Friday, December 24, 2010

Images of select museums

National Museum inside The Old Residency Calabar.
Baboon at National Zoo inside Jos Museum.

An Esie statuette at National Museum Esie. PHOTOS: MAURICE ARCHIBONG
National Museum Lagos.
National War Museum Umuahia.
Metal sculpture of a town crier at National Museum Ilorin.

National Museum Accra, Ghana. All PHOTOS: MAURICE ARCHIBONG

Museum offers unforgettable Yuletide

Museums, where to enjoy this Yuletide

Whether in Nigeria or some foreign land, there are countless places to enjoy Christmas; but, there is no guarantee that the tourist will necessarily have a swell time in every part of the world on 25 December simply because a nation is predominantly Christian. 

One of the reasons is because of differences in Calendar, which means that in some countries; like Ethiopia, for example; Christmas is celebrated on January 7. In other words, two weeks after Christmas had come and gone in nations, where the Greco-Roman calendar is in use; the people of the Land with burnt face, as Ethiopia is fondly known, would just be enjoying the birthday of Christ the King. The situation is similar in Russia and other Orthodox Christian nations, where Christmas sometimes falls in October or some other month of the year.
Interestingly, although Christmas falls on 25 December in neighbouring Ghana, this is not to say that the every Nigerian is likely to enjoy Christ’s birthday there. For the Nigerian used to seeing masquerades and enjoying parades in the street, the Ghanaian capital, Accra, could come across as dull during Christmas; for, the average Ghanaian spends the day at home with other members of the family.
Such were our experiences in Accra, where we spent Christmas in 1997 and 1998. In other words, if you want a quiet Yuletide, irrespective of the ubiquitous blasts of firecrackers, which remind you of Nigeria; then look to the Ghanaian capital, where; with the right connection to a typical Ghanaian family, you could savour the delectations of Apapransa, a delicacy that is for many Ghanaians what Edikang-ikong is to most Nigerians.
In many ways, Christmas is a lively, even an almost boisterous affair among nationals of ancient Dahomey (Benin Republic). Christmas in Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin Republic tends to remind of Calabar. Although this Beninoise city does not boast anything like Carnival Calabar, the tourist is likely to be sucked in by the infectious merry making.
For several days before, and well after, Christmas; an almost endless explosion of what some Nigerians call knockout (firecrackers) could be heard across Cotonou. Also, the visitor would notice that throughout the season, countless people, including complete strangers, greet you with Bon Noelle; and, that even in this comparatively poor nation, the hardworking indigenes go the extra mile to live it up by eating and drinking more than usual.

Count on Museum as best bet for unforgettable Yuletide
But whatever you do, and wherever you chose to enjoy Christmas; make the most of the season by visiting a museum. Although a few states; like Bauchi, Ekiti, Gombe and Jigawa do not have any museum at all; not all of the other 32 of Nigeria’s 36 states have a National Museum. However, prospective tourists have some National Museum or National Monument nearby, irrespective of wherever they are in Nigeria. For example, residents or visitors in Ekiti have National Museum Owo in neighbouring Ondo State; Jigawa boasts ancient rock paintings in Birnin Kudu as well as Gidan Makama (National Museum) in Kano; while Bauchi State is home to the first Mining Beacon in Nigeria around Toro.
Welcome to select National Museums, where one can enjoy education and entertainment all at once, in Nigeria. In making our choice, priority was given to National Museums that are open every day of the week as well as their collections or holdings. Also, consideration was given to the vibrancy and popularity of each of the repositories chosen.
Although the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) runs at least 30 offices in the country, not all of its outposts have a gallery in the real sense of the word. Painfully, the Ondo State capital, Akure, does not have a gallery inside the local National Museum; also, National Museums in Minna, Niger State as well as Sokoto operate inside the Federal Secretariat complex, which do not open on Saturdays and Sundays.
It is also worth noting that while the Benue State capital, Makurdi, is one of Nigeria’s most vivacious settlements at Christmas; the local National Museum was not open, when we went to enjoy Christmas 2008 there. Nonetheless, Makurdi Museum throws up its own attraction by way of a mini-zoo and some archaeological objects found in the Benue River Basin area, and is therefore worth exploring on some working week day. A right turn into Ahmadu Bello Way at the junction, where Shittu Alao Avenue meets Kuanum Acka’s Street, should take the tourist to Makurdi Museum, which is practically part of the local Government House complex.

