There is something strange about the tourism industry and the country itself. Everything is in the realm of potential; they never mature into actuality. That is the reality of the Mambila Plateau, a tourist haven and one of the many, the country is endowed with. The irreplaceable Premier of the defunct Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, saw this prospect in the Mambila Plateau and fought tooth and nail to ensure that it was not ceded to the Cameroons.
Spurred by his visit and encouragement, the 1961 plebiscite to determine whether the Mambila Plateau should be in the Cameroon or Nigeria resulted in the people’s affirmative vote to be in Nigeria, despite the fact that Cameroon is just a breath away from them and quite a distance to Nigeria. On a good day it takes between five to six hours to drive from the capital of Taraba State, Jalingo, to the tip of the mountains. However, subsequent governments appear to have ignored and or under-estimated the prospect that the foresighted Sardauna saw, in a land so blessed that it gave the state its sobriquet, ‘Nature’s Gift to the Nation’
The Mambila is the highest mountain in West Africa; 2442 metres above sea level and Gashaka-Gumti park covering about 5000 square metres. The Mambilla is a view of peerless splendour. Besides the healing weather, the natural architecture and landscaping of the terrain, the mountain has about four untapped waterfalls and match stick-making trees. There are eucalyptus trees, (silver bird), timber plantation and a rich tea plantation, all ready for harvest all through the year. The Highland tea factory is located at Kakara, Sardauna Local Government Area, but unfortunately is enmeshed in ownership crisis between Taraba and Adamawa states and now on the verge of abandonment. The tea leaves have not been picked in months, the staff are on strike, with production halted.
Established in 1988 on about 50,000 hectares, the company has only been able to cover only about 1,800 hectres.
The Plateau is gifted with a year-round winter that peaks and becomes almost unbearable in December, and because of its high and undulating scenery, it is an ideal place for gulf courses. So endowed is it that the University College, London, is conducting researches on primates at its Gashaka Gumti Park. It is a complex geography of steep valleys separated by highlands and isolated villages on valley bottoms, with a terrain difficult for motorized transport. Daytime temperature on the Mambila hardly exceeds 25 degrees centigrade making it the coldest in Nigeria. It is a breadth-taking, beautiful and inspiring topography that dazzles.
The long delay in developing the Mambila, notwithstanding, the Taraba State government appears poised to change the lull of the past. Recently, and on the invitation of the state government, journalists led by the Chief Press Secretary, Hassan Mijinyawa, and the Senior Special Adviser (Media) Emmanuel Bello went on a tour of, perhaps, the most under- developed, under-utilised and the most neglected tourist site and national park in Nigeria. The team was marveled to no end as we beheld nature at its most refreshing best, despite over 17 hour-grueling trip, and stop overs here and there, to and from the the Mambila, Gembu and Nguroje.
Despite our complaints about the distance from the capital to the steep tip of the Mambila, some Tarabans told us that the place was now on the fringes of civilization after the one-lane road (now in use) was tarred in 1986, compared with the past when accessing their villages from the capital sometimes took up to five days even in a Land-Rover ride.
Adamu Sadiq is of the News Agency Nigeria, NAN and chairman of the Correspondents’ Chapel, in Taraba State. He said that in the late 70s and early 80s when he and his peers were still in secondary school, they could spend up to five days commuting between Yola, Jalingo and Gembu amidst intermittent stops, during which a whole day could be wasted in fixing or pushing up the mountain, broken down vehicles, as they returned from Yola/Jalingo on vacation.
Having listened to Sadiq’s tale of the ‘tranformation’of the Mambila Plateau and their new found proximity to civilization, I wondered whether the ceding of what later became known as Sardauna Local Government to Nigeria- so called because of the late premier’s role and efforts to bring the people back to the shores of Nigeria- was not a mistake. I also wondered whether it was worthwhile, considering the neglect that that part of the country still suffers today.
Sadiq said it takes him just 15 minutes to trek from his village (Dorofi) to Cameroon. Cameroon with which they even share cultural affinity is that close while their shared patrimony, Nigeria is so far away. Such are the complexities of the Mambila; complexities that should have been a plus for our diversity. The Mambila has more enriching features than the Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River State, and the Grand Cayon in Arizona in the United States, yet these two are celebrated nationally and internationally. They are big revenue earners for their state and country, respectively, because these natural gifts have been exploited to the advantage of man. The cable car in Obudu and the railway line transport to the Grand Crayon make them attractive and ‘a must-see’ for tourists and holiday makers.
Perhaps this and more must have spurred the Taraba State government to look inward for the exploitation of the Mambila Plateau. It recently organised THE GREAT TREK NIGERIA, in partnership with other stakeholders to showcase the Plateau’s investment opportunities.
Engineer Charles Nyanganji, a true ambassador of Taraba State, our knowledgeable guide and Project Director of the Survival Series, said the programme was a collaborative endeavor by the state government and Ecochallenge Nigeria to create an event around Taraba’s natural endowments. 500 people indicated their interest but only 50 contestants were selected to participate. The programme, he said offered the participants the opportunity to ‘perceive the smell, hear the sound of animals and feel the healing power’ of the highest mountain in West Africa. With an 80-man crew, it took participants 13 days to climb the mountain.
The production, according to Charles, was very successful and a winner will take home the star prize of N10million, a 4x4 SUV and a holiday in Angola. The state is putting finishing touches to the programme to be aired for 13 weeks in the last quarter of the year on local and international television stations. It will be an investor’s teaser to the abundant tourism potentials and an exposition of the riches of Taraba State.
The Nguroje community provided a relief from a long trip for us. Up and high in the mountain overlooking the winding valleys below, is Nguroje, the birthplace of the former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Babangida Nguroje, who stood by the former speaker, Patricia Etteh, before they went down together, in the crisis that rocked its leadership. The lawmaker, who is very much at home with his people, going by the way he mingled and relaxed with them, took time out to join us in his country home- Nguroje.
Face to face with another Nigeria, a part of Nigeria free from the hustle and bustle of city life, it was indeed a rewarding experience for us. Imagine the freshness of a 25 degree centigrade atmosphere, where modern conveniences like A/Cs are a rarity because there is no need for them and the land is free of mosquitoes, another problem of city dwelling brought about by congestion, bad sewer and drainage facilities.
By the time I left Taraba, my perception of it as a backwater state without infrastructure and resources had changed. Now, I know there is a lot Nigerians can see there, if only the government would make the extra effort to put its name on the tourism map of the world. It takes nothing; just the will. The Mambila Plateau is a money spinner any day.