Nigeria: Revamping the National Parks (11)

The parks should be repositioned as tourists’ destinations

One federal agency that has deliberately distanced itself from the development strides of the various governments in the country is the National Park Service. Not even the mantra of economic diversification has been able to resonate with this establishment. As we stated yesterday in the first part of this series, our National Parks have become emblematic of our national decay. In April this year, the Conservator General, Ibrahim Goni hinted that the government intends to ‘partially’ privatise three Parks – Gashaka Gumti National Park, the largest in the country, Cross River National Park, one of the rainforest Parks and Kainji Lake National Park. He explained that it would be a public-private-partnership and that while the investors harness the tourism potential, the government would ensure the protection of the natural resources in these parks.

Meanwhile, national parks in other parts of the world have not only keyed into the conservation dynamics of the world, but they are also playing central roles in the economic development of their various countries. For instance, within the continent, countries like Kenya and South Africa benefit a lot from wild safari expeditions which attract tourists from all over the world to see the wildlife of Africa. Yet statistics revealed that countries with attractive national parks have benefited most in this regard. Given that the major role of national parks is the protection of resources, many countries have capitalised on them to promote tourism, with all the attendant benefits to their economy.

Going forward, a radical measure is required to get Nigerian national parks out of the cesspit they have been plunged into. This agency requires a dedicated conservationist, a marketing communications professional, an outsider to the rotten system with international connections to leverage on to lift conservation in Nigeria. If anything, there should be a comprehensive probe of the application of resources since the establishment of the National Park Service in 1991.

Interestingly, in 2016 the government was thinking about commercialising seven National Parks. The then Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed had canvassed for a clearly defined role for host communities. The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) had briefed her on the planned commercialisation of the seven National Parks – Kamuku, Kainji Lake, Okomu, Cross River, Old Oyo, Chad Basin and Gashaka Gumti. But the minister advised the BPE to focus attention on commercialising three out of the seven parks at the first instance.

Mohammed, who is now the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group, also acknowledged “the long neglect and lack of investments in the national parks,” stating that efforts to reposition the parks, as contained in the National Parks Policy document presented by the BPE, would provide a long-term plan on which successive administrations would build on. However, the minister’s view was that even though “privatisation and commercialisation may not totally get rid of the issue of corruption, it will bring about good governance structure.”

We agree to the suggestion by the ministry that rather than pay compensation to host communities and ask them to relocate, they should be allowed to be part of the habitation so they could be engaged to complement the security infrastructure for the national parks as measure against poaching. In the envisaged reform, according to the former minister, the role of the National Park Commission, as well as the relationship between states where the parks are situated, and the federal government must also be defined.

The security of rangers must also be given paramount attention as against the present situation where they are not recognised when they die in active service. We subscribe to the ideas of the minister as we call on the BPE and other relevant stakeholders to bring them on board as they think through the process of revamping the national parks. We cannot continue to be a country where little or no premium is placed on the lives of humans, animals, and trees. These vital plants and animals should be treated as natural resources and heritage that we hold in trust for generations yet unborn. But more important, Nigeria cannot continue to treat issues of nature and the environment with levity.


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