Esie Museum, Ilorin Museum
On a more cheery note, however, the Kwara State towns of Esie and Ilorin, the state capital, boast two important museums. In fact, Esie Museum, fondly called House of Images; which is home of the world-famous Esie soap stone statuettes, is the oldest museum in Nigeria. Esie Museum was opened in 1945, whereas Jos Museum, the first National Museum in the country, was launched in 1952.

Jos Museum
Interestingly, National Museum Jos, inarguably Nigeria’s largest museum complex, has since morphed into one of the most visited repositories in these climes. One of Jos Museum’s biggest crowd pullers is the National Zoo located near the Transport Gallery, one of the many bays of this compound museum complex. Other galleries of Jos Museum complex include the Tin Mining Gallery, the Museum of Traditional Nigerian Architecture (MOTNA) and Pottery Gallery.

Benin Museum
National Museum Benin is also a must-visit destination because it offers displays of hundreds of historically and anthropologically relevant artefacts on three floors. Opened in the early 1970s during the leadership of the then Governor Samuel Ogbemudia, National Museum Benin is one of the most important repositories in Nigeria.

Calabar Museum
Talking about savouring the sights of a Museum as well as a National Monument in one go, a visit to National Museum Calabar inside the Old Residency offers the same kick. National Museum Calabar is for countless tourists that have been there one of the best repositories in Nigeria. The National Museum in Nigeria’s Canaan City is located near the Calabar Marina, and the visitor should also look in at the Slave Trade Museum inside the Marina Resort Complex, which stands a walking distance away.

National Museum Ife
Although National Museum Ife was eventually opened in 1954, the museum was actually established in 1948. But despite being one of the oldest such institutions in the country, this outpost was virtually moribund for years. Ile-Ife, or simply Ife, is an archaeologist’s heaven, given the countless pieces of antiquity that have literally floated to the surface there. Aside relics of the exquisite state of art and craft in ancient Ile-Ife, the settlement also boasts numerous monuments and sites.
Seven of these monuments/sites; namely, Lafogido Grove, Olokun Grove, Olu Orogbo, Ooni Ilare, Opa Oranmiyan, Saint David Potsherd (SDP) Pavement and Yemoo Grove are under the care of National Museum, Ife. The staff (opa) of Oranmiyan stands inside Oranmiyan Shrine in Moopa in the Aribidi end of town. Opa Oranmiyan stands roughly 16 feet in height and oral tradition has it that Oranmiyan, widely held as grandson of Oduduwa was a very powerful warrior, and that he founded the empires of Benin and Oyo.

Koko Museum
The tourist, where possible, is also advised to see the National Museum in the Delta State port settlement of Koko. National Museum Koko, officially called Nanna Living History Museum, is located in the port settlement of Koko in Warri North Local Government Area (LGA) of Delta State.
The repository is a specialized museum, dedicated to the memory of Nanna, the Itsekiri King, who was dethroned by British colonial authorities and subsequently sent into exile in Ghana. Nanna’s grandparents hailed from Jakpa, where Chief Nanna Olomu was born in 1840. Nanna Olomu subsequently founded a new town, Ebrohimi, where Nanna, the Itsekiri King, was born. National Museum Koko is housed inside the Palace of the late Nanna, King of the Itsekiri. In fact, the palace is also a National Monument, which means the visitor to Nanna Living History Museum can literally kill two birds with one stone.

Lagos Museum
Lagos, Nigeria’s Centre of Excellence boasts a National Museum at Onikan in Lagos Island. Opened in 1957, National Museum Lagos is another must-see destination because of its collection and proximity to other places of interest. Lagos Museum is adjacent to City Mall and stands almost opposite to Muson (Musical Society of Nigeria) complex.

National War Museum
The National War Museum in Umuahia, capital of Abia State; is Nigeria’s oldest War Museum. Popularly known by the acronym NAWAM, National War Museum is located in Ebite Amafor Isingwu, off Uzuakoli Road, in the Abia State capital. Although NAWAM was commissioned on 15 January, 1985 by the then Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Major-General Babatunde Idiagbon; however, Lieutenant-General Domkat Bali, then Minister of Defence and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, eventually launched the Museum four years later, on 14 September, 1989.
The museum covers a sprawling land area of about 30 by 30 meters, with the Open Air Gallery taking up the frontal. Apart from the Open Air Gallery, “Traditional Warfare Gallery,” “Armed Forces Gallery” and the “Civil War Gallery” make up NAWAM’s remaining three bays. NAWAM boasts an auditorium with a seating capacity of about 3,000, a Library as well as a subterranean exhibit, “Ojukwu Bunker,” which served as State House for the secessionist government. Ojukwu Bunker is located at Number 15B Okpara Avenue, which is called NAWAM Annexe.

