Work has begun on a $1bn port city in Nigeria’s southeastern state of Cross River following a groundbreaking ceremony.
People’s Democratic Party politician Ben Ayade (Creative Commons)
The scheme, to be called the Virgin City, will be located south of the city of Calabar at the mouth of the Cross River. The aim is to build a deepwater port surrounded by facilities for industry and tourism.
The scheme will be developed by the Mark Sino Construction Company, which presently runs a quarry in the region, and built by Baishan Zhongtian Development Group. Speaking at the ceremony, Wei Hengshan, the chairman of Mark Sino, said his company would "work according to specification to positively transform the lives of the citizenry".
Ben Ayade, the governor of the state, said work would start on the port on 15 January. He added that first order of business would be building accommodation for the 35,000 workers who would be employed on the scheme at its peak.
Other projects in the pipeline include centres for building materials, textiles and auto parts, a "water world fairground" complete with artificial lake, a golf course and a "dancing square", as well as shops, hotels, schools and a hospital.
Mark Sino is based in Jilin province, which borders North Korea.
Mr Ayade said he was confident that the firm would deliver the project. "I have been to Jilin, which is a fantastic place with very wide roads and well-built areas that make it far more civilized than America," he commented, adding: "I think we have a great opportunity to use my exposure and contacts to seek an alternative to the continuous dependence on federal allocation."
He also pledged that the local community would be "emphasised" when recruiting labour. A frequent criticism of Chinese projects in Africa is the use of labour imported from China.
The scheme is part of a wider programme of infrastructure provision that is controversial for other reasons. In particular, a 260km six-lane "superhighway" has been criticised for despoiling one of Nigeria’s few remaining rain forests and displacing up to 1 million people. The road is planned to run north from the Virgin City to Nigeria’s border with Chad.
The city will also be on a $12bn railway that China is building along the coast of Nigeria.
Image: Calabar in Cross River state has a population of 370,000 (Flightlink)