Inside Nigeria’s ghost tourist centres | Dailytrust

Inside Nigeria’s ghost tourist centres

Nigeria is blessed with so many tourist centres. From rain forests in the South, broad savanna woodlands in the centre to a semi-desert region...

John Miller Colonial bank
John Miller Colonial bank

Nigeria is blessed with so many tourist centres. From rain forests in the South, broad savanna woodlands in the centre to a semi-desert region in the North, Nigeria offers a remarkable range of physical beauty in her land and hospitality of her people, ready to be explored by tourists. However, in recent times, poor funding and other challenges have affected the optimal function of these centres. Daily Trust reports.

 

Old Residency Calabar: Nigeria’s first ‘Aso Rock’ now deserted

Nigeria’s first ‘Aso Rock’, the Old Residency in Calabar, now a monument managed by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), has since become deserted, and much of it is wearing out.

The Old Residency which is the first seat of Nigeria’s political power used to be a beehive of activities.

The Old Residency, a one storey colonial masterpiece, is a prefabricated building brought from Glasgow, England, in the 1800s.

The woods and irons are still very strong nearly 200 years after. It served as the office of the first Governor General of Nigeria, Lord Lugard, before the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates of Nigeria in 1914.

The administration of former Governor Donald Duke in its quest to boost tourism in the state refurbished it, and drove traffic into the place.

Researchers, students, history writers and fun seekers usually flocked to the Old Residency to feel the ancient artefacts, the chairs and beds which Lord Lugard and such colonial masters sat and slept on, as well as to sight the chains used for slaves etc.

The premises of the Old Residency is sandwiched by the official residence of the Governor of Cross River State called Peregrino, the presidential lodge, residences of the chief judge and deputy governor of the state and adjacent to the famous Calabar River.

There used to be arrays of eateries so that the endless stream of tourists, visitors and students would recline and refresh.

However, at the onset of Governor Ben Ayade’s government in 2015, he ordered that the place be barricaded, citing security concerns.

Consequently, the streams of students, tourists and researchers thinned out.

Despite appeals by well-meaning groups and persons to the governor to rescind his decision, the Old Residency has remained a ghost town except for a handful of museum staff.

Recently, the American Consulate, which has shown strong interest to bring back the Calabar museum, staged an Ancient Rock Arts exhibition, the second in three months.

At that event, the director general of National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Prof Abba Isa Tijani, called on Governor Ayade to remove the barricade placed at the entrance of the Old Residency.

Tijani was represented by the director of monuments and sightings, Madam Victoria Osuagwu, who spoke at the official launch of the travel exhibition of rock artworks, sponsored by the US Consulate in Nigeria.

Tijani said the blockade has deprived the Old Residency useful revenue to augment the maintenance of the historic facility.

“The restriction of streams of visitors by the governor into the museum has impacted against its revenues. Lack of revenue has also affected maintenance of the place. It has also stopped young students, researchers and tourists from learning about Nigeria’s artifacts and colonial history.

“Our appeal to the governor to lift the blockade is passionate and one that will rejuvenate the place for learning and for generation of income.

“Opening up of the road that leads into the museum will increase traffic of tourists, and boosts revenue for the state as well,” he insisted.

A former director of Cross River tourism bureau, Gabe Onah, also made a similar appeal, saying the state was fortunate to have such a national monument on her lands.

He advised that the state government should rather emphasise on ways of boosting and globalising tourism potentials in the state. 

Amalgamation House: ‘Nigeria’s birthplace’ in ruin

The Amalgamation house where Lord Frederick Lugard, the then governor of Northern Protectorate and the colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, signed the document on January 1, 1914, merging the two entities into one has remained in ruins.

The house and the area surrounding it, which served as the administrative headquarters of Lord Lugard, is located in Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State, a few minutes’ walk from the local government secretariat.

Despite a beautiful scenery overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the administrative office of Lord Lugard which also served as the business headquarters of the government that can be likened to the Aso Rock of today, and other relics of the colonial government like his residential quarters, the bridge of no return, the slave house, John Miller house and the colonial bank, have all been allowed to deteriorate in a manner that would make tourist lovers weep.

The ‘colonial complex’ is now occupied by the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Lands and Town Planning, Nigeria Police (Marine), and Traditional Rulers Council, amongst others.

But their presence has not added any value to the place. Except for one or two new structures that have been built in the spacious land, all other brick and zinc houses have remained as built by the colonial government. In fact, staff of the ministries have turned some of the houses to residential quarters. 

Except for a signpost erected by one Hon. Dr Akpan Micah Umoh, a first-time visitor to the house would not be able to identify the significance of the dilapidating structure.

What used to be known as the residential quarters of Lord Lugard and his personal house is now occupied by some tenants. The compound which is adjacent to the Amalgamation house is made up of one storey building and two bungalows built with bricks.

One of the residents of the house, Mr Ndifreke Akpan, an indigene of Ikot Abasi, said he has lived in the house since 2004. He stated that he was not born in the house but has often been inundated with visits by people who said the house was once occupied by Lord Lugard.

