By Marie-Therese Nanlong, Jos
THE high expectations which usually accompany preparations for Christmas in Plateau State are all gone! All the allure, beauty and serenity that attracted Nigerians and foreigners to the state, which used to boast of huge tourism potential, are all gone with the winds. The glory of that past era has departed leaving only sadness in the memory of those who once cherished, patronised and savoured their attractions.
All one hears these days are stories of insecurity, banditry, kidnapping, mass murders and assassinations, and the destruction of communities that once played host to tourists, visitors and neighbours at Christmas and other national holidays. The nostalgia that once defined the hot spots in Plateau State and its environs is now rested with those who consummated them.
Sadly today only few seem to remember and visit the once popular tourist and entertainment destinations that abound in the state. Among them are iconic sceneries like Assop Falls in Riyom Local Government Area, which used to be a choice location for video shooting and sight-seeing. Others like the Riyom Rock; Kurra Falls in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area; Shere Hills in Jos East Local Government Area where mountain climbers and bird watchers used to take delight; the Pandam Lake within the Pandam Wildlife Park which used to house rare species of hippopotamus and attracted researchers and tourists as well as promoted fishing and canoeing; the Wase Rock in Wase Local Government Area; the Jos Wildlife Park, one of the largest man-made wildlife parks in the country and the National Museum which housed many artefacts, are now mere shadows of themselves due to lack of patronage.
Although the relics are still there, there is no form of life as orchestrated and unceasing spate of attacks, killings and kidnappings have forced patrons to abandon these holidaying spots. Unlike in the past when security was tight and peace prevailed across the state, neither residents nor visitors dare to go out to these places for the purpose of staging Christmas parties or gathering for fear of being attacked and killed.
In the years before the outbreak of violence and wanton killings, residents of the state would defy the biting cold in Jos and its environs and organise big Christmas parties for families, communities, groups and friends with dancing, eating, drinking and cultural displays topping the chart. But today, the fun stuff done in yesteryears now sound like fairy tales to children as residents now celebrate the Christmas fear, while exercising absolute caution in their homes and neighbourhoods and without the usual fanfare.
Beyond rising insecurity, which has claimed the lives of thousands of innocent persons, the lingering of COVID-19 pandemic has also placed a damper on any form of festivity. However, the residents look forward with hope and that the good old days when Christmas meant more fun, will undoubtedly return and in no distant time.
Speaking with Arewa Voice, a resident, Kangyang Davou, recalled one such moment in 2000 when she and her friends took a trip from Jos to Kurra Falls to spend their Christmas and that they had real fun, which strengthened the bond of their friendship. Her words: “I remember in 2000 when my friends and I organised a trip from our village in Du, Jos South Local Government Area to Kurra Falls. We cooked food, bought drinks and arranged for a vehicle that ferried us to the place.
“We started the journey at about 10am on Christmas day but just at the junction to Kurra Falls, the vehicle developed a fault and there was no mechanic to fix it. The incident almost ruined our excitement but some Fulani men who were passing by saw our plights and decided to assist us on motorcycles to the waterfall. That was the last time I had such fun in an open space with such serenity. When I think about the insecurity in that area now, I shed tears because of what has been happening and the destruction of the bond of unity among Nigerians over the years. One cannot even dare to go there today and it is very sad.”
Another resident, Samuel Audu, also recounted his experience, saying: “When we were kids, we used to trek from Angwan Rukuba to Jos Wildlife Park at Dong and we would not feel tired due to excitement. Nobody wants to take the risk of going out anymore; the economic stress and insecurity are just too alarming that everyone wants a safe place to put their heads during this festive period.
“Even school children cannot hold Christmas parties for fear of the unknown. Remember that it was on Christmas eve in 2010 that bombs were exploding at the Angwan Rukuba Junction and Gada Biu (Jos North LGA). Since then, I take extra caution about where I go and what I do during this period. I don’t even allow my children to go out because even the recreational centres are not safe and as a result, we just use the period to bond together at home as a family.” However, Israel Auta, who used to defy the cold and watch the stars at night in the good old days, lamented the level of insecurity in the state, saying: “This is making people lock up their doors very early because nobody knows what is lurking in the dark.”
He appealed to residents who have criminal tendencies to think about the good times they used to share together and promote the peace and cohesion in the state and the country. “In those days, it was not important if anyone had anything to eat because everyone was their brother’s keeper and they shared everything in common, especially during festive seasons like Christmas,” Auta recalled, adding that there was mutual trust and love for each other then.