Port Harcourt Museum
Nigeria’s Garden City, Port Harcourt, throws up a National Museum; whose exhibits shed much light on Rivers State culture as well as that of the country’s Niger Delta peoples generally. The exhibits, which include photographs, revolved around the theme “Life in the Niger Delta” and focus on Andoni, Ikwere, Kalabari, Ogoni and Okirika communities, the five aboriginal ethnic groups in Rivers State.
National Museum Port Harcourt is located at 2, Harley Street in the Old GRA neighbourhood of the Rivers State capital. The main block of Port Harcourt Museum was built in 1938 by officials of the Royal Niger Company (RNC), later United African Company (UAC).
After the building’s handing over to the Rivers State Government, the estate served as official residence of successive Chiefs Judge of that state until it was acquired in 1982 to house the then proposed National Museum Port Harcourt. Interestingly, by the time the museum eventually materialized, in June 2009, almost 30 years had elapsed between when the structure was acquired and formal inauguration of this outpost of the NCMM.
Port Harcourt Museum boasts a modest gallery comprising two sections; whose displays, as earlier stated, shed light on the Social and Economic life of Niger Delta peoples, especially those within today’s Bayelsa and Rivers states. Although one could not ascertain the total number of this museum’s collection, Mr. F. R. Fadamijo, Curator of NM Port Harcourt during our visit, said 144 objects were on display in the gallery, apart from others in the store.

Admission and Timings
The admission to a Nigerian museum is very affordable compared to what obtains at many museums in most other parts of the world. Believe it or not, it costs a paltry N10 for an adult to gain admission to National Museum Maiduguri! As we shall soon show; this is peanut, compared to the situation in Ghana, for example.
Aside Lagos Museum, which charges N100 or N300 per Nigerian adult or foreigner respectively; admission to the majority of Museums under the NCMM is N50 or N20 for adult or minor/student respectively, whereas the fee to enter the “gallery” at NCMM headquarters on Cotonou Crescent, Abuja is N100 per adult.
Since NCMM staffers are all on federal civil service salary structure, in spite of the unique nature of their work and hours of service; NCMM offices therefore operate from 8am to 4pm from Monday to Friday. However, National Museums’ galleries are open to the public from 9am till 5pm in most cases. Viewers visiting in the afternoon are advised to get there before 4pm. In some cases, however, a few National Museums; such as Calabar, Jos and Lagos; open everyday of the week, including Saturdays and Sundays.
Aside those already mentioned; there are many other National Museums across Nigeria. These include Museum of National Unity in Ibadan, Oyo State; Museum of National Unity in Enugu, Enugu State; Museum of Colonial History in Aba, Abia State; and National Museum in Yola, Adamawa State.

National Museum Accra
For those in Accra, a visit to the local National Museum is well advised. Opened in 1957, Ghana’s National Museum is located along Barnes Street, off Osu Road and near Asylum Down. With regard to Admission Charges, each non-Ghanaian adult is required to pay $5 (over N750) or $3 (over N450) for admission to National Museum, whereas a fee of $3 applies to each foreign student. As to timing; with the exception of Monday, the gallery of National Museum Accra is open everyday of the week; from 9am to 6pm.

A visit to the museum will prove very wise; for, the visitor is sure to learn something new. Moreover, a trip to the museum could prove a welcome break from all the over-eating and excessive drinking that some folks think the Yuletide is all about. And, what is more; a visit to the museum is something every member of the family can enjoy at once, unlike sneaking to a nightclub or spending the day at a pub. Merry Christmas!

