Destruction of Shere Hills: A symptom of the short-sightedness plaguing Nigeria

Modern tourism has become a sector for development in its own right; it is in fact a new driver for economic growth and development across the world. When managed by a visionary and forward thinking government, it has the potential to be equal in volume of returns to oil revenue. Key findings of new research suggests that, with effective planning and development, Africa’s tourism industry could create 3.8 million jobs over the next 10 years. Already, 1 in every 20 jobs in Africa involves tourism and the travel industry.

According to the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, NTDC, headed by Sally Mbanefo, the tourism sector in Nigeria generated over $1.1 billion in 2015. This revenue was generated from the related expenditure, which was realized as a result of over 5 million tourists who visited Nigeria that year.

In Nigeria, Jos is that city on the list of places to go for every traveller, both to locals and foreigners alike. You would hear about the City, the incredible rocks, and the foods you won’t believe are grown there; from Coffees, to Apples, to Strawberries, Irish Potatoes among others, the tourist sites and the remarkable weather unlike anywhere else in Nigeria.

Jos, Plateau state, at 4,062 feet above sea level, 111 miles from the Nation’s capital with a temperate climate averaging a range between 21 – 25 Degrees Centigrade and 11 degrees centigrade has always been a top destination both for Staycation purposes and expatriates visiting or living in the country.

Tourism sells Jos as easy as Oil sells the southern city of Port Harcourt and after my first visit, I knew there was no way I wasn’t coming back. There is a lot of Love from people who grew up in the city even if they no longer live there, it is said, that people who grew up in Jos and moved never get over the city.

Recently however, there may not be reasons to visit Jos anymore as the cash strapped Plateau State, rather than explore possibilities of exploiting its tourism potential as a quick win and revenue generator, is looking to destroy the gifts nature bestowed on the state. While arguments can be made that the outcomes lead to same purpose; revenue generation for the state, one cannot but say the state is being shortsighted.

If one of the most Iconic Sites and face of tourism in the state, the Shere Hills, located at Jos East Local Government Area can be ravaged by both illegal miners and contractors blasting through the rocks with dynamites to extract gravel, then it may only be a matter of time before this short-sightedness overtakes whatever is left of The Home of Peace and Tourism.

Sam Onyemelukwe is the CEO Trace Music Africa. He lives and works in Lagos but had gone back to Jos for a secondary school reunion. He and a couple of former classmates would go again to see this site they loved while growing up.

‘First thing we noticed is that there were no roads leading to it. So we stopped and before we had the chance to ask anyone about the route, we found equipment, all kinds of heavy Equipment. Some of it looked like mining equipment; you could find conveyors, etc.

‘There were many guys working there. We saw an area being quarried; it was obvious they were blasting through because some of the rocks had dynamite holes in them. We took pictures.’

When I asked him how that made him feel, his response was as helpless as that of everyone who has observed government actions or the lack of it in Nigeria and can do little if not nothing at all about it. ‘You have to understand that, about the Shere Hills, it has the most distinctive rock formation you have ever seen, there is a distinctiveness about it that has made it a tourist attraction. The entire Hillcrest community was proud to have such in the area. We were shocked to see what it has become’

It appears no one saw this coming. Popular movie maker Steve Gukas, born in Jos and having fond memories of rock climbing and Picnics at Shere Hills cannot comprehend the rationale behind the decision.

‘I would like to err on the part of Government being totally unaware of the activities ongoing there because I cannot imagine they can let this happen’. As if any convincing was necessary as to what the Hill means for the city, he went on:

‘You see, it is not just one hill; it is a range of hills/rock formation. The whole landscape is iconic, a beautiful terrain. Everyone who grew up in Jos loved that we had such tourism offering and the damage going on there, for whatever reason is completely unacceptable. It is akin to some people blasting through Zuma Rock in Abuja’.

Could government be allowing this because of the ongoing recession, and therefore leveraging on whatever avenue exists to get extra funds?

Businessman and Jos Resident, Elias Sarkis refuses vehemently, ‘if they needed money, there are tons of other rocks in the state to destroy. They had no business anywhere near the Shere Hills. If this can happen to one of our celebrated sites, what then can we invite outsiders to come and see? And about the short term value to be got from this he said, ‘Gravel currently being dynamited from the site is lowest value in the spectrum of extracts to be gotten from the rock. So tourism value as well as cash value is being lost, all at the same time.

He did not agree about government ignorance, he insists; the operation is big enough that government cannot feign ignorance. Moulds Construction Company currently executing the blasting according to him executes contracts for the state government so how possible is it that this is without approval?

Steve Gukas maintains that Moulds Construction Company has a healthy share of the blame. He does not think a responsible company will be a part of this.

Shere hill in Jos

The federal ministry of Mines and Solid Minerals is unaware of such activities, was not asked for approval for such and therefore did not give any.

The Plateau state Commissioner for Lands, Festus Fwangter only heard about this a few days ago. He had been contacted by some folks who had been spoken to for this piece and here is what he found out: That Moulds Construction Company had bought and paid compensation to the native owners of the land, the Afizere People 3 years ago. Following the recent social media outrage, the Traditional ruler of the community has now been summoned for explanation while Moulds has been suspended from doing any further work at the site.

Modern sustainable tourism entails finding tourism solutions, which are eco-friendly. The activities presently going on at the Shere Hills, Jos is symptomatic of a much larger leadership short-sightedness plaguing the entire country. The Plateau state government has a responsibility to protect Landmarks in the state, a responsibility they have, by this sale, failed at.