By Jude Dangwam, Jos
Before the advent of the government of Barr. Simon Lalong in Plateau, the state was facing a staggering debt profile of about N222 billion, reported to have been incurred by previous administrations.
The debt burden is quite ironic because over the years, Plateau was known for its three cardinal sources of revenue that made the state to gain international recognition overtime. They include agriculture, tin mining and tourism.
But the quest for revenue diversification has taken the present Plateau state government to one of its tourism heritages: the famous Pandam Wildlife Park established in 1972 by the then first Military Governor of Benue-Plateau, CP. Josehp Gomwalk of blessed memory. The Park’s future is in jeopardy as a result of the new revenue drive of the government.
The Park occupies a land mass of 224sq metres at a Savanna wetland, considered as one of the Seventh Wetland of International importance in the country as classified by the Ramser Convention in 1971 on Wetland of International impotence to which Nigeria became a signatory in 2001. Due to its richness in bio diversities and the genetic materials contained therein, the Park was considered in 2013 for upgrade into a National Park from a mere Games Reserve during the National Council of Environment held in Makurdi, Benue State.
Pandam Wildlife Park is covered by a number of instruments, just like other game reserves and parks in the country through which Nigerian government is a signatory .They include:, “Convention on Biological Diversity (1992); United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries Experiencing Serious Drought (1994); Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora in (1993), all as measures in protecting biodiversities as well the environment.”
The Park is associated with diverse richness in resources like the Pandam Lake which is connected to River Benue, making it an all season lake that never dries up even at the height of dry season. It has been home to a good number of animals, monkeys and hippopotamus. It has served al so served as fishing festivals which were observed in Pandam Lake in unique ways, different from that of Argungu Fishing Festival in Niger State. Up till today, some endangered species, of wild animals, are still seen moving freely without sign of being in any form of captivity in the natural environment and the thick forest. But this heritage has fallen into the hands of revenue diversification efforts of the government, where a unique species of trees known as Madrid said to be in large concentration are being logged by government ‘s business associate, “W.J Global Trading and Investment Co Ltd.” The company is exporting these trees to China where demand for them is high.
The economic activity is turning the wildlife into a shadow of its former self. At its peak of operation, Pandam Wildlife Park had over 200 c workforce, as against only 11 staff who are currently working in the Park.
The Park boasts of various relaxation points for tourists and researchers who sometime spend days, weeks, and months, for relaxation in those chalets carrying out one form of research or the other but have been neglected overtime. Since the return of democracy in 1999 till date despite budgetary allocations made in the name of revamping key areas in the Park with the hope that this will create employment opportunities to the teaming unemployed persons in the state and to equally serve as a veritable source of revenue generations, the situation has been quite different.
With the coming on board of Governor Simon Lalong- led administration in 2015, the tourism sector received N4,862,456,922.00 voted for the 2015 fiscal year, representing 3.95% of the estimated capital budget, while the sum of N1, 283, 000, 000. 00 was allocated for the expansion and rehabilitation of Jos Wildlife as well as the rehabilitation of the 20 chalets, a multi-purpose hall and a manager’s house in Pandam Tourist Village.
That was not all. In the 2016 budget, the state government said, “tourism, culture and hospitality sector is in dear need of revitalisation to serve as major source of revenue earnings for the state. On this note, the sum of N1, 125,000,000.00 has been earmarked in the 2016 Budget, representing 1.53% of the capital estimate. Of this amount, N100,000,000.00 is allocated for the renovation of Plateau Hotel; while N150,000,000.00 is for the upgrading of Solomon Lar Amusement Park. Also, the sum of N400,000,000.00 is approved for the completion of the indoor Theatre. While the Plateau State Tourism Corporation has been allocated the sum of N323,000,000.00 only for the Expansion and Rehabilitation of Jos Wildlife Park and the rehabilitation of 20 chalets, multipurpose hall and manager’s house at Pandam Tourist Village.”
State’s Finance Commissioner, Mrs. Tamwakat Weli while presenting the 2017 budget breakdown to journalist at the Cabinet Office Joseph Gomwalk State Secretariat in Jos said: “The sum of, N332, 500,000.00 has been allocated as intervention in the sub sector with the sum of N150,000,0000.00 approved for the completion of the indoor theatre; while the Plateau State Tourism Corporation has been allocated the sum of N140,000,000.00 only for the expansion and rehabilitation of Jos Wildlife park.”
When our correspondent visited Pandam Wildlife Park to assess the level of implementation of the 2015 and 2016 budgets as they concern the Park having been captured in the state’s annual budget twice ,it was sad to find that the Park remains a shadow of itself as no new project was visible on the ground.
He found that the comatose state of infrastructures was visible to tourists who kept expressing disappointments upon sighting the deplorable structures at the relaxation points, the chalets, multipurpose hall among others things.
DAILY ASSET established that the Park could not be captured in the 2017 appropriation bill, and it is getting to10 months now , with the deforestation exercise receiving more attention than the Park.
According to a source who did not want his name mentioned over 1000 trucks load of logs of trees together with the Madrid trees have been carted away already from the Park.
