For so long, Akwa Ibom State has played second fiddle to its older sibling. Carved out of Cross River State some 33 years ago, Akwa Ibom is the highest oil- and gas-producing state in Nigeria.
While its older sister has made giant strides in the area of tourism, especially with the world-famous event like Carnival Calabar, Africa’s biggest street party and destinations such as Obudu Mountain Resort, TINAPA, etc.; Akwa Ibom is yet to exploit its rich array of tourism potential.
For starters, Akwa Ibom has the longest coastline in Nigeria, with its famous Ibeno Beach being the longest sand beach in West Africa, stretching about 45km. According to Shalom Asuquo-Ankoh, a leading Uyo-based tour operator, Akwa Ibom has as much as 38 islands, untapped and not captured on the map yet. These islands which are spread across three LGAs, include: Parrot Island, Monkey Island, Crab Republic, etc.
Akwa Ibom is also home a wide biodiversity specie which include the endangered Sclater’s guenon, locally referred to as Adiaha Awa-Itam – first daughter of Itam. Others include; the double-headed Calabar python, manatee, ghost crab, etc.
Aside from these, Akwa Ibom is home to some ancient history from the slave trade era through the missionary works of Mary Slessor down to the colonial administration of pre-Independent Nigeria.
Down in Ikot Abasi, you will find the Bridge of No Return at a floating jetty on the banks of the Imo River estuary – a permanent reminder of the horrors of the slave trade.
Directly oppose it stands an old warehouse where the slaves were kept.
Ikot Abasi is also home to the Amalgamation House which is a walking distance from the jetty. It was where the proclamation of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorate was made on January 1, 1914. Along the stretch also are the residence of Lord Lugard and the Women War Memorial Museum.
Although often regarded as the White Queen of Calabar, Scottish missionary Mary Slessor actually lived and operated from Itu in Akwa Ibom. Relics of her home are still on Obot Itu – Itu Hill where her home was. Obot Itu, referred to as Itumanjaro by a late local comedian, overlooks the confluence of the Cross and Eniong rivers. The rivers served as access points to present-day Abia, Cross River states.
Aside from all of these, Akwa Ibom is home to a diverse range of culinary delights and is no doubt a foodie’s paradise. For the avoidance of doubt, the accolades about food often ascribed to Calabar, the older sister really belongs to Akwa Ibom. Some of these include: Ekpang Nkwukwo, Afang, Afia Efere, Abak Atama, Fisherman’s soup, Edikang Ikong, Editan, etc.
December time in Akwa Ibom offers everyone a chance to experience a 32-day Christmas special at the Christmas Village. Although the 2020 Christmas Festival has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the village is alive with lights, music, and of course food. Safety protocols have been put in place for people to come around and enjoy the Christmas ambience.
Finally, the people. Akwa Ibom is made up of the Eket, Annang, Ibibio, Oron and Obolo, according to Wikipedia. While I find it hard to differentiate them, the people are quite warm and friendly.
There is no doubt in my mind that the time is now for Akwa Ibom to emerge from the shadows of her older sibling Cross River and take her position as a major tourism destination in Nigeria and Africa.