It could be said that the Tinapa Business and Resort, Calabar, Cross River State, is dead and buried. After gasping for breath for sometime, as it were, the death knell was sounded in the wake of the #EndSARS protest.
On October 24, the $450 million facility, which was built by the Governor Donald Duke administration and intended to be a mini Dubai in Nigeria, was attacked by over 2,000 hoodlums.
Like hawks, the roughnecks congregated and descended on Tinapa. They looted everything they could find and destroyed what they could not steal. Even the Lakeside Hotel, a-244 room edifice, which is the pride of Calabar, was looted and vandalized. Brand new vehicles and forklifts were burnt. Now, Tinapa is finished, lying prostrate.
Day of rage
An impeccable source told the reporter: “On October 24, 2020, incredible scenes were witnessed at Tinapa. Scores of militants from the creeks stormed Tinapa with their guns. They loaded their boats with goods and left. Many of the things looted were moved to Calabar South. “Some thieves also came from Ogoja, Ugep and Uyo in Akwa Ibom State very early in the morning, freely loaded their vehicles with investors’ goods at Tinapa and left. The crowd was so much. It was like a carnival.
“They looted endlessly. Everything you see there now is empty; they are mere carcasses. What they could not take, they destroyed or burnt. They looted the Lakeside Hotel completely, the games arcade, everywhere. Many of the buildings have cracks.”
Another source said that the hoodlums even threatened the Obong of Calabar, saying they would come for him. “So, for days, Obong arranged youths, who kept vigil in his palace. For three days, the hoodlums insisted that they want to invade Obong’s palace. One really wouldn’t know what they were looking for in Obong’s palace. I think it’s because of the level of poverty in the area. Nobody comes to work in Tinapa anymore. Scrap metal people are moving around there, looking for what to take,” he said.
Another witness, who gave his name simply as Stanley, said: “The hoodlums were using the #EndSARS protest to loot and settle political scores. Some big politicians in the state used it as opportunity to settle political scores. There were enough hoodlums to do everyone’s bidding. So, wherever you point, they will go there and do damage. Some cult people also used it in their supremacy battle. It was as if the devil descended on the city of Calabar that day.”
It was also gathered that the hoodlums even went to a psychiatric hospital, sacked patients and looted the beds and other equipment. Take this from Madam Cynthia: “They even went to a viral infection centre and carried freezers, fridges and everything there. The authorities are letting them know that those things stolen from the viral disease centre can cause them harm because they handle such things as TB there. This means that there could be epidemic in any place they were taken to. Calabar was hell that day. Policemen were quiet in their stations. The vigilante group in Tinapa joined the looting. For them, everything was free because it was a free zone.”
The general manager (operations), Tinapa, Francis Ekom, confirmed that the damage was extensive. In a telephone chat, Ekom said: “The damage at Tapapa is extensive. It may be too early to give a definite figure, given that we would need to engage property valuers to access the extent of damage. That is ongoing at the moment. We have pockets of reports here and there that we are putting together; it’s not comprehensive yet. So, I’m unable to give you a valid figure. But one thing for sure is that the damage and carnage at Tinapa runs into several billions of naira.”
He explained that the security architecture in Tinapa comprising various units was overwhelmed, adding: “You had an army of over 2,000 people running around, looting, vandalizing and setting fire to components.”
A source, however, lamented that nothing is being said about the individuals whose investment were destroyed in Tanapa.
Tinapa covers about 80,000 square kilometres of land. According to the Duke administration, “Tinapa is part of the African renaissance, a place where Africans can come together to do business. Tinapa is a mixture of business and is one of the greatest attractions in our state.
“It is expected to play a catalytic role in establishing Calabar as a trade and distribution hub in West Africa while at the same time providing a unique tourism experience that will inform the growth and enhancement of the tourism sector in Calabar, Cross River State and Nigeria. Calabar, with its natural potential for tourism, through the unique vision of Tinapa, will transform itself into a global trading hub reminiscent of great international free zones like Hong Kong and Dubai.”
