Akwa Ibom Tourism Logo and the Road Not Taken

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The winning entry logo

The past two weeks have witnessed a flurry of debates and controversies triggered off by the unveiling of the winning entry in the just concluded contest initiated by the Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Culture and Tourism, to select an appropriate logo to power its tourism drive. The debate has been so intense that it has attracted both the enlightened minds and the outrightly bigoted voices.
Two major planks can easily be identified with the debate. On is the propriety or otherwise of an Igbo man winning the contest and the other, the inappropriateness of the logo as a representation of the state. The argument is that an outsider was not supposed to design our identity. The other was that the logo did not represent the essentials of the state, with some insisting that it was a borrowed cultural identity from the Caribbean, (some even said from Calabar).
I am not going to talk about the logo as an artwork in this piece. I will do that when the ministry comes out with the synopsis of the winning entry, and by extension why it was chosen above other entries. I am not an art buff, but I know there are two components of every art; the form and the content.
The emphasis in this piece will therefore tend to look beyond the ethnic colouration of the outcry and rejection, and focus essentially on the fundamental issue of tourism in the state, which in the first place, triggered off the contest.
The debate has thrown up so many pseudo-cultural nationalists and ethnic irredentists that it would be difficult to change their already made mind in the direction they are already headed. But there could, hopefully, still remain some with clearer open mind.
On July 18, 2014, a young lady, who decided to contest the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria contest under the name and identity of Akwa Ibom state, Miss Iheoma Nnadi, won the crown in Yenegoa, Bayelsa state. Hell was let loose. Many who had never heard about the contest in their entire life rose up in unison to question why an outsider should represent the state. They accused the organizers of bias and insult to the people of the state for making an Igbo win on the platform of the state. The very few clear thinkers were then looking beyond the contest to ask questions on the direction tourism was heading to in the state. Some were asking the question why the Miss Akwa Ibom contest, where future contestants at the national event, could be groomed had not held for so long a time. Some asked the question as to who should ensure that the state produces future winners that are home grown. But the Cultural nationalists drowned the voices of the others. They shouted and cried and whined, until we forgot why the cry started in the first place. Today, three years on, nothing has been heard again of that seemingly painful experience. I am not sure any Miss Akwa Ibom contest has been held since then. I am not sure there is anything on the ground to ensure that if such contest is held today, the state would be represented by a home girl.
That is what happens each time we think with prejudiced heart and not our clear head. Today, just like yesterday, we are concentrating on why an Igbo man should win a contest that was thrown open for contestants from all over the world to contest, rather than proffer ways of deepening tourism in the state. The ethnic colouration of the discourse has risen to such ridiculous crescendo that we have so soon forgotten that we are still celebrating the awesome achievement of our daughter Ime Ime Umanah, who made us proud by becoming the first black woman to head the prestigious Harvard Law Review, in far away United States of America. We have forgotten the world record breaking achievement of our own Uffot Ekong in far away Japan; we have forgotten that our own Ufot Inyang, who currently is among those saddled with the responsibility of determining the direction of education in Dougherty County, Albany, Georgia, among other sons and daughters of the state all over the world, who are not enamored or held back by anything; high fliers who are ready to compete wherever they found themselves. Back home in Nigeria, of the about six Senior Advocates of Nigeria produced by Akwa Ibom state, none of them practice law in the state, meaning that they are scattered all over Nigeria, contributing to the growth of the places they found themselves; meaning that 90 percent of their career development and advancement were propelled by persons, institutions and states, other than theirs in terms of mentorship, briefs and other necessary ingredients that made them who they turned out to be. This is replicated in every other areas of human endeavour, including well known stories of almost all the governors that have governed the state. Obong Victor Attah made his career mark in far away Kaduna, Senator Akpabio in Lagos, as well as Gov. Emmanuel, who distinguished himself in a bank owned by a Deltan.
Rather than dwell on such issues, one would have thought that we engage those saddled with the responsibility for policy formulation and implementation in the state on the direction our tourism should go, now that it appears there is a silver lining on the path of tourism development in the state.