“People have been coming here often and from what I heard, Lord Lugard lived here but I don’t know because I was not born then. We have lived here for 15 years. My mother works at the local government council, so the government gave the house to us to live in. It is a very nice place.

“The upstairs is made up of the parlour, kitchen and two rooms but when we moved in, it was only one room. In 2000, the Council Chairman partitioned the rooms and toilet,” he said.

‘The bridge of no return’ which is about five minutes walk from the Lord Lugard house, was built by the colonial government and was used to transport slaves to other places. The bridge is held up by three concrete compartments with iron lids, which served as slave bunkers. The bunkers are said to be where ‘stubborn slaves’ were kept.

The signpost at the foot of the bridge reads, “This jetty was first built in 1795 by the Europeans for the purpose of conveying slaves into waiting ships. It is a floating jetty and has three major underground holding compartments which were used in storing very stubborn slaves.

“The compartments have a capacity for about 30 people but about 150 slaves were stored there at any given time. It was nicknamed “the bridge of no return” because once a slave stepped on it, they were not allowed to look back and they never returned”.

The warehouse and slave wage house were where business transactions were carried out by the colonial government. Inside the ware house is the slave wage house where slaves were weighed and sold.

It was learnt that slaves were weighed in the house. They were put on a wedge and the highest slaves were sold according to what they weighed, either as dry gin, wrapper or mirror, the currency used then.

John Miller House

John Miller Colonial bank

 

The John Miller house served as the bank of the colonial government. At a base corner of the house, 1834 was engraved, indicating when the house was built. The house which is a storey building built with wood is elevated above the ground and a staircase is used to gain access into the building. The old worn-out house is now occupied by some indigenes and tenants.

The money safe of the bank, which is close to the edge of the sea, is located a little distance from the house. The safe is accessible by wading through overgrown weeds. Daily Trust on Sunday observed that the John Miller house and the safe were the only relics remaining of the colonial bank.

The safe, which is built with concrete, has an iron door that has not been opened. It was learnt that several efforts to break into the safe using dynamite and bomb has failed as no one has been able to open the vault or know what is inside.

Some of the inhabitants of the John Miller house told our correspondent that after the colonial government left, the government returned the house and the land to the descendants of the original owners but that the house was in dispute as there is a legal case in court involving the house.

Despite the historical importance of the Amalgamation complex to the story of Nigeria, the Federal Government has not deemed it fit to turn it into a tourist centre.

Though the Akwa Ibom State Government has pledged to turn the place into a tourist attraction in the past, the process of developing and preserving the site seems to remain a mirage as the promise is yet to be fulfilled.

Speaking on the seeming abandonment of the place, the Commissioner of Commerce and Tourism, Mr Orman Esin, said “The amalgamation house is supposed to be a Federal Government concern and a historic heritage of interest to the Federal government. But the Federal government has done absolutely nothing to ensure that the place is preserved.

“Even if the Federal government has not shown concern, which I think should have been a major issue for the government, then, as a state government we have to do what we call an interjection or intervention to see that since the location is in our state, something needs to be done, and done fast,” he stated. 

Port Harcourt Tourist Beach

The tourist beach is one of Port Harcourt’s oldest attraction sites, along with the Kolabi Creek line in the Port Harcourt old township. The tourist beach was established in 1988 and was private sector driven. The man-made beach has served as a place for recreation, and relaxation.

One advantage it has over others is its location which is on the edge of the city, such that visitors can take a walk through the hiking trails. The designers of the beach created a serene environment for tourists. Visitors to the Tourist Beach can enjoy the white sands and waves.

The Tourist Beach has also played host to numerous tourists from different parts of the world who visited, particularly during the annual cultural fiesta of the state popularly known as CARNIRIV, to watch the glamorous boat regatta organised by the Rivers State Tourism Development Agency (RSTDA).

Its peaceful and serene atmosphere is perfect for tourists to relax, play games and enjoy some cool sea breeze. There is also a museum within the beach; there is a tour guide to show tourists around the interesting artefacts on display.

Although the Port Harcourt local government where the centre is located had in the past worked hard to preserve the area, in recent times, the centre has been operating at minimal level because of poor funding. Patronage to the centre has gone down because of poor facilities at the centre which has not been upgraded. 

Ifoko Beach

Ifoko Beach is another popular spot in Port Harcourt. It provides perfect getaways from the daily bustles of life. Unlike the Tourist Beach, Ifoko Beach is not man-made. The constant maintenance by local residents makes it one of the best and most beautiful beaches in Port Harcourt. The local fishermen depend on the sea for their livelihood. Tourists can enjoy freshly caught seafood from any of the local restaurants. The rainforest borders the shoreline. Family and friends visit the beach to have picnics.

Rivers State Government has not given much attention to beach development as many of such centres are dormant in the state.

Some of the residents of the state who spoke with our reporter blamed the state government for the poor development of tourist beaches in the state.

Kennedy Nwankwo, a resident of Port Harcourt, said that the state government is yet to harness the potentials of tourism development in the state.

