Kogi prides itself as a ‘confluence state of opportunities’, obviously because of the convergence of two important rivers – Niger and Benue- in Lokoja, the state’s capital. But centuries after European explorers discovered the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue in Lokoja, its abundant tourism potentials and latent economic opportunities are yet to be tapped. Daily Trust recently took a tour through the rivers down to the confluence point and reports.
Lokoja, the capital of Kogi State in North-Central part of Nigeria with an estimated population of over 600,000 people, is privileged to be the place where two important rivers namely, Niger and Benue ‘kissed’ each other in a natural conjugal bliss and flowed gracefully together southwards into the Atlantic Ocean.
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It was learnt that River Niger remained a mystery to the first Europeans who set foot on Nigeria’s soil until John and Richard Landers passed through the confluence on October 25, 1830 thereby completing the journey that Mungo Park had started. Rivers Niger and Benue are the two largest rivers in West Africa.
According to a researcher, Alfred Ayodele Meseko, River Niger has its origin in the Guinean highlands in Guinea and passed through other countries namely, Mali, Niger, Benin Republic before reaching Nigeria.
River Benue on its part travels all the way from the neighbouring Cameroon down to Lokoja to meet its Niger ‘bride’ where the union was eventually consummated by Mother Nature.
The river is a major source of economic activities for inhabitants across its banks and equally serves as natural habitat for aquatic animals. A recent trip to the confluence point of the two rivers in Lokoja reveals a plain beautiful landscape and calm water surface sandwiched by flourishing green vegetation.
At the tip of the confluence is a narrow mass of land that can be developed for tourists to embark on from a boat.
One could also see the aesthetics of the convergence of the two rivers forming a ‘Y’-shape while flowing together towards the ocean.
As you cruise a few meters away from the confluence point of the two rivers, you will meet an island (a flat land) which is occasionally being used for picnics by fun seekers and tourists.
While River Benue which is on the right side is clearer and light green in colour; River Niger which is on the left side looks dirtier and brownish in colour.
As one explores the river, fishermen could be seen in their wooden boats casting their nets in search of fish.
From the confluence point, adjoining villages can also be seen from the river banks.
It was learnt that no fewer than 36 towns are located at the banks of River Niger spanning across five countries including Bamako, the capital of Mali; Niamey, the capital of Niger; Onitsha, an important commercial city in Nigeria and Lokoja the confluence town.
The total length of River Niger is about 4,180km with the basin area put at 2,117,700kmsq which discharges water at the rate of 5589 m.cu/s.
River Benue is also another river of great significance not only to Nigeria but also to other African countries. It originates from the Adamawa plateau, and passes through 18 towns in Africa across Cameroon and Nigeria. The total length of the river is about 1,400km. Both rivers are largely navigable.
Worries over unharnessed tourism, economic potentials of the confluence
Operators, tourism enthusiasts and experts are worried that though there abound many tourists’ attraction centres in Lokoja, many of them are not yet harnessed, especially the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue.
Capt. Danladi Usman Ibrahim, who is one of the boat operators at the Ganaja bank of River Niger, said the government has not done enough to boost the economic and tourism potential of the confluence.
Ibrahim, who said he had been operating in the area for over 35 years, said successive administrations at both the state and federal levels have not harnessed the abundant potential of the river.
He said government needs to build jetty and provide navigable channels to unlock the potentials of the place, adding that economic and tourism activities in the area are still at a very low level.
“We need navigation channels here. Once it’s rainy season, we have challenges navigating except the experienced ones. We also need a jetty that will be floating; when the water rises, it will go up and when the water comes down, it will come down.
“We need floating jetty but right now, there’s no assistance in that regard. We can operate from here to Onitsha. We can go and come back the same day. They dredged this river so that business activities can be boosted but the dredging has not been completed.
“We will be happy if the federal and Kogi State governments can assist us to do something here to boost business activities. As you can see, we have our confluence point here. At least, we need a beach here for tourists, but there are no facilities. We, who are doing businesses here, cannot do well except the government develops this place.
