By Dianabasi Effiong
The Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort, Calabar, is the brainchild of former Gov. Donald Duke of Cross River State.
The resort, which was inaugurated in April 2007 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, is located by Calabar River within the Calabar Free Trade Zone.
Tinapa has facilities for retail and wholesale trade, leisure and entertainment.
At Tinapa, there are 80,000 square metres of rentable space for retail and wholesale business, including four 10,000-square-metre emporiums, as well as smaller shops and warehouses.
The resort’s facilities include a casino; “Studio Tinapa’’ (a film studio); a three-star hotel; children’s arcade; restaurants; a mini amphitheatre; a night club and pubs.
The resort also has an artificial tidal lake with water drawn from River Calabar; a water park; leisure land and a parking lot for about 4,000 cars.
The rationale behind the establishment of Tinapa largely stemmed from the Cross River Government’s desire to boost the business and tourism potential of the state.
From all indications, the dream was then becoming true but the dream is fast becoming a mirage now because of some daunting challenges facing the resort in recent times.
Initially, Tinapa reportedly owed some banks about N18.8 billion but its debt later grew to more than N20 billion.
However, the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) came to the rescue and it has so far settled part of Tinapa’s debts totalling N28 billion.
It is also reportedly investing another N26 billion in the resort, prior to taking over its operations.
However, Mr Kayode Lambo, the Head of Corporate Communications in AMCON, said that the agency was planning to recover all the debts owed Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort.
He, nonetheless, argued that AMCON had not taken over Tinapa, adding that the issue of sending representatives to Tinapa was still under discussion.
In the past, Mr Paul Eko, the Public Relations Consultant to Tinapa, confirmed reports that AMCON was planning to bailout Tinapa, saying that the resort would definitely attain greater heights in the coming years.
In 2013, AMCON started the process of actualising its plans for Tinapa by sealing an agreement with the Cross River Government on the transfer of its controlling shares in Tinapa.
The agreement enabled AMCON to buy back Tinapa’s debts of about N18.5 billion and provide about N26 billion to revitalise the resort and reposition it as a private sector-driven business enterprise.
Mr Larry Odey, the Speaker of Cross River State House of Assembly, who noted that approval was given for the transfer of the state’s controlling stakes in Tinapa to AMCON, stressed that the action was in the best interest of the people of Cross River.
All the same, Mr Akande Bamidele, the Comptroller of Customs in Akwa- Ibom and Cross River states, said that companies operating in Tinapa had issued a 60-day notice, signifying their intention to relocate from the premises of the resort.
He said that the notice conveyed the companies’ threat to relocate from Tinapa if nothing was urgently done to improve the resort’s business climate.
Bamidele, who disclosed this when he visited the Cross River Security Adviser, Mr Rekpene Bassey, said that the access roads and the shallow seaport of the resort were some of the challenges enumerated by the companies.
Responding, Bassey, who conceded that the state government was aware of the investors’ notice, said that measures were being taken to address the challenges.
“Tinapa is dear to us; that’s why we have been investing so much to keep the place going and we are doing everything to address the traders’ complaints.
“Tinapa requires sustained qualitative and institutional support, which is devoid of bureaucracy, to survive and flourish.
“The Cross River Government is working assiduously to upgrade and add value to the infrastructure and operational environment around the resort. That’s why the management of Tinapa has been handed over to AMCON,’’ Bassey said.
Nevertheless, Mr Christian Ita, the Chief Press Secretary to Gov. Liyel Imoke, emphasised that the main goal of the state government was to transform Tinapa into a global shopping hub and tourism resort just like Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
“On of the major problems or challenges we have with Tinapa is that the place was not gazetted. The resort is supposed to be a free trade zone; yet, we still have the Customs Service there.
“The roads from Calabar to Aba and Calabar to Makurdi are not good; the Calabar River has not been dredged and ships, which are supposed to berth there, first go to Onne; these are some of the factors militating against the success of Tinapa.
“You are also aware that because of the debt which the state government inherited from the last administration, Cross River has already reached its threshold on borrowing; meaning that we can longer borrow money.