According to the source, “I can tell you that over 1000 trucks load of logs of trees have been taken away from Pandam Wildlife Park. The Chines Company took 198 trucks load while other allies took so many load of logs that their record cannot be truly ascertained. I don’t know how much government might have generated from this venture but something tangible should have been seen in terms of revitalising the Park and developing the community if those proceeds were indeed accountable to the people of Plateau .”
The Plateau State Government earlier on constituted a committee on 19 January,2016 titled, “COMMITTEE ON PANDAM WILD LIFE PARK” to advise government on the offer made by a Chines expatriate to logged a specie of tree call Madrid in Pandam Wildlife Park.
The committee consisted of the current serving Commissioners, with Mr. Andrew A. Yenkwo the immediately dissolved Qua’an Pan Local Government transition Committee Chairman as Member/Secretary of the Committee while Hon Peter J. Mwankon served as Chairman of the Committee.Other members of the committee were, Hon. Ezekiel Daja as member, Hon. Dayyabu Yusuf Garba as member, Hon. Lyndia H. Bawa as member, Hon. Abdullahi G. Abbas as member. Hon. Rufina Gurumyen as member.
According to DAILY ASSET source whose name is withheld said, “Another committee was constituted at the local government level to create awareness on government’s intentions especially in generating the desired revenue from the logs following the fall in price of oil which affects federal allocations to states of the federation but end up handpicking some few persons as representatives of the community which were refuted by many locals.”
The source said the LG committees were, “Alh Yahaya Ayuba DPM Qua’an Pan LGC, Mr Binji Dani.
Among reasons given by the government in deforesting Pandam Wildlife Park include “The need for revenue diversification due to the sudden fall in price of oil affecting federal allocations to various states of the federation. Secondly, the park has become a hideout for robbers and as such logging the Park will arrest the security problems facing innocent motorists who ply the interstate Federal Road connecting southern part of Plateau State with Nasarawa State. Thirdly, is to enable government used the proceed in reopening the Park and remodeling the dilapidated structures for optimal resource generation and to developed the host communities.”
Though with reasons given by government, the locals at that time feel they are not enough reasons to deforest a place like Pandam Wildlife Park as stated by the community’s spokesperson, Barr. Albert Kopbe. “It is true that our people are faced with security problems along the Federal road, but government should mount more checkpoints along the park with a steady patrol teams along the road and equally find a way of dislodging the Fulani herdsmen who use the park as their second home than deforesting it. Because this heritage if lost, will be gone forever as it took several generations of sacrifice for the Game Reserve to developed to this point.”
Barr. Albert pointed that, “The annual encroachment of the Sahara Desert which has necessitated the setting up of Green World in the frontline state has been added by the devastation of an ecosystem which serves as a buffer zone within the Central Zone of Nigeria and the only one of significance in Plateau State. I keep saying that deforesting the Park for revenue generation is not a self sustainable venture at all but government went ahead to deforest the park with all sort of promises and nothing is been done up till datew,” he stated.
The Plateau State Governor, Barr. Simon Lalong during a media parley with journalist on May 28, 2016 to mark his one year in office while responding to questions on what his administration would do in the area of tourism especially in developing the famous Pandam Wildlife Park and he has this to say.
“If you are talking of tourism it is also a huge investment. Government does not want to go into tourism that you should know. Because if it , we are inviting people to come and invest in tourism but not government investing in tourism .
“If we tell you that government is going to invest in tourism I don’t think we would be right, but all we are saying is that we will create opportunity for investment on tourism. So investors are coming from China, from South Africa, we have offers from South Africa all the reserves we are putting them. That also includes putting your hotels in oder, you know we have one hotel around Lamingo, the Rock Hotel, we are also going to put them all together.”
He further said. “For Pandam, recently somebody came to do small investment there, I think it was misinterpreted that government was selling the place, we are not selling the place but we are inviting people who would invest in whatever they are going to invest so that we will get the revenue that will help in opening the place. So for tourism, yes, is one of our policy trust but it is not immediate.”
The destruction of Pandam Wildlife Park, one of Plateau’s pride is not in any way a hearsay again, but what is the way forward in transforming the Park into an international standard among other tourist areas in the state which has been gaining government’s attention over the years only on pages on news papers than being practical and visible to the Plateau man?.
With the deforestation exercise carried out by government’s expatriate and her allied which among its reasons is also to arrest the security problems along the road in Qua’an Pan local government area of Plateau state. Citizens are still counting their loses in millions on virtually daily bases from the hands of the notorious arm rubbery syndicates who rubbed all through the Federal road from Pandam to Shendam, Kurgwi up to Kwalla and Doemak road becoming so worrisome than ever expected affecting business activities in the areas.
In some cases, even the vigilante that have been complimenting the effort of the security agencies along the roads were being targeted and some injured while some were killed by notorious rubbers leaving their families in distress.
As at the time of filing this report, what could be seen in Qua’an Pan local government areas along the roads were check points mounted by men of the vigilantes who voluntarily submitted themselves to serve their communities standing in some strategic places said to be the flash points of notorious robbers and other criminals in the LGA.