“If the government can build a floating jetty here, and provide a barge for people to be going to the confluence point for tourism purposes and sightseeing; it will be good,” he said.
He said despite the fact that the place has not been developed, people still come from different places to explore the confluence from time to time, adding that the place will become a booming economic and tourism hub if fully harnessed.
“If the government can assist us to build a jetty here, people will go there for tourism, especially during festive seasons like Christmas, Sallah and other occasions like Valentine’s day. It is a good place for tourism which needs to be harnessed. People come from far and near. This is a confluence state but there is not much activity going on. You can see how Lagos Beach is being utilized. Here, too, can be developed for tourism purposes.
“All that we do here is on private individual levels; there’s nothing much we can do. This is a NIWA Jetty but there’s nothing serious here. It needs to be developed. From time to time, people come here to visit the confluence and we usually take them there in our engine boats. From there, we make some income. Some of the tourists will come with two bottles to fetch the water from Niger and Benue to see the difference. Like I said, Benue is cleaner than Niger now but when the water level is high, Niger will be cleaner than Benue because the tributaries in Benue will be bringing dirt into it but for now, Benue is cleaner than Niger.
According to him, more business activities and opportunities will open up if the area is fully developed with construction of a standard jetty.
“If the federal government can assist us here, we would be happy. The late former President Umar Musa Yar’adua promised to dredge the river and build a jetty here but after his death, nothing has been done again. There are many villages across the river and this is the only means they can access those places. Government needs to develop this place by building floating jetty,” he said.
Also speaking, Dean, Faculty of Management Sciences at the Kogi State University, Anyigba, Prof. John Alabi, said the opportunities that the rivers provide have not been utilized.
“Lokoja being the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue; first, is historic and there is this natural attraction to the town. Also, because of the opportunities, there are lots of things that can be used for the economic growth of the state and the country at large.
“I want to talk about three aspects; the first of it is that the confluence provides opportunity for tourism; tourism in the sense that people would want to come around to see. The late Abubakar Audu had a foresight in building a hotel close to the confluence of the River Niger. What that presupposes is that with the hotel, tourists will come and lodge and the state will make economic gains.
“Another thing is that around the confluence, you can build a yacht from where people can take canoes or ferries to the confluence, have fun and take pictures. From there, they could proceed to other tourists’ attractions in the confluence city.
“We also need to do more economic activities on the river; transportation of goods from Lokoja to other parts of the country should be encouraged by providing ferries and badges. That has not been done. Private sectors should be encouraged to come in to boost activities. We have NIWA headquarters in Abuja. With that, we can start moving goods across the country.
“There are so many relics in the confluence city that have not been tapped. Socioeconomic wise, we can leverage on the confluence city, we can bring in festivals that can promote tourism. When people come in, there will be the multiplier effects on the economy of the state,” he said.
‘Geodesic dome at the confluence will boost ecotourism’
Also speaking, a former Minister of State for Health and one time President of Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), Arc Gabriel Aduku, said the federal government needs to do a lot in transforming the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue in Lokoja into tourists’ attraction and an economic hub.
He said if rivers Niger and Benue can be sustainably dredged and the channels made navigable, it would open up the economy of not only Kogi State but the country at large.
Aduku said if the enormous potential of the rivers as well as the confluence can be harnessed, the place can become another Dubai in Nigeria capable of attracting huge revenues for the country.
He said the government in collaboration with the private sector can pull resources together to construct a geodesic dome of not less than one kilometre at the point of the confluence, which he said could house 25-storey buildings for hotels and other types of green structures that will boost tourism.
A geodesic dome is a hemispherical thin-shell structure (lattice-shell) based on a geodesic polyhedron. The triangular elements of the dome are structurally rigid and distribute the structural stress throughout the structure, making geodesic domes able to withstand very heavy loads for their size.
