In my over 25 years relationship and coverage of the activities of the Nigerian National Parks Service, I am yet to witness such horrendous attacks and developmental dislocation on going through unexpected failures in the country. Certainly and sadly the dislocations are man -made and can be solved by serious human (government) efforts.
Let me situate some of the issues properly to avoid mundane interpretations and conclusions. Globally, conservation enclaves, starting from the Yellow stone discovery in the United States centuries ago, did not have all the funding.
Funding, I mean adequate funding for protected areas became a major development yardstick and unfortunately, has remained the challenging drawback for park mangers and the many private support systems.
Many people have continued to knock the Nigerian system without taking this necessity into consideration, marking and comparing the Nigerian modest but progressive effort on the wrong presumptions.
Usually, the sum total of the irritations against the Nigerian protected areas presence, is a supposed absence of thriving green nature and safari tourism as seen in South Africa and notably in Kenya.
Unfortunately and for many years, the managers of our experience in this all important environmental regime, have made it known that Nigeria’s seven national parks are gold mines waiting to be discovered but efforts must be put in place to meet with basic components of a conservation area(s), not driven basically by green or nature tourism.
While the efforts in South Africa and Kenya which were centuries old and had sustainable development support not only from their governments but from Frontline Non Governmental Organizations concerned with natural resources conservation, the Nigerian modest effort was midwived in funding difficulty and sundry challenges.
Over the years,I must admit the very robust support from Nigeria Conservation Foundation (NCF) and other foreign conservation support groups, the Nigerian Park Management System have been bombarded by challenges apart from critical funding, leaving the system stymied with unbelievable developmental distractions.
Yes, poachers and sundry nature resources scavengers are “natural” challenges, increase in population and security dislocations have become additional burden to the Nigerian National Parks System.
In recent times, it’s no longer out place to see the entire park security architecture over stretched and struggling on all fronts to secure the very fragile ecosystem from the invading cattle herders, cross border criminals, kidnappers and insurgents.
Today, the Chad Basin National Park, located in Borno and Yobe states are shadows of past progressive interventions due to the Boko Haram insurgency with prime facilities destroyed and fatal threats to the presence of the Rangers Corp.
At Kamuku National Park in Kaduna, frontally protecting the routes of elephants through Bauchi, Jos and to Zamfara and home to a rich Flora ecosystem, River Kaduna and other inlets and rock formations, the Fulani cattle herders and other criminal gangs have turned its pristine vegetation cover to barracks for bloodletting and kidnappings.
It’s also interesting to know that even the state government is eyeing the green nature protected area for farming and housing projects when there are state forests reserves left to fallow and unprotected.
Indeed, the distractions from the Kaduna State Government akin to the sad Yankari episode during the time of Adamu Muazu as Governor of Bauchi State and tells of the unfortunate distraction from some states,which has slowed down the national desire to create the expected global benchmark for conservation enclaves in any nation.
The case of Old Oyo, Kainji lake and Okomu National Parks leaves much to be desired. It’s same criminal cattle herders poisoning the waters and felling iconic trees and burning medicinal shrubs and other natural resources unknown to science. Added to this list of crime against nature, is the increased boldness of unlicensed mineral resources criminals, who invade the system and kill at will, targeting the park rangers.
Up at Okomu National Park in Benin, Edo state, the national outcry against armed loggers and the communal pressure for farm lands adds to the many sorrows of protecting the home of white throated monkey endemic to the area and a prime attraction for green tourism. The case of Okomu National Park is very sad indeed.
In Cross River, it is not Uhuru for protecting the biggest nature biosphere in West Africa as pockets of community pressures mounts daily to relinquish the some strategic areas for farming and sundry activities. Just like the border located parks in Borno, Yobe and Taraba states, the potential for cross border criminals, kidnappers and insurgents to invade the park cannot be overemphasized.
It’s on this premise, that one commends the dedicated and timely initiative of the Conservator General of National Parks, Dr Ibrahim Musa Goni to seek the support of the Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Abayomi Olonisakin to deploy military presence to flush out and check the conversion of the national parks across the country as abodes for criminals and kidnappers.
I recall that the hard working Chief Conservator of the National Parks in Nigeria, had last year collaborated with the Nigerian Army to fully capture the park protection system as part of national security architecture and the need to drive the training of park rangers beyond just engaging poachers and sundry nature criminals.
Indeed the visit by the CG to Chief of Defence Staff, critically reinforced the urgent need for serious financial aid and superior security support if national parks in Nigeria must survive the many pockets of challenges of national development.
There’s no doubt that the National Parks are of foremost importance to national agricultural, hydrological, pharmaceutical survival. Its strategic hold bay as pivot to climate change, research and education requires a new thinking or we perish due to ignorance to the many value chains inherent to having a sustainable development plan for National Parks development and promotion in Nigeria.
And with the COVID-19 new normal, it is apparent that all hands must be on deck to support the National Park System in Nigeria. The National Assembly has a role to play and the Ministry of Environment must develop clear core policies that will support new thinking and planning for the survival of our National Parks at least in the next 20 years. I must commend Dr. Musa Goni for always thinking out of the box to find helpers for the sustenance of the National Parks.
- Frank Meke, a Media and Tourism Consultant writes from Lagos