Engineer Habu Mamman is the Sole Administrator of the foremost Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi. In an exclusive interview with our Correspondent, Samuel Luka, he speaks about his efforts to revamp the reserve, private investment , amongst others. Excerpt
Q: Sir, you were appointed and saddled with the responsibility of turning around the fortunes of Yankari Game Reserve by the current administration of Governor Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar. Now tell me how you worked to achieve that?
A: Thank you very much. You know being a Sole Administrator is actually an interventionist assignment, it doesn’t follow some of the due processes , but sometimes you just have to follow necessary processes.
And to be candid, I have the full backing of the government in order to rejuvenate this place, and I think if you had been here before, you probably would have understood what I mean.
When we came here, Yankari was in terrible shape, apart from the issues of the insurgency that didn’t allow people to come, even for people who come here the services were very poor, about 40 per cent of the rooms could not be used, you can’t call them rooms, so many things. So, when this administration came in and the governor was here, fortunately for us he was once a Secretary in Yankari in 1984, so he has passion for the place, and when he came in, the first meeting, major assignment of the government was held in Yankari, that is the meeting of the progressive governors, and so many things were against it , but the governor insisted that it has to be in Yankari.
Therefore, little renovations were carried out on important places that governors and other guests will stay and the meeting was successful.
Two days after the meeting I was made the Sole Administrator of the reserve, and I started work.
I understand that most of the structures in Yankari was put on by the former governor Ahmed Muazu. Sir, what other structures or infrastructure have been added by the present administration of governor Mohammed Abubakar?
A: Well, actually the buildings were put up by Ahmed Muazu, some of the world were even done by former governor Isa Yuguda, although very minimal. When we came in , the buildings were there quite okay but I mean you cannot put somebody in just a building ; our concentration here was not to add any other building or any other structure but to improve on what is available and that is what we have been doing.
I can tell you, when we came here, if assuming all the rooms were to be occupied you don’t even have the bedsheets to give to the people, you don’t even have towels, you don’t have so many things.
Our immediate focus was to look at the services that are required by a standard hotel and provide them. But that notwithstanding, we have an airstrip that has just come on board and is almost completed now, that one is a very major project for a place like this because an airstrip will not only allow people that can come by air to come, but it will also allow for our conservationists to use airplanes to do so many other things for us on the reserve.
By and large, maybe, you must have seen the gate, the entrance to Wikki, it was in bad shape before, if you had come here before we took over but this was put on by the present administration of governor Abubakar, and then we have outsourced so many things for people who can come here.
For instance, if you cannot have light here , you cannot have water, these are the basic things, if you don’t have them I mean you don’t have a resort.
For us to maintain water daily here is a very big service that by the time you completed them and say you are going to quantify them, you will have a very much structure.
This reserve was first managed by the Federal Government before it was handed over to Bauchi state government during governor Ahmed Muazu. How do compare Yankari then and now?
Well, first of all let me give you the history of the reserve, it was created in 1956 by the then Northern Nigerian government, then after the creation of Bauchi state, that was Bauchi, it was managed by Bauchi state, then it was handed over to the National Park ,but I think in 2005 or 2006, Ahmed Muazu fought for it and collected it back.
To be candid , the setback this place had was giving it to the National Park because me, I don’t know, as somebody who has a stake in it; I believed the people who were brought here to run the place had no stake in it, they had no stake , they don’t care, most of the animals were being killed deliberately, and nobody cared about what the structure is being put here ,and so the whole place was terrible, so it was good that Ahmed Muazu collected it from the Federal Government, and since he collected it you can see his commitment, every thing, the road from Dindima to Yankari, we call it Ahmadu Bello Way, and then you can see the road network inside the Yankari and you can see the buildings he has put in place.
The APC- led administration, first when it emerged it , promised to diversify the economy from oil to other sectors like tourism. How has the Yankariunder your supervision, assisted in the area of job creation and revenue generation for the people of Bauchi state?
Well, thank you for that question. Definitely that is one of the cardinal points of the APC,- led administration, and not only Yankari, I don’t know whether you know of the Sumu Wild Life Park, because the wild life park is also in Bauchi , and is under my supervision.
We have tried our best to see that these things just come up from where they were stalled because actually this place is in the Northeast, we had insurgency in the Northeast although we didn’t feel the brunt of it , but the perceptions of the people to the insurgency had made people to fear coming here.
The first thing we started to do was to built the confidence of tourists and I think we are succeeding in doing that. We cannot say we have generated money to the state but we have not also collected a single kobo from the government to do anything that you see here, everything that is in here is being done by the monies being generated from this place; and very soon, probably in two, three months time, we must have reached a certain threshold that we may not be needing much more monies to do maintenances, so, some monies will be going to the state government.
