Unarguably, Nigeria is sitting on a tourism goldmine which is as rich, if not richer than oil. Across the 36 states of the federation, there is at least one tourism potential which, if properly boosted, could turn Nigeria into a global tourist centre. Perhaps, no state is as blessed in terms of tourism potential as Taraba State. Little wonder the state is often described as “nature’s gift to the nation’.
Taraba State offers undulating and rolling hills, thick forests, as if one were transported to the Amazon Forests of Brazil, all-season rivers, parks, including the Gashaka-Gumti National Park, the largest in the country, various species of rare wildlife, including buffaloes, elephants, hyenas, tigers, hippopotamus, antelopes, baboons, birds, different types of reptiles and many more.
Aside this, there is the temperate Mambilla Plateau, with its highest point standing majestically at over 9,000 feet above sea level which is, undoubtedly, the highest point anywhere in the country. There is more going for Taraba; its mild climate, especially on its high hills and mountains, is good for livestock breeding and the cultivation of crops such as tea, coffee and cocoa. It is, therefore, not surprising that the state harbours the largest herds of cattle in the country, and contributes greatly in meeting the meat as well as the hide and skin needs of the country.
For the tourists, such rich varieties are irresistible attractions. If the Rio Festival in Brazil attracts millions of visitors who spend millions of dollars annually, thus boosting the Brazilian economy, there is no reason why annual cultural fiestas in Taraba State, if properly organised, given their multi-culturalism and richness, cannot do the same for the state and the country as a whole.
It is, therefore, in recognition of this that the government must, as a matter of urgency, make concerted efforts towards improving the abundant tourist attractions in the state, like the Mambilla Tourist Centre, the Gumti National Park, the game reserve at Gashka and the Nwonyo fishing festival at Ibi.
The government must also be seen to be working tirelessly towards attracting more foreign businessmen to invest in the natural resources that flourish in the country.
Happily, the federal government has declared the Mambilla Plateau in Sardauna local government area of the state as venue for the yearly World Tourism Day, which means that this annual Tourism Day celebration will be our own equivalent of the cool Swiss Alps, which has the propensity to attract good publicity, more tourists, more money as well as attention to the state. But this can only make sense if the spate of insecurity and communal clashes are checked, as there will be no inflow of visitors to a troubled area.
It is against this backdrop, therefore, that repositioning the tourism industry in the states, particularly in Taraba State, is very important. Government must take some practical steps such as the provision of infrastructure, like roads airport/ air strips, considering that government around the world, including developing ones, are faced with economic downturn and deteriorating revenues, and are exploring ways of diversifying and expanding their economies and revenue sources.
Sadly, with its vast natural resources, unmatched scenery, good climate, the difficulty though is that these ‘nature’s gifts’ have not been fully matched by commensurate efforts and investment in order to turn these potentialities into reality for the good of the state and country. But, for this to happen, there is a need for partnership between the government and the private sector, which must be properly articulated.
For example, the state, in conjunction with the private investors, who often focus on long-term returns rather than short-term gains, can develop and turn its forest, lake, rivers, parks, wildlife and the temperate mountains into first class tourist sites and destinations. Only then will tourists throng Nigeria with hard currencies to savour these attractive sites. And if this were to happen, in the long-run, the state’s economy will receive a huge boost, benefitting both the government and the citizens, who may want to be involved in the industry as operators of lodges, tour guides or hand craft vendors, among others. Aside this fact, the industry remains a great employer of labour, which, in this period of increasing unemployment, is the perfect antidote to solving the unemployment scourge.
It is in this regard that we unequivocally call on the federal government and, in particular, that of Taraba State, to start the process of weaning itself from the unhealthy dependence on the monthly federation allocation by intensifying efforts to develop the vast untapped tourism industry in the state and the country as a whole.