I bumped into the former managing director of Nigerian Ports Authority and one-time Chairman of the Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party as well as Chairman of the African Business Roundtable, Alhaji Dr. Bamanga Tukur, early this June 2017 and asked him just one question: How are you spending your 80s on earth and he looked straight into my eyes and said nothing.
He then whisked me into his golf cart and drove me to a location behind his house on Adetokunbo Crescent, Wuse II, which shares walls next to the Swiss Embassy, Abuja to the BMT Garden, a sprawling theme park where we spent a better part of the afternoon, reminiscing over his past and present and talking extensively about the fortunes and misfortunes of the Nigerian nation and its wasted years and opportunities.
â€œIf I had a chance of running the affairs of this country,â€™â€™ he began, â€œNigeria wouldnâ€™t have been the same again.â€
The plan was to make a case study of Gongola State or the present (Adamawa and Taraba states) as a model in Nigeria. â€œI had won in a very credible election as Governor but General Buhariâ€™s coup of late December 1983 put paid to that ambition three months after my swearing in at Government House, Yola. But I have since moved on.â€
On my question as to how he had been spending his eighties which he attained a couple of years ago, he simply pointed towards the vast theme park. â€œThatâ€™s what has occupied my time since I quit partisan politics after my 80th birthday. This theme park has got everything in it â€“ a hall for town hall meetings, a library, a swimming pool, a zoo, an entertainment complex and a number of meeting halls, cinema hall and a lot of other recreationary activities including a well-equipped gymnasium.â€
The first thing that will strike you are the paintings of several African leaders from Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Abdel Nassar, Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe and lots of great figures like Nelson Mandela and the immediate past US president, Barack Obama.
There is a new section in the vast complex created for the breaking of the Ramadan fast among a series of eateries, where you can grab good quality lunch. The diplomatic community in Abuja is specially catered for in the theme park and they gather there as the occasion demands for social activities. This area is set for the entertainment of the great men and women of society.
While we discussed, a sight-seeing coach pulled in with tourists, moving in a train-like mode. The occupants were mainly white people who normally enjoy such facilities, but as BMT, short for Bamanga Tukur told me, the theme park is projected as a facility for holiday-makers to move in and out of town as a veritable holiday destination. â€œWe are expecting loads and loads of school children coming, primary and secondary children coming around to see this theme park and energise themselves.â€™â€™
What excited me most was the zoological gardens that form a most important part of the theme park. BMT left me on my own to explore the zoo because it was Ramadan and he had to go for his prayers. There were two hyenas waiting to receive me in their den. Luckily the big one was sleeping and hardly noticed my intrusion, but the smaller one was far apart, a bit drowsy as it was late afternoon and the climate change that was spreading the heat on Abuja was very unfriendly. Various species of monkeys were on hand. Several camels were prominently accommodated as well, playing in a vast field all on their own but there was a four-horned ram that stole the show among the group of cows and goats that were caged in their own section.
I feared there could be snakes in the zoo, and was relieved when I was informed there was none yet. There is a huge tortoise that will excite the young kids and a lion is coming very shortly as I gathered that the management has sent trainees abroad to specialise in the handling of lions in a foreign zoo. The big birds were also prominently visible in the zoo, dominated by the huge ostriches which surged around my driver, Vitalis Okere, who was also enjoying the site-seeing tour of the BMT zoo.
Immediately you enter the theme park, an array of flags of African countries welcome you into the huge set up. There is a Freedom Hill with drawings of Nigerian and African leaders, starting with a drawing of the man who amalgamated the north and southern Nigeria in 1914, Lord Fredrick Lugard.
There is the Bamanga Mohammed Tukur Foundation for Education, Agriculture, Good Governance, Research, Information Communication Technology ICT, Rural Development, Youth Empowerment and Entrepreneurship. Bamanga Institute for African Trade and International Development is a chair established in the University of Port Harcourt and its work is felt in the theme park.
The theme park is obviously a garden with a difference. Abuja is actually littered with a variety of gardens, especially for drinking and dancing purposes, but this one is with a difference. In this BMT variety, you can explore much more, study, research, play around, discover the zoo and entertain yourself and your family in all sorts of ways. When I asked the owner what it cost to set up this huge edifice, he simply said that it was not about the cost, but what use it can be deployed for the society to advance.
Indeed, it is not everything you would expect government to handle. The organised private sector which is another area of expertise that BMT is passionate about is usually encouraged to help reach the parts that government cannot effectively handle.
â€“â€“â€“Amadi is a media and marketing consultant based in Abuja