Mc Sonny told Weekly Trust that though he was taken aback by the exorbitant cost of accommodation in the park, he felt it was worth it when he saw his room. Every effort was made to give him value for his money though it was dirty and appeared to be suffering from the country’s usual lack of maintenance culture. But that was not just it, because when he finished whiling away the time and retired for the night, he later discovered that the standby generator that supplied rooms with power was switched off at 12 midnight! Just when he was retiring for a beautiful night rest, the plant supplying his room and other rooms with power was also switched off and he spent the rest of the night fighting mosquitoes!
He told Weekly Trust that it was the second disappointment he was subjected to at the park, because, as he alleged, he could not get anything to eat when he looked for food in the restaurant late in the night when he got tired of battling with mosquitoes and other predators.
Another angry customer, who is the chairman of the Gombe State chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Babaji Hassan Dunama, told Weekly Trust that he was really put off with the way the park is being managed.
“There was no food at the restaurant. No light after 12 am and the worst part of it was that the rooms were not properly cleaned. The service was equally poor and there seems to be corruption going on, because I was not issued any receipt for the room I booked for the night. I think you journalists should tell the authorities what is happening because they might not know,” he said.
Mc Sonny and Dunama are some of the many people in the Northeast sub-region where the income of people is relatively low than that of other regions who are complaining about the high cost of accommodation and lack of maintenance at the Yankari Games Reserve which is about the only major tourist attraction closest to them.
Investigations by our correspondent show that the high cost of accommodation at the park, epileptic power supply, poor service and poor sanitary conditions, are discouraging potential local tourists from benefiting from its services and denying them the opportunity to see wild animals and other tourist attractions.
The records at the state Ministry of Tourism and Culture show that the Games Reserve was opened to the public on 1st December, 1962. It covers an area of 2, 244 square kilometres and is sitting on a thick forest reserve inhabited by wild animals and protected by stringent laws against poachers and intruders, thus ensuring safety for the animals and birds. It is situated about 70km from the state capital along the Bauchi-Gombe road off River Dindima bridge.
The reserve also has four springs among them three warm springs and one cold spring. The warm springs are Wikki, Mawulgo and Gwana, while Dimil is the only cold spring. But the most famous of them all is the Wikki warm spring.
The spring which gushes out from underneath a limestone escapement surrounded by vegetation, offers an excellent bathing facility that is situated in a gouge immediately below the camp. The water is crystal clear and free from all reptiles and fish. The spring is 1.9m deep and 13m wide with a constant temperature of 31.1 degree centigrade. This is perhaps one of the park’s major attractions as the water is considered clean by all, irrespective of social status.
The park has an interesting history because it came into being through an initial idea of Alhaji Muhammadu Ngeleruma, who was then a minister in the defunct Northern Nigeria Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The idea was said to have come to him when he visited the Sudanese Games Reserve where he was fascinated with the elephants, buffaloes and other animals he saw in their natural habitat.
On returning to Nigeria, he thought that the idea should be translated into reality. The search for the right location soon followed. Reports came in that such a place existed around the Gaji river in the southern axis of the then Bauchi province. An area around Duguri district in Alkaleri local government area was thus carved out as a forest reserve.
In 1991, the park was taken over by the Federal Government and was not returned to the Bauchi State government until 2006 after a lot of legislative battles and politicking. The then administration of Governor Ahmed Adamu Mu’azu sunk about N9 billion into the park after claiming it back with the hope that it would meet international standards. Any visitor to the park these days will not fail to notice the infrastructure put in place. Almost all the accommodation section was reconstructed and befitting facilities provided. The once-bad road leading to the park from Dindima was reconstructed.
It is perhaps this new development that has made the Yankari Games Reserve more attractive to both local and international tourists. But while those coming from afar may not mind to pay N12, 000 per night for a room unlike residents within the Northeast sub-region, they will definitely mind sleeping in the dark and having to battle with mosquitoes. At least, not when they expect to relax and get value for their money!
Weekly Trust was at the office of the Bauchi State Commissioner of Tourism and Culture, Alhaji Muhammad Jibrin Lago, who heads the ministry that oversees the park, to know what is being done to address the situation in the park, which is not only a source of pride to the state but a big income-earner.
Responding to the issue of the high cost of a room in the park, the commissioner dismissed that as untrue, saying if the cost is compared to those of other similar parks across the country, it is perhaps the cheapest and that the huge investment made in the park to bring it to its present state should be taken into consideration.
“I think compared to other parks, we are relatively cheap. I know that in Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River State, a room goes for about N30, 000. What one needs to know is that the tourism industry is targeted at the high fee-paying customers anywhere in the world. But we have other arrangements to cater for the low-fee paying tourists.
“I think there is quite an improvement even in our business, because a couple of years ago, we hardly rented out more than 11 rooms per night but we now rent out more than 60 rooms in one night. There is a move to hand the park to the private sector to manage, so that some of the issues can be addressed. I am not aware of some of the issues raised by these people, but I will definitely investigate,” he said.
Weekly Trust feels that the earlier this is done, the better because a source of income such as the Yankari Games Reserve should not be allowed to deteriorate; at least not now when governments all over are searching for alternative ways of generating income to avoid falling prey to the global economic crunch that seems to have come to stay and not at all willing to leave.