Ecotourism remains the most considered direct use value of nature of national parks, as tourist proceeds are tied to market value

Frank Meke

The very sensitive issue of commercialization and privatization of ecotourism activities in our seven (formerly eight) national parks has raged unsuccessfully for over 16 years. At the early projection of this effort, the concept was badly handled by Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), which failed to set out the full intent of this noble cause and allowed the “open” media to misrepresent the project.

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The prospect of commercializing the entire architecture of our conservation enclave was wrongly assumed and presented by the media, which pitted government, stakeholders and the Nigerian people against the management of National Parks Service. If I recollect correctly, the entire misinformation or fake news that our conservation efforts was largely driven to promote ecotourism as conceived in Kenya or the South Africa belt of Africa led to the fanciful takeover of Yankari National Park by the administration of Adamu Muazu in Bauchi State.

Sadly, Muazu’s ill-advised and fancy flight to transform YNP into a safari enclave, with imported animal species such as zebras from Namibia, which were not endemic to our clime and environment, met with foreclosed disaster and tragic decline of the once-thriving testament of NPS efforts in Bauchi State.

Added to this ugly scenario is the fact that Nigeria is really not sure if we must conserve our ecosystems under a protected environment. It is no news that Nigeria does not have a protected conservation master plan except the seven national parks, which have struggled to remain relevant despite deliberate poor funding of its immediate and futuristic activities.

The sad quest to compare and contrast our conservation experience with endowments in eastern, central and southern parts of the continent, namely Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, also significantly contributed to the BPE’s hasty and misplaced advertisement for the “takeover” of the parks.

In the climes mentioned above, the bases for their tourism industry are their national parks, some in existence span of 60 years on the average. Notably, Kruger and Hluhluwe – Imfolozi National Parks in South Africa are both about 104 years old. The traducers and critics of our conservation efforts never raised the fact that the success stories of these countries were due to deliberate investment profiles on protection, conservation and marketing.

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Please, hold your breath; Nigeria’s conservation or protected areas remain the most flourishing but unexploited in Africa in terms of visits for recreation and to some extent research. We have a wide variety of natural but largely unexplored wealth yet pathetically on the lower rung of our national funding and budget belt. Many may argue that the trend is universal but I submit that ours is hell on earth since those in government believe that money spent on our unit parks does not translate into possible increase in wealth, seen as mere redistribution of resources within the country. Those who hold this view and encouraged the starving of the parks of critical fund forget that the local communities around these enclaves benefit in terms of education, health facilities, skill empowerment and acquisition, opening of access roads for trade and ecotourism visits and much more.

To BPE, the parks are “unproductive establishments” a position wrongly canvassed and presented to right the economics in our parks. Let me explain here before some junk brains decide to pen misleading rejoinders, that I am sufficiently exposed to the benefits of “commercialization and concession” of ecotourism activities in our parks but beg for a critical study of the challenges facing the effort.

It is important that this government, which has engaged Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF) on advisory services on this quest, should reevaluate and reassess the total economic value of our national parks. The sum total value of this engagement to AWF, which has existed in South Africa in the past 50 years with claims of successful and strategic rebranding of similar efforts all over the world, needs to be premised on the use value and non-use value of our cherished parks.

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Ecotourism remains the most considered direct use value of nature of national parks, as tourist proceeds are tied to market value, while education, climatic amelioration, soil protection, pharmacology and hydrology are seen as non-values. The three parks under consideration, Kainji Lake National Park, Cross River National Park and Gashaka Gumti National Park, which would undergo this AWF advisory action plan on ecotourism experiment, present challenges that other brother nature enclaves in Africa may possibly not experience.

The travel cost method techniques used in measuring non-market benefits of visits to national parks is one major vista, which our AWF advisors must solve and present to a nation of 200 million people who are largely ignorant of the value chain in this neglected economy.

There is no doubt that poor tourism infrastructure needed to drive investments and visits to these far-flung areas where these parks are located would pose marketing, security and investment headaches yet they are achievable if Nigeria truly desires tourism economic reform beyond mere lip-service and grants of letters of advisory appointments.

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