And since the inauguration of the nine-member Organising Committee for the January 1, 2014 grand finale of the Nigerian Centenary Celebrations with Senator Bala Mohammed as chairman of the committee, operators of these gardens, who see themselves as major stakeholders in the celebrations, have stepped up their efforts in updating facilties and beefing up security at their relaxation centres, six months to the grand finale in Abuja.
Chief Chris Okolo, Chairman of City Park, and Vice Chairman, Abuja Parks and Gardens Operators Association, confirmed this in an interview with journalists a day after the inuaguration of the committee: “At City Park, we have the capacity to host at least 5,000 people with their cars well parked. We have adequate internal security to ensure guests relax and we have 24-hour police surveillance team, thanks to the FCT police command. We have a well-secured car park and the sitting area is far removed from the car park.
We have facilities on ground including a standard tennis court, cinema hall, a games hall, children playground and the adult section for entertainment. Our staffs are well trained people. We have a cinema hall – an amphitheatre that can accommodate 60 people seating comfortably. We have confidence that the government is well able to organise the centenary celebration and we will continue to improve our standards to support government and ensure every visitor is adequately well cared for”.
However, to enable the parks, gardens and other open places, play this vital role during and after the cenetanry celebrations, the park operators have a desperate plea, and Chief Okolo makes the point succinctly: “We solicit for government to assist the park operators by cutting down on taxation; there are too many of them –high PHCN bills, water bills, tenement rates and so on. Besides, erosion is a major menace. As individuals, we are doing our best to control erosion but it is a major capital intensive exercise that is beyond the ability of individuals, so we call on the FCT administration to intervene in this respect”. And talking of facilities, our correspondent, in company of other reporters on tour of the facilities at City Park saw that the Park boasts of a lush-green Main Field which has hosted several wedding, political, cultural and other ceremonies, a modern Olympic-size Swimming Pool (under construction), a standard Lawn Tennis court built to the specifications recommended by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), an aesthetic 500-capacity Open Hall which has hosted several social and political events, a well-equipped Fitness Centre, as well as an expansive Children’s Playground.
What is more significant is the fact that building infrastructure and developing tourism potentials in Nigeria was a matter for government alone in the past, but the City Park chairman and chief executive says this thinking is no more in vogue”
“We have expended over two billion naira in putting infrastructure in place so our parks and other outdoor recreation centres can compete favourably with what obtains in the United States and Europe. We are doing exceedingly well with these open places. If you recall, all of these places were thick bushes not so long ago. It is to the credit of investors in the hospitality and tourism sector in the FCT that Abuja has now become famed for its parks, gardens and other open recreation centres”.
Established approximately 10 years back on an area of over five hectares of undulating parcel of land which was originally a messy wetland, the investor from Anambra State, Chief Chris Okolo, said City Park stands out as a real tourist haven in Abuja and the FCT.
According to him, “We set up City Park to beautify Abuja and create a world-class recreational facility for people to come, relax, play games and while away time. We did it to check the exodus of Abuja residents who, because of what was rightly perceived as an absence of quality recreational and fun spots, trooped out to other towns and cities only to return to their Abuja offices on Mondays. And, thank God, because of the time and resources we have put in establishing this world-class facility, the tourism potentials of Abuja have been boosted and people are now eager to come into Abuja to live and settle because of these facilities”. With Abuja fast becoming Africa’s Tourism and Conference Capital, Abuja residents and indeed Nigerians have come to see praise the insight of the FCT administration for reclaiming the sites reserved for open recreation centres and for removing complete and sometime exotic landed properties including residential and commercial buildings, to devote those parcels of land to the planting of trees, grass and flowers which have now given Abuja its identity as a garden city noted for its gardens, parks and open places.
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