SAVING THE NATIONAL PARKS (2)

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There is urgent need to reposition the parks as resources for economic development

One federal agency that has deliberately distanced itself from the development strides of the various governments in the country is the National Park Service. Not even the mantra of economic diversification has been able to resonate with this establishment. As we stated yesterday in the first part of this series, our National Parks are comatose, decrepit, and even obscure and they have become emblematic of our national decay.

Meanwhile, national parks in other parts of the world have not only keyed into the conservation dynamics of the world, they are playing central roles in economic development of their various countries. For instance, within the continent, countries like Kenya and South Africa benefit a lot from wild safari expeditions which attract for them tourists from all over the world who come to see the wildlife of Africa. Yet statistics revealed that countries with attractive national parks have benefited most in this regard.

The Merriam Webster dictionary describes a national park as “an area of special scenic, historical, or scientific importance set aside and maintained by a national government” while they are usually amazing places of high ecological, scientific or historical value. That is why even when the major role of national parks is the protection of resources, many countries have capitalised on them to promote tourism, with all the attendant benefits to their economy.
Going forward, a radical measure is required to get Nigerian national parks out of cesspit they have been plunged. This agency requires a dedicated conservationist, a marketing communications professional, an outsider to the rotten system with international connections to leverage on to lift conservation in Nigeria. If anything, there should be a comprehensive probe of the application of resources since the establishment of the National Park Service in 1991.

With the federal government to commercialise the seven parks as a solution to the problem of funding, the outgoing Minister of Environment, Mrs. Amina Mohammed, has canvassed for a clearly defined role for host communities. While acknowledging the efforts to reposition the national parks as contained in the National Parks Policy document presented by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Mohammed said this would provide a long-term plan on which successive administration would build on. She added that even though “privatisation and commercialisation may not totally get rid of issue of corruption, it will bring about good governance structure.”

We agree to the suggestion by the minister that rather than pay compensation to host communities and ask them to relocate, they should be allowed to be part of the habitation so they could be engaged to compliment the security infrastructure for the national parks as measure against poaching. In the envisaged reform, according to the minister, the role of the National Park Commission as well as the relationship between states where the parks are situated and the federal government must also be defined. She said the security of rangers must also be given paramount attention as against the present situation where they are not recognised when they die in active service.

We subscribe to the ideas of the minister as we call on the BPE and other relevant stakeholders to bring them on board as they think through the process of revamping the national parks. We cannot continue to be a country where little or no premium is placed on the lives of humans, animals and trees. These vital plants and animals should be treated as natural resources and heritage that we hold in trust for generations yet unborn. But much more important, Nigeria cannot continue to treat with levity issues that have to deal with nature and the environment.