By John Akubo – The Guardian Newspapers
Much of Nigeria’s colonial history is woven around Kogi State, particularly Lokoja. A trip around Lokoja would avail visitors the opportunity of close contact with the allure of its many historical sites and monuments. Overlooking the city, westward, is the towering 4583 meter (1500 feet) Mount Patti with a stretch of 15-kilometre plateau. It used to serve as a strategic defense for natives in war times and also against slave trade raiders. Sir Lord Fredrick Lugard, who loved the beauty of the plateau, built his rest house on it, from where he savoured the grandeur of nature. From Mount Patti, a visitor could easily visualize the pleasant outlay of the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue. This is the meeting point of the largest rivers in West Africa. The two kiss in Lokoja, forming a ‘Y’ shape with a ‘tail’ flowing southwards into the Atlantic.
Other colonial endowments include the oldest hospital in northern Nigeria, the oldest prison yard in northern Nigeria, the safe of the oldest treasury also in Northern Nigeria, and a cenotaph in honour of Nigerian and African soldiers who fought in World War I and II. Notable tourist sites include Magazine Hill, where Lugard kept his arms and ammunition. Another is Kabawa where some northern emirs who opposed colonial rule were detained. Notable among them were the late Emir of Bida, Mallam Abubakar; late Emir of Kano Mallam Abdullahi; the late Emir of Futatoro; and the late Emir of Zaria. Following their death, they were buried there. There is also the Holy Trinity Primary School, the first in northern Nigeria, built in 1865 by Bishop Ajayi Crowther. With the abolition of slave trade, the West African Frontier Force went into action mounting surveillance on both the Niger and Benue rivers to secure the routes. Barges carrying slaves were intercepted and forced to berth. The slaves were led to the spot where two poles were marked: ‘The Iron of liberty’. They were then instructed to touch them.
Any slave that did so automatically regained freedom. The Iron of Liberty is located at the Holy Trinity Bishop Crowther School, Lokoja. Another attraction is the European cemetery, the largest of its kind in the country. Also, behind the Federal Medical Centre is a huge rectangular block called the World War cenotaph where the names of Nigerian and British soldiers that fought in the first and Second World War are written. There are also several new hotels, like Roberton Hotel, Idrinana Hotel, Edge Drive, Miami, and Rock Gardens Hotel to cater to the need of tourists. But John Bosco, a photographer in Lokoja, is worried. He cannot come to terms with the fact that Lokoja has refused to grow much faster, despite potentials for revenue generation from its numerous tourists’ sites, especially historical monuments.
He is of the view that had the state government paid more attention to developing tourist attractions, investments in his studio, Photo Instanter, could have yielded better returns. Bosco blamed successive governments for not taking advantage of all die monuments that have positioned Kogi Sate as having the highest concentration of colonial historical relics and monuments in the entire country. Bosco is not alone. The accountant of the New Royal Hotel, along Ganaja Road in Lokoja, Samuel Ishaba Ataba, noted that fun seekers would naturally spend their money only on things that excite them. According to him, though colonial monuments abound in the state, tourists may not visit them if they are not developed. Ataba said several factors go hand in hand with tourism, like good network of roads, electricity, water and security. He said: “If all these are in place, Kogi State would be certain to generate its own revenue without relying solely on allocations that keep dwindling, and we in the hotel industry would also benefit immensely.”
The General Manager, Kogi Hotels and Tourism Board, Olowolaiyemo Joseph Maye, however, said it is not true that Kogi is not benefitting from tourism. It’s “only that we are not benefiting as it should have been,” he said. He stressed the capital intensiveness of tourism, adding that it should not be left in the hands of government alone. He said: “In the developed countries, government provides the enabling environment, like roads, electricity, pipe borne water and others while the private sector promotes tourism. Hitherto, not much was done until this present government came on board, “I just came back from Mount Patti. If you go there, now, you will see that the place is taking a new look. The place is a beauty to watch. Lord Lugard built a rest house on top of that mountain. It is a tourist destination on its own.” Maye disclosed that the present administration has renovated the rest house which had had its roof blown off, even before the state was created. He said a gate is presently being erected there to ensure people don’t gain access without making payments. “You know tourism is business. All over the world it is not free. So, a gate has been put there so it can restrict movement of people. Anybody who wants to go up that mountain has to pay a token as a way of generating revenue for the government.” As part of effort by government to encourage tourism, he said the Royal Niger spot, where the flag of the Royal Niger Company was lowered for the last time and that of the British, the Union Jack, was hoisted on Januaryl1914, has been renovated. The General Manager also pointed out that besides renovation of sites; the government has provided a bus and a Hilux van. “The bus is for conveying people on tours while the van is for official use and the registration of hotels in the state.”
He added: “At least, in Lokoja, we have about 20 tourists sites. The building housing our office here is a tourist site. It is about 113 years old. Lugard built it in 1900, as residence for senior members of staff. We have about four of them along this road: the building housing the Hotel and Tourism Board; the one housing the museum; the one the NUJ is occupying; and the last is a courtroom. The oldest club in Northern Nigeria, Lokoja Club, was built in 1901 on the way to Mount Patti by Lord Lugard.”