(Opinion)Government Must Pay Attention To National Parks By Frank Meke



“But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said “why was this fragrant oil not sold for 300 denari and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box and used to take what was put into it” – John 12:4-6

As pointed out in the above Bible narrative, Nigeria could be likened to that “fragrant oil” which most thieving Judas Iscariots in our midst today would want sold or commercialised for the sake of the poor but their agenda is not really to benefit the poor but for their selfish end.

It is therefore not a big surprise that all privatisation, commercialisation and the unbundling of key government agencies of development fell into corrupt private hands and stripped naked. From the unbundling of NEPA, NITEL, Highways, Railways, Air Nigeria and others alike, poor Nigerians cannot point to any of such institutions that stands today as a prime contributor to national development, particularly in job creation as were once championed and promoted as “fragrant” blue chip companies that can help the poor in our midst by the deceptive Nigerian Judas Iscariots solution drivers.

These hawks and “change agents” for many years were determined to strip the bowels of Nigeria Protected areas, popularly known as National Parks. From the regime of military President Olusegun Obasanjo, to Ibrahim Babangida and the early coming back of Obasanjo in 1999 as civilian President, the strategic selfish agenda of the “save our national parks” campaigners had always met with a brick wall of opposition from the government and some key local and foreign non-governmental organisations in conservation.

Their spurious arguments and often misplaced and misapplied position have always dwelt on the stupendity of flora and fauna resources, particularly the availability or lack of safari expedition in Nigeria protected areas against gainful visitations in South Africa and Kenya. It is a recurring “stigma” to which these haters of modest efforts in our national resources management and protection have taken to a feverish quest of national probe, outright condemnation and judgment of the entire body of leadership and workers of National Park Service.

Having lost in the campaign to rubbish the significant contributions of NPS beyond the tourism safari agenda, the hawks has again found their voice in this administration by pushing for the total sack of all NPS conservationists, particularly the total disregard against the entrenched and time tested leadership mantra and handover system in NPS.

No doubt, this professional leadership expectation has contributed in no small measure to peaceful takeovers in NPS from the time of Lawan Marguba as founding Conservator General of Nigeria, a legacy that has served as buffer and check against acrimonious succession plans that had destroyed other government agencies, such as Directorate of Food and Road Infrastructure Development (DFRRI), set up at this same time with NPS

And because these hawks raging against NPS cannot break through the system, their new campaign strategy is to sponsor a call on President Buhari and Minister Amina Mohammed to throw open the leadership position of the highly misunderstood functions of NPS as a short cut to their selfish takeover and national stripping of this all important laboratory of nature and genetic resources.

Amina Mohammed – Pontius Pilate

As a travel and environmental Journalist, one major task that drives me whenever there was a regime change, is to track the leadership of the Ministries of Tourism and Environment. Since she came, pretty looking (former) Minister of Environment Amina Mohammed had shown single minded approach to issues of Ogoni clean-up more than any other key issue under her ministry, including National Park Service.

I am aware that Ms Mohammed was in love with the tested leadership handover mechanism enthroned by lawan Marguba. It was therefore expected that when Alhaji Haruna Tanko Abubakar (Mr technical) retired late last year as Conservator – General of NPS, Minister Amina Mohammed would gladly do the needful by sending the name of the next senior officer and most qualified professional to the presidency for appointment as CG.

That Ms Amina Mohammed disappointed on this score and went for an acting administrative mantra for NPS management, gave room for power struggle, an ammunition to which hawks outside and the Judas Iscariots in the highly evolving Nigerian environment circle are now using to rubbish the legacy of verifiable good works done and still being done by NPS management and workers.

Honestly, it is unexplainable why Ms Amina Mohammed would go for an open contest for the position of NPS when there are capable hands in the system. Indeed, for the hawks to canvass that the minister who never paid a visit to NPS facilities throughout her two year stay in office, was interested in a defined role for host communities around these enclaves beats my imagination.