While commissioning the project on April 2, 2007, former President Olusegun Obasanjo had said: “My great delight is informed by the fact that we are today celebrating the actualization of the audacious vision painstakingly initiated, devotedly implemented and amicably.
“We must applaud your government for successfully embarking upon and courageously executing this project which is surely going to change the face of Cross River State forever. Tinapa, no doubt, represents one giant step in the direction of unprecedented economic growth and regeneration for our continent.”
When the reporter visited Tinapa in September 2012, it was doing fairly well. It was bubbling. Fun-seekers were all over the place having fun. It was a preferred location for filmmakers.
Tinapa later had challenges that affected its operations. One of such was the non-release of Tinapa-bound consignment by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS0, which brought severe hardship to the operators, investors and customers.
However, former governor Liyel Imoke promised to revive the Tinapa dream. He said: “There are regulatory challenges, operational challenges. We need to work with the Customs, which is a federal agency, not a state agency, to ensure that, operationally, you have a smooth operation so that you don’t have the Customs becoming a bottleneck for shoppers and, of course, the Customs should also not be a bottleneck for tenants who will be bringing in variety of goods into the zone. You have the challenge of regulations, dealing with various agencies. The regulatory procedures have to be addressed. So, these are things that any tenant that goes into Tinapa will want answers to. We are optimistic about Tinapa.”
Even President Goodluck Jonathan promised to untangle the operational debacle, but never did. He had said: “We are aware of the situation in Tinapa. We will continue to work in that direction. I want to say what we have in Tinapa is a major investment that federal and state governments should not to waste.”
Jonathan’s promise didn’t amount to much as the NSC waged a relentless war against Tinapa. Someone said that perhaps the Customs thought that Tinapa was another Seme border.
It could be said that the multi-billion naira project began to sing its dirge in 2013 when consignments transiting to Tinapa from Onne Seaport in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, were suspended by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). The non-release of Tinapa-bound consignment by the NCS brought severe hardship to the operators and ground every aspect of the operation of the facility to a standstill. And with time, the fortunes of Tinapa nose-dived.
Before the impasse, the then general manager of Tinapa Lakeside Hotel, Mr. Michael Idakwo, told the reporter: “I can tell you authoritatively with statistics that this hotel is sustaining itself. As I am talking to you, we are even saving for the future of this hotel. We have been able to turn around our revenue; we have been able to block the loopholes in the system and now our fundamentals are very strong. And we are making tangible profits at the moment. We don’t have difficulty in paying salaries.
“We also have added services. We have the artificial lake, where you can go for boat rides. We have our boats there. You can go for a cruise. It gives you that wonderful experience. We’ve also got the best water park in this country here in Tinapa. That is where you have the water slide; it is a delight, a sight to behold. We have also got the best games arcade.”
However, the NCS said: “The issue at stake in Tinapa is about unpatriotic elements whose attempts to circumvent the laws were thwarted. Customs intelligence has revealed the intention of these operators in Tinapa to use the FTZ as a conduit for importation of contraband goods and fraudulent evasion of Customs duty payment. When their attempt to import illegally have been checkmated, they have resorted to deliberate falsehood.”
There are also allegations of the unseen hand of politics in the capitulation of Tinapa. A source insisted that it was an orchestrated plan to cripple the economy of the South-South and South-East. So, to scare away investors, the forces against Tinapa put a clog in the wheel of the operations of the investors. The result of the impasse was that Tinapa started collapsing or, better still, it fell into coma. Investors began to abandon the place as a result of inactivity and interests on borrowed funds used to bring in the confiscated good. One investor told the reporter that he lost more than N600 million.
It was, indeed, a devastating blow to the project. Gradually, paradise began losing its charm. And, finally, it became a case of paradise lost, or so it seems.
An insider squealed to Daily Sun that Tinapa currently has a debt profile of over N100 billion.
Can anyone save Tinapa?