With the increasing threat to national parks in Nigeria posed by logging, poaching, excessive cattle herding among others, the Federal Government is embracing the private sector to conserve and revamp the natural resources embedded in the parks.
In this regard, government has moved to partner with the Africa Nature Investors (ANI), a Kenya private sector player, to work towards protecting and improving the Gashaka Gumti National Park.
Many countries are generating huge revenue from their national parks but Nigeria is yet to tap into that economy boosting capability of its parks.
The investors government is partnering with will, aside from working to protect and conserve the Gashaka Gumti Park, also turn it into an internationally famous destination that generates revenue for the local communities as well as the country – a place Nigeria can be proud of.
The park is the largest national park covering an area of 6,400sqkm located on the border with Cameroun in Taraba and Adamawa states. It contains the highest mountain, Chappal Waddai, with a height of 2,400m above sea level.
The minister of Environment, Ibrahim Usman Jibril, speaking on Monday at the inaugural ceremony of the local organising committee of Gashaka Gumti National Park, said if a country like Rwanda is making billions from people watching chimpanzees, why can’t Nigeria do so instead of making pepper soup with hers.
The minister, who decried the state of national parks, noted that they were not in the best of shape currently. He however said there was little they could do and as such have to resort to external sources to help revamp them.
He said the choice of bringing in the private sector to partner with the Federal Government in conservation of the ecosystem has become necessary because they have to be conscious of what they have.
He said the National Park Service had in 2017 entered a partnership agreement with ANI for the provision of support to scale up conservation activities in Gashaka Gumti Park with the view to build up the fauna and flora resources to boast eco-tourism.
While inaugurating a 10-man committee to set the ball rolling, the minister said engaging the foundation is important going by the deficit in infrastructural facilities, technical and financial support in the area of conservation, research and tourism activities in the protected areas.
He said: “Conservation is really about people’s relationship with wildlife and nature, I advise ANI that in their management and protection strategies in Gashaka Gumti National Park, opportunities should be provided to the local community so as to sustain their traditional way of life in a modern and sustainable context through progressive and innovative livelihood initiatives.”
The Director of ANI Foundation, Tunde Morakinyo, said there are many environmental issues affecting Nigerians but little attention is being paid to them. He stressed that there is need to take actions to address them.
Morakinyo said Gashaka Gumti National Park is under serious threat as many of the animals are on the verge of extinction; and also the issue of herders to protect the park while also investing in its development.
He said they will need to invest millions of naira to revamp the park, especially on infrastructure, adding that they will have to build roads and bridges; train and equip the rangers to be able to move around and protect the park.
“Over the coming year, the LOC will focus on securing the park by strengthening the park rangers. Developing job creation initiatives for the local communities will also be an important focus so they have a stake in its protection and development,” he said.
Security, he also said, is very important, adding that they will empower the rangers to partner the army to secure the park from loggers, poachers and cattle herders as that was the only way to attract tourists.
He however noted that Gashaka Gumti National Park should be able to generate revenue over time, even as he said the investment intended for the park will take time and that they were working towards raising substantial amount of money to start investment.
The group, he said, is discussing MoUs with two international conservation Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that will bring some of the best technical expertise in Africa to the management of the park.
The Co-Director of the foundation, Phillip Iheanacho, said Nigeria has bountiful natural resources, adding that their intention is to preserve, revamp and enhance the development of the park and preserve the nature that exists in it.
He maintained that they will focus in working and equipping the rangers and community development as well as setting up a demonstration eco-camp with world class accommodation to attract tourists to enhance the economy of the park and Nigeria as well.
The Conservator-General of National Parks Service, Ibrahim Goni, said “Government has seen the benefits of joining hands with NGO and the business sector to protect places like this of strategic development importance to the country.”