Former Cross River State Governor Donald Duke may have left public office, but he still occupies a special place in the heart of the people of the state and beyond. Funke Olaode reports
Carved in bold and flowery images in the sands of the time of Cross River State are a host of indelible marks engraved by Donald Duke during his eight years as helmsman. Although many could not see the vision as clear as he did, at the time, it has since become so lucid and unambiguous to clear all doubts. To Duke’s eternal credit belongs the vision for the development of the Tinapa Resort, Carnival Calabar, which is in its eight year and the Obodu International Mountain Race to mention a few. Each of these has brought the attention of the world focused on Cross River State and Nigeria. Today, people talk about Destination Cross River State and the credit for that largely is for Duke.
There is still a remnant of bureaucracy about him, largely perpetrated by his aides. But this is apparently carried out without his knowledge, for when red tape threatened to be an obstacle to an interview session with him; he overruled his aides to field questions from this reporter at the breakfast table at the Tinapa Lakeside Hotel in Calabar.
Starting from the prospect of Carnival Calabar, Duke took time to explain how his mind was working at the time. He planted the seeds that have grown and galvanized the state into a cynosure of all eyes.
Room for Growth
“I am glad it is still on with more private participation and keen interest from all and sundry. I wish it had grown more because we need to free it from the government. You know the government wants to see the entire carnival work. And sometimes there is a conflict between the carnival and the festival. And that is why we set up a carnival commission. But it doesn’t matter as long as it is still working there is always room for growth. I am happy.
“We had a vision when we started and the vision was to drive human traffic into the state. We are at the end of Nigeria and after here its Cameroun. We are not like Benin, Onitsha, and Kaduna where people pass through. You only come when you have business here. We had to package something that would attract people to Calabar. That is what Calabar festival is all about. That is what Tinapa is about- to create a place where people want go to shop and relax. “And that is what Obudu Cattle ranch is all about. Also, we are in the Niger Delta. There is a lot of money in the Niger Delta but not in Calabar and not in Cross River. How do we attract all these to Cross River? That is what these initiatives are about.”
He painted the picture of a thriving local economy that impacts the indigenes positively. What is happening now is that most indigenes in Calabar make much money in December. That is the prime month. This is not exactly how Duke wanted it. If his vision for Tinapa had worked as envisaged, the same proportion of boom that exists in December would have endured throughout the year. The plan was to have tourists going to Tinapa, Obudu Cattle Ranch and other tourist sites throughout the year. Then a lot of money would change hands to drive the economy of the state. Duke disclosed that at the time he built Tinapa and all other laudable projects, there was no money, but the desire to move the state forward kept him going.
Calabar Studio Not Designed for TV
The cosmopolitan and detrabilized Nigerian that he is, Duke would not be drawn into any comment on the propriety or otherwise of having a non-indigene run the facilities at Tinapa Studio as the studio is given out to a non-indigene? “I am not sentimental about those things, as long as you can make it work. When it works, indigenes would benefit. That is my principle. Sometimes we get very sentimental about the asset and insist that it must be given to an indigene and if it doesn’t work, we all suffer. The important thing is to make it work and when it works we should encourage indigenous participation in terms of employment.
“Initially, the studio itself was not designed for television. It was designed to make films. I wish they had done that. That would have created more impact and there would have been a lot more. It is not the original vision but Mo Abudu is doing well for her kind of stuff and we are proud that the vision is not dead completely.”
‘Audu Bako Did a Lot for Tourism in Kano’
Not many people remember the former military governor of Kano State, Audu Bako. Duke believes the late policeman deserves to be known as the ‘Father of Tourism’. He ranks high among persons who did well to surpass existing standards in Nigeria. To his credit are many tourist sites in Kano State that were developed over four decades ago. In April, a forum will be organised to honour his memory by the organiser of the Africa Travel Market and Seven Wonders of Nigeria, Ikechi Uko. Duke is involved in this effort also.
“Bako built a fantastic resort by a lake that is now being used for the Kano branch of the Nigeria Law School. Part of it is the Nigeria Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR). He also erected one of the tallest buildings in Kano called Magwam. These were some of the facilities that were supposed to be showcased during the visit of the Queen of England before the 1975 coup. He was so far ahead of others. Audu Bako was a great man and it is a great idea that somebody remembers him for his contributions.
“There was little exposure and enlightenment as regards tourism at that time and he was able to do so many things. He is somebody that should be recognised. I really admire him and his vision.”
‘I’m Involved in Lagos Cable Car for Mass Transit’
Duke has an interesting theory that would serve anyone in power. Because he has kept to the tenets of this principle, he is still very popular with his people several years after leaving office. The calmness about him reflects his personality. He recognizes the human in everyone, having noted how life humbles people who think they are indispensable. He prefers to keep a low profile. He is working on the premise that one must be careful to leave public office with his body and soul. He says a lot of people leave with the body but the soul is still in the office. Duke seems to have totally disengaged his body and soul from public office.
Many groups and individuals continue to tap from his depth of knowledge. Having left public office at age 46, Duke can’t seem to pull himself away from landmark projects that would turn around the socio-economic space of the country. His current engagement is the milestone cable car project of the Lagos State government. Having executed a similar mode of transportation at the Obudu Mountain Resort, his experience can be counted upon.
“I am involved in the Lagos cable car for mass transit that will transit over two million people daily.”
After all the things that he engages himself in daily, Duke relaxes with music. Sometimes, he can be seen as the front man of his band, blowing a saxophone.