How Has The National Parks Service Fared?

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A recent webinar conference organised by the NaijaSevenWonders focused on the performance of the National Parks over the years and how they can be repositioned for optimum functioning. JUSTINA OKPANKU, who was part of the virtual meet, writes. 

The Conservator-General, Nigeria National Parks Service, Dr Ibrahim Goni did surprisingly well when he said that “the Federal Government needed to further invest in the seven National Parks across the country to attract tourists.” Goni, in a statement made available to the Daily Independent, explained that the National Parks play an immense role in medicine, research, education, agriculture, tourism and spiritualism, which “are critical components in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).’’

Before the NaijaSevenWonders’ virtual summit on Sunday, when Goni and the various conservators of the National Parks of Nigeria were invited as panellists to “take stock,” people were beginning to express concern about the future of eco-tourism in the country. It is debatable if the seven National Parks across the country are able to attract tourists.

During the online conference participated by over 60 tourism practitioners across the country, Goni who was represented by Assistant Conservator General, Yakubu Kolo, revealed that parks in the country generated over N41 million from tourism activities from 2017 to 2019, and received 29, 969 tourists in the same period. He, however, regretted that with the paucity of funds needed to adequately manage it’s over 22,206 km2 of conserved area and also drive ecotourism growth through infrastructural development, the Federal Government is set to partially commercialise three of its National Park Service (NPS).

Goni, who made the disclosure at the 14th Seven Wonders of Nigeria webinar said the three parks include National Parks Cross River, Gashaka Gumti and Kainji Lake adding that they have been chosen as a pilot scheme with a transaction advisor appointed to guide the process. The Conservator General also disclosed that the park is set to construct a hotel resort at its headquarters in Abuja for the comfort of tourists visiting its premise. Considering that Nigeria boasts huge wildlife, not a few said the figures presented are not impressive.

The Cross River National Park, home to over 2,500 plants and animal species, for example, ought to have done better. The park is reputed to be the richest part of Nigeria’s biodiversity remains a veritable destination for wildlife and eco-tourism waiting for tourists to explore.

According to the Conservator of Park, the National Park Service, Cross River, Caroline Samuel Olory, the park is one of the 25-biodiversity hotspots in the world, and one of the oldest forests in Africa. Tourism stakeholders were upset, but citizens, especially the adventurous ones, still travel in droves visiting South Africa and East African countries, Tanzania and Kenya, to explore their Safari before  the devastating impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. Why?

Many had wished that the ecotourism business in Nigeria is more attractive and the wildlife in much better condition than they are. Ecotourism, according to the International Ecotourism Society, is defined as responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment, sustains the well being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.

Generally, people are saying our National parks’ offerings are “impressive but not attractive.” Onetime Minister of State for Agriculture and Chairman of Nigeria Tourism Masterplan, Dr Franklin Adejuwon, didn’t appear happy about the state of the parks. “Our National parks are indeed vital products, which indeed run parallel to our national/natural cultural values. These two form the impeccable pillars of our domestic tourism development for now.

“Nigeria is well endowed with enriched fauna and flora; our biodiversity is none compared to any country in the world. This is depicted in our multi vegetation belts, which hardly can be found elsewhere.

Unfortunately, Nigeria does not only lack sensitivity to all these values but has also not been able to inculcate the optimal advantages to our economy through the development of ecotourism, rural tourism, safari tourism and even Agro tourism,” he said. He added: “Today, I will not know the status of these Parks.”

Goni, however, urged the government to step up efforts toward improving security as well as ensuring good road networks inside and outside the parks. According to him, these would help in reshaping the national parks to attract tourists.

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“The national parks are open for private sector participation, especially through the partial commercialisation programme of the Federal Government. Interested individuals and organisations can also come to the aid of the National Park Services by donating projects and programmes that will foster conservation and eco-tourism. All these require improved funding; we want the federal government to look into this,” he said.

Giving statistics of tourists’ influx into the seven national parks in Nigeria, the Conservator-General said 8,111 visitors have been recorded in 2020, 10,371 in 2018 and 11,487 in 2019. He attributed the low patronage to the security challenges in the country. On revenue generation, he said N26.95 million was generated in 2017, N60.39 million in 2018 and N41.32 million in 2019. According to Goni, the seven National Parks in the country have beautiful landscapes and diverse scenic ecosystems that provide unique opportunities for local and international tourists to experience active outdoor recreation, inspiration and tranquility.

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