By Janet Faden, in Jos
Pandam Wildlife Park in Qua’an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State is one of the largest game reserves in Nigeria. It was so designated in 1972 by the then Military Governor of Benue-Plateau, Joseph Gomwalk, of blessed memory. The Park covers a land mass of about 224sq Km of untouched savanna wetlands and forest and is home to many species of wild animals, including antelopes, shy duikers, warthogs and monkeys living in the natural environment.
Apart from these, hippopotamus and the rare African manatee are found inside the fresh water of Pandam Lake. It is indeed an interesting sight for tourists who would like to see the brilliantly colored parrots and other rare bird species in the park.
The park has over the years provided a place for visitors to learn about the beauty of nature and enjoy the natural environment. Parks such as the one in Pandam exist to ensure that pleasure seekers, now and in the future, are able to experience for themselves their country’s rich natural heritage.
Oftentimes tourists engage in activities the park provides such as picnicking, game viewing, bird watching, sport fishing, as well as boating and canoeing on the Pandam Lake with self-guided trails.
Because of its obvious economic potentials, the then military governments decided to build 20 chalets, a multi-purpose hall and a manager’s house in the park. The nature reserve, apart from being a tourist destination, is equally a research haven for researchers in aqua culture and environmental related investigations by scientists over the years.
In the 70s to late the 80s, the park hosted many government activities due to its serenity. Also, in the late 90s, with the return of democracy, the park served as a venue for political meetings and rallies.
However, today, sadly, the story has changed to one of total rot and decay in this rare but unique tourism facility. At the moment, the park has suffered so much neglect and this can be attributed to the lackluster attitude of past administrations in the state. This development has turned the Pandam Wildlife Park into a robbers’ den where all sort of criminality is committed unhindered.
Some residents of Pandam village who spoke to PLATEAU NEWS said that past military regime kept the park functioning very well but expressed disappointment in the way the democratic administrations since 1999 have totally refused to pay attention to the park.
According to Cyril Doegwai, a community leader in Pandam village, the park has suffered serious setback mostly under the democratic dispensation since 1999. He advised that if government is not serious about managing the park, it should allow farmers take over the area for farming instead letting bandits to take control of it; particularly now that hoodlums are terrorizing people along the Pandam-Namu road.
A commercial motor driver, Jibson who plies the road suggested that “there is need to mount at least three to four robust security posts along this road”.
He said that plying the inter-state road is always the greatest risked drivers and passengers take because robbers attack motorists even in broad day light.
Another concerned driver said if government does not address this situation immediately with the spate of criminal activities going on in the park, it could turn out to be worse than Sambisa Forest in Maiduguri.
On a visit to the offices of the Plateau State Tourism Board’s Headquarters in Jos, a member of staff who preferred to remain anonymous disclosed that the park is suffering neglect as a result of the shortage in manpower in the agency.
He said “If Park-Rangers are on ground in various guard-post they would be on routine patrol and no intruder will find the park attractive”, adding that in the past the facility had over 200 workers due to its vast land mass where guard-posts and accommodations were build inside the forest for rangers to ensure the safety of wildlife and visitors. The source further noted that tourism is not all about pleasure as people would always think but is also about other experiences.
He said, for example, that the chalets were built for people who may come to do research or others who come on tourists’ visits, quickly adding that some of these activities still take place, showing that the park is not completely dead.
“The place is a research haven for those doing their Masters, PhDs in Zoology, Ecology and the Environmental Sciences but people feel as if the park is being abandoned no, it is just those chalets that need some level of rehabilitation,” he reasoned.
The source also stated that in rehabilitating the structures, the Plateau State Tourism Board is going to remodel the facility to be more natural than artificial.
PLATEAU NEWS gathered that following the poor level of commitments by past administrations in the state, the federal government has picked interest in the park, as reports reaching us revealed that an assessment team visited it and has submitted its reports to the Federal Ministry of Environment, which has in turn forwarded it to the National Council of Environment for endorsement.
If the Federal Government is going to take over this park, it may bring new plans that may turn it into an institute because it is a research area on ecological, environmental and forestry systems and the Federal Government laws that protects Federal Parks would give rangers in Pandam Wildlife Park the right to carry arms and dress in their uniforms like soldiers guarding the park.
Unlike places like Kenya and South Africa, the lack of wildlife law in Nigeria has greatly affected animals in the park as people kill them at will to sell as ‘bush meat’.
Residents of Pandam Town told our reporter that during Joshua Dariye’s administration, a heap of sand and gravels was brought in for the renovation of all the relaxation points in the park and later abandoned. Further investigations at the Tourism Headquarters in Jos revealed that it was the planned visit of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who was billed to have lunch at the Pandam Tourist Village that prompted the hasty decision by the Dariye-led administration to dump the sand and gravel there but the plan was later abandoned after security report led to the cancellation of the visit.
The past eight years of former Governor Jonah Jang achieved almost nothing in the tourism sector despite putting it as one of his priorities in his 10 point agenda.
Gov. Simon Lalong has earmarked N4,862,456,922.00 to tourism for the 2015 fiscal year budget, representing 3.95% of the estimated capital budget. According to the year 2015 appropriation, the sum of N1, 283, 000, 000. 00 was allocated for the expansion and rehabilitation of Jos Wildlife and the rehabilitation of the 20 chalets, a multi-purpose hall and manager’s house in the Pandam Tourist Village. But is that enough?
Year in year out government officials of in Plateau State, officially known as The Home of Peace and Tourism, go to Obudu Cattle ranch for official retreats and relaxation neglecting their very own Pandam retreat center.
The challenges facing the park include inadequate manpower, activities of poachers, cattle grazing and felling of trees in the park. These are not beyond what the Plateau State government can handle.
*This report was first published in The Plateau News and it is republished with permission