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Personality Profile: Donald Duke

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Great men never hide, they are discovered the moment the world notices them from birth.

Most people who came in contact with young Donald Duke knew he was destined for greatness in future. His charismatic nature and love for humanity endeared him to the people. He steadily grew into a leader who used his creativity to manage and turn around his state, through tourism, to make it the tourist destination to beat in Nigeria today.

Donald Duke was born 30th September, 1961 in Cross River State, Nigeria to Henry and Genevieve Etim Duke. His father, a great fan of Walt Disney, is the second indigenous (after Ayodele Diyan) and longest serving Comptroller General (then referred to as Chairman Board of Customs and Excise Duties) of the Nigeria Customs Service.

After Donald received an LLB degree in 1982 from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria Kaduna State, he was called to the Bar from the Nigerian Law School, Lagos. He obtained an L.L.M. in Business Law and Admiralty in 1984 from University of Pennsylvania.

Donald Duke became Governor of Cross River State from 29th May 1999 to 29 May 2007.

Duke is also an advocate of justice and peace who also fights for the rights of ordinary citizens and also for democracy to be sustained in a system where people are governed.

Duke pushed for democracy and against military control. He stated; “What got the military out of power was not democracy but the dreadful state of the economy. If we, the democratic government, cannot deliver food for the mass of people, we can forget about democracy.”

Duke has been praised for his contributions to the fields of agriculture, urban development, governance, environment, information and communication, investment drive, and tourism. Through his work, Calabar was seen as the “cleanest city in Nigeria” when he was a governor.

He created the idea of the Obudu Ranch International Mountain Race and the race grew to become one of the most lucrative mountain running competitions in the world under his stewardship. In 2005, he created a special reserve fund for the state meant to ‘‘hedge against economic downturn, and the inevitable rainy day’’. This was meant to cushion the effect of unforeseeable economic challenges that may occasion uncertainty in the state’s internally generated revenue, as well as monthly allocation from the federal government.

Donald Duke initiated the Tinapa Resort project as a way to boost business and tourism in the state. Over $350 million was spent on initial development before phase 1 opening in April 2007.

 The BBC reported in September 2006 that Governor Duke was the only governor specifically mentioned as not being under investigation by the federal Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Four other governors were also reported as not under investigation but their names were not released.)

While developing tourism in his state, the former Cross River State Governor saw the importance of investing in education, health care and improving service delivery, agriculture and infrastructure, which were key components in this process. Appointing the right people was also very key to carry out the task, as well as changing the inherent culture in the civil service left over from years of military rule, and the mediation of conflicts of interest that became apparent. 

He launched the into training of civil service staff, and sorted out the compromises made to accommodate opposition party members. 

Funds that were required for the tourism project were secured from banks and funding agencies, and Duke emphasized the need for thorough and accurate data analysis before any reforms were to be implemented. 
Donald Duke used digital mapping of the state to influence his investment in infrastructure and called for leaders to be approachable, open to the public and dedicated.

During his two terms as governor of Cross River State from 1999 to 2007, Duke initiated a variety of reforms promoting business, tourism and investment in Cross River State.  Before running for office, he served as commissioner for finance, budget and planning, and as a member of the National Economic Intelligence Committee and the Federal Economic Council.  

Donald Duke announced that he would run for president in the 2007 presidential election, but stepped aside in favour of the eventual winner, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

A few years ago, the ex-governor spoke at a programme, “The Nigerian Symposium for Emerging Leaders,” held in Lagos, where he spoke about his ambition to aspire to the position of Nigeria President but did not emerge the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. He promised he would still contest for the highest office in the country at the appropriate time.

He further explained that it was because of his preference for the presidential seat that he did not vie for any federal legislative seat after serving out his terms as governor.

He said, “I do not have the flair for the legislature; standing up and sitting down at the chambers to raise a point. That was why I did not contest for the Senate but the presidency, after serving out my term as governor.”

“I have contested the presidency before; I will still give it a shot when the opportunity presents itself. I believe I still have the energy in me,” he said.

Since former Governor left power in May 2007, many have wondered what else was in the pipeline for the hardworking, focused man. As governor and later presidential aspirant under the platform of the PDP, Duke enjoyed the limelight to the extent that no one could have expected him to go into obscurity the way he has been.

Apart from private businesses to his name, Duke is said to have silently delved into different consultancy services in Calabar, and a few other towns both in his state and other states as well as abroad.

His wife, Onari Duke, has been his backbone. She is the brain behind the thriving Women and Children Hospital on Murtala Mohammed Highway in Calabar.

As a consultant to Delta and Akwa Ibom states, the two governments were said to have engaged Duke for professional services on the beautification of their state capitals and other towns. They were said to be impressed by what Duke did at Tinapa, as well as the aesthetic touch that transformed Calabar metropolis into the cleanest city in the country.

Donald Duke’s caring personality and hard work paid off. His love for seeing people in good spirits and in good healthy environment is second to none. 

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