The Obudu Mountain Resort has bubbled back to life. Local and international tourists, historians, fun seekers and researchers now have the ideal place to cool off their brains, tune-up their souls and savour the niceties of nature away from the combustion of the township.
The resort was popularly called Obudu Cattle Ranch.
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It actually situates in Becheve community of Obanliku Local Government Area of Cross River State.
But the old name has stuck because Obudu Cattle Ranch had existed since 1949 when it was said to have been discovered by colonialists long before Obanliku was carved out of Obudu.
The ranch is located on a flat plateau of 1,576 metres above sea level on the Oshie Ridge of the Sankwala and Becheve mountains. It is approximately 24 square kilometres in extent.
It has tranquillity, beautiful scenery and breath-taking views. The resort has 159 rooms of assorted designs and classes and facilities of international standard.
In 2001, former Governor Donald Duke saw the huge tourist potentials in the ranch and so used all resources available to expand the structures into vast modern lodges.
He created an array of nature reserves across the numberless mountains, hills, valleys, waterfalls, forest parks, and equipped them.
The resort is not only a state signature tourist project or gold mine of the government but is regarded as the oil industry of the Becheve people.
Once in a year, an international event such as the Mountain Race is held, which attract renowned long-distance runners from East African countries like Kenya and Ethiopia who have stamped their authority and continually carted away all the available top prizes usually in thousands of dollars.
Annual General Meetings (AGMs) and conferences are held in the resort just so dignitaries and other nature enthusiasts can relish and savour the natural endowments, ride in the cable cars and experience the chilliest weather available.
Early last year, the resort was revamped with much verve by the Ben Ayade administration. His government allegedly neglected it as soon as he took over power in 2015.
Statistics from the globally famous resort as confirmed by the guests’ relations manager of the resort, Mr Bright Osas Benjamin, showed that as at last year December 2020, even amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, patronage returned impressively.
He said more than 80 per cent of the suites, ranging from the Presidential through the Governor’s lodges to the 40 African Huts and mountain villas were completely taken by guests from different countries and states as far as Bauchi and Kaduna.
Benjamin said though some of the guests later called asking for refunds of their bookings, yet holidaymakers, historians and tourists, in compliance with COVID-19 protocols, spent a good number of days, relaxing, conducting researches and enjoying the most beautiful natural scenery, the endless high mountains and the surrounding six host communities, which is a study themselves.
Benjamin said the popular Cable Cars which had broken down are now fixed and have begun once again to cruise tourists, fun-seekers and nature lovers from the foot of the hills over the top of the Becheve community mountains, the highest in the state, to the ranch.
The cable cars, first in this part of Africa, were reported to have broken down during the years of abandonment when private managers withdrew from the resort in the heat of labour crisis over non-payment of wages and salaries and lack of government discharge of its own role.
According to the natives, the honey, dairy, horticulture and other factories which gainfully engaged the local youths up on the ranch, had also closed shops during the period.
At a time, most parts of the resort were reported to have been unkempt, taken over by weeds, rodents, and reptiles until public pressure impelled Gov. Ayade who hails from nearby Obudu Local Government Area to pay attention to it.
But all that is now in the past. Its glory days seem to be returning as the aesthetics and ambience have come up even as the grasses are constantly pruned and nurtured. The tennis courts and lodges have recently been refurbished, too. The staff welfare is being looked into, according to a few of the workers on duty.
Findings confirmed that power supply is now constant especially in the evening, at least, to power the heaters in all the rooms owing to the chilly weather.
The weather on the Ranch is comparable to Europe during winter. No air-conditioner or fan is needed up on the ranch except heaters.
It is important to stress that intending visitors to the ranch must never forget to bring along cardigans, thick sweaters, thicker dresses and stockings.
This is because the temperature, especially in the morning and evening, is 26⁰C to 32⁰C between November and January while the lowest temperature ranges from 4⁰C to 10⁰C between June and September.
