Calabar – A Thrusting Modern City From Cultural Capital to Smart Capital

A thrusting modern city, Calabar is a beacon of hope for liveable cities in Nigeria.The first thing you'll notice when your flight lands in Calabar is not a greeting as common with other cities. In Calabar, culture comes on your face right from the Margaret Ekpo International Airport. With a grand artistic wall design at the airport terminal that reflects the status of Calabar as a cultural capital, the city's iconic places and rich story of Mary Slessor behind it, Calabar definitely offers special attraction to tourists.
Ostensibly, Calabar is one of the few cities in Nigeria with buzzing hotel culture. "That happens because of the people regularly that flock to it. They want the best environment and Calabar offers one," says Emmanuel Etuk, a hotelier in the city.But the trappings of Calabar are much more than its festivals and arts, Cross River State's terrific investment in health care, education, sport and infrastructure has been a plus.
The idea that Nigerian cities should feature on liveable cities in the world and that Calabar could bring home that honour has been the driving force behind the state government's investment in the city's infrastructure.In a street Café nearby to the airport, Enobong Emem, who has spent all his life in the city says, "Calabar continues to transform because of right leadership,".True, the Cross River State Governor, Liyel Imoke continues to improve the city's landscape with infrastructure that could help position it as the most important destination Africa.On a recent week, the communication technology development department of the Cross River State Government in partnership with its private sector partner, MTN, completed the installation of its metropolitan dark fibre optic network infrastructure.  The idea is to make Calabar the most digitalised city in Nigeria. That feat has been achieved. Calabar has been named Nigeria's first digital city.The infrastructure which consists of 120km of 96 core fibre cable and open access ducts spans the length and breadth of the entire city of Calabar.The infrastructure is immediately available for lease to any interested party, according to a government document.So Calabar has become the most comprehensively wired city for voice, data and video telecommunications and various technology driven services in the country.The Special Adviser to Governor Imoke on Communications Technology Development, Mr. Odo Effiong, said the government agrees with the United Nations, that 50 per cent of Africa's population would live in cities by 2035.According to Effiong, population growth would result in congestion, rising crime, higher cost of living and pressure on public utilities."These necessitate increased demand for intelligent and sustainable environments with reduced environmental impact and higher quality of life. Cities structured to deliver these are known as smart cities. Smart Cities bring together technology, government, the private sector and society to enable smart services, mobility, environments, economy, government, people and living," he said.The next steps in the development of Calabar as a smart city, Effiong explains, would include facilitation of city-wide wifi and connections to various institutions."The infrastructure would not only facilitate improved telecommunication services and broadband but also overtime a variety of technology driven services and improvements including access to information, tourism, innovation, security, transportation, education, health care, land title, social services, financial inclusion, and entertainment among others.  The state government is prepared to partner with the private sector with the capacity to activate technology driven improvements in various sectors."The installed infrastructure is an important vision of a non-oil service driven economy for the state that Governor Imoke continues to push for. The development of Calabar into a smart city is a significant component of Cross River State building on its foundation as the nation's tourist destination as it seeks to become the business and lifestyle destination as well," Effiong enthused.To be sure, the Cross River State Department of Communication Technology Development working to make Calabar a smart city expressed a level of optimism with how residents and visitors to the city will embrace it. In a 2013 report, it says those who will be key to the success of the smart city, the young people and business owners have been trained to take advantage of this new lifestyle, where technology takes the centre stage in all spheres of life.Accordingly, the state in a document says, "over 2000 citizens mostly students have been trained in various computer related courses at the Women Development Centre. Just under 500 civil servants have been trained in computer appreciation and microsoft windows and office."We have facilitated and launched a Mobile App for tourists and investors that will facilitate the information for the festive and other seasons. This is important because five times as many people in Nigeria now access the Internet from phones and