By Chidi Nkwopara, OWERRI
Saturday Vanguard could not have been privileged to visit the impressive historical sites in Lokoja, Kogi State, if not for the sound weekend packaging of the tour by the Kogi State Chapter of the University of Jos Alumni Association, UJAA.
Added to this is the fact that if I did not take the risk of travelling to Jos, for the first time in December 1983, in search of my bosom friend, Mr. Kunle Farinuola, who was inexplicably suspended by his former employer, I would never have studied in University of Jos!
It was in Mr. Farinuola’s visitor’s room that I stumbled on the University’s advertisement for post graduate programmes, in one of the huge piles of Nigerian Standard newspaper. I got interested, applied and got admitted.
THE LOKOJA TRIP
The Idris Yakubu-led National Executive Council, NEC, of UJAA fixed the Central Working Committee meeting in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital. As the South East Zonal Coordinator of the Association, I made the trip.
It was a convocation of sorts in Lokoja, as Chairmen and Secretaries of state chapters and other officers of the Association converged on the Confluence City.
A tip of what the Kogi State Chapter Chairman, Hon. Oladipo Makakese Bayode and Local Organizing Committee Chairman and Secretary, Engr. Enejo Onyido and Mr. Matthew Onumanyi respectively had in stock for the visitors was showcased Friday evening.
It was tagged “a night with Mr. Wilson Inalegwu”, an alumnus of University of Jos, UNIJOS, who doubles as the current Kogi State Commissioner of Police.
There was so much to eat, drink and discuss that the participants almost forgot to retire to their hotel rooms.
The Saturday event began with touring the historical sites. Take off time was 7am from Daito Hotel, where majority of the NEC and CWC members were accommodated.
The first port of call was the spot where the flag of the Royal Niger Company was lowered and the British flag, the Union Jack, was hoisted on January 1, 1900.
A very interesting thing about this place is that a good percentage of those who live within the vicinity of this historical site, did not quite appreciate the attraction and possible curiosity exhibited by the tourists! They are probably so used to it that they no longer know the real worth of what they have.
The Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, Lokoja, houses three important historical sites. This church premises harbours the Freedom Square, the symbolic effigy of late Bishop Ajayi Crowther and the first primary school in Northern Nigeria, built in 1865.
It is pleasing to note that the brick wall, the wood used for the roofing and the corrugated iron sheets are still intact, despite the age of the building! Possibly, builders of this day and age, should take a critical study of the building with a view to understanding why it has not collapsed till date.
The symbolic effigy of Bishop Ajayi Crowther was prominently placed close to the Iron of Liberty, in the Freedom Square, because of his doggedness in the fight against the inhuman slave trade.
A story weaved around the Iron of Liberty was interesting. This Freedom Square is not far from the River Niger. It was the major route for transporting slaves to the Niger Delta ports, where ocean vessels berthed to pick human cargo.
Saturday Vanguard also gathered that any slave billed for sale or primed for export, but managed to extricate himself or herself, runs into the Freedom Square and held the Iron of Liberty, was automatically set free by the European and African missionaries.
From the Anglican Cathedral, the tourists moved to Mount Patti, where the ever smiling Commissioner for Environment and Natural Resources, Mrs. Rosemary Osikoya, and the General Manager of Graphic Newspaper, Pastor Dayo Thomas, were already waiting for the team.
As first timers to the 1,500 feet high mountain, the Commissioner schooled the team on what Governor Yahaya Bello was doing to improve the site.
Everybody taking the long walk to the top of Mount Patti was given a bottle of water, even as the tourists were advised to “just sip” and not to empty the bottle.
The walk started. Some of the younger ones were faster and made it to the top. However, the Commissioner took her time to explain everything that attracted attention, including the forest reserve, the running water cascading the slope and the beautiful rock formations.
The top of the mountain was a different scenario. It was as flat as a table. Some communication networks mounted their masts here. A radio station also built a magnificent transmission building on top of this mountain.
What also baffled Saturday Vanguard was the Rest House built by Lord Frederic Lugard and maintained by subsequent Kogi State governors.
Apart from the full blown effigy of Lugard and his wife, mounted close to the building, the Rest House has since been converted to a mini museum housing some historical documents, photographs and artefacts.
After the long walk, the tourists were moved to the bank of River Niger, where we boarded a ferry that took us to the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue.
The Captain of the ferry told Saturday Vanguard that we would have been in a position to appreciate the different colours of the two rivers, if we had come during the dry season.
“The heavy rain has washed a lot of debris into the rivers and this has changed the colours of Rivers Niger and Benue”, the ferry Captain said.
It must be put on record that apart from the ferry that charged us for their service, every other tourist site visited was toll free. The question is: Are these not sources of internally generated revenue, which the state government has not tapped? Your guess is as good as mine. Thank God I returned safely to base.