-          For more on museums read Museums in Nigeria…and Other Lands. To order send e-mail to

Thursday, December 16, 2010

President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR   

Above and below: Igwe of Igbo Ukwu (Idu II) HRH Dr Martin Nwafor Ezeh and his Queen; Cross River - Ebonyi inter-state road in Eastern Nigeria. PHOTO: MAURICE ARCHIBONG

Horrible roads could discourage Igbos' Yuletide homecomming

Dangerous roads, not kidnapping will discourage Igbos' homecoming for Yuletide;

Oha kara isi is better than democracy ... And, we need old people’s home – Igbo monarch

“Our nationalists, Zik (Nnamdi Azikiwe), Awo (Obafemi Awolowo) and Tafawa Balewa et cetera; if they were to resurrect and see what Nigeria has become; after their entire struggle to get us independence, they would weep”! – Igwe of Igbo Ukwu

The traditional ruler of Igbo Ukwu, HRH Martin Nwafor Ezeh, has expressed fears for Nigerians travelling home for the forthcoming Yuletide because of the parlous state of the country’s road network.
During an exclusive chat with mauricearchibongtravels, the Igwe of Igbo Ukwu expressed deep worries about the safety of road-users in Nigeria, given the frightening condition of the country’s highways.

The Igbo monarch, a.k.a Idu II, revealed he has had difficulty sleeping since returning to Igbo Ukwu by road, after a visit to the federal capital, Abuja; in the first week of this month (December, 2010).

“In fact, after what I saw; it is suicidal to travel some of our roads”, he rued. Recalling the sights of mangled remains of numerous automobiles that litter the route all the way from Abuja in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), through the Kogi State capital, Lokoja, to his home state of Anambra; Idu II remarked with a sigh: “I am very sad and disturbed”.

While lamenting the shameful state of Nigeria’s road network, this paramount ruler said he was constantly praying for all road-users across this country. But, when reminded that the volume of human traffic to Nigeria’s South East geopolitical zone was likely going to be low this Christmas and New Year seasons, given fears of possible kidnappings; the royal father responded that the poor state of roads in Nigeria, not fear of kidnappers; should be seen as responsible, if fewer Igbos came home for this year’s Yuletide.

Interestingly, the Igwe of Igbo Ukwu went on to opine that kidnappings will subside; if more and more Igbos came home. He believes that the plenitude of a larger number of industrious and prosperous ones in the local mix would rub off on jobless ones and possibly discourage the latter from crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping and so on.
Hear him: “I believe that, where more of our successful people come home, they will help to spread goodwill; and, on our part; I am appealing to them to come home and help in surveying their families. By doing so, they will know the unemployed youth that could pose security threat to the larger society, if left to roam without a source of livelihood. If we can identify those ones, and find ways of keeping them gainfully engaged; I am sure that crime rate will drop drastically”, he reasoned.

Located in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State in eastern Nigeria, Igbo Ukwu is an archaeological haven of world renown. This town is also home of the annual “Iwa ji” National Festival and, not surprisingly, host of the National Yam House.
Speaking further, he homed in on the standard of living in Nigeria; and, declared: “Our nationalists, Zik (Nnamdi Azikiwe), Awo (Obafemi Awolowo) and Tafawa Balewa et cetera; if they were to resurrect and see what Nigeria has become; after their entire struggle to get us independence, they would weep”!

Asked to comment on the general elections slated for 2011, this traditional ruler advised: “Let those that know God, and understand the principals of Godliness; be they Christians, Muslims or whatever, come forward. Such people should come out and present themselves for election.
“Also, Nigerians should scrutinize any personality seeking elective office henceforth, and vote only for those that are ready to serve. People should also ensure that their votes count by acting as gatekeepers. Any one that fails to perform, after being elected must then be shown the way out; that is the only road to the development that has eluded Nigeria for decades”. 

While lamenting that pretenders have been growing fat through looting and playing one section of the nation against another, Idu II added: “We should support sincere leaders, who will make a u-turn and lead Nigeria to the Promised Land. It is only when we get there that we can claim to be independent. As things stand, we are not independent, and it is very sad; after 50 years since Britain left us to rule ourselves.
“If President Goodluck Jonathan would focus on regular electricity supply, good roads and education, Nigeria would soon begin to make steady progress. But, we have to be careful and realise that the foreign powers do not want us to be self-sufficient. I believe that with uninterrupted electricity, we will enjoy jobs creation, tourism promotion and growth in the manufacturing sector. With all these, we should be able to arrest kidnapping and insecurity”, he averred.
And, just when we thought this crowned head was through, Idu II had more to tell us. He said he loves democracy, but thinks he has found something better than democracy. It could be recalled that the Igwe of Igbo Ukwu once observed that madness could be the root cause of all evil in the Nigerian society. Maladministration, looting, ballot-stuffing, vote-rigging, so-called ethno-religious crises; these and more are manifestations of sick minds, he once told us.

Some of these problems persist because of insincere rulers; and, some of such rulers survive by exploiting loop-holes offered by democracy. This is why Idu II prescribes “Oha kara isi”. And, which one is this again?