“I believe that such an iconic structure architecturally defined as unique throughout the whole world would bring a focus unto us. It would be moving us away from oil as our main life wire in this country. It would be a major contribution if by sheer effort, we can ensure that the rivers are navigable and that people can travel from anywhere in the world and come through into Lokoja, from Kebbi, Makurdi etc if the inland waterways work.
“Lokoja offers itself to such a unique treat because it will bring on board many other things including playing the role of unity of our nation by all the states that are bordering both rivers at least trailing back to the period of amalgamation of the North and South.
“It will propel a lot of economic activities by ensuring that the rivers become navigable so as to let in a number of visitors; a number of tourists and all actions and that will boost a lot of economic activities in Lokoja and in the state in particular,” he said.
He said he has written letters to President Muhammadu Buhari on the need for a geodesic dome at the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue given the historical significance of such iconic structure to the promotion of unity amongst people of Nigeria.
Confluence Beach Hotels in deplorable state
Kogi State government during the administration of late Governor Abubakar Audu established the Confluence Beach Hotels right at the bank of the confluence of river Niger and Benue, in an effort to develop the confluence as a tourist attraction.
Sadly, the hotel which is supposed to contribute to boosting the tourism potential of the confluence had been in a deplorable condition for over five years. Besides, there is no link or access between the hotel and the confluence.
A recent visit to the Confluence Beach Hotels which has a 7-storey building with over 100 chalets, event hall and swimming pool, indicate that the facilities are in deplorable conditions begging for attention.
What we are doing to harness tourism potentials – Kogi government
Reacting, Special Adviser to the Kogi State governor on Culture and Tourism, Femi Bolaji, said the administration of Governor Yahaya Bello has been carrying out a lot of intervention, renovation and rehabilitation in the culture and tourism sector.
He said the government remained committed to harnessing the tourism potentials of the confluence as well as other tourists’ sites in the state.
“In our first tenure, the governor gave a roadmap on how to reinvigorate our cultural heritage and backed it up with the release of millions of naira so that we can give facelifts to our historical relics, monuments and heritage sites which were done.
“Investors were beckoned to partner with the state government so that we can start construction of new tourists’ sites as well as remodel and reconstruct the existing ones. The existing ones include the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue. That place is huge.
“Last year, President Muhammadu Buhari sent his official photographer to Kogi State to take pictures of iconic centres in commemoration of Nigeria@60.
“I and other ministry officials took him to that particular spot, the confluence of River Niger and Benue. That place is a good experience. We took a yacht from NIWA Jetty down to the confluence point. When you get there, you feel that sensation. Your boat will feel it that you are on an extra-terrestrial body that’s not your usual experience on the water; maybe your boat is hitting a wave and you will actually see the demarcation where the two rivers met.
“River Niger is a bit dirty, brownish in colour possibly because of the long journey; it started all the way from Mali but River Benue is cleaner because it’s coming from our neighbouring country, Cameroon. So, these are exotic things; aesthetics that will bring in tourists but we need to do a lot.
“The environment; the landing jetties for taking off and returning are not yet there. If investors can come in and build beautiful jetties with terminal buildings and other facilities even while you are waiting for your boat cruise, you can really have a nice time there before the boat will now take you to the confluence point.
“Also, the confluence point is like an island. It’s a V-shape island in which another structure can be constructed; you can build a hotel there and you can put a Water Park there. The government of Yahaya Bello has already invited investors and they are doing their own feasibility too and I can tell you that the ministry is already working on this potential and they will be realized.
“Apart from that, we have the Confluence Beach Hotels adjoining the confluence point. From the hotels, you can see the confluence point. We have a 7-storey building there; we have chalets of over 100 rooms. We have a big event hall and we even have a bar. But the hotel is now down due the mismanagement of the past administration.
“So, we have invited a consortium of investors who took over that hotel about six months ago. They are spending billions of naira to bring that hotel back and in no time, you will see that hotel being well run,” he said.