opinionBy Christian Ita
Cross River State Governor Liyel Imoke recently visited United States in a bid to woo American investors to the state. During the trip, Imoke signed a friendship agreement with the State of Maryland. Christian Ita who was part of the governor's entourage presents the highpoint of the trip...
In the past 10 years, Cross River State has increasingly become synonymous with sharp vision. It takes only the overawing power of vision to lift a largely agrarian state to the most popular tourism destination in black Africa. Perhaps it could be argued, and rightly so, that Governor Liyel Imoke and his predecessor Donald Duke have some things in common with the renowned American legal scholar, Stephen S. Wise. It was Wise who once observed that - "Vision looks inwards and becomes duty. Vision looks outwards and becomes aspiration. Vision looks upwards and becomes faith." Governor Imoke was obviously looking upwards and turning his vision into an article of faith when he sealed a friendship pact with the State of Maryland, United States of America, penultimate week.
Perhaps it had become obvious to Imoke that to ensure that Calabar retains its present top of mind awareness among tourists in and around Africa, the state would have to do a new thing, to ensure that vision moves from a mere aspiration to faith. And that was what happened when Imoke and his team signed a formal agreement with Maryland, America's 15th largest economy at Annapolis, the capital of Maryland. The agreement signing was done after one week of suave presentations and demonstrable competence by the governor's team, made up of the commissioners of such ministries as education, health, investment promotion and ICT.
Imoke, Johanson Meet
The week started with a meeting between Imoke, his delegation and Christian Johanson, the Secretary of Maryland Economic and Business Development Department, the state's Economic Development Agency. Addressing the Cross River State team, Secretary Johanson expressed delight at the opportunity to deepen ties with Cross River and Nigeria. The team was warmly received by Johanson who enthused that Maryland was home to the highest concentration of Nigerians in the United States and that commerce naturally followed ties. He expressed hope that the special ties being forged between Maryland and Cross River would give rise to commercial activities between the two states.
Harping on the common ties existing between both states, Johanson disclosed that since 2005, the State of Maryland had increased its export to Nigeria. Maryland is the centre of research in the United States. It plays host to 13 tertiary institutions and a lot of health, research, ICT and military installations owing to its proximity to Washington DC. Its annual budget is over $300b. Jonhanson was of the view that as the world keeps shrinking, "the spoils can only be enjoyed by those who engage". Imoke said he was pleased "by the progress made in solidifying the partnership". He described Maryland as an ideal state for Cross River to partner with, given its huge Nigerian-American Community.
While highlighting similarities that exist between the two states, Imoke said the collaboration will help Cross River improve on its tourism and agricultural drive as well as enhance his administration's service delivery to the people of Cross River State. Maryland and Cross River have a lot of similarities in their thrust into agriculture, education and tourism. The governor said Maryland typifies what Cross River would like to be, adding that the partnership, which he expects to be mutually beneficial, offers tremendous opportunities that would enhance the Cross River State economy.
As a sign of things to come, the Cross River State team was immediately after the meeting with Secretary Johanson, provided an opportunity to showcase the state to some would-be investors. But before then, the Americans were treated to a piece of magic when they were given a glimpse of what Cross River has to offer in terms of natural beauty, tourism initiatives and business opportunities. After watching the 5-minute video tagged Africa Undiscovered, Secretary Johanson and his team could not contain their excitement. Enthused by what they had just seen, the man whose business it is to drive investments in Maryland, promised to visit Calabar as soon as possible. From the World Trade Centre that houses the Department of Business and Economic Development, Imoke took his team to the Black Historical University in Bowei. His mission was to seek assistance in drawing up a curriculum that would put the Cross River State Child academically at par with his or her peers anywhere in the world.
Expressing hope that the partnership would deliver the result, Imoke identified the people as the key to development. According to him, "What we have learnt from you is that plenty of attention must be given to education. For us to compete in the global economy, we need to key in. It is one thing to have an education, it is another thing to apply it. "We see a need to key into technology. We are establishing a new polytechnic. So we need partnership to improve on the quality of our education. The new polytechnic will focus on education that will enhance the development of the person and society. Our strategy is to have 90% of the graduates of the institution get employment as soon as they graduate. So, this partnership offers us the opportunity to introduce technology into our curriculum."
For Imoke, Bowei University, which also undertakes research for several American Health Institutions, can also help Cross River improve on its healthcare delivery to the people. While informing his host that his administration is in the process of building a 100-bed international hospital, he identified healthcare as critical and fundamental to his development plan for the state. He was of the view that the only way to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is by providing access to affordable and qualitative healthcare. From Bowei University, the next point of call for the Cross River State delegation was the Prince George's Country Secretariat. Receiving the team, Prince George's Country Executive, Rushern Bakar, III, expressed happiness over the relationship and said he was looking forward to a journey to Cross River. For Imoke, the country is one key partner that has a lot to offer Cross River, especially given the number of Nigerians resident in the country. "What is important is change. We have to key into best practices. We see a lot of similarities between us and we think we can benefit mutually".
The following day Imoke and his team were treated to a gala night by the Cross River State Community based in the United States. Held at the Bethesda Marriot, the colourful evening recorded an impressive presence of dignitaries including Nigeria's Ambassador to the US, Tony Adefuye; multiple-award winning writer, Ngozi Chimamanda-Adichie; her hubby, and parents as well as hundreds of Nigerians who came out to honour Imoke and his team. The Black Chamber of Commerce was also represented. Imoke, as usual, used the event to market the Cross River State brand. He listed the achievements of his administration but most importantly, urged Cross Riverians resident in God's own country to invest their resources, talent and experience in the cause of developing the people's paradise. In the course of the evening, the State of Maryland made a proclamation in honour of Imoke. The following day Imoke and his team had fruitful discussions with the top management team of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in Washington DC. IFC is currently partnering Cross River to build the 100-bed American International Hospital in Calabar. The American oddessy, however, ended with a reception for the governor by the Efik Community in the United States.
Ita is Special Adviser Media to Governor Imoke