‘Oha kara isi’ is better than Democracy
Hear him: “Whether some people are mad or not, we should be our brother’s keeper. This is the reason Igbo people believe in ‘Oha kara isi’. The community (oha) is greater than any individual. With “oha kara isi”, the people and their welfare takes precedence over that of one person or group. There is no such thing as complete liberty; each person is guided by societal precepts. No matter your status; even I, the king, should I step out of line, the community could sanction me”.
So, how does one reconcile “Oha kara si” with Democracy, which prescribes freedoms and human rights? Idu II again: “See where your democracy has landed all of us? Bad roads; collapsed educational sector, epileptic power supply, joblessness, armed robbery, kidnappings…
‘“Oha kara si’ is better, because with oha kara si, even the leader should not steal, and he is expected to contribute to the development of the community. But, how much growth have we witnessed since return to democracy? There should be nothing like unfettered liberty, the kind, where few people loot the collective patrimony with reckless abandon. This is why in Igbo community; we have communal life, whereas in Western societies, they value individualism, but I think they have come to see that our way is better in this regard.
“The Westerners think a child of 18 can go his/her own way and live without being monitored by parents or adults. This is not the best; human beings need guidance throughout life, because everyone is capable of mental breakdown, which could engender improper conduct. This is my reason for saying that there should be ways to regulate every individual’s behaviour. No one should have it all and then be allowed to behave any how he/she likes because many people are mentally unsound.
“With ‘oha kara isi’, Nigerians would find it easier to checkmate the many greedy characters that call themselves leaders. I still think that Igbo democracy, ‘Oha kara si’, is the best democracy. With ‘oha kara si’, no man plays God; no one knows it all. So, even as king or whatever you are, you are always conscious that you are not above the law”.

Curiously, however, Idu II would subsequently recommend something quite alien for the Nigerian society; and, this may well be this monarch’s other cogent reason for appealing to Igbos to come home this December. Igwe of Igbo Ukwu again: “Some old ones have been dying in our midst, while their children are living abroad. It has been said that many Igbos are now afraid of coming home because of kidnappers; so, who will now take care of the parents and grand-parents of such people?

“I am afraid, because today’s lifestyle has ripped apart our culture; which is why old people are left untended and without traditional care and affection that aged ones took for granted in traditional African society”, he rued.

Having identified the problem, what would he suggest as solution? Initially, this royal personage’s submission actually came across as shocking; but, on second thought, seems most pragmatic. 

“I think we have come to the point, where we should establish old people’s home. This might sound shocking to the average African, but with what we are witnessing around us today; I think it is better to commit these dotting ones to the care of trained nurses, instead of leaving them at the mercy of fate”, Idu II concluded.


National Tourist Boat Operators congratulate Runsewe

NTDC DG Otunba Runsewe (L), receiving a congratulatory card on his reappointment from Mr. T.S Balogun, President, National Association of Nigerian Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters (NATBOWA) during a recent visit by the latter to the Tourism Village, Abuja. PHOTO: NTDC Press Unit.  

NTDC partners DMT to arrest filth

NTDC partners DMT to arrest filth
Pursuant to its Environmental Tourism programme, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) is collaborating with moveable conveniences manufacturer/merchants DMT Mobile Toilets to arrest filth. A statement from Nigeria’s apex tourism regulatory agency says the NTDC is poised to tackle the issue of environmental tourism heads-on and has enlisted DMT Mobile Toilets to “sanitize our environment by making use of mobile conveniences at public places”.
The facility, we gathered, has practically proven a great relief to countless party goers and organizers by offering conveniences in situ. According to the release, the Corporation in conjunction with DMT Mobile Toilets plans to spread mobile toilets across the length and breadth of Nigeria to ease pressure on people, thus discouraging the answering of nature’s call at odd spots.
The statement adds that the NTDC, which is saddled with the responsibility of marketing and promoting tourism in Nigeria, has entered into this partnership because it frowns at the filth-ridden Nigerian environment partly caused by lack of functional and decent conveniences at countless public places.
Interestingly, a model NTDC/DMT Mobile Toilet is already in place at the Tourism Village, the Corporation’s headquarters in Abuja. In line with the NTDC’s perceived universal best practice principle, this model little-room boasts, among others; an in-built air-conditioner, a chemically operated flushing system, and an FM radio unit. NTDC sources said the corporation was keen to ensure comfort for its users in keeping with its tourism-friendly stance.  

