Heralded as the dream vehicle to propel Akwa Ibom State into the league of star players in the multi-billion dollar global tourism industry, the sweet dreams that accompanied the Ibom Tropicana project at inception in 2007, have all vapourized. What went wrong? Is the Tropicana a failed project?
PAULINUS NTA, from Uyo seeks answers to this poser.
The environment is unkempt and rustic and it reminds you of an abandoned ship that has run aground. There are luxuriant grasses and weeds everywhere. The expansive car parks stare back at you with a yawn. There are no cars in sight!
The entrance to the cineplex looks unkempT. Abandoned metal containers dot the landscape.
Young men hang listlessly around the place. And I asked the man leaning against the balcony at the restaurant's entrance if the restaurant was still in operation. He replies in the affirmative saying the restaurant's staff would come around in a few hours. I suspected that he was probably lying.
In 2007 when the Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Centre, described as modern-class leisure and business resort, was proposed by the immediate past Godswill Akpabio administration in Akwa Ibom State, it wiped up a barrage of emotions. While some people believed that the government had the right to dream up its signature projects on behalf of the people, some faulted the timing and even the location.
One of the bold critics was the then immediate
past governor, Obong Victor Attah, who strongly queried the impact assessment credentials of the Tropicana project.
But the government of the day then with its undeniable taste for grandiose projects, waved aside all criticisms and embarked on the multi-billion naira project with an advertised colossal budget of some N33 billion. Today, after 10 years, no one seems to know exactly how much funds have been sunk into the project. The Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Centre was ostensibly modelled after the Sun City Entertainment emporium of South Africa and the famed Disneyland in the USA was designed to comprise a 14-storey five-star hotel with over 200 rooms, a Disneyland – style theme park, a state-of-the-art conference centre, a wet and dry park said to be modelled after a facility in Dubai, at a time indicated that the project was designed to skyrocket the state into a new orbit in the multi-billion dollar global tourism industry.
Sadly, at the expiration of the two-term Akpabio administration (after eight years) the project was very far from meeting its vaunted objectives and there were more questions than answers surrounding the project.
The only functional component of the Ibom Tropicana project seemed to be the cineplex, managed by Silverbird Cinemas. It was obvious to most observers that the project was on the verge of becoming a lame duck and was in a clear and present danger of becoming a white elephant project. Today, the rest of the project site lies desolate, devoid of activities. Shoprite, the South African shopping behemoth that was touted to start operation in the shopping mall, has remained invisible.
To compound matters, the Akpabio administration built another hotel christened Four Points by Sheraton at Ikot Ekpene and had it “commissioned” in the twilight of its tenure.
Today, both the Ibom Tropicana and its cousin in Ikot Ekpene, “The Four Points by Sheraton”, are more or less, in a state of suspended animation.
The real worry is that since the advent of the Udom Emmanuel administration in 2015, information about the current status of the Ibom Tropicana has been very hard to come by.
The freedom of Information Act might look good on paper but milking real hard information
passing through the eye of a needle. One would need an ample dose of fortitude and patience to make it happen.
In a wide survey undertaken by our correspondent, a cross section of pundits and observers have proffered various solutions to unlock the Tropicana conundrum ranging from the Udom administration wooing foreign investors to partner with it to the actual sale or leasing of the project.
Edem Matthew, an Uyo-based structural engineer said if the citizens were to have confidence in the ability of government to protect their interest and safeguard their commonwealth, the Udom administration must put on its thinking cap and fashion out a plan to salvage the Tropicana and other variable state projects.
Archibong Udoh, an Uyo-based business consultant said “I think the government should set up a special commission to ensure the Tropicana is completed. The Tropicana is too important to be abandoned”.
Effiong Usoro, another Akwa Ibom indigene based in Lagos who was on a visit to the state had this to say: “Government is a continuum. The Udom Administration must find a way to complete projects left over by the previous administration irrespective of political interest and party differences. Abandoning the Tropicana is not a healthy development for our dwindling economy.
“In the midst of alarming unemployment rate bedevilling Akwa Ibom, the state government must craft creative modalities that will put the Ibom Tropicana and Entertainment Centre back on its feet”.
On the heels of growing anxiety, regarding the status quo of the colossal Tropicana project, Udom has recently been quoted as saying he would not complete projects that have no economic value to the state.
A survey by TNN shows that the citizens think that the government needed to open up its channels of communication and let the people know what the government is doing or plans to do. At the time of going to press, repeated call to the lines of the Commissioner for Special Duties, Akan Okon, and the supervising ministry for the Ibom Tropicana project was not going through.