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Terrorism threatens hiking, mountain climbing in Abuja

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FOR RESIDENTS of Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT), trekking to waterfalls, hiking footpaths in the countryside and climbing mountains on a Saturday for pleasure has become a source of worry because of the activities of bandits, terrorists and other criminals who have the city unsafe. Sinafi Omanga of The ICIR reports.


At the peak of a mountain around Katampe District of the FCT, 35-year-old hiker, Kamji Jan sat on the plain, rocky ground in the company of two friends. They smiled as they chatted and sipped from bottles of energy drinks.

Jan and his friends were joined by other hikers at the mountaintop. They soon started to sing, dance, and take photos on the rocky plane.

They are members of Naija Adventurers, a hiking club in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

As often as their schedules permit, members of this group leave the noisy metropolis to the quietude of the countryside, especially the mountain tops to take in the beauty of nature or keep fit as they brave the odds to get to the top of the mountain.

“It feels great to be up here, away from the city noise. I’m catching fun with friends and burning calories by climbing to the mountaintop,” Jan said.

For several months, Jan and other hikers could not engage in this weekend hobby for fear of being abducted or killed by gunmen in the FCT. They only resumed this Saturday.

Kanji Jam at the mountain top in Abuja. Credit: Sadiq Aliyu.
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“I stopped hiking for a long while. I stayed back to be sure that the security situation improved.

“Insecurity is a thing of concern for all of us especially the hikers because we can’t hike in the city. We hike in places like this and some of the bandits hide in rocky areas such as this”, Jan said.

Like most parts of the country, Abuja has witnessed an increase in terrorist activity and kidnapping cases by armed gangs. The upsurge in security breakdown has triggered trepidation among residents.

To understand how insecurity affects recreational hiking in Abuja, this reporter joined hikers on their trip through mountains and forests for two months.

Hiking trails turned bandits’ routes

In an earlier report published by The ICIR entitled The untold stories of victims kidnapped by Nigeria’s gunmen’’, an Abuja resident, simply identified as Uzoma narrated how he was kidnapped and made to trek many hilly in the remote part of Abuja.

The hilly remote areas that were hitherto the preferred destinations of Abuja hikers became the main attractions for Kidnappers. In such circumstances, the hikers had to give way to the armed kidnappers.

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Uzoma spent days moving from one remote location to another with the help of the abductors’ aide called “Smallie”.

“I am not sure that boy is up to 20, he wasn’t carrying a gun. I think he is a younger brother to the leader,” Uzoma told The ICIR.

Many victims of abduction in Nigeria share similar stories of being hidden away and tortured for days or weeks in remote areas by the bandits.

For instance, the Prelate of the Methodist Church in Nigeria, Samuel Uche-Kalu who was abducted alongside two other clerics said they were forced to trek long distances in the bush.

They were abducted while en route Enugu-P/Harcourt Express Road. The gunmen released them after a ransom of N100 million was paid.

While recounting his ordeal in the hands of the abductors, Uche-Kalu said the leader of the gang identified himself as “The commander-general of the forest”.

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Membership of hiking clubs in the FCT declines

Amina Maza and Lovina Abah are colleagues. They are friends too. While trekking through the forested hills, Amina, a first-time hiker began to worry about her safety.

She asked Lovina if the trail was safe. Amina recalled the harrowing experience of her cousin who was kidnapped by bandits in Kaduna.

“This place just reminds me of my cousin,” she said.

But in response, Lovina teased her instead.

L-R: The ICIR’s reporter, Amina Maza and Lovina Abah. Credit: Sadiq Aliyu.

Speaking with The ICIR, Lovina, a married woman said she too sneaked out in the morning to hike because her husband would not let her for fear of insecurity.

“I have missed hiking so much and I also wanted to introduce Amina to it, that’s why I sneaked. My husband would not allow it if he knew where I was going,” she said.

Some members of the Naija Adventurers club told this reporter how their family members and friends talked them out of hiking due to fear of insecurity.

The tour guide of Naija Adventurer, Mudiaga Osagu said many members of his club have actually stopped hiking.

“We used to have between 300 to 400 members for a hike on a Saturday like this but it’s been challenging to get them out recently because of fear of insecurity”.

Mudiaga Osagu, tour guide, Naija Adventurers, Abuja.  Credit: Sadiq Aliyu

This reporter observed that about 40 members of the club came out to hike this Saturday which the tour guide said was an improvement.

“Sometimes we cancel hike if we don’t get enough members because the fun of hike is in the number”, he said.

Similarly, the tour guide of Mantrek Hike Club, another hiking club in the FCT, Derrick Sadoh, in an interview which he granted The ICIR during one of their Saturday adventures said the club has witnessed a decline in membership over the fear of insecurity.

“Fear of being kidnapped or killed by bandits has scared many people away”.

“Before now we used to have over a hundred but by head counts today we have only about 60. Yes, the number has dropped and insecurity has affected adventure negatively”.

As part of measures to assuage the feeling of insecurity among hikers, Sadoh said they have restricted their trails to the city centres.

Derrick Sadoh, tour guide of Mantrek Hike Club, Abuja. Credit: Sadiq Aliyu.

“Before now we used to embark on intense trails which are deep in remote areas. But insecurity has made that interesting aspect of hiking impossible.

“We now look for trails close to the road or around places where people live just to reduce the fear of banditry among our members,” Derrick said.

He also said that undisclosed security personnel go on hike trips with them to allay the feeling of insecurity.

This reporter learned that it is the same approach adopted by many hiking clubs in the FCT to mitigate insecurity phobia.

Fear caused by fake news

Fake news also fuels the fear of terror in the FCT. Recently, the news circulated online that some hikers were abducted but turned out to be a false alarm.