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lokoja Sights

St. John's Church, Lokoja's first church.
National Museum Lokoja.
Nostalgia Hotel entrance. PHOTOS: MAURICE ARCHIBONG

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lokoja: Nostalgia over Nigeria’s Confluence Town

Nostalgia over Nigeria’s Confluence Town
Looking for a town that throws up hills, a plateau, two rivers and a confluence? Look to Lokoja, capital of Kogi State in Nigeria’s Middle Belt area. Welcome to Lokoja, home of Mount Patti. Residents say that barely 30 years ago, hyenae used to descend from this hill to devour people’s domestic animals.
Swimming Pool inside Nostalgia Hotel, Lokoja.
Truly, there aren’t many towns like Lokoja in Nigeria’s North-Central geopolitical zone. Be they historical relics and geographical monuments, Lokoja has them all. Lokoja is home to a Cenotaph, where memorabilia of World War 1 and World War II are on display. This site stands on IBB Way. Aside the cenotaph, IBB Way holds many banks, restaurants, cyber cafés, and newsstands et cetera.
But you need to visit Lord Lugard Road, too. Named in memory of Nigeria’s first Governor-General, this avenue, which strikes a perpendicular with IBB Way at the point, where the Kogi State Headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) stands, is both socially and politically very relevant. Apart from the NPF, Lugard Road hosts Lugard Court, which houses Upper Area Court 2 of the Kogi State Judiciary Service, a Press Centre and guest house run by the Kogi State Chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Kogi State Tourism Board Headquarters.
Two months ago, we returned to Lokoja, where in 1775, the famed British explorer Mungo Park had blazed the trail as the first European to set foot here. Another expedition led by McGregor Laird and Richard Lander was carried out in 1832, followed by the 1841 exploration commanded by William and Bird Allen. Subsequently, Dr. Belfour Baike and other explorers had followed suit in 1854 and 1857. The homes, offices, warehouses and other structures eventually put up by these explorers and missionaries that berthed in Lokoja would consequently transform the settlement from a village into a bustling commercial town.
Before long, the British Colonial authorities would become very interested in this settlement. Sources remind that a British consul was appointed for Lokoja in 1858 and that as far back as 1865, the British government, in recognition of the town’s importance, had established a consulate here. Lokoja’s place in Nigeria’s political history would be better understood bearing in mind that the inauguration of Lord Frederick Lugard as Governor of the then Northern Protectorate also took place in that town on 1 January, 1900. It was in Lokoja that Mr. George Taubman Goldie, the then head of the Royal Niger Company, precursor of today’s United African Company (UAC), handed over the reigns of The Niger.
Lokoja’s tourist attractions include the Cenotaph, which features three heavy artillery guns and stands along IBB Way. The cenotaph was erected to honour the memory of Nigerian and British soldiers, who died in World Wars II and I; Old Prisons Yard, the tombs of deposed Emirs of Bida, Kano, Gumel and Zaria, Dockyard of the Inland Waterways Department and the Iron of Liberty monument depicting the spot, where slaves were freed in 1860 are among Lokoja’s many allures. Rubbing shoulders with these monuments are ample spots, where residents and visitors alike gather to unwind, such as the Confluence Resort.
Given Lokoja’s place in Nigeria’s political history, it comes as no surprise that the town has so much to offer the tourist. Lokoja offers at least half-a-dozen tour sites. From many parts of Lokoja, the tourist can savour alluring sight of terraces of houses cascading down Mount Patti. But, from everywhere the observer can see three or four telecommunications masts: This is the apogee of Mount Patti and it is here the local Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) station stands.
Reliable sources say “Patti” means hill in the Nupe tongue, and that this hill peaks at 458.3metres above sea-level. A certain Lord Frederick Lugard was the first Governor General of Nigeria’s Northern Protectorate. He later became Nigeria’s premiere Governor General between 1914 and 1919. A Rest House named in honour of this colonial overlord stands atop Mount Patti, and parts of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex can be seen from the top of this mountain, which also offers a good aerial view of sections of Lokoja as well as the Confluence of the Benue and Niger Rivers.
Attractions, Landmarks & Sites
