Experts in tourism have expressed concern over the increasing challenges posed by insecurity across the country. They said that these challenges have negatively affected tourists’ destination, especially in the northern regions of the country.
They argued that apart from the North, which has been ravaged by the activities of Boko Haram insurgents, making travels and tours difficult, other parts of the country are also faced with the problem.
Although, many conspiracy theories have been adduced for the deadly attack at the Ogba Zoo and Nature Park in Benin, Edo State, especially with the death of security director, Dr. Andy Osa Ehanire, this sad incidence must have sent jitters into the spines of tourists.
It would be recalled that gunmen reportedly attacked the iconic Ogba Zoo and Nature Park in Oredo Local Government Area of Edo State, during the peak hours of tourists’ activities, leaving three policemen attached to the Edo Police Command dead, while the whereabouts of Ehanire still remained unknown, but presumed to be in his abductors’ den.
The Daily Times gathered that the policemen, who were posted to provide security for fun seekers died in the ensuing surprise attack, just as they also lost their service rifles to the assailants.
Spokesman of the Edo Police Command, DSP Moses Nkombe, who confirmed the killings and abduction on the phone, said that the attackers would soon be brought to book, as security had been beefed up in the area, just as he assured members of the public that the park is safe for fun seekers.
Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, has since condemned the attack, saying, he would soon meet President Muhammadu Buhari on the need to restructure the Edo Police Command so as to strengthen the state’s security situation.
The governor, while describing the incident as unfortunate, said that Edo had not witnessed such incidence for a long time.
“As we move toward the end of the year, this kind of occurrence is not unusual, but we have taken necessary steps to stop such,” Obaseki said.
Similarly, the Federal Government in condemning the attack and kidnapping of Ehanire, described it as ‘saddening and most unfortunate.’
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who made the government’s position known, said, in a statement that the attack on one of the country’s foremost tourist destinations was a big blow to ongoing efforts to lift the tourism sector in the country.
”The success or failure of a tourism destination depends largely on a safe and secure environment. Incidences, such as the attack on the Ogba Zoo and Nature Park therefore negate the concept of tourism as well as government’s determination to develop our tourism industry as a tool for socio-economic development.
”The killing of the three policemen attached to the zoo to provide security for fun seekers, the abduction of the zoo boss and the trauma suffered by the visitors who witnessed the attack are saddening, condemnable and most unfortunate,” he said.
Also, the umbrella body of travel and tourism operators, the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) strongly condemned the incident.
In a statement by its President, Alhaji Saleh Rabo described it ‘as a sad development for the Nigerian tourism industry and a major set-back for the little gains made by the Nigerian tourism industry.’
“I find it difficult and unacceptable that such a thing should happen at a tourist site in the country. The kidnap of Ehanire at the Ogba zoological Gardens is a serious set-back for the tourism industry.
We are putting in efforts to promote local tourist sites and also promote our sites and destinations as safe to visit. Ehanire has contributed so much to this industry and is at the forefront of the drive to develop it and make tourism a major income earner for the country.
It is unfortunate that he would now fall victim of kidnap. It is important for the Nigerian tourism industry that Ehanire is safely released back to his family.
“We are appealing to his captors to immediately release him and also call on the Edo State Government to leave no stone unturned to effect the release of Ehanire,” FTAN said.
The operators also called on the government to increase security at tourism sites to avoid such occurrence in the future: “Tourism is big business and cannot flourish under insecurity.
All tiers of government should ensure that our sites are safe and secured. This is the only way they could attract visitors as no tourist would like to go to any site that is unsafe.”
However, it was noted that the abducted Ehanire has for decades been involved in a running battle with highly-placed indigenes of the state who had engaged others from communities surrounding the zoo in destroying and encroaching on the nature park.
The battle by the zoo’s management, which has also reached the court as the management had sought its intervention in checking alleged land-grabbing moves by indigenes, communities and other interested parties, only recently in June attracted the attention of the state governor, Obaseki, who granted the management team audience following a desperate appeal to his office.
