By Y Chuks Nwanne
Apart from Cross Rivers State, which has successfully launched itself into the league of top tourism destinations in Africa with the yearly Carnival Calabar, if there’s any other state in Nigeria that has what it takes to play big in the sector, then it is Plateau State.
With its strategic location and natural endowments, tourism remains a low hanging fruit for the state, especially in Jos, the state capital. Unfortunately, insecurity and lack of commitment on the part of government remains a major challenge to the actualisation of this dream.
Just few days ago, the Prince of Wales had to cancel his trip to Jos over security concerns. This follows months of deadly clashes between nomadic herders and farmers in the restive region. Prince Charles and his second wife, Camilla, were recently in Nigeria and were expected to travel to Jos on Thursday, the last day of their stay, to discuss peace building and conflict resolution.
In his quest to development Jos as a major tourism destination in the country, the Plateau State government has adopted new strategies towards the actualization of its tourism agenda.
According to Governor Simon Lalong, his administration is not leaving any stone unturned in its effort to make tourism its mainstay.
“I want to give credit the first governor of the state, who in his wisdom saw the need to create and put lot of potential on tourism in the state. I think he brought the first Museum, zoo and a lot of things.
Because the potential are all there and we have good weather, Plateau was nicknamed ‘the home of peace and tourism.’ We kept on calling it home of peace and tourism until when we started having some crisis in the state,” he said.
While assuring that his administration is making efforts to curb insecurity in the state, Lalong said, “We wanted to pay attention to tourism but we need to develop some policies framework to guide the process; that unfortunately we have not done.
All we always mention about tourism, we have not done. This time, we have decided to focus on tourism, which means that we are going to be paying more attention to the sector as a source of great revenue for not only Plateau State, but also for Nigeria.
Instead of running to Kenya or UK because of the weather, what we just need to do is to develop Plateau State so that people will find a much more better holiday resort for themselves.”
Already, the governor has declared a state of emergency on tourism, with the hope of getting meaningful result.
“We have agriculture, which we are developing right way; we have minerals that are already there. But now, we’ve made tourism a part of our five policy thrust.
First of all, we are ready on the number one, which is peace and security. You cannot introduce tourism without peace; tourism and peace go together,” he said.
On the negative perception about Plateau State, especially Jos, the governor explained, “Sometimes, seeing is believing; the impression given outside on Plateau is not always the case when you see things for yourself. People will tell you at the airport that you have to be very careful and also what the international community says about this country is unfortunate.”
On how he intends to sustain the momentum, he said, “First of all, I already have a memo on my table. Now if you are thinking about a policy for tourism development, it is not a one-year thing or a one tenure thing.
So, in order to develop stability you must have a framework, which is an introduction to the tourism development step. So when they brought the position paper, I said we will approve it and we will also develop a police, which will also be approved by the executive. And when it is acceptable by the executive, it’s like a law in the state; it will be difficult for subsequent administration to come and say they are doing away with it. We have seen it happen in so many states, we have seen the benefits in so many countries, which have strategically position tourism to grow their economy. What I’m doing is not for my tenure; we are developing it for posterity, and for a long term,” he said.
On the proposed plan to revive golf tourism in the state, he said, “In the last two years, we have produced professional golfers from this state, who can compete in any international competition.; we have up to 20 professional golfers. When I came, we had no green course to train, now we have two standard ones and we are preparing the third.
Rayfield Golf Course is the oldest golf course in the country constructed in 1913. Miners came and they started playing golf here in Nigeria. It is over 100years because we celebrate the centenary of the Rayfield golf Course few years ago. We are trying to bring out the beauty of the golf course back, so by the time we finish the green, the historical aspect will be a brand that will bring international golfers to the state.