It would have been more beneficial for us to point to our leadership the way Donald Duke went in his quest for a definite tourism roadmap for Cross River state.
In 1999 when Donald Duke was elected governor, Calabar and Cross River State had all the potentialities, which Akwa Ibom state today has in abundance. He met a state, which already prides itself as the Peoples Paradise. He knew the direction he wanted. He set to work. First he ensured that the road networks within the Calabar metropolise were taken care of. He ensured that cleanliness became a state policy. He beautified the city, planting shrubs, flowers and generally lightened up the streets. He engaged the people and made them part of his dream by ensuring that individual home owners whose houses are situated along the major roads painted their houses and fences. Refuse collection and the general cleanliness of the city became a creed for residence and even visitors.
Duke went up north his state. He turned the Obudu Cattle Ranch, which was already suffering from every known Nigerian maintenance malaise, into a tourism masterpiece, such that started attracting national and international retreats. He brought the first cable car to the country and with its novelty, a hoard of eager visitors to the ranch and by extension, the state. The ranch became a destination of choice for governments and individuals.
Donald Duke after the necessary groundwork zeroed in on his major tourism programme, the Calabar month long Carnival that has today been recorded and noted in the world tourism calendar as one of the best, attracting the participation of so many countries. A major fallout of the success story of Cross River tourism is that six months into the year, all hotels in Calabar become fully booked for December and private houses of residents become temporal hotel accommodation for tourists. Today, the Calabar Carnival has become such a massive event, that even our own icon and charismatic former governor of the state, Senator Godswill Akpabio, could be found on the streets of Calabar in masks! That is the power of vision; that is the power of focus and planning.
Duke knew that leisure and business could go hand in hand, and so, he went to work on the Tinapa project. The configuration of the project is a testimony of the marriage between leisure and business. One can only but wonder where that project could have taken Cross River state, had the former governor had the privilege of time.
Donald Duke did not pretend to be a magician and so sought help wide and near. A lot of expertise was deployed and at least three people of Akwa Ibom origin that I know were vital part of Dukes magic team. They include Larry Esin, one Dr Usen, who later became a Special Assistant to Edem Duke, former minister for Culture and Tourism, under the Jonathan administration and another gentleman of Oro extraction, whose name I cannot remember now. They all benefitted from trainings and study tours to major tourism destinations and impacted enormously in what became tourism in the Cross River State.
Back home, we have to take advantage of the rise from lethargy in the pursuit of tourism and engage the Udom government on the possible direction the state could go in tourism. At a campaigning stopover in 2007, then Barr Godswill Akpabio, campaigning under the platform of PDP for governor, promised them at Uruan to create a tourism link between Calabar and Akwa Ibom state by providing a waterway connect between Akwa Ibom state, through Le Meridian Hotel to Tinapa by ferry. One can only begin to imagine what would have happened if he had meant it and went on to carry that vision through. There would have been a seamless tourism connection between the two cities, with hotels in Uyo, especially the Le Meridian and its famous golf course being beneficiaries of the Calabar festival.
Our Golf Course at the Le Meridian is one of the best in sub-Sahara Africa. If we had such a linkage and established an annual international golf tournament that could attract the likes of Tiger Woods, like the golf circuits in major cities, including the Dubai golf fair, a mere golf kit and the greenery of a golf course could easily have been the states tourism logo and the world would have easily recognized it and associated it with our tourism success story.
Now that Gov. Udom Emmanuel has realized that something could be done about tourism in the state, I think he should be encouraged. Before now, the culture ministry was more or less treated as Siberia, where no one wants to go. But Gov Emmanuel sending one of his favourites, Hon Victor Antai, to the ministry speaks of what and how he takes the ministry now. The high media attention directed at the ministry now is a statement to the attention the state may be directing at that sector. Let us not kill that enthusiasm with the type of destructive and disruptive criticism currently going on. If the logo does not meet our expectations, time would make it what we want. But the logo should not blind our attention to the multi-million dollars industry embedded in tourism and hidden behind the mask of our inability to explore and exploit them.

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