From inception, NPS enthroned workable and thoughtful managerial process known as “support zone” mechanism, a strategic partnership model with host communities as key beneficiaries in health, education, welfare and job creation windows. It is therefore not a fluke or make believe that through this process, host communities plays crucial roles in natural resources protection and growth.

There are records that NPS host communities are never restive and had never engaged in open confrontation with NPS management in the quest to conserve and protect our natural genetic pool and ecosystem for generations get unborn.

At no time to the best of my knowledge as a travel and nature journalist, has any NPS management ever canvassed compensation be paid to communities to give up their “habitation” or forest land. Till date, host communities provide over 70% of the work force of National Parks located within their areas, with the Rangers Corp populated by their “reformed” game hunters and poachers.

Like I said earlier, peace reigns in NPS host communities and the strategy in this approach suggested to stakeholders in the restive oil and mineral resources bearing communities in the Niger Delta. If the truth must be told, there would never have been any Ogoni oil spill clean-up if the model of NPS host communities mechanism were adopted by relevant national resources protection agencies.

On BPE commercial policy for NPS, I recall that Lawan Marguba administration made it clear to BPE that conservation of natural resources should not be seen only from the tourism gains but from a more holistic baseline of its impactful contribution to hydrological, medical and agricultural research and development.

On that score, while BPE took to looking for ways to commercialise and privatize visitor facilities in the Parks such as lodges, restaurants, swimming pools, air strips, game viewings and other tourists offerings or products, the idea is to have core and frontal conservation modalities to thrive in the running of the Parks while the interested private sector players in tourism can take over the soft side of conservation gains.

It is sad that these called “dedicated conservationists and marketing communication professionals” did not take advantage of this opening to privately bring change to the tourism fortunes in NPS but sadly are now emboldened by the open contest to NPS leadership by the former minister to have what they would not get through the front door.

To leverage on the support of ignorant and innocent simplistic stakeholders in the media to have a head start for the NPS vacant leadership position could be likened to Judas Iscariots at play. Indeed, Amina Mohammed failings in not boldly giving the NPS the leadership it deserves from within the system have brought baggage of confusion and bad blood, particularly from the rampaging outsiders.

Yankari Saga

The Yankari National Park saga is a clear case of how state governments should not interfere in most natural resources aspirations. Adamu Muazu former governor of Bauchi state played King Herod with this timeless pride of Nigeria Park Protection system.

As a game reserve, it was handed over to the federal government and gazetted as National Park. There is no denying that NPS upped the game of protection at Yankari and the African elephant and other flora and fauna resources were left in peace. In fact, Yankari was no go area for poachers and that fact accounted for the huge population of elephants, baboons and other mammals which made the enclave the most sought after nature tourism destination in West Africa.

To the credit of the often lampooned and misunderstood management of NPS, Yankari became the face of Nigeria National Park system and the federal government through the management connected Yankari including most the host communities to the national grid. Apart from helping to boast local trade and commerce, the connection of Yankari to the national grid ensured that there is power inside this “forest ecosystem” to the benefit and growth of domestic tourism.

Again to build a bridge of understanding between conservation and tourism, NPS hosted several celebrations of World Tourism (WTD) activities in Yankari and instituted a yearly workshop for Conservation and tourism for journalists in Nigeria to which this writer initiated and participated with top Nigerian Journalists. These activities by NPS and including the support to the first ever tourism exposition which the private tourism sector facilitators could not sustain, are all strong indicators of the futuristic attempt by NPS management to encourage nature tourism as usually seen and noted elsewhere in Africa.

Though funding is very critical to the sustainable management and protection of these large expanses of land spaces across the country and to which would be addressed in our next report, the truth is that little or nothing in terms of funds was allocated to drive tourism within the protected enclaves in Nigeria. It must be noted that NPS offices all over the country were built by the management from the little funds allocated to it, a position that have placed the organization above its peers who are still operating from rented offices.

