Reviving Baro Empire Hills

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Laleye Dipo writes on the vandalism of Baro Empire Hills, the location of the colonial radio station used by Nigeria’s first Governor General Sir Fredrick Lugard and the economic benefits the country could derive from its revival

Not too long ago some unknown persons were said to have stormed the Baro Empire Hills in Niger State and, after a failed attempt to remove the radio communication gadgets installed on the hills by the colonial masters, set fire on the equipment, leaving only the radio transmitters standing.

The radio communication equipment was installed and used by the colonial administration of Sir Fredrick Lugard before and after the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates to what is now known as Nigeria.
According to reports, the radio station was a ‘25 kilowatts solid state analogue transmitter’ installed on the hills where the colonial masters also had their administrative building and residence, as well as residence for blacks and intermediate and middle level white staff, a cemetery and playground.

The radio equipment was housed in a solid building for its protection. It also had air conditioners to cool it and a generator to power the equipments.

From the inscription on the tomb of one of the colonial soldiers that died during service in Nigeria, the radio station and some other infrastructure on the hills could have been supplied about 115 years ago.
According to a local in Baro and submissions corroborated by officials of the Niger State Ministry of Tourism, the equipment was not used to make public broadcast, but for sending and receiving messages from the Queen of England on the general day to day administration of the colonial territory. It was also said that the station was used to send messages to troops of the West African Frontier Force which was deployed to the area by England and its signals could be received as far as Calabar, the then Gold Coast, the Gambia and other British colonies in West Africa.

The colonial masters must have strategically located the radio station and other infrastructure on the Baro Hills for security reasons, because standing on top of the hill gives a clear view of the River Niger, parts of Lokoja and even some communities in Niger State. The scenario had therefore provided the colonial administrators and its soldiers the opportunity to easily identify and ward off enemies that could want to threaten the control of the Governor General and his team.

From the ground level of the hill to its peak is said to be not less than 150ft and Sir Fredrick Lugard was reported to be climbing it with a caravan while his other soldiers and Nigerians had to sweat it to the top trekking the undulating and very rough path.

The relationship between the colonial administrators and the rest of the community was said to have been very minimal because virtually everything they wanted, from offices, recreational facilities, mess for officers and junior soldiers, as well as burial grounds, were available on top of the hill. However most of these are now dilapidated either by deliberate arson or natural rot as a result of their abandonments by governments that should have preserved these relics for posterity.

It was said that as a result of the lack of interest shown in these infrastructures, some elements from Kogi State, at a time, laid claim to the Hills and the radio equipment. The struggle for the ownership of the Hills, a reliable source said, must have been partly responsible for the vandalism of the radio communication gadgets.

“This station was functioning up to 1999 because we were hearing the sound down the hill then,” one Musa Sule said.
“I cannot say why the previous administration abandoned this hill, but what I can say is that the government of Dr. Abubakar Sani Bello will not allow the situation to continue like this,” Niger State’s Commissioner for Information, Tourism and Culture, Mr. Jonathan Tsado Vatsa, said.

“We have been there, myself, the Permanent Secretary, and some other staff; we have seen the level of destruction of the radio station, only the transmitters is standing we have made an official report to the governor. In the interim we have engaged someone to guard the place, the village head of Baro has been asked to assist in keeping an eye on the place; we will not allow the place to die like that.”

Interestingly, both the British High Commission in Nigeria and the Nigerian Army have been contacted to assist in preserving these colonial monuments. While the army was asked to look at the possibility of developing the hills and turn it to a training ground for both its field and amphibious brigades, the British High Commission was prevailed upon to bring in investors that will turn the place around, partnering with the Niger State government in the process.

A reminder on this was passed to the British High Commissioner in Nigeria, Mr. Paul Arkwright during his recent visit to Governor Bello.

On the part of the government, a proposal is already before Governor Bello to approve the construction of the road linking Baro town to the base of the Hill. The proposal also included the construction of a number of chalets and the renovation of the buildings on top of the hills to serve as tourist destination for Nigerians and foreigners.

The dredging of the Baro port by the Federal government has made the Baro Empire Hills very critical to the economic development of, not only Niger State, but the country as a whole, because those patronising the port and the rail line would have a place to relax before moving to any part of the country they would like to go.

As for the radio communication gadget, the Commissioner for Tourism, Vatsa, said the plan was to install a five kilowatt radio station in place of the burnt one, saying that the station to be known as “Lord Lugard FM Radio Station” would be used as an enlightenment station for health and agriculture. On the whole, the intention of the government is to turn the Baro Empire Hills to another Camp David, this time around ‘Lord Lugard Camp’.

There is no doubt that developing the Baro Empire Hills will generate for the state and country a lot of resources, especially now that alternative sources of fund to oil is being searched for. The political will is the only tonic required to actualise this.