The ranch has other components which attract guests and tourists, providing for all types of eco-tourism, adventure, rural, niche, cultural, nature, educational and even religious tourism.
For instance, there is the ‘Holy Mountain’ said to have been discovered by one of the guides – Clifford Anele. It has plain table surface, a very deep gulf beside it where the water from another faraway rock called The Grotto (part of the resort) powerfully empties into it. Donald Duke’s daughter is said to be keenly interested in carrying her dad’s plan to erect a power turbine there.
According to one of the young men paid to keep guard – Christopher Ochin, the Holy Mountain is one of three sacred, natural spots in Becheve, believed to have a mysterious aura, pull and power. People in their numbers, including dignitaries and top politicians, flock to the holy mountain in order to obtain inexplicable favours after saying prayers and making offertory.
Another native, Mr Festus, a long-time staff of the resort, also explained that they receive up to 1000 people weekly who troop to the holy mountain to commune.
Testifying about the power believed to emanate from the holy mountain, Festus said: “Two sisters came all the way from Kogi State recently and returned to see that their intractable family feud settled itself. A barren woman visited two years ago and shortly afterwards took in. You only need to pray here, put some token into the small tithe box, you can decide to stay on or sleep there, even though the place has no facilities at all.”
The holy mountain is a shouting distance to Cameroon. From here, it is possible to view their countryside. The Cameroonians, too, frequent this mountain. Festus said it takes only 30 minutes on motorcycles or two hours for them to snake through the many mountains paths to meet their fellow Becheve kinsmen who also populate the Kalumu communities under Akwaya sub-division in Cameroon. “We inter-marry. We speak the same language. No boundaries between us. Both peoples cross effortlessly into either side through the many track roads.”
Other natural sites on the ranch that pull streams of people are the Grotto waterfall, deep in the valley. Much of the water used in the ranch has its source from there.
Another is the nearby forest reserve park with a suspended iron canopy walkway for tourists to feel nature, play with monkeys and other games. There are forest rangers or guards.
The natives of the Ranch Community consist of eight adjoining communities – Kigob village, Apab Ajili, Okwamu, Keju Uku, Akoranyapene, Okpanzenge, Anape and Kite villages, many of them on the top of the mountains or in the bottom hills, all walk through the ranch to eke out a living. They are peaceful and welcoming people.
Secretary of the Ranch community, Mr Oyulu Godwin, in an interview said they all derive economic sustenance from the ranch. “This is why we were not happy when the place was abandoned. 70 per cent of us, one way or another, depend on the ranch. When it bubbles, we bubble too. We are very grateful that the resort has been revived but we are not too satisfied with the number of our youths engaged to work in the resort.
Godwin maintained that government should source and hand over the resort to private investors to profitably run it.
Corroborating his view, 20-year-old Nursery School teacher, Enda Titus, who is a native of the Apahejili community and a graduate of the Imo State University Owerri, said “The best possible way to sustain the ranch is to privatise it. It is the general position of many of us that investors be brought in.
“They will have better ideas to improve on what we have now. They will attract a greater number of guests and business partners more than the government and politicians who mostly think about how to win elections.”
But another native, Mr Wilson Ikpia, who worked with former managers such as African Sun and Protea Ltd disagreed strongly saying “We were owed 37 months and our people were unduly influenced. Within this one year or so, we have seen how the state government has refurbished and raised the tempo in the ranch. We the staff are not owed salaries.”
Reacting, the special adviser to the governor in charge of the ranch, Bobby Ekpenyong, said that the government has sunk in so much money to resuscitate the ranch and has also cleared a backlog of salaries to workers. He said this illustrates a whole amount of interest to ensure the survival and return to sustainable business on the ranch.
“Since the renovation, all aspects of the ranch are now functioning to the optimum. I resumed work in December 2019. The governor has pumped in a staggering amount of money to revamp and ensure the resort is up and running.
“The patronage is high although COVID-19 has affected business. But as I speak to you, all the 159 rooms and suites have been fully booked for Valentine and Easter festivities.”