Calabar, the beautiful capital city of Cross River State, is arguably Nigeria’s tourism capital as well. A very good friend of mine who happens to be a Calabar indigene puts it with such prideful finality: ‘’Calabar is the Washington of Nigerian tourism, the Aso rock of tourism in Nigeria, the tourism Olympus of Nigeria, the tourism seat of power of Nigeria’’. This may not be unconnected with its rich Cultural display, hospitability of its people, beautiful landscape, Colourful and tasty cuisine,and cleanliness, inter alia.
However, in recent times, I cannot really say much about the later part of the aforementioned quality. Since the twilight of the immediate past Governor Liyel Imoke’s administration, up till now, the city has sunk and remain a mockery of what it used to be. The once delectably clean and green city has become deleteriously embroiled in stench and garbage. The current insecurity situation in the state is also not helping matters, as the tourist friendly city is fast careening to the vortex of a tourist wary city.
Need I remind you that the city of Calabar came to its highest touristic reckoning and glory under the leadership of former Governor Donald Etim Duke? During this period (1999-2007), there was massive construction of roads, street lights; adoption of environmentally friendly routines such as regular sweeping of streets, mowing of lawns, planting of trees, watering and cutting of grasses, proper disposal of wastes, amongst others. These environmentally sustainable activities which though, is being touted to be the normal life style of a typical Calabar indigene, became a law which both indigenes and non-indigenes, resident in Calabar pay religious attention to.
Sadly, things seem to be falling apart! The clean and green city which once made its neighbours go green with envy is now avoidably green with filthy weed. Earlier this year, the Governor, Prof Ben Ayade inaugurated a team of one thousand able bodied men and women known as the ‘’green Police’’ to help foster environmental sustainability, yet not much has been done to abate the environmental nuisance currently sickening residents of Calabar. When confronted by journalists about the environmental condition of the state, the Professor of Environmental studies, Governor Ben Ayade always bedazzle his listeners with grammatical gymnastics, and knock them out with jaw breaking grandiloquence, leaving them obfuscated and confused. Certainly, no grammar in the world can buy cleanliness!
However, it is clear that Governor Ayade sure has his fingers on many pies. There are a number of ‘digital’ projects, with some even nearing completion in various parts of the state, but it is important to note that you cannot build a truly digital city with filth staring you at the face, and stench nudging you in the nose. You cannot make a city a true tourism destination and indeed tourists delight with all the garbage piled up like snow ball all over the city.
The first challenge of a tourist city is how to deal with cleanliness. We can learn a few lessons from the ongoing Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Aside being the host for the 2016 Olympics, Rio is known to be a tourist city. It recently came under spot light as a dirty city that cannot guarantee the health of its visitors. Some of the athletes, especially the canoeists and rowers, complained about falling ill due to filth, and hence could not give their best performance. This came as a surprise to all, because Rio, being an internationally reckoned tourist destination could not afford to be found wanting in such a very important issue as cleanliness. It also goes to show that cleanliness is not all about money. $5 billion dollars (more than Donald Trump’s total worth) was reportedly earmarked for the Rio Olympics by the Brazilian government, yet not much was achieved in the area of environmental hygiene and cleanliness.
Calabar indigenes are generally known to be clean and hospitable. It is often said that cleanliness and hospitability is part and parcel of their culture and lifestyle, hence the acronym, Come-and-live-and-be-at-rest (CALABAR). This is why I feel very deeply for them in regards to their current environmental and security challenges. They are living, but certainly not resting anymore.
One of my mentors, Professor Celestine Bassey, who coincidentally is a Calabar indigene, and one time commissioner of Education in Cross River State once said that ‘’the world is a geological and geographical entity’’. This means that the world is interconnected. Whatever happens in one part of the world manifestly or latently affects other parts of the world. This is also true for a country. What affects one part of a country, has an undulate effect on other parts in ways we may not be able to comprehend. That is why the current restiveness in the Niger Delta is affecting Nigeria’s oil income; same also why insurgency in the North East resulted in scarcity and increase in prices of some basic food commodity across the country.
Similarly, the environmental and security challenges in Calabar is guaranteed to badly affect Nigeria’s N1 trillion tourism industry, in which Calabar, being the country’s leading light in that sector ably represent. Owing to this, no stone must be left unturned to ensure that Calabar, the once glowing city will sprout back to its glory and even surpass the level it was during the golden boy, former Governor Duke’s era.
At a time when President Buhari has placed a ban on foreign vacation by top government functionaries and representative, much has to be done to better improve our local tourism industry and make it attractive for both local and International tourists.
Although, the Cross River state government mentioned that the work load of clearing garbage around Calabar is now too much for the contractor to handle, and that negotiation is underway to involve other contractors to help abate the filth. It is important to properly sensitize both private citizens and corporate bodies in the state on the need to make collaborative efforts towards sustaining the environment, pending when other contractors will be fully engaged.
A thorough and systematic method must be embarked upon to restore Calabar back to its touristic glory and pride of place. Proper attention must be given to its cleanliness and environmental sustainability which the city is generally known for. A clean city is a Godly city! A heavenly city! A Paradise! All hands must be on deck to keep Calabar clean and green as we once knew it to be. Only when this is achieved should we unreservedly say in the words of my efik friend that Calabar is the ‘’Aso Rock of Nigerian tourism’’, and indeed, ‘’the tourism ‘seat of power’ of Nigeria’’.
Achum is a Post graduate student at the Univeristy of Lagos. He could be reached on 08188991592