At the June meeting, Ehanire in company of the Chairman of Ogba Zoo Board, Prof. (Chief) EU Emovon had urged Governor Obaseki to quickly set up a panel to investigate the circumstances surrounding the loss of nearly 70 per cent of the company’s land to land grabbers.
“We seek the intervention of His Excellency the Governor of Edo State, to set up a special investigative panel to look into the destruction of the Zoo Staff quarters and the conversion of the land for private development, in violation of a subsisting Arbitration judgement.
“This investigation should naturally extend to the scandalous incursions and destruction of nearly 70 per cent of the zoo, since we currently hold the unenviable record of being the most vandalized Zoo in Nigeria.
We have absolute confidence in the integrity of the Governor to do justice to these disturbing issues plaguing Ogba Zoo, as only a panel set up by the Governor can guarantee neutrality, rather than the intended investigation by the House of Assembly,” said Ehanire.
Following that meeting, Obaseki immediately acceded to the appeal of the Zoo’s management with the setting up of an investigative committee to look into these complaints and charged with making recommendations within six weeks.
Many believe that the Obaseki’s panel may have indicted the highly-placed Edo indigenes, some of who, according to Ehanire, are lawmakers at the State’s House of Assembly.
It would be recalled that in the same June also, the Ogba Zoo management raised an alarm over moves by the state House of Assembly members to set up a probe over allegations it levelled against the zoo of trading in animals kept in its custody, an accusation the management denied as a ‘spurious petition that had neither been verified nor investigated.’
“It was alleged in the so-called petition that the Zoo animals had all been traded off and that the Zoo is now worse off from our management intervention, so much so that we are to be subjected to an investigation.
Gentlemen of the Press, these grave allegations were the subject of a sensational Press coverage in the House that we see as an attack on the reputation of the Zoo and its Management, especially when the allegations had not received preliminary or even a cursory verification.
“It was expected that at the receipt of such a petition, the Honourable House would seek to bring such to the attention of the Zoo’s management, being partners in progress, since the Zoo is a foremost tourism asset of the State, as well as a conservation heritage.
We would have expected that the Honourable House would have even brought the petition to the State’s Ministry of Environment that has competency as a regulatory authority over the Zoo.
We would have expected to be invited by the appropriate Committee of the House in charge of Tourism or Environment to underscore a latent consummation of liaison and synergy.
“We were not accorded any of these privileges stated above or even the benefit of doubt, but these disturbing issues were thrown into the public domain to the effect of misleading the public as to the State’s tourism standing and creating a negative or perverted image that has caused severe harm to the Zoo, its Management and its clientele.
Schools on excursion, as well as other visitors come daily from as far as Delta , Bayelsa, Anambra, Ondo and Kogi States, on account of this facility that provides conservation education and recreation to children, scholars, our teeming youths and those of all ages;
so such negative signal being put out in the public domain will unwittingly dissuade them from this important tourism circuit, thus causing further stress to the economy of Edo State,” said Ehanire at the press meeting in Benin.
Ehanire said: “We are actually in damage control mode, since a public facility like the Zoo is always open for easy verification and confirmation if there is any disappearance of lions or other species.
As a privately managed Zoo that was rescued by us after it had suffered prolonged atrophy and extensive decay under the government, we can at least reveal that all the physical improvements and animal collections in the Zoo now are all from private efforts and not what can be brought under any charge of misappropriation or mismanagement of any kind.
“It is rather uncanny that the Zoo Management only recently brought a Court action against some principal officers of the House of Assembly in their private capacities for the destruction and conversion of six (6) blocks of Zoo staff quarters and taking over the land for their private developments.
This charge against the Zoo Management, coming from the House so soon after we initiated this Court action, gives the impression that it is designed to intimidate the Zoo Management and dissuade it from pursuing a legitimate legal action in the public interest.
