Opinion: The need for improved services at Yankari Game Reserve

by Jide Ojo

I was at Yankari Game Reserve, Bauchi last week. From Tuesday, September 19 – Saturday, September 23, I was at the foremost Nigeria’s tourist site for the second time. My first visit, purely for tourism, was on July 9, 2016. However, this time around I was there for official business; to attend a three-day workshop organised by WaterAid Nigeria. During my first visit, I only stayed for approximately four hours, however, this time I was there for four nights and was, therefore, able to get familiar with the environment and assess the facilities. Before I delve into my overall impression of the Game Reserve, let me first say a few words of introduction about it.

There are over 100 tourists’ sites in Nigeria with eight of them being national parks. The parks, according to Wikipedia are: Chad Basin National Park, Cross River National Park, Gashaka-Gumti National Park, Kainji National Park, Kamuku National Park, Okomu National Park, Old Oyo National Park and Yankari National Park. Yankari was originally created as a game reserve in 1956, but later designated Nigeria’s biggest national park in 1991 and managed by the National Parks Service until 2006 when responsibility for the management of the reserve was handed back to Bauchi State Government. It is the most popular destination for tourists in Nigeria and, as such, plays a crucial role in the development and promotion of tourism and ecotourism in Nigeria. It is also one of the most popular eco-destinations in West Africa.

Let me tell you why should endeavour to visit the Park. It is a new world. It broadens visitors’ worldview about life. It is a large wildlife park that covers an area of about 2,244 square kilometres (866 sq mi). Yankari contained Nigeria’s richest wildlife oasis with over 50 species of animals and 350 species of birds. Some of the animals include the African Bush Elephant, Olive Baboon, Patas Monkey, Lions, the African Buffalo, Leopard, Wild Cat and Hippopotamus, among others. There is also the Wikki natural warm spring with excellent swimming facilities, Marshall Cave and fish ponds. The Park is reputed to be the first of its kind in West Africa.

YGR has a 110 room Wikki Resort Hotel at the centre of the Park. Other structures include a safari and conservation centre, a student’s hostel, a restaurant and bar, sports facilities, religious centres, camping ground, conference halls, a research education centre and an airstrip. I like the architectural design of the chalets. It is indeed a combination of a strong blend of traditional architecture with modern building technology. I also like the fact that the entire 115Km of the road from Bauchi town to the Park is built with solid asphalt. The environment is scenic, serene and natural. There is uninterrupted water supply. The place is also very secure with armed security personnel as well as CCTV (WCS Camera-trap) to ensure safety and security of both the animals and the visitors to the Game Reserve. There is no gainsaying that I thoroughly enjoyed my five-day stay at Yankari.

There is a saying that the biggest room in the world is that of improvement. You can always better your best. Yankari management needs to do a lot more to improve the facilities at the Park both for customer satisfaction as well as in order to generate more income. In my July 13, 2016 article in this column, I recounted my experience during my first visit. I raised the issue of the need for the management to produce branded souvenirs for sale. Am sure a lot of tourists and others there on business trips will like to buy mementoes to preserve memories of their visit. Unfortunately, more than a year after my unsolicited advice was given, nothing has been done. The only small shop that exists on the camp sells groceries. It is advisable that more stalls be allowed to offer varieties of goods for sale including arts and crafts of Bauchi State and indeed Northern Nigeria.

There is a need for improved telecommunication service at the Park. Only two telecom companies – MTN and Airtel – have network there. Thus, if you’re not a subscriber of these two, you’ll be totally shut out of communication with outside world for the duration of your stay there. The internet services offered by the two are also very slow. I advise that more GSM service providers should be encouraged to provide telecommunication services there.

Furthermore, I observed that there is no bank at the Park. I learnt that the closest place to get any banking service is at Alkaleri, the Local Government headquarters. That is quite far from Yankari which is about 40 minutes from when you turn away from Bauchi – Gombe highway. My advice is that banks should consider setting up a small office at the Park or at least install their Automatic Teller Machines to enable visitors to the Game Reserve, who may be cash-strapped, to withdraw money from their account. Point of Sale machines should also be made available to enable people who may not have cash on them to pay through the device.

The sporting facilities at the Park need to be rehabilitated. The lawn-tennis court is in a state of disrepair. The electricity supply also needs to be improved upon. Light is mostly available at night from about 6pm. Without electricity during the day, it will be very discomforting to stay in the rooms as the air conditioners will not be working and it’s not advisable to open the windows for ventilation as most of the mosquito nets are in tatters hence all manner of flying insects roam in to constitute nuisance to lodgers. I suggest the management of the Park should provide standing fans in the room as an alternative to air conditioners in case the latter malfunctions or for the use of those who are allergic to ACs. I equally suggest that strong wire-nets that are not easy to be torn off by the stubborn baboons on the camp should be installed on the windows.

The intercoms in the rooms also need to be made functional. If this communication device is reactivated it will be easy to reach out for different services including housekeeping, restaurant, reception, etcetera. The management of Yankari should also license some reliable people to offer car hire services. The restaurant should be manned by educated people who understands and can communicate effectively in the English language. They should also see to it that their customer service is prompt. I also propose that maintenance of facilities at the Park be given top priority.

I know some of these requested services will cost the management some money. However, it will be a worthy investment which will be recouped over time as more tourists who have idyllic experience will not only want to come back but will also tell their friends, colleagues and family members about their enjoyable stay thereby enticing them to visit. Only the best is good enough for Bauchi, the Pearl of Tourism.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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