Nigeria: Edo eco-tourism under siege by local communities

Posted: May 11, 2012 in travel & tourism

Amid the growing clamour by tourism experts for the inclusion of Edo State along with other states in the South-South geo-political zone of the federation into a revised National Tourism Master plan, under a proposed sixth Tourism Cluster, local communities in the state have resorted to pillaging the eco-tourism resources and ultimately damaging the environment in the state.

This is just as stakeholders and environmental activists alike have equally decried the seeming slow response by the state government to the unwholesome trend that now threatens the tourism potential of the state, and also in a year that global tourism bodies have begun to recognize environmental resources as a major sector in tourism development and growth.

In separate reactions, Mr. Tony Erha of the Life Tag, an environmental non-governmental organization based in the state, Mr. Jemi Alade, an eco-tourism consultant, Mr. Aiko Obobaifo, an expert in agro-tourism and Mr. Andy Enahire, a tourism activist, all expressed displeasure at the trend which, according to them, does not paint the state in good colours in the comity of tourism nations.

Only this February, on the occasion of the World Wetland Day, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) through its Secretary General, Mr. Taleb Rifai, had noted that responsible, sustainable tourism can support wetland conservation and wise use, further stating that, wetlands, their wildlife, and the human communities in and around them can benefit directly from tourism through entry fees, sale of local products, and so on.

“The challenge is to ensure that sustainable tourism practices are being implemented to bring benefits for wetlands, their wildlife, and people. We would emphasize that tourism business, if well informed and prepared to adapt their operations, can certainly promote and support wetland biodiversity and the natural beauty of wetlands,” the United Nations agency for tourism had stressed.

It is therefore against this backdrop of events in global tourism and environmental paradigm shifts that experts believe that Edo State government needs a proactive response to the pillage of its eco-tourism products by way of damage and destruction to the natural environment of the state.

“The diverse ecological and geographical landscapes of this region, in the form of rivers, creeks, pristine lowland/mangrove forests, wet lands, beaches and marine ecosystems, which are more than adequate bounties for tourism development,” some had stressed.

The particular situation of the rare urban old forest growth in Ogba Zoo and Nature Park, being the last vestige of the once 53 square-kilometre Ogba Forest Reserve, and at a time the pride of Edo State, comes into focus, on the strength of the level of threat to eco-tourism of the state, which this site represents, which had set it apart as a rare light in the area of nature reserves in the south-south region.

Being one of the rare urban forest parchments in Nigeria retaining ecological integrity in the country, it is sad that communities in the area on the outskirts of the city have engaged in the ravaging of its natural resources.

According to findings by Champion Tourism, the Ogba Zoo and the Ogba River is amongst the most affected by the destruction to the eco-system in the state as the surrounding communities have engaged in the disrespect to the zoo’s perimeters, through poaching and other forms of assault to its wildlife, thus inflicting destruction to both the flora and fauna.

In addition, the Ogba River which serves as resource for the development of recreational facilities for aquatic sports and fishries has now been extremely polluted because of the channelling of untreated effluents in urban drains into the river.

The river has not only become heavily silted but its aquatic life has been substantially destroyed, to the extent of amounting to an ecological disaster.

When contacted, management of the Ogba Zoo lamented what it termed the uncoordinated ‘de-acquisition’ or ‘de-reservation’ exercise resultant in wanton destructiveness by local communities on the efforts geared at eco-tourism development.

“The purported de-acquisition or de-Reservation by government, which is now being remedied, apparently gave local communities impetus to destroy fences, wildlife enclosures and other infrastructure of the zoo, including causing irreparable destruction of its pristine flora and fauna;  thus significantly dropping the Zoo’s rating both nationally and internationally.

This has not only substantially undermined the zoo management’s efforts expended so far on the project and its eco-tourism business development, but also our future plans, leading to huge financial losses and untold hardship to us as Leasee and private investors,” said a management staff of the Ogba Zoo.

Corroborating, Mr. Aiko Obobaifo, an expert in agro-tourism, said such poor disposition to environmental protection and eco-tourism by government tends to pitch tourism investors such as the zoo management directly against unexpected waves of land grabbers, poachers and other malevolent trespassers, thus making security threats and its expensive response a constant challenge.

Although stakeholders have exonerated the present Adams Oshiomhole’s administration in the state from complicity in the destruction to eco-tourism in the state, there is the general feeling that the process of redress has been too slow and without due consideration of collateral damages and losses to investors.

According to Mr. Andy Osa Ehanire, the present state government should be commended for recently embarking on dislodging the encroachment and carrying out demolition of the illegal structures already built on the Zoo land by the errant community.

“This unpleasant trend did not start today. It had been ongoing since about 2004. We must commend the present administration of comrade Adams Oshiomhole for moving to stem the tide of pillaging of the zoo. But I must also point out that the local community is taking advantage of the half measures being taken at each instance since there has been no holistic approach to decisively address the situation,” Ehanire said.

The Ogba Zoo, now run by a private firm under a contractual agreement with the Edo State government aimed at repositioning the previous dilapidating condition of the facility, has again begun to thrive and returning to its lost glory as a major tourist attraction since its private management intervention; but this has now been seriously hampered by the encroachment saga.

The company pioneered a rescue mission for the resuscitation and functional development of Ogba Zoo, via a lease agreement with the Edo State Government, after the Zoo’s tragic collapse and prolonged decay in the eighties and nineties.

According to the management, the purpose of the partnership with government was to promote eco-tourism in Edo State since the Zoological Garden was a unique expanse of pristine forest with natural habitat for the conservation of biodiversity.

Adding his voice to the call for the restoration and protection of the facility by the state government, Mr. Jemi Alade, requested the direct intervention of Governor Oshiomhole, according to him, to restore investors’ confidence in the state by not only protecting their facilities but also to position the state in line with global trends in tourism promotion and growth.

“We are appealing and requesting the direct intervention of the Comrade Governor through an urgent inquiry and the necessary measures required to adequately rehabilitate the damaged zoo infrastructure, its forestry and particularly to assuage the accumulated trauma and losses to their private investments and efforts at promoting tourism in the state,” said the Zoo Management.

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