Bauchi State Commissioner of Culture and Tourism, Alhaji Salihu Ibrahim Jama’are, in this interview with Najib Sani, gives reasons why the famous Yankari Games Reserve in the state attracts tourists from all over the world. He asserts that if the forest were upgraded, it can generate a lot of revenue for the country.
Tell us the activities of your ministry.
Our activities mainly focus on tourism and culture of the people of Bauchi State. Tourism has become one of the main sources of revenue generation the world over. Governments are now focusing attention on the development of tourism and culture in every part of the globe. So Bauchi State is not left out because we have some natural endowments that have to do specifically with tourism attraction. The other aspect is the culture of the people of Bauchi State: the way they eat, dress, walk, their religion and so on. These are the activities that, primarily, we deal with.
Could you mention to us the tourist attraction centres in the state which are being supervised by the ministry?
Yes, we have many, but the major one is the famous Yankari Games Reserve. We also have ‘Sumu’ Wild Life Park at Kafin Madaki, about 40 kilometres away from the metropolis. We have the Babban Gwani in Kafin Madaki. We have Shira paintings and a lot of other tourist attractions. Some of them are fully developed while others are currently being developed. And on the cultural aspect, we have traditional festivities and cultural dances. So, these are some of the things we have.
Yankari Games Reserve is one of the tourist attraction centres in Bauchi State and tourists from all over the world visit it; what do you think attract them to it despite the fact that there are many other forests in the country?
There are things that are happening in Yankari which are not happening in other places. In Yankari, we have about four different attractions. We have the famous Wikki Spring where water splashes naturally 24 hours every day. So people enjoy visiting the place. Secondly, we have the animals that have been there since before the state was created and are multiplying, and government provides workers in the forest. Thirdly, we have other attractions inside it like stone and blacksmith centre. We have comfortable accommodation, conference centre with a hall that can accommodate about 500 people at a time. And the place is quite exciting. So with all these facilities, people enjoy the place more than other places.
What species of animals do you have in the forest?
Certainly, we have many; there are reptiles, mammals, birds, amphibians and a lot of other species of animals there.
Is the animal population in the forest increasing or decreasing?
They increase over time, although we face some problems, but government has employed rangers currently to monitor the reserve. So the animals are there and people visit them on daily basis.
But many a time, if one visits the reserve, he finds it difficult to see the big animals such as lions and hyenas, except monkeys; why is that so? When is the right time to view the wild life in Yankari?
Yes monkeys are very friendly with people because they are now domesticated in Yankari and have become friends to human beings. While some are friendly, others are wild and harass people. Secondly, on the issue of sighting the animals, it depends on the time you visit the forest. Sometimes, if you visit the reserve in the morning, certainly you will come across most of the animals. There are specific locations that if you visit, and you will find the animals because each of them has its own terrain. If you want to see the elephants, the reserve guards will direct you to where you will see them. If you are interested in seeing lions, they know where they are. The places the animals stay depend on where they find their food. Some of them are herbivorous, others are carnivorous and feed on their fellow animals. So actually, now that we are in the dry season, most of them are near the riverine areas because they have access to water and green grass. So, most of the times, if you intend to visit Yankari, the guards will direct you to the riverine section. That is where all the carnivorous animals are because their food is there and the herbivorous too would go there to eat grasses and drink water. The carnivorous will eat the animals that eat the grasses. So all of them will be there, unlike in the rainy season when water is everywhere.
What measures do you take to prevent the animals from being hunted?
I have explained to you that government has put in place some measures to prevent hunters from killing the animals. We have employed rangers in the reserve for that purpose. We have about five posts where rangers monitor movements in the reserve. They go on patrol everyday and we give them vehicles and fuel for the patrol on daily basis. They do not stay in one place but they go round in the night and afternoon with each post covering a particular kilometre. We also have a GPRS for surveillance and the rangers have cyber trackers which link up with other outposts. So if there is any problem in any post, they can communicate with the others for immediate response.
Tourism is a source of revenue to some countries of the world. Are you satisfied with the level of patronage of the Yankari Games Reserve?
I am not. Honestly speaking, government needs to do much to develop the forest. We need publicity in both national and international media. We intend to go to CNN, BBC and all these international media for publicity. We are also trying to complete the reconstruction work started by the previous administration in the reserve. And after the completion, we will focus on adverts in both print and electronic media.
Some people decry your recent increment of gate fees, accommodation fees and other charges in Yankari, don’t you think that will deny many people access to it and concomitantly reduce its patronage?
No, if you see how the system operates, you will not say that we are charging much. We do have a problem sometimes; that is why we complained to the governor that the gate fees should be increased. Actually, if you consider the huge money spent on the maintenance of Yankari, I don’t think our charges are much. Most of the times we run the forest with generators knowing the PHCN situation. There is nothing we can do about that. So we must use generators to make the place conducive for visitors. We consume about two drums of fuel to provide 24 hours of light in the reserve daily. And we have three or four generators that we use on daily basis. We also transport our workers and rangers to the bush daily. So you see how much we spend. If we continue with the rate we were charging, I doubt very much if we can maintain the place. And it is only in Yankari that you find these low charges. If you go to Obudu (what is the difference between it and Yankari?), In fact, you will be surprised at the price you are going to pay because you will pay more than N15, 000 at the gate. I think we are trying.
How much percent does the forest contribute to the internally generated revenue of Bauchi State?
You know tourism is a time factor. We have time that people fill the forest and time when people do not visit the forest. For instance, if there is a bomb blast in Jos or any neighboring state, that is the end of tourism in Bauchi State because people would have fear to come. If there is problem somewhere - even outside Bauchi, we are greatly affected. So all these uprisings happening in the north-east geo-political zone affect our patronage.
In the whole of Bauchi State, there is not a zoo where the common folks who do not have access to Yankari can visit at least occasionally; have you any intention to open zoos in parts of the state?
Honestly speaking, for now I doubt very much if we intend to open zoos, because we have the Yankari games reserve, we have a small park here in the state capital manned by Eagle Sino where children visit. Our next focus is, we are thinking of establishing or developing a national amusement park to complement of Yankari Games Reserve. We also have Sumu Park at Kafin Madaki.
What plan does the government have to revamp Yankari to raise it to international standard?
I told earlier on that the government has invested a huge amount of money to upgrade Yankari.
Finally, what message do you have for Nigerians concerning the games reserve?
I have a very important message for Nigerians. I remember we recently hosted the minister of national planning at Yankari. When I showed him to its apartments, he wondered that Nigeria had that kind of thing and in Bauchi State. So if such kind of people will have interest in Yankari, government should develop the forest and, by so doing, Nigeria will generate a lot of revenue. Countries like Kenya depend on tourism for revenue, so I am telling you that Yankari can host any kind of people. So I call on the people of Nigeria to patronize the reserve which we have in this part of Nigeria. That will enable us to improve and generate revenue and a lot of money for Nigeria.