“The state government is paying lip service to tourism development in the state. The state has many abandoned tourist beaches. We have Ifoko Beach, Port Harcourt beach, Isaka beach and many others. These beaches have been lying fallow because they are private sector driven and are yet to be fully funded and developed. We want the state government to look at the potentials of tourism and its economic benefits and invest more on it,” he said.

However, the Chief Executive Officer of Rivers State Tourism Development Board, Mr Yibo Koko, said that the state government is doing everything possible to develop tourism in the state.

Due to insecurity, tourism destinations in Taraba face low patronage

Gembu town in Sardauna Local Government Area of Taraba State has been a major tourist’s destination from within and outside the state in past years.

The town, located in the Mambilla Plateau, has a temperate climate and is positioned at an elevation of more than 1800 metres above sea level.

It has good scenic beauty, with its many waterfalls which is a delight to visitors all year round.

Findings revealed that insecurity and economic problem has reduced the number of visitors to Gembu in recent time.

Despite availability of cheap lodges, there is low patronage.

Gembu town, because of its tourism potentials, hosted national tourism day celebration twice in previous years, with the federal government promising to provide tourism facilities including a 5-star hotel to accommodate foreign and local tourists.

At Dauda Hotel, one of the foremost hotels in the town, a source told Daily Trust on Sunday that the number of people who lodge in the hotel, has reduced drastically.

He said people who want to visit Mambilla Plateau are afraid to travel on Jalingo-Bali-Gembu Road due to activities of bandits who kidnap travellers day and night.

Other hotels in the town are also facing low patronage and owners of are said to have laid off some of their staff.

The Mambilla Air, a private airline which planned to start flights from Jalingo Airport to Gembu as a way of attracting tourists, is yet to commence operation.

“It is our hope that Mambilla Airline will soon start operation and that will attract more tourists to the town because many are afraid to travel by road because of activities of bandits along the road,” a resident of Gembu said.

The Gashaka-Gumti National park located along Serti-Gembu Road is another tourists’ destination in the state also facing low patronage.

A source at the park, who would not like his name mentioned, told Daily Trust on Sunday that very few tourists come to the park and they are all Nigerians.

He said in previous years, before the bandits started abducting travellers along Bali-Serti Road, tourists and wildlife researchers were always coming to the park, noting that the low patronage by tourists has reduced the revenue generated by the park.

Similarly, the Nwonyo Annual Fishing Festival at Nwonyo Lake in Ibbi town was suspended by the Taraba State government for political and security reasons about nine years ago.

The fishing village project initiated by the Taraba State government about nine years ago was abandoned.

The fishing Festival site is now a ghost area without any activities except illegal fishing, mostly in the night.

The Taraba government has designated the site for international fishing Festival because of the seize of the lake which linked to River Benue in the town.

Findings revealed that Hippos, crocodiles and big fishes are very common in Nwonyo Lake which used to attract tourists from within and outside the country during the past fishing festivals.  

Boko Haram insurgency cripples tourism activities, damages monuments in Borno

Hundreds of women and children at the entrance of the only tourists centre in Maiduguri, Sanda Kyarimi Park Zoo during this year Sallah celebration

The activities of Boko Haram insurgents for over 12 years in Borno State has crippled many vibrant tourists’ centres and damaged some historical monuments that once attracted tourists from within the country and across the globe.

Investigation indicates that majority of tourists centres have shut down due to insecurity and staff have been dispersed or disengaged due to the lingering crisis in the state.

The Sanda Kyarimi Park Zoo and Sanda Kyarimi Family Recreation and Amusement Park in Maiduguri remains the only the tourists’ centres not affected by insecurity because during the just concluded Sallah celebration, the two tourists’ sites witnessed large turnout of families, especially women and children, while the remaining centres remain closed due to insecurity which has scared away many tourists from visiting Borno, thereby affecting both local economy and the revenue of the state. 

The tourists’ sites affected by insecurity include the famous Rabe Fort located in Dikwa Local Government Area of the state. Findings revealed that Boko Haram insurgents damaged many parts of Rabe Fort built and constructed with mud. Although the road from Maiduguri to Dikwa was reopened by the state government following improvement of security in the area, but visiting the site by tourists is not feasible.

Another prominent tourists’ centre that was crippled due to insecurity is the Elkanemi Prayer House located at Ngala LGA. Findings revealed that late Elkanemi, being an Islamic scholar, used to pray in the house before embarking on engagements. After his death, people started visiting the house and spending seven days for intense prayers for successes and deliverance before the advent of the Boko Haram insurgency.

One other tourists’ attraction is the famous Kuka Tree in Kukawa LGA which attracted tourists from far and near. The historic tree is said to have been cut down and destroyed by the insurgents.

Also affected is the tomb of the first four Shehus of Borno in Kukawa. The area became inaccessible when Boko Haram insurgents took over the area.

Other tourists’ sites that insecurity has crippled in Borno State include the Shani Curves on the top of Shani Hills, Lake Chad National Park, and the Sambisa Games Reserve.

From Eyo Charles (Calabar), Iniabasi Umo (Uyo) Victor Edozie (Port Harcourt), Magaji lsa Hunkuyi (Jalingo) & Hassan Ibrahim (Maiduguri)

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