Not only that, we are also disposed to people who want to come and partner with us, and then because to be candid government has no business doing this type of business because you cannot work with the government ministry or government institution, you need private people to come and put their monies and then do the needful, because we have gone out, we have seen so many places that are working very well, most of them are done privately and not by government, definitely government will set the regulations ,but the people run it, and then we are also on that track.
Okay, from what you have just said, it seems you are calling for private investment in Yankari. What incentives do you have for the would -be investors?
Any investor that comes, well to start with, we now have the DG investment promotions in Bauchi state , and it is a one stock shop for any type of investment that you want to do in Bauchi, because in Bauchi we have minerals, we have agriculture, we have tourism and we are opening our doors up for investors.
Investors have been coming both for all the sectors that I have mentioned, and so many incentives have been created in terms of, I told you of one stock shop, that one you just go to one office and you have finished all your job and then taxes, there are some moritoriums, certain taxes that you cannot, we give you some certain years before we start collecting taxes.
Even the arrangement that we will go in with you, give you certain years before we start thinking of collecting the money, all these are part of incentives that we want to give to the investors that are coming, probably if the DG BIPA were here he would have told you more about this, because he is more of the economist than I.
Have you been able to get some investors who have indicated interest for investing in tourism sector in Bauchi?
So many. we have Nigerians, they have come, some of them have brought proposals, we have Chinese, they have come.
Last week , South Africans came, about 21 of them because there was a trip we made to South Africa and because of that they returned the trip, they were actually coming for tourism and even aviation, because they want to do an aviation school or something like that in our airport, they came and fully loaded with all those things, so they put in their queries, we have answered them and they went back and we are waiting for their replies, but definitely ,there are some people that are interested, in fact even Nigerians and we are opening it up for everyone who wants to come and invest in the sector.
One of the problems bedeviling tourism sector, particularly game reserves , is the issue of poaching. How have you been able to contain the unwanted guests in Yankari game reserve?
Well, definitely poaching is a very serious problem to not only us, but to any conservation in the world. Here, it has been a very big problem to us because in those days some of the animals cannot even be seen and probably it is because of the issue of shootings they hear every now and then of guns, but we have now entered into an MOU with WCS, WCS is Wild life Conservation Society of New York .
They are on the ground here, they train our Rangers, they equip them for anti-poaching activities. So, that one has drastically reduced the activities of poachers, we arrest them and then we take them to court when we get them.
And then, we have our Rangers about three camps, every night, sleeping inside the bush, but we cannot cover the whole bush, it is 2244.10 square kilometres, so it is very large, but at least we know where most of the animals are and we concentrate most of our activities in those areas.
Quite honestly, we are succeeding in arresting the anti poaching activities in the reserve with this MOU.
How can you describe the commitment of govt towards tourism development in the state?
Well, I don’t know whether I am the right person to answer that question but I think, I don’t know, I would have been, I would have missed something if I had not met M A , not only on tourism but on so many other sectors.
You know when you are aged like me, you must have experienced so many things in life. Personally, it was never my intention to work under any government establishment being a private man for long, but when you see somebody who has a passion, who has the patriotism for your own state, who wants to built things, even if it is from the scratch or whether he is taking it from the middle or whatever, a person who is very patriotic, for that you have to give him a hand and put in your best to succeed.
Quiet honestly, like I told you he was a secretary in this place in 1984, so he has a passion, not just a passion for it, he wants to diversify, he wants to make sure that our economy is boosted from all angles.
I mean the credit should go to him because to start with, I am an engineer, I didn’t know much about tourism, I don’t know what it takes to keep this place , but to my admiration personally , I cannot say I have done anything better than anybody but I think the perception of what Yankari is now is far different from what it used to be, and that is best on the interest the governor has, the cooperation he has given us to run the place and with time we can even get better than that.
Alright sir, while in a game viewing, I was able to see some species of animals, such as the Water bucks, the Bush bucks, Monkeys and many others. Are there other species of animals that you intended to have them in the resort that are not present?
Well, as I told you Yankari game reserve is a natural game reserve, the animals live in a wild, there is no way you can introduce any animal in it, if animals comes from somewhere, maybe, from some other wild areas and then joined them fine, but you cannot introduce animals, you can only take animals from the wild and go and keep them on either the zoo or an excluded park like the Sumu Wild Life Park as I was telling you, but you cannot introduce animal into Yankari game reserve.
You were unlucky maybe, you didn’t see the elephants, you didn’t see the lions, because even yesterday there was an encounter between our rangers and Lion in the bush, our foot patrol team, the rangers who go on foot, they met a Lion eating its catch; and I think it warned them that they should go back and they went back.
I don’t know, if you are lucky probably if you are going ,you may meet some elephants because the elephants are now increasing in number.
There was a Leopard that was discovered last four months here, we though they have gone into extinction because the last time they were seen here was in 1986, but in some few months back, we saw them , and by analysis, they may be many because the one that was seen was actually a male and it cannot be without a female and probably kids around it.
