If you are looking for magnificent scenery such as those that can only be imagined or seen on travel magazines or wildlife populated by rare species, a rich avifauna, a fascinating botany and most importantly, a real physical challenge against nature, Sukur Kingdom may be just what you are looking for. Stuck far away atop one of the highest plains on Mandara Mountains in Madagali Local Government Area of Adamawa State in northeastern Nigeria, the Sukur Kingdom is something to behold. It is the first Nigerian landmark to be listed on the World Heritage Sites, while Osun Osogbo Grove made the list later in 2005.
The cultural landscape with its palace, terraced fields with ritual features and villages whose unchanged settings have survived for many centuries will engaged your strong leisure spirit. These are the features that hyped and made the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to notice and granted World Heritage Status (WHS) to the site in 1999. The site is among the over 1, 300 sites, including historic buildings, archaeological sites as well as works of “monumental sculpture or painting” have been granted WHS status across the globe.
But it is regrettable that as outstanding as the site is, it is so neglected and unvisited till date. Despite the fact that making it into the WHS list is a tough job; the host nation is expected to file a dossier spelling out, among others, the “outstanding universal value” of the prospective site as well as a comprehensive plan of how the WHS will be managed in the event that it became one. Also, a national legislation is usually supposed to back relevant contents of the dossier. This year, 2014, marks 15 years since Sukur Kingdom was designated a World Heritage Site. Sadly, since over a decade and half now, the Nigerian delegation (which included Boni Haruna, the then Governor of Adamawa State, top federal politicians, and the Nigerian Commission for Museums and Monuments ‘NCMM’ technocrats) to the UNESCO conference in the Moroccan resort city of Marrakech where it was designated WHS in 1999, seem to have forgotten the promise they made and effort at improving and sustaining the WHS status of the Sukur.
Surprisingly, this Africa’s trailblazer in the “Cultural Landscape” category has not been formally launched by Nigerian authorities. The launch is necessary to usher in management, maintenance and promotions that will attract the world to visit and spend their money in the locality. As it stands, the breathtaking landscape may not be officially commissioned in years to come as a joint management committee supposed to work towards the launch as well as other matters relating to proper maintenance of this WHS has not yet been formed. The joint management committee’s composition is supposed to include representatives of the NCMM, Adamawa State authorities, Madagali LGA council, the indigenous community, among others.
Of course, less will be achieved in the towering ambition of boosting Nigeria’s tourist arrival with more visits to this somewhat virgin locality, without constituting the joint management committee. The worse, according to Yaji Ambu, a culture enthusiast and lawyer from Yola, is that the NCMM whose responsibility it is to care for the site is pursuing shadows. “If up till now, the generating set bought with grant sent by UNESCO to lit up the village and the site is not yet installed then when will it work,” he queries. The situation, according to him, questions what the NCMM is doing with UNESCO grants meant for the development and maintenance of Sukur.
In February 2008, a possible inauguration planned for Sukur Tourist Haven, Rugudum was aborted because of lack of political will, while again in 2009 a similar attempt was nipped at the bud because Jibrin Gada, the then minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, did not show up. These unsuccessful attempts query the calibre, qualification and commitment of these government personnel at delivering the tourism mandate placed on their care. It also calls for more participation of the private sector as Olubode Martins, a tourism practitioner, notes that government grip on tourism is bane of tourism development in the country. “Go and learn how South Africa churns out dollars from its World Heritage Sites. They contract out its management, promotion, maintenance to the private sector that has competence on such issues,” he discloses.
In defense of government bureaucracy that has held down the site from making marks, Joseph Eboreime, one time director general of NCMM, says that comfortable relaxation spots will have to be thrown in, and the guesthouse under construction in Sukur Kingdom by Nigeria’s NCMM’ authorities completed before this WHS could be formally opened. But since his retirement in 2009, the site is still as it was when the comments were fresh, some stakeholders in the tourism industry argue. More also, it takes an average of two hours to climb the 3,040 feet above sea level to get atop Sukur Kingdom. The towering height and the stress of climbing call for infrastructure like lift. But no electricity yet to power any climbing facilities as the locality is yet to be electrified.
The worse hit is the Sukur community. The expected revenue from tourists that will be used to bring modernity to the kingdom is nowhere. Social infrastructure, especially electricity, is still a promise, while educational and health facilities a joke. It is no longer images but realities of neglect everywhere in Sukur. And abandoning this site to rot, considering the trouble, the time, money and energy the country exerted in getting it enlisted into UNESCO WHS list, every hand should be on deck to get things rolling for tourists to flow in their millions. But if the situation persists, Nigeria may not be able to push for another site to be enlisted in WHS because the country is yet to maintain the two already existing sites.