tablets than from full computers and the numbers continue to increase."We have established a regional digital hub that links education and business, attract private investment, facilitates research, create skills, incubates technology SMEs and creates jobs for our youth and ultimately position the state as a leader of the emerging knowledge economy."Really, all the cities in the world that have been adjudged liveable cities by the Economist Intelligence Unit's liveability survey have had their thermometer based on important criteria such as safety, education, hygiene, health care, culture, environment, recreation, political-economic stability and public transportation. The survey rated cities out of 100 in the areas of health care, education, stability, culture, environment and infrastructure.Those things are what now placed Calabar in the lead as a liveable city in the country and of course with possibility of making the list of EIU's liveable cities soon."It is a deliberate decision by Governor Imoke to make Calabar a smart city. This is one city in the country, where there is no fear when darkness falls. The idea of adding better infrastructure to the existing layers of what we have is premised on making Calabar a liveable and sustainable city. So digitalising the whole city makes life easier for the people and businesses," said Christian Ita, the governor's spokesperson.A study on smart city creation, notes that smart cities could be part of the response for the betterment of life in cities. Smart cities are synonymous with intelligent cities, information cities, virtual cities, amongst many other nomenclatures.For his part, the co-founder of Intelligent Community Forum, Robert Bell, may have had Calabar in mind when he wrote somewhere that "intelligent communities are those which have – whether through crisis or foresight – come to understand the enormous challenges of the Broadband Economy, and have taken conscious steps to create an economy capable of prospering in it. They are not necessarily big cities or famous technology hubs. They are located in developing nations as well as industrialised ones, suburbs as well as cities, the hinterland as well as the coast."Revealingly, beyond its digital appeal, Cross River is set to unveil the biggest conference centre in the country this year. Located near Tinapa, the Summit Hills where the conference centre is seated according to the project Manager, Richard Longdon, is an innovative, mixed-used lifestyle development that combines convention, recreation, arts, culture, housing and health care facilities all within an exclusive and idyllic location bounding the Tinapa Business Resort and Calabar Free Trade Zone.It was conceptualised to draw much needed traffic into Calabar as part of government's vision to build an economic engine in the area for the state's advantage.And with a monorail connecting the 5,000 capacity conference centre to Tinapa that is just adjacent it, the novelty will no doubt draw people from around the world.Longdon said: "The monorail would be a special appeal, a novelty which on its own would draw people. It would multiply footprints into Tinapa."According to the Commissioner for Special Projects, Mr Bassey Oqua, this modern transport system will be powered by electricity generated by an independent supply, to ensure sustainability. In addition, the power plant will serve Summit Hills."By connecting Tinapa to the CICC, the monorail will make it convenient for delegates and organisers staying at the Tinapa Lakeside Hotel to attend conferences at the CICC, in style and with ease. And, during their free time, delegates can visit the shopping mall or water park at Tinapa Resort for a much-needed break. For very large conferences, the monorail will serve as a quick connection between the CICC and breakout meeting rooms across the lake at Tinapa."For the monorail we are at 70 per cent completion because the tracks have been ordered and ready and should be completed by early next year. The conference centre is also about 70 per cent completed. Everything needed or it has been ordered. It is just to fix them. Completion has been scheduled for end of February next year. Of course they would do some testing, so I would say till March."The golf course is about 85 per cent complete. The golf club house we started a bit late but that also would be finished by March. For the hospital we started much later. It is about 60 per cent. They are bungalows not storey buildings. The rest of it is really for the equipment to arrive and then be installed."The golf estate is privately driven. We don't have control over that. What they have done is start with some units, get response from the market and then ramp up. The golf course would be playable in January. The club house ready in March. So, the full golf course would be March. Same for conference centre. Same for the monorail. The hospital would be April. As I said the golf estate would be on demand. As people buy, they build," he said.Now, as Calabar blossom, its petals will undoubtedly be seen everywhere for the city to be ranked as Nigeria's most liveable city.Adeola Akinremi writes for