To therefore call NPS into account on Yankari is not only highly misplaced but an attempt by the hawks in their takeover bid of NPS to rubbish the creative and patriotic zeal of NPS management and its marginalised workforce. Whatever befell Yankari today should be laid at the foot of Adamu Muazu. It was Muazu that went to the National Assembly and got the Senator Effiong Bob committee on environment to revisit the NPS and pull Yankari out of Federal hands.

Thank God Senator Effiong Bob is still alive and can attest to my frontal and vocal voice at the Yankari takeover hearing at the National Assembly in May 2005 to which I have a documented 13 page position paper against this negative and misplaced Bauchi state government request.

Nigerians indeed have short memories and for another group of insidious campaigners of “Save National Parks” to rise again at this time of leadership vacancy in NPS, in pretence to have better managerial solutions than the time tested professionals in the system shows the “Muazuists” at work again.

Honestly, I need not only report that Adamu Muazu killed Yankari with his safari project, he also brought Nigeria to international ridicule as World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other notable benefactors of nature conservation, who consequently withdrew support to Nigeria conservation efforts with the global ranking of Yankari and other Parks affected.

And because Nigeria has oil, no one cared to agitate and bring Adamu Muazu and the National Assembly to account for this betrayal of our national interest to conserve our flora, fauna and marine ecosystems for generations yet unborn.

Interestingly, the bane of Yankari today holds no example in Cross – River, Kaduna, Adamawa/Taraba, Edo, Niger, Oyo and Bornu where other viable Parks are located and to which the states concerned have become veritable partners to the glory of Nigerian conservation efforts. If Adamu Muazu has taken his pet Safari dream to lame Bura or Malla Lumba game reserves, all in Bauchi and upgraded them, Yankari will still be thriving today and Bauchi, a veritable nature tourism destination in Africa.

NPS, NGO’S/Research Collaborations

As national laboratory of genetic resources, it is certainly not out of place for NPS to collaborate with research institutions and non-governmental organisations locally and worldwide to bring in fresh approach to nature resources conservation.

It is indeed wicked to say the least for anyone to suggest or trade off NPS as an agency of government with an anti collaborative mentality. Honestly, to say that NPS did not key into the global dynamics of nature conservation is one big lie from the pit of hell. To also allude anywhere that the agency is a cesspit of failure on account of unsubstantiated conclusions further reveals the hatred against NPS well documented contribution to national economic and social advancement.

Yes, one may fault the “silence” and less than average publicity of NPS activities in the discharge of its operational national mandate, however, this does not mean NPS is not working. From the era of Lawan Marguba till date, NPS has clearly set its eyes on collaboration with notable and not too fancied NGOs, including local and foreign institutions of learning.

Specifically NPS opened its doors to Nigeria Conservation Foundation (NCF), Gashaka Primate Project, European Union, AP Leventis, Kunming Institute of Zoology, China, Nigeria Montane Forest, German Technical Corporation, Savannah Conservation, Chester Zoo of University of London, Wildlife Conservation Society, Global Fund for Environment, Tengwood Foundation, WCS – Wildlife Conservation Society, University College, London and Centre for Education, Research and Conservation of Primates and Nature (CERCOPAN).

These collaborations, some still ongoing have brought global attention to NPS activities in Nigeria and have exposed key operational staff of the agency to global best conservation practices thereby enriching the protection and management of Nigeria National Parks.

To the growth of conservation education and research, NPS has established long term training and retraining time lines including research windows with universities of Ibadan, Maiduguri, Calabar, Akure, Yola, Tafawa Balewa, Bauchi among others and has through these set goals kept hope alive for future Nigerian conservation efforts and the development of needed manpower requirements in the sector. For instance, Gashaka-Gumti National Park alone has graduated more than 50 PhD students between 1995 to date. Also More than 5,000 students had used National Parks for industrial work experience.

Written by Frank Meke,a Media Consultant based in Lagos


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