Cross River state, located on Nigeria’s southeastern coastline and sharing borders with eastern neighbour, Cameroon, is both a reservoir of nature and history. Named after a river that is central to its life, it was in 1976 hived off the old Southeastern state, created in 1967 as Nigeria shed its old regional structure to stem a looming civil war.
Its capital Calabar, is a historical city that had played a crucial role in cross-Atlantic transactions starting from the 15th century and leading into the colonial era. The main ethnic groups in Cross River state include the Efik, Ejagham, Yakur, Bette, Yala, Ukelle, and Bekwarra in addition to numerous smaller groups.
It shares borders with Cameroon and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, Benue state to the north, Ebonyi and Abia states to the west, Akwa Ibom and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. In addition to Calabar, its major urban centres are Ikom, Ogoja, Akamkpa, Obubra, Odukpani, Okundi, Ugep, Obudu, Akpabuyo and Obanliku, among others.
In many ways Cross River is a microcosm of Nigeria in terms of the diversity of people as well as the variety and beauty of the terrain.
Topography and Weather
Like most of southern Nigeria, Cross River state falls into the tropical rainforest belt. However, unlike most of the country, it’s about the only state where pristine forests have survived the deforestation onslaught of the past century. There are strips of savannah in the northern fringes of the state, around the Obudu plateau, which touches the middle region of Nigeria.
The state’s varied topography moves from the rugged, grassy peaks of the Obudu and Oban Hills that reach 2,000 meters in places to the contrasting low plains of the west. It encompasses the rainforest, which starts from just outside the capital, Calabar and occupies a large eastward swath extending into Cameroon. Further south are found the coastal characteristics of mangrove swamps criss-crossed by creeks and rivers where it abuts the Atlantic Ocean in the south.
Due to the rainforest, most of the state experiences rainfall almost all year round. While temperatures range from 19 degrees at the peak of the rains in June and July to 30 degrees in February and March, it is lower in the Obudu plateau where it’s between 15 degrees and 22 degrees all year round.
Cross River is one of Nigeria’s oil-producing states, with hydrocarbons found both onshore and offshore the southeastern tip of the state that is part of the larger Niger Delta oil region. Apart from crude, it’s mainstay is agriculture, with fertile land lending itself to the growing of a wide variety of crops including staples such as cassava, yam, plantains, bananas and vegetables, to cash crops such as cocoa, tea and oil palm.
The establishment of the Tinapa Resort and Export Processing Zone in Calabar in 2007 was an attempt to channel the state’s tourist and economic potentials. It provides industrial and export- processing facilities. While it’s been slow to pick up, it highlights the many economic possibilities in the state.
Obudu Resort – Located in the Obudu Plateau, one of the country’s highest ranges to the north of the state, with temperatures of between 15 and 22 degrees Celsius.
British colonists had established a cattle ranch there in 1951 to take advantage of its high altitude that wouldn’t sustain the tse-tse fly, a scourge of cattle in the rainforests. In recent years it is its breathtaking beauty and enchanting scenery that have come to the fore.
Following rehabilitation which developed the ranch into a resort, electric cable-car transportation have been provided to enable visitors mingle with the clouds, soar past the contours of spiking ranges to catch glimpses of a waterfall hidden in thickets.
The visitor to Obudu is still left with the option of making an equally thrilling road trip on the winding road up the mountain, with heart-throbbing views of cliffsides and valleys so deep.
Oban Hills – These are a range of jagged peaks ranging from about 100 to more than 1,000 meters in places that form the northern part of the Cross River National Park. It takes it’s name after the nearby town of Oban on the southern bottom of the hills and contains some of Nigeria’s remaining, so far undisturbed forests. It is an area of diverse wildlife and contains rare primates and other flora and fauna.
The Cross River National Park – This is one of the oldest rainforests in the world, encompassing the Okwangwo Forests as well as the Oban Hills and merging with the Korup Forest in neighbouring Cameroon. It is reputed to be one of the most biologically diverse forests in the world and covers an area of about 4,000 square kilometers.
The Ikom Monoliths – This is a collection of carved stone figures in phallic shapes, numbering about 300, some of which are estimated to have been produced as early as the third century. Many of them are taller than human beings and bear scripts and inscriptions whose meanings are yet to decoded.
Located in the Alok district of Ikom, they are arranged in circles. Centuries of tropical rainfall and humidity have taken their toll on the artefacts, but they have survived as relics which can still be viewed by visitors curious about the past. Some researchers have drawn parallels between the markings on the stones and the nsibidi writing script, with some seeing it as a precursor.
Afin Forest Reserve – This is one of the most important wildlife sanctuaries in Nigeria. Covering an area of about 300 kilometer square, with peaks rising as high as 1,300 feet in places, it is a major stop for migratory birds. In the Afin mountain and forests, wild drill monkeys, chimpanzees and the lowland gorillas still abound, even though endangered by logging and other human activities.
The Kwa Falls – Also Qua Falls, is a segment of the Qua Iboe River, which springs from the Oban Hills and joins the Cross River on its way to the Atlantic coast.
Near the village of Anegeje in the Akamkpa district, the river cuts a narrow path through a rocky area surrounded by lush vegetation, dropping as much as 75 meters to form the brilliant falls that form a large pool at the bottom.
The Agbokim Falls – Located in the Etung local government area, near the Cameroon border, is about 17 kilometers from the town of Ikom. It consists of a set of seven falls dropping side-by-side off the face of a cliff, making a spectacular view.
The Calabar Carnival – This is a month-long carnival that runs in the city of Calabar from December 1 to December 31 every year. It seeks to bring the entire gamut of the cultural activities of the people of the state onto the streets, literally. First began in 2004, its fame has grown far and wide, with tens of thousands of visitors attending the carnival every year.
Cross River’s main gateway is the Margaret Ekpo International Airport in Calabar, where there are daily flights to and fro from Abuja and Lagos. Charter flights exist to Bebi airstrip in the northern part of the state for easy access to the Obudu mountain range.
Nigeria’s A4 highway, which starts in Port Harcourt, passes through the entire state on its journey northwards, passing beside Gboko in Benue before veering east towards Jalingo, Yola and Maiduguri, providing access to Cross River from both the north and the south.
The A343 highway from Enugu, passing through Abakaliki, provides access from the east to northern Cross River, including key towns of Ogoja, Ikom, Ugep and Obudu.To the east and south there links with the east there are links with Cameroon as well as access to the sea.