I had like every other Akwa Ibomite heard so much about this Resort but hadn’t had the opportunity to visit much less stay there.
Then I started visiting Uyo a little bit more often. I had wanted to stage my Play- Ibiom within their premises, using their Hall for the wholesale part of the show, while dropping the mass-market version at the Ibom Hall at the city center.
My meeting with the official who said he was the Marketing Director didn’t come out very well as I could sense his lack of interest in my proposal. He was only enamored by the fact that I had done a play on OBJ instead of IBB who ‘gave us our State’.
He promised to get back, I didn’t hold my breath and true to expectation he didn’t call back. I left it to God.
A few months down the line, I stumbled on a petition. The writing was illiterate and the logic was warped. It was downright petty and all sorts of pedophilia allegations were made against the new management of the Hotel.
I hadn’t even connected with the “Icon” besides the Ibom on the new branding of the Hotel. This petition forcefully aligned my thoughts.
So, in a quick meeting with the Chairman, the respected Udeme Ufot, I asked. ‘Lord, why the Icon’. He explained that the Hotel was being managed by an International Hotel Management group based out of Kenya. I left it at that. I was however bemused that we didn’t go for the better-known names in the market or that we didn’t renew the partnership by the better-known brand that had managed it in the past.
I left it and moved the discussions to other areas. Then I was invited by my friend and brother Orman Esin the hardworking Commissioner for Culture and Tourism to a Fashion Expo at the Hotel. The invite included a two-night stay and this gave me the opportunity to experience Ibom and its new management.
The huge foyer opens you to a whole new world. The Golf Course to your right as you drive into the neat grounds of the huge premises. The staff very courteous and neat welcome you and take your bags through a very efficient check-in system into your room.
The room itself envelopes you in warm non-ostentatious luxury. Its calm ambiance reminds you of pedigreed wealth and not the noisy décor of new money. Its balcony opens up to a wide courtyard that reminds you of the old city of Venice.
As you look out, you see dense forest stare back at you and you wonder what could possibly be lurking out there.
You are told the hotel seats on the largest landmass of its kind in Africa. You are also told that the first Telephone Exchange in the Country is within its grounds and the Marina begging for your attention.
You wake up in the morning and wander towards the famous Golf course. But the fear of insecurity all though far from these lush ground’s envelope you. You ask a caddie to lead and then for added security you drop your phone numbers with the security and beg them to call you every ten minutes after all you are the Duke of Shomolu.
The walk was like an incursion into heaven. The swinging green plains of the golf course, the sweet early morning dew, and the fresh sweet breeze just before the sun come up to give you a wonderful sense of self. You walk and try to ignore the calls from the world.
Your phone keeps ringing. Your staff wants to know what to do with the document to His Excellency, your madam wants a video call to be sure you are not with one of the bewitching damsels that litter Uyo, Mudi the legendary fashion designer who is on the trip is already down for breakfast and wanted to know when you were joining in but all you just wanted to do was to detach and float within the scenic portals of this oasis which removes you from the hell that is our country.
Finally, you get to the Marina. It is beautiful in its rusty form. You see the people paddle their canoes, moving goods and humans up its ever-winding neck. It’s all so wonderful and I do not think any other leisure facility in the country would offer you this piece of heaven.
Breakfast with Mudi is a dream. Spoilt for choice, you just seat in wonderment. Guests are coming in and jumping in but I refuse to descend from the heavenly plain the walk has put me through.
In the afternoon, as I indulge? My brother Akan walks in. Akan is the Head of Human resources and I take him on. Why Kenyans? I throw at him. why is Chef Togolese and not from our side? Why is the Afang one kind?
Akan looking very dapper and confident opens his mouth to speak, I see my Lord Gabriel Ukpe and Madam with the side of my eyes. I jump to go say hello and get a hug before I come back to Akan.
Akan is confident, well-read, and well-spoken. He looks like a New York investment banker and a consummate professional. He smiles, ‘Edgar you know our people, they will always write petitions. It will never stop. The challenge is to maintain focus and stay on course’. I look at him and smile as I tuck into the Afang with sweet fresh fish.
Something is just not right with the Afang. I can taste it, there is a little comma and I wonder why. So, I ask for the chef and he listens carefully as I explain that there is something tiny weeny wrong with the Afang.
He apologizes and promises to look into it.
Fast forward, I am sitting with Fred Maina the Group Africa CEO of Icon Hotels in Lagos. The venue is the wonderfully apportioned Cactus Restaurant in Lagos .
He is 64. A grandfather with four wonderful grandchildren. Still very good-looking and healthy. He had just come back from a comprehensive medical checkup and from his mien, you could be sure that that went well.
I trained in Hotel Management School in 1978- he started. Kenya has some of the best Hotel Training Schools in Africa and this is concomitant with the expansive tourist industry the country is known for.
I look at him and believe. So, Icon has been built to provide visionary Hotel management services across the continent. According to him, they are in four African countries including Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal. Their pipeline is growing and they would like to expand more in Nigeria. The market is exciting for them. They will also look at building their own facility one day maybe in Lagos to give the International brands a run for their money.
Ibom Hotels was taken over fairly recently and the Government has started receiving dividends. Something that was of a fairytale according to Fred. The indices are up swinging and a new lease of life is gradually evolving.
The Hotel is due for a massive refurbishment as is expected in international mores and the process has begun working very closely with the State Government as owners and interested Financial institutions. The cashflows are getting stronger and should accommodate the exposure he explains.
As he tucks into his desert, he explains his passion for the river. The plans to bring in Boats, push for Company Retreats and turn the river on the Marina into a wonderful playground for not only guests but tourists that are expected to flood the place.
He loves Akwa Ibom and I can see it as he struggles to pronounce Upenekan a problem he doesn’t have with Ikot Abasi which I think he must have been pronouncing on a daily.
He works with a Team of 50 at the group level and inherits existing staff of managed facilities exposing them to international grade training and exposure.
He says he is lucky to be working with Tope Kayode who is the Managing Director of Icon Hotels Nigeria whose direct responsibility is the Hotel. Tope is a brilliant young technocrat with an uncanny resemblance to iconic Investment Banker Albert Okumagba. Spoken to him severally and met him officially at the Fashion Show.
He comes across as a focused and vison driven soldier who wants nothing but to succeed in this task.
As the evening wore off, I present Fred with my new Book – Anonymous Nipples, he opens the page sees the first picture of a nude model and quietly passes it on to his friend Kayode an Architect and partner.
Kayode opens it and screams, ‘Fred, where will I read this’ he asks and Fred says, ‘I am a grandfather and I am retired’.
As they both contemplate what to do with the book, Kayode’s wife walk’s in and grabs the book and starts reading and looks up and says, ‘ I like the Book’ and we all laugh and I give Fred a hug and rush to my party.
I wish Fred and his team all the luck they can get. They will surely need it and more if they are to succeed in this wonderful task.