SULEIMAN Mohammed, one of the coordinators of Hike Nations, a hiking club in the FCT

Suleiman Mohammed, Coordinator, Hike Nation Club, Abuja. Credit: Sadiq Aliyu

blamed the government for not doing enough to harness the tourism potential in the country.

“We hear the news but most times the news is circulated on social media and it is fake news.

“But it’s good that people have realised that life has to go on irrespective of fear. fake news is a problem causing the fear and tourism cannot thrive in an atmosphere of fear”.

He urged the federal government to tackle insecurity so that people can feel safe to go about “normal life”.

Panic in the Nation’s Seat of Power

The 2022 Global Terrorism Index ranks Nigeria third among countries most impacted by terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa and sixth most impacted country in the world.

According to a Nigeria Security Incidents Tracker report by Beacon Consulting, at least 7,222 Nigerians have been killed and 3,823 abducted as the country witnessed 2, 840 incidents of insecurity between January 1 and July 29, 2022.

Also, no fewer than 1,499 people were injured during the various attacks witnessed in 505 local government areas in the country.

In the North-Central geo-political zone where Abuja is located, no fewer than 494 incidents were witnessed out of which 1,748 residents lost their lives and 950 were kidnapped, the report said.

Findings by The ICIR revealed that from January-October 2022, 20 soldiers and four policemen have been killed by gunmen in Abuja.

The federal government on July 25th, 2022 ordered the closure of schools in Abuja to prevent the mass abduction of students by the notorious bandits following a series of terrorist attacks on security formations in the FCT.

These include fatal attacks on the Kuje Medium Security Custodial Centre, 7 Guards Battalion of the Nigerian Army Presidential Guards and a military checkpoint located in Zuma Rock village have thrown residents of Abuja into panic.

Onyiyenchi Charles, a resident of Ushafa Village in Bwari area of Abuja told this reporter off the record that terrorist attacks and social unrest have caused people to fear for their lives.

“In my 13 years of living here, we have never been gripped by fear like this. Some people in this neighbourhood have actually been kidnapped by gunmen.

“Not just hikers but excursion students have stopped visiting the area since the attack on the soldiers. People don’t feel safe,” she said.

Meanwhile, a Nigerian journalist,  Femi Macaulay,  noted that tourism suffers when a security crisis makes travelling problematic.

“Indeed, Nigeria’s tourism troubles are compounded by insecurity and inflation. Poor infrastructure remains a huge challenge, but the issue has been overshadowed by more potent problems”, he said.

NTDC’s Tour Nigeria: A pipe dream?

TOUR Nigeria is a tourism brand launched in 2017 by the Director General of Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Folorunshola Coker to promote domestic tourism in the country.

At the 42nd edition of World Tourism Day on September 27th, 2022, Coker explained that Tour Nigeria was launched to create employment and increase the nation’s GDP.

The tourism industry contributes 2 percents of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but some experts have said that if properly harnessed, the sector can replace oil and gas as the mainstream of the country’s economy.

However, at a breakfast meeting held in Lagos on August 12th, the DG said the scarcity of the American Dollar was threatening the survival of the country’s tourism.

“This currency has assumed a scarcity presence and snuffing life of the tourism sector,” he said.

Folorunsho Coker, Director General of Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation. Source: https://ntdc.gov.pk/

While Coker did not mention the impact of Nigeria’s insecurity on tourism at World Tourism Day, he said “there is the necessity of effective participation by, and community ownership at rural levels, as agents of change in tourism transformation”.

Act 81 of 1992 which established the NTDC stipulates among others that:

“The functions of the Corporation shall be-
to encourage people living in Nigeria to take their holidays therein and people
from abroad to visit Nigeria; and to encourage the provision and improvement of tourism amenities and facilities in Nigeria”

The Act also mandates the NTDC to assist in the development of museums, historic sites, parks, game reserves, beaches, natural beauty spots, holiday resorts, and souvenir industries, advise appropriate authorities on ways of improving tourist facilities and publicise tourism.

But, terror caused by wind blowing across the country impedes the efforts of “Tour Nigeria” by NTDC as tourists do not feel safe to hike or trek to waterfalls to absorb nature.

The ICIR found out that insecurity in the country remains a major concern for even the bravest of hikers who now resort to hiking within the city centres for fear of being abducted or killed by armed criminals believed to be lurking in the countryside.

A letter by The ICIR requesting an interview with the DG to shed light on the efforts of NTDC at making hiking more attractive and revenue generative in the face of insecurity and a dwindling economy respectively has not been responded to as of the time of filing this report.

A South African tourist’s comment on state of Nigerian tourism.

But Suleiman Mohammed of Hike Nation noted that:“The agency that is responsible for tourism should do something about making hiking safe because this country is endowed with lot of tourism assets that can boost our economy if well managed”.

Hopes of hiking dashed by terror alerts

Terror alerts issued on October 23 by the embassies of the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) of possible terror attacks in the FCT have dashed the hopes of hiking activities.

The British High Commission specifically stated in its report that places visited by tourists were targeted.

“Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Nigeria. Attacks could be indiscriminate and could affect western interests, as well as places visited by tourists,” the UK said in a travel advisory posted on its website.

Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) were identified as the likely perpetrators of the terror attacks.

Though the Nigerian government through Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed dismissed the warnings, fear of insecurity among hikers has been heightened.

What remains to be seen is how NTDC convinces Kamji Jam and his fellow hikers to continue hiking in the face of terror.


Editor Note: Names of three persons interviewed for this report were changed to protect their identities. 

 

Author profile

Sinafi Omanga is a journalist with The ICIR. His Twitter handle is @OmangaSinafi and Email: somanga@icirnigeria.org

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