Maybe, one day if you come again, you will be lucky to see elephants even knocking at your door.
Yankari reserve is a very foremost reserve not only in Nigeria , but in Africa ; and in a reserve such as this where even foreigners and citizens do come either for leisure or on assignment. Do you have a functional and a well equipped health facility to may be take care of any case of emergency?
A: Definitely we do. We have a clinic with doctors and nurses, we have an ambulance too that anything that go out of hand we can take it out. So far so good, we don’t have any serious case that surpassed the capacity of our clinic.
Apart from that, we have a well established hospital , which we have not put into use at the moment, it has wards, both male and female wards, it has doctors quarters also, although we have not put in the beds , but it has five five rooms, and if we are to put beds it will be probably ten , ten bed per each room for both male and female wards, that is twenty bed capacity hospital.
I think for a reserve like this, this is very well adequate. If we have that they can even be bringing in people from the surrounding communities to get medical assistance here.
But now , we have put those places into other uses, other uses in the sense that we have put our staff, NYSC and IT students in it.
For now, we don’t require that large space, what we have now is enough for us, but we have all these things , the fire service and many things, so it is just like another local government headquarters here.
In every occupation , there are tendencies of having challenges. Tell me some of the challenges that you have in running this game reserve?
Well, the challenges, you see this game reserve is supposed to be run like a Limited Liability Company because we are registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission but the staff here are mostly civil servants, and you can see the synergy between this type of thing is very very difficult.
When you run a place like a company and then your staff are civil servants there will be a lot of challenges, but challenges are not challenges that are not surmountable, we can surmount all of them.
We also have challenges in trying to satisfy the communities around us, that is the host communities.
You know , we are putting in our best to make sure that we give them some recognition and satisfaction, but you see it is not something that has to gradual.
For instance if you go to the gate you can see that we are doing water project to give the towns of Maina Maji and Yashi water supply. In fact after this interview , I will go to the gate myself to go and see what is happening.
These are challenges , because most of them they don’t understand they think that there is money every now and then, they don’t know that you have to have guests, get the guests first before you can make money, before you do the project, and that also is a challenge but we are surmounting it, we are sensitising them then we are telling them the right thing and some of them are believing us.
We also have security challenges, not that we have security incidences but because like I told you there was insurgency in the Northeast.
To encourage people to come, we have to get our security intact, so, last week about 21 soldiers were brought to us to man the gate for and we have mobile police men and civil defense apart from our Rangers.
For now , our securities are intact and most of our challenges are been surmounted.
On a final note sir, what call do you have for the government with regard to this resort?
Well, for the government, I think haven come this far, we have reached a certain threshold where we just have to open up the place to the investors, it is going to be very difficult to surrender the whole place to investors because whatever we are giving to investors is going to be something that has to do with the resort not actually the conservation because the conservation is a natural endowment from God.
There is no way you can give that to anybody , but the reserve, that is the conservation and the resort I consider them like the pedal of bicycle, you have to press the two for the bicycle to move. If the conservation is sick, the resort will be sick because nobody will come, nobody will come to this bush to just come and sleep, they would want to see the animals, and then if the resort is not good, when you come in and just go back the same day you will not be able to see the animals.
I think the government should intensify its effort in getting investors to come and invest in the reserve. It is better to get some little money and get the place properly done than to get maybe more money and the place is not properly done.
That is my call to the government, that they should try and get willing and able investors to come and then put the place in the right direction.
How many rooms can you boast of here?
We can boast of about 110 rooms now in this place now, that is rentable room accommodation which for us, I think , is a very good number, 110 rooms, whenever you have one hundred and ten rooms, it is okay, if you can have those 110 rooms occupied by tourists maybe for five days, that’s a lot of money and you can do a lot of things with it.
I think , we don’t intend as a government , to put in other rooms but we can bring investors to put in some more buildings, this is the track that we are following, this is the line we are towing now.
How can you describe your relationship with your host communities because sometimes animals destroys their farmlands. How do you resolve such cases?
Well, that is a contending issue actually, we have been having all these types of problems with the host communities, but we have arranged elephant guides from the community because most of the destructions are done by elephants.
We now have elephant guides from each of the host communities about six, twelve that once they see the elephants they task the elephant guides to direct them back to the reserve.
But you see, the problem with that is also, we have a profile zone from our court line of three kilometers, this three kilometers there is not supposed to be any farm, there is not supposed to be any dwelling, nothing, but it has been abused because you find a farm as closed as three metres to the court line.
When animals go to the place, that is where the elephant guides are supposed to use as a profile zone, and then people will come and tell you elephants have encroached to their farms, but those farms are supposed to be in a profile zone, they are not supposed to be farms there, we are having real issues.
These are some of the problems that we are having with them but all that, if you can repair their schools, give them water and try as much as possible to make sure the animals don’t go anywhere into their farms, I think they are now understanding it ; and we are in a good relationship with them.