OKOMU National Park “The pride of our natural heritage” is the smallest of the seven National Parks in Nigeria. The Park is a rainforest ecosystem gazetted from the former Okomu Forest reserve in 1935.

The Park which is a good habitat for numerous endangered flora and fauna species is today threatened by illegal logging and flora and fauna scavengers. Our special correspondent spoke to OLADIPO OJO CORNELIUS, the Conservator of the Park of this nature wonder on various conservation issues.

On general overview of conservation

UNFORTUNATELY, we all seemed to forget easily where we are coming from. In the old days of our fathers, it is a taboo to invade forests either for farming or hunting. Things were organized and done in a sustainable manner. We grew up to see and know that certain type of fish are not to be harvested at their young age and when mistakenly done, they are thrown back to the river and this formed path of conservation even though we may claim that our old people are not educated.

It has even been proved that the earth national resources received more protection during those periods than now and this is what gave birth to an organization such as National Parks Service (NPS) which today effectively promotes within all the six geo-political zones in Nigeria, the preservation and protection of the country’s forests and animal resources. Indeed, with the obvious effect of climate change, increase in population and its attendant urbanization and industrialization, Nigeria needs to wake up to protect our resources from extinction.

On changing the perception of Nigerians to protected areas

We design message deliberately targeted at Okomu National Park stakeholders. To our local communities, there is the continuous need to explain why we occupy their lands and hold it in trust for them.

Process of engagement

We need to explain why trees cannot be harvested and why elephants need not be hunted. This process of engagement has reduced conflict between the people and our forest rangers.

On our own part, we dedicate our resources to assist in grading their farm roads, health centers, schools, give seed money to farmers and hunters to engage in business that will keep them away from invading the forest and depleting the resources therein.

It should also be noted that the communities around us take up about 80% of the job openings in Okomu National Park. To your question, we have for sometime given the availability of funding, tried to engage the media to see what we are doing towards explaining the benefit to stake holders which includes policy makers and our host the state government.

On challenges: I will want to itemize them because of their impacts. The first and most important is lack of understanding of what we are doing here. Though the concept of protected areas management is not too recent with us, we however still grapple to explain to majority of the policy makers why certain acres of our land mass need to be set aside for protection and conservation. To change their perception, we need a huge publicity fund to which we don’t have and to which corporate organizations can help us endorse and assist.

Our location in the south-south region also provide challenges, particularly at the height of militancy in the region which has gone down now and we pray for total elimination so that visitors within and outside Nigeria can find it a worthy experience to visit and behold Mother Nature.

Also, population increase begets logging and over exploitation of forest resources. Within and around Edo State, the growth saw – millers are on the increase and with massive industrialization; illegal logging definitely threatens this frontier. However, through aggressive conservation enlightenment and prosecution, we drive the process of mitigating the danger. Other challenges are poaching, infrastructural needs and communication. As you may be aware, the demand for bush meat is on the increase despite the growth of animal farming. Within our park, we have elephants, white throated monkey and these cannot be seen anywhere else except within our ranges, so hunters tends to target us for attacks and poaching. Remember that we are in a rain forest ambit, therefore the roads here posses a great challenge to us and our communities. And to share boundaries with Okomu Oil Plantation creates issues as we are sometimes mistaken for our millionaire Palm Oil producing neighbours.

Like I said earlier, things are looking up security wise, for over three years that I have been here; there have been no incidence of kidnapping. As a thickly forested area, rural telephony can help link us up with the outside world and make our location more attractive to investors and visitors.

On benefits of Okomu Eco-Syste: Okomu is the home of nature with a signature of un-diluted clean air and with a paradise like environment. It is also the least disturbed forest environment in Nigeria.

Okomu is home to forest elephant and white throated monkey and bird enthusiasts will find this ecosystem more than a passing professional interest. As a rest house of nature, tourists interested in pharmacology, research and students of botany, have a laboratory of immense and interesting findings in Okomu.

 

Nature advocate

 

Whoever ever visits Okomu, will forever be at peace with nature and will be transformed instantly into a nature advocate. If governments have not carved out Okomu National Park, I wonder what will happen to this environment.

On critics of the National Parks’ land mass

We appreciate the fact that people are yet to understand our mandate particularly why we need to hold such earth resources in trust for the country and generations yet unborn. The benefits are enormous, some you can see and others intangible and not readily seen. However, we are determined to make a change, so more publicity and advocate for change of attitudes towards our mandate.

We are always thinking of the community first and we hope to sustain the effort. See the situation at Lake Chad which has dried up due to human activities such as deforestation. This is more dangerous than HIV/Aids and those who criticize us for not doing enough should appreciate that there are young men and women who sacrifice their lives daily to patrol the forest so that we can have clean air, provide food and safeguard water resources now and for the future.

 

Green tourism which is a by – product of our conservation efforts can provide employment windows and drive recreation facilities.

 

On funding

Funding a huge organization as this cannot be enough. However, time has come for non-governmental organizations and rich individuals who love nature to rise and support our efforts. We help over forty communities with jobs and provide employment openings to help them to help us to protect the environment.

Some of our facilities like Chalets, swimming pools and other visitor facilities that can drive green tourism maybe opened to commercialization.

We are an extractor sector and not a revenue generating agency as people tend to understand the term. So in all we crave for more funding, to help us meet and manage our mandates.

 

Tourism devt. Workshop holds in Lagos

A workshop that will bring together over 500 delegates from the 36 states of the federation to address the legal and legislative aspects of repositioning the tourism industry in the country will take place soon.

Speaking with journalists in Lagos recently on the proposed workshop, the Coordinator, Mr. Bassey Essien, revealed the delegates would include policy makers, captains of the hospitality sector, thespians, elected officials, practitioners in the creative industries and tourism consultants.

The workshop that will feature exhibitions to showcase the vast tourism potentials of Nigeria, will precedes the Presidential Summit on Tourism that is planned to chart a course for revamping the tourism industry in Nigeria.

According to Essien, the Minister of Tourism, Chief Edem Duke will be giving the keynote address at the workshop and he will be supported by other speakers like the Director-General of the Nigeria Stock Exchange, Mr. Oscar Onyema and a former Lecturer at the University of Cape Town, Dr. Austin Tam-George.

The workshop is being put together by International Style Week in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation and the Centre for Tourism and Cultural Diplomacy (CTCD) of the Institute of Communication and Corporate Studies, (ICCS) Lagos.

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