opinionBy Christian Etta
It was just a 30 minutes flight from the Margaret Ekpo International Airport in Calabar to the Bebi Airstrip in Obudu. But for the 30-man delegation from the State of Maryland, the United States of America, it seemed like eternity.
Led by the Secretary of State, John MC Donough, the Maryland delegation had arrived Cross River State three days earlier to cement the Sister State programme entered into by both states.
The historic Friendship Agreement was entered into by both states on July 23, 2012 in Annapolis, the capital of Maryland.
So before the short flight to Obudu, the Maryland delegation was given a tour of Calabar and taken to places like the Slave Trade Museum, Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort, Marina Resort, The Palace of King Eyo Honesty, Sure-foot American College, Destiny Child Centre and Obudu Ranch Resort.
The tour was an eye-full for them. At Tinapa for instance, they were pleasantly surprised by what they saw. Not in their wildest imagination had they expected to find such a complex in Nigeria. They were spellbound.
Indeed, the Deputy Secretary of State, Rajan Nata was so overwhelmed by Tinapa and the prospects it holds that he vowed to personally lead the efforts to market it in the US.
He also offered some marketing tips that should be adopted locally so that Tinapa can fly.
So, when the flight took off from Margaret Ekpo International Airport for the Bebi Airstrip, the delegation was eager to see Obudu, the crown jewel of the tourism offering of the state.
When the plane landed at the Bebi Airstrip, the delegation was driven to the foot of the Ranch from where they took the cable car to the resort.
At the Resort, they were given a grand tour of the facility including the Presidential Mansion built by the Senator Liyel Imoke administration.
Interestingly, in the Maryland delegation was a Nigerian, Mr. Sylvester Okereke. Okereke is the chairman of the Nigeria/Maryland Sister State Project. What he saw in Calabar and Obudu was too much for Okereke to bear and so he succumbed to emotions.
With all the negative things being written about Nigeria in the international media, the delegation, particularly Okereke, was taken aback by what it saw.
Speaking about his experience, a sobbing Okereke said: "I vow to help in any capacity I am needed to showcase the hidden, undiscovered riches we have in Cross River."
On why he got misty-eyed, he said: "I was deeply broken and wept after seeing the few places I saw. I was like, 'God thank you.' A flashback on Psalm 49:20 flooded into my mind."
Psalm 49:20 reads: "A man with valuable possessions but without understanding is like the animals that perish."
The partnership between both states covers such areas as Agriculture, Health, Information Communication Technology (ICT), Education, Tourism and Investment.
At a private dinner with the delegation, the state governor, Senator Liyel Imoke expressed the hope that the partnership will soon begin to yield dividends for the peoples of both states.
The friendship agreement affords Cross River State the opportunity to tap into Maryland's experience and technology to position itself as a preferred destination in all spheres of development on the continent.
According to Special Adviser Inter-Governmental Affairs, Mr. Joe Edet, "the partnership creates a platform that will be effective, transparent and strategic in ushering in the deliverables of this relationship in the state".
Edet further stressed that, "today, global cooperation is crucial to social and economic vitality and this sister state relationship will help to enhance economic development because no country or state can survive on its own without some sort of support, assistance or co-operation from dependable allies".
The leader of the delegation and the Secretary of State of Maryland, John MC Donough said the delegation was in Cross River on a mission to strengthen relations between the two states following the signing of the Friendship Agreement earlier in the year in the United States.
Their visit, he said, was a fact finding mission, to look into areas of partnership, co-operation and capacity building. He said such a bilateral agreement would be of benefit to "the two sister states".
The relationship opens doors for Cross River to have access to Maryland's companies, educational institutions, non-profit organizations and citizens through high level government connection, thereby promoting huge foreign investment in Cross River.
Special Adviser Tourism Development, Mr. Wilfred Usani said the partnership will develop the slave trade route in Calabar, which was a gateway to about 30 percent of slaves from the West African sub region to America and Europe.
During its visit to Sure-foot American School, the Maryland team gave assurances of its assistance under its educational, technical and capacity building programmes.
At Destiny Child Centre, a pet project of the wife of the state governor, Mrs. Obioma Liyel Imoke, which accommodates 96 street children for rehabilitation, the team assured the Centre of its cooperation, support and assistance. Under the agreement in education, Cross River will have access to many educational, technical and innovative resources and opportunities in the area of Hitech and ICT, Curriculum Development especially in science, Engineering and Technology to lift its standard of education.
It is also expected to benefit from scholarship for indigenes of the state to study abroad under the student/staff exchange and training programme and curricular development.
In health, Cross River will benefit from a mentorship programme, capacity training and skill acquisition on identified clinical areas for health care providers while specialist hospitals in the state will receive technical and clinical assistance to boost their capacities as well as receive funding assistance..
In the words of Dr. Cheryl Hill (a friend of Cross River) of the Integrity International Consulting Group Limited, who was a member of the team to Cross River, "The governors of the two states had built a bridge and we are in Cross River to explore areas of cooperation and partnership for the benefit of all parties".
Etta is Special Adviser (Media) to Cross River State Governor.