Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Mallam Ibrahim Musa Goni as the 3rd Conservator General of the Federation since the creation of National Park Service, which is the bastion of Nigeria’s quest to husband and protect our virgin flora and fauna resources for generation yet unborn.
Those who had held this strategic but usually unappreciated position in the past were Alhaji Lawan Marguba, and Tanko “technical” Abubakar who retired about a year ago. Before the appointment of Ibrahim Musa Goni who incidentally is one of the many young and progressive conservators within the system, it was Marguba as the first Conservator – General that gave NPS the much needed grounding and operational focus.
There is no doubt that Marguba imposed pressure on himself and the NPS system on the need to establish the organization as a property of the Nigerian people. The truth however is that the Nigerian people are too far away from the dreams and vision of Marguba’s NPS, even till date.
As nature tourism journalist, am yet to see within Nigeria’s public institutions the kind of selfless service and work rate to which Marguba and his conservators brought to bear in repositioning protected areas management in Nigeria.
Under Marguba’s watch, collaborative relationships with key foreign and local Conservation Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) were pursued with vigour and tracked to open-up the frontiers of our various natural resource laboratories across Nigeria six geopolitical zones.
Indeed, and very significant, are the relationships established by NPS with Nigeria Conservation Foundation (NCF) which gave birth to Okumu National Park in Benin and also to Savannah Conservation’s impact into the birth of Kamuku National Park in Brinin Gwari in Kaduna state.
Infact, this Park in Brinin Gwari, Kaduna state was the first “official and professional” call of Ibrahim Goni as a senior Conservator of Park. Goni fought with his life to keep the young Park together as Fulani herdsmen ravaged the Park and killed and injured many of his operational field officers known as Park Rangers. Unrelenting and determined, Goni sought the assistance of the Gwari traditional institutions and local hunters to bring the rage against the Park down. Goni like every conservator was pained to see his men killed in cold blood by the same people who will benefit from the presence and existence of the protected enclave.
Marguba while in office and as “God father” of NPS enthroned a faultless community relation mechanism which embraced the owners of the land (protected areas) as key beneficiaries of government development strides in education, health and community commercial activities.
This strategic effort is to ensure that the people who gave up their vast forest for the good of the nation and generations yet unborn do not suffer want or neglect on account of their resources in the hands of government.
The community support zone strategy which had become the face of NPS across the nation, remains a key study effort which must be recommended to other key institutions of government saddled with the responsibility of harnessing national resources within the ambit of local jurisdictions.
However, I must submit that NPS despite all these key gains, particularly the professionalization of its work force which is para-military in nature, is yet to sustainably market its vision and mission to the Nigerian people, the elite in particular.
While the common man on the street thinks that NPS is about “Motor Parks”, the elite ignorantly compare its evolution with established Parks in South Africa, Kenya and even in the United States where the business of protected areas stated centuries ago with the Yellow Stone National Park. While the South African, Kenya and the American system enjoyed top funding and effective legislation, and tourist visits, the Nigerian Park system remains poorly funded and operate with obsolete equipment, hence the high rate of fatal records and some most preventable and avoidable incidents involving the ranger operatives while tourism traffic is still very low.
It is not just enough to hand over an assignment to a leader, it is readily important to provide such leader with funds and logistics to deliver on mandates. Ibrahim Musa Goni is not lacking in leadership qualities having been trained by his forerunners in NPS, what Goni needs to reinvent NPs is adequate funding and provision of logistics for the protection of the Parks across the country, some which are big in size as most states in Nigeria.
We also wish to see Goni take the message of Conservation back to the people, a development which will not only endear NPS to all but will also attract support to its activities in cash and kind. There is no denying the fact that it is what people know about that they will appreciate and will shower love, so Ibrahim Musa Goni as the new CG of NPS must not shy away to occupy the public space of conservation education, legislation, funding and nature tourism in Nigeria.
As a grounded insider, Ibrahim Musa Goni must hit the ground running and must ignore and drown the noise of detractors and portfolio conservators outside NPS with verifiable progressive efforts to sustain the dream and vision establishing NPS.
Though it may be tempting to revenge over one’s perceived enemies, it is however advisable for the new CG to forgive all past wrongs and get NPS work force united and reinvigorated for a new dawn. Today the call of history on the lifetime of Ibrahim Musa Goni has began as the Conservator – General of NPS and what he makes of this huge opportunity lies in his own hands and not in the hands of any man. Welcome to the hot seat, Mr. CG.