“Perhaps, the honourable Members are not aware that the Zoo recently won an Arbitration judgement, in which the same Zoo quarters is amongst the reliefs granted to the Zoo Management, in the overriding consideration that since the inception of the Zoo,
the quarters served the purpose of providing critical accommodation for Zoo staff in close proximity to the Zoo, in the interest of public safety concerns.
It is rather unfortunate, therefore, that soldiers were used to chase away the occupants of these quarters and the buildings were summarily demolished one month after the Arbitration judgement.
“It is a common charge we make that zoos lack institutional support in this clime, as the Ogba Zoo has been thoroughly vandalized by land grabbers in recent years and we have not received any solution from this honourable House.
Rather, this House spent more than three years (2012 -2015) investigating the demolition of some illegal structures on the Zoo land; and at the end of it all, the Zoo lost almost 70 per cent of its entire expanse to land grabbers, only for some of its members to be found to be complicit in the very same act,” he added.
According to Ehanire, the Ogba Zoo, as a privately managed facility, was ‘rescued by us after it had suffered prolonged atrophy and extensive decay under Government,
we can at least reveal that all the physical improvements and animal collections in the Zoo now are all from private efforts and not what can be brought under any charge of misappropriation or mismanagement of any kind.’
On his frustration with the lawmakers over the problem of land-grabbers, Ehanire, said: “It is a common charge we make that zoos lack institutional support in this clime, as the Ogba Zoo has been thoroughly vandalized by land grabbers in recent years and we have not received any solution from this honourable House.
Rather, this House spent more than three years (2012 -2015) investigating the demolition of some illegal structures on the Zoo land and at the end of it all, the Zoo lost almost 70per cent of its entire expanse to land grabbers, only for some of its Members to be found to be complicit in the very same act.”
The popular Ogba Zoo, which was designed and developed in the early seventies by then military Administrator, late Brig. General S. O. Ogbemudia, was an extensive biological garden, with potential for resort development.
In tandem with the ambitious and iconic scale of Ogbemudia’s drive and vision for the defunct Midwest Region, later Bendel State, and now Edo / Delta States, Ogba Zoo was at par, or even surpassed most of its kind, both far and near.
However, soon after Ogbemudia’s regime, Ogba Zoo suffered a long era of decline and eventual collapse, spanning the late eighties and nineties.
He said,“It must be understood that the decline and neglect of any zoo is always horrible, since without a proper winding-down procedure, the animals suffered neglect and deprivations akin to torture.
It is instructive that the treatment of wildlife in any society can be likened to the barometer for measuring the level of its humanity, hence the circumstances of the collapse of Ogba Zoo, or any of such therefore, would amount to criminal neglect in humane or civilized societies.
“Nevertheless, Ogba Zoo experienced a painful rebirth through our rescue mission, which was purely self-financing, with no support from Government.
On the contrary, it is the nature of the Lease Agreement that our private sector led eco-tourism outfit pays rents to government. But as challenging as reviving a dormant zoo was, there were other hidden challenges that can hardly be imagined in a sane society.
“It started as a minor incursion by community land grabbers into the zoo land, until it was aided by official government instruments in the form of a gazette.
Even with Government claiming, soon after, that it committed an error in issuing such gazette, the errant instrument has not been repealed for more than ten years running, but left to serve as a license for unlimited plunder of a foremost tourism heritage of the State.
“All these years of battling the encroachment on the Zoo, our private-sector led management was as good as left to solely tackle the growing menace unaided.
With little or no response to dozens of memos crying for speedy deployment of Government machinery to dislodge and prosecute offenders, the area encroached upon grew from about 10% of the zoo land that was purportedly ceded by the gazette, to more than 60 per cent of the entire Zoo.
“It was like a horror movie to see bulldozers levelling priceless forestry in this pristine conservation heritage that had been a classic urban forest rarely found anywhere in the world.
It is a sad commentary that these last three years (2014 to 2016) have seen the greatest devastation of the zoo, even when the then Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, would be making pronouncements as to immediate government’s intervention.
While not tolerating any nonsense in other areas, all the administrative machinery of his government was appearing helpless in the face of the onslaught on Ogba Zoo.”