the world.

The Resort is about 30 minutes’ drive                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  from Obudu town and 332 kilometres drive from Calabar by road. There is also an airstrip, Bebi, to provide air service for tourists and visitors who want to access the resort by air.

The distance between the bottom hill of the mountains and the ranch itself is about 11km, while the ranch is 1576 metres above sea level making it one of the highest in Africa. It takes about 35 minutes for a sound vehicle to snake through the mountains to the Ranch Resort, while the cable car glides steadily across the rolling 11km Obanlikwu hills in just 15 minutes.

The cable car itself provides a most delightsome ride unparalleled in the history of tourism adventurism. Nevertheless, first timers to the hills have always found the gongola cable car a bitter pill to swallow. This is because as the gongola car, suspended in-between the heavens and the valleys by a customised cable, manoeuvres itself skyward without a visible pilot or driver, it could however be suicidal if it malfunctions, but experts say the car is very safe, reliable and perfectly conditioned.

At the foot of the mountain, an imposing gateway welcomes you. This entrance cum exit, with its beautiful design, gives you a feel of what to expect at the top exotic locales, unique layout, beautiful gardens and neat temperate environment which prompted President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of blessed memory to describe it as Nigeria’s Camp David.

Reliable sources said almost N10 billion was committed into upgrading the projects by the Donald Duke administration. On why so much resources were spent, the former Governor Duke had explained that following the fall in the state’s revenue over the ceding of Bakassi, his administration took proactive measure to develop tourism sites in the state by upgrading the then moribund Obudu Cattle Ranch, initiating the Calabar festival and building from the scratch the Tinapa Resorts, which he saw as money spinners.

He subsequently introduced mountain race to attract traffic into Obudu with good financial projection. With the introduction of the mountain race, athletes and officials of World Mountain Running Association (WMRA), government functionaries, tourists across the world, fans, spectators, journalists, host communities and numerous others used to congregate for one of the most conspicuous sporting events in Nigeria, nay the world. With this, they display the spirit of adventure which, an analyst said, is another name of the game.

Due to the tremendous achievements which the Obudu mountain race, which came into existence in 1995 as a World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) associate race recorded, its status was upgraded from just an associate member race to a premium event by the WMRA and listed among the major races in the calendar of the WMRA. This was a feat which brought accolades and international applause not only to Cross River but to the country in general.

The involvement of the World Mountain Race Association WMRA, as well as Athletic Federation of Nigeria, AFN in the Obudu international mountain race was believed to portend great future for athletics in the country, but today, the story is different as the race has been abruptly terminated by the current Calabar-based administration since 2015 when it came on board. Government has not also explained why it turned its back on the race and allowing facilities and equipment procured for that purpose to rot.

Investigations also indicated that other facilities at the resorts, like the cable car, honey factory, water park, the gym, two floodlit tennis court, canopy walkway, swimming pool, golf course amongst others are lying waste due to lack of patronage thereby systematically jeopardising the fortune of the acclaimed resort.

While facilities were at their best, good revenue accrued to coffers of government but today, visitors and tourists avoid travelling to the resort due to near breakdown of facilities. It has become practically impossible for management to maintain them due to paucity of fund. It was learnt that the worst hit is the cable car which has been out of use as the Australian firm, Tonet Nig Ltd, which had the maintenance contract, left site due to contractual infractions.

Further checks indicated that recession which hit the nation’s economy last year did not also helped matters as foreign and local investors rolled back their budget on tourism. The state government has not also deemed it necessary to step in financially to maintain facilities.

Furthermore, nonpayment of salaries to workers may have also dealt a devastating blow to any hope of resuscitation the resort could have had as most of the workers have reportedly relocated to seek other means of livelihood thereby compounding the woes of the once glorious Mountain Resort.

A staff of the resort, who preferred anonymity, expressed surprise that the state government was unwilling to maintain the Obudu Mountain Resort despite its economic fortune and huge resources invested into upgrading the resort.

“When Gov Ben Ayade came on board, we were jubilant because we thought since he is from Obudu, the resort would receive improved attention but till today, we are yet to see his commitment,” he stated.

However, the state government says plans were underway to breathe fresh life to the sprawling edifice and return the resort to the good old days.

Speaking, Commissioner for Culture and Tourism Hon. Eric Anderson described the resort as a priority to the state government and pledging that, in the next two months, an investor would be brought in to manage the tourist site appropriately.

Asked on the 10-month salary arrears allegedly owed workers, the commissioner said, “we came in as government in 2015 and there was no commissioner of culture and tourism then. But we have in our records, which we came to meet, that 18 month salary and arrears where owed.

“On assumption of office, Prof. Ben Ayade tried to clear some months’ debt but few are still left. Within this almost three years of Sen. Ben Ayade administration, most of the times when we pay salaries, we pay double so as to upset the debts. Today, we still owe three to four months.

“We are also faced with the challenge of 120 staff and 140 room facilities staff in the resort. Personally, I feel that we are over-staffed. Because of the position of the ranch, the communities and the dwellers are mostly the staff there. We are also faced with the challenge of downsizing. Downsizing would be detrimental to the support which we give as government to the community.”

On functionalities of facilities at the resort, he said “the Cable Car and Water Parks are still functioning. These facilities were operational throughout last yuletide period when people flocked in there for fun and leisure but, for some time now, they are shut down for maintenance purpose.

“We are also on the verge of bringing in an investor to manage the ranch. We are sure that in the next two to three months we would be able to tie down all these discussions and bring in investors to make the ranch to function appropriately. So, these are the things we are doing to put the ranch on track.”

But whether or not these promises would translate to concrete realities for the resort to take back its lost glory remain to be seen as the clock continues to tick silently.

-Orient Daily
Politics 2323593322727696848

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