Lokoja throws up innumerable tourist attractions. Nigeria’s longest river, the River Niger which straddles some 4,160km from its source in the Futa Djallon Highlands on the Sierra Leone and Guinean border meets the Benue River, which flows in from the Cameroon at Lokoja. The Niger-Benue Confluence, the point where these two great rivers meet, is a Y-shaped spot. During the dry season, sandy patches of land, perfect spots for picnics, emerge from the much dropped volume of waters. However, these seasonal islands are usually submerged throughout the rainy season.
The tourist can enjoy a boat ride to the Benue/Niger confluence. For the equivalent of less than $100 one can pay for a roundtrip including stopovers at Gbobe Village and Shintaku, two settlements on the bank of the rivers opposite Lokoja.
The roundtrip fare to The Confluence, including stopovers at Gbobe Village and Shintaku, two settlements on the bank of the rivers opposite Lokoja, came to less than N10,000 in a “chartered” boat. Usually, each of these maritime vessels carries more than 20 passengers. In other words, as many as 10 sightseers could co-travel and “Dutch” it at N1,000 per tourist.
Lokoja also boasts European Cemetery. There are actually two European Cemeteries in Lokoja, and both of them stand along IBB Way. The European Cemetery located across the road from St. John’s Church, Lokoja’s oldest Christian house of worship; is more conspicuous and much larger. This larger of the two graveyards is located behind Kogi Traveller Motor Park, near Lokoja Local Government Secretariat. Another important monument in Lokoja is the spot, where the flag of the Royal Niger Company (RNC), forerunner of today’s United African Company (UAC), was lowered for the last time. This site stands on Ibrahim Taiwo Road, in front of Lokoja’s campus of the National Open University of Nigeria. Also, the Immaculate Conception Catholic Cathedral stands facing the historic site in Lokoja.
Travelling between the Kogi State town of Okene and Abuja, countless Nigerians have seen Lokoja, but they have only encountered glimpses of the town’s fringes. Who could forget Nataco Junction, where most commuters stop to take a bite and stretch the limbs before continuing their journeys? Nataco Junction is special; for day and night this park is bustling with life, and the watchful eye can’t miss the countless commuters rushing food and drinks and doing some shopping before the deafening hoots from the buses’ drivers tell them its time to move on. The major restaurants, the neighbourhood numerous bars and eateries on both sides of the road ensure Nataco Park never sleeps.
While in Lokoja, the traveller can also explore Oworo Land from Agbaja, the local District Headquarters. Agbaja stands atop a plateau, which towers more than 330 metres above sea-level. Located roughly 14 km from Lokoja, Agbaja and other Oworo homelands feature relatively vernal atmosphere and is, therefore, worth visiting.
Also, the wayfarer is advised to look in at the Lokoja station of the National Museum, when in the Kogi State capital. Even, if the tourist was not out to see artefacts, he/she might still end up inside Lokoja Museum complex because the place is also home to several bars and eateries. On a more serious note, however, Lokoja Museum is a specialized museum, which focuses on the country’s colonial past, hence its name of Museum of Colonial History, Lokoja. Lokoja’s Museum of Colonial History actually occupies what is rightly a monument because it is housed inside one of Lord Lugard’s then senior staff quarters.
Just beyond the gate, upon entering National Museum Lokoja, the sightseer will find a bust of heavily mustachioed Lord Frederick Lugard on a pedestal more than 24 inches high. Like Kogi State, the capital city throws up innumerable tourist attractions.
Where to stay
Nostalgia Hotel, where we put up at during our last two visits to Lokoja is the best, to be candid. There are many reasons we find Nostalgia so alluring; these include the roomy lodges, which are sensibly furnished, the complimentary tea and coffee as well as bottle of Coke and 75cl bottle of water on daily basis. Moreover, there’s a cyber café within the complex too, where one can browse or surf at N300 per hour or N750 for three hours and N1,000 all night. This is a world of difference from the N3,000 we paid per hour for browsing at the cyber café inside Transcorp Hilton three years ago! And, if the guest wants documents typed, you only pay N100 per page, whereas at the Abuja hotel it cost me N400 per page, if I recall correctly.
I also rate Nostalgia gastronomy good. Although I forgot to get the name of their chief chef, the man’s cooking must be good for me to consider Nostalgia’s N500, N1,000 and N1,200 fees for dessert, starters and pounded yam and fresh fish soup respectively well worth it.
Apart from these, Nostalgia offers car hire and tours services and boasts 24-hour power supply. At a daily accommodation fee ranging between less than N7,000 to roughly N20,000 this tariff is a fair enough price for a hide-away that assures you peace and is full of fun.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kidnappers on rampage

Top: Amb. Lawrence Akindele and below; Pa Abdul Lateef Olujobi. PHOTOS: MAURICE ARCHIBONG

Nigerian kidnappers invade Cotonou

Fear grips Nigerian community as kidnappers invade Cotonou
…Cemetery is ransom’s collection point
Nigerians resident in Cotonou now live in fear following a rising wave of kidnappings in that city, which is the economic capital of neighbouring Benin Republic. No fewer than six incidents of abduction for ransom have been recorded in Cotonou in the last six months, and Nigerians have been fingered or outright proven to have been involved in these crimes.
The latest kidnap incident took place penultimate Sunday, 21 November, 2010; when two children of Mr. Mike Orji, Assistant General Secretary of the Nigerian Community Union (NCU), Cotonou; were seized from their home, while their parents were on an outing.
Although the captives were eventually released, five days later; on Thursday 25 November; their father had to cough out over CFA1.2million (at least N380,000) to get them back. The rogue elements had earlier demanded a ransom of CFA20million (over N700,000) for the children’s release but after “negotiations” they had settled for roughly 50 percent of the original sum.
Although an apparently distraught Mr. Orji would not take our calls, when we sought confirmation of the release of his kidnapped children, Ambassador Lawrence Akindele, Nigerian Ambassador to Benin Republic, revealed the captives were set free on the day in question. The Ambassador, however, called for caution regarding the nationality of any criminal in Benin or other foreign lands, pointing out that; until the suspected criminal’s screening and documentation were concluded, one could not be certain; where such characters hailed from.
Nonetheless, the Nigerian envoy went on to condemn kidnappers harshly: “They (kidnappers) must be condemned. Their activities are nothing but sheer wickedness. In fact, they should be made to face stiff penalties, as deterrent to others”, Ambassador Akindele charged.
It could be recalled that the Nigerian community in Cotonou came under some form of heat over the kidnap of a Lebanese in April this year. The victim (names withheld) had been seized by two young men and taken to a hideout somewhere in the sprawling city. Following negotiations, one of the kidnappers had gone to pick up the ransom. However, he practically walked into a police ambush and was made to lead the security operatives to where the captive was being held. There, the victim was freed and both kidnappers taken into detention. To verify their nationality, the Nigerian embassy had been called in, and a consular officer as well as a member of the Igbo community had visited the detainees in prison; whereupon it was confirmed that they are natives of Ahiazu-Mbaise.
Aside Mr. Mike Orji; Mr. Innocent Otuohan, who hails from Mbitolu, Imo State; had surrendered CFA2million (over N700,000) as ransom for the release of two of his sons seized by kidnappers, five months ago. In the same vein, another Igbo victim was forced to pay CFA300,000 (over N100,000) as ransom to recover his two children, too.
An emerging pattern is the abduction of not one, but two children here; however, apparently owing to fear; prominent Nigerians in Cotonou were wary of discussing any thing that had to do with kidnappings in this city.
It is also worth noting that in all cases of kidnapping in these parts, the criminals had asked for the ransom money to be dropped for them inside a cemetery in the town of Ouidah. Ouidah (pronounced Widda) is an ancient slave port settlement and lies west of Cotonou on the way to Hilla Condji. The use of a cemetery as collection point of ransom money has sparked speculations that the kidnappers could be connected to evil cults.
Reacting to growing rumours since October this year that a kidnapping gang from Nigeria had invaded Benin Republic, and worried that any criminal act traced to a Nigerian could poison the cordial relationship between the host Beninoise community and law-abiding Nigerians who had been living in Cotonou and carrying out legitimate business for decades; members of the Igbo community had called a meeting, where the matter was discussed at length.
Rising from that gathering, it was agreed that a circular be sent to all relevant stakeholders calling on every Igbo in Cotonou to be vigilant because, as it had been learnt; the visiting kidnappers avoid lodging in hotels to evade detection. Instead, they squat in the homes of some kinsmen from where they hatch their evil plots.
The memo had therefore warned that any one discovered to be habouring any kidnapper would be reported to the Beninoise security authorities. As the highest ranking member of the Nigerian community at that sitting, the lot had fallen on Mr. Orji to sign the circular; and, it is widely believed the kidnappers resorted to abducting his children as part of a grand design to intimidate the man as well as silence other prospective critics of their nefarious activities.
When contacted, NCU General Secretary, Pa Abdul Lateef Olujobi said he was not aware of the incidents and, therefore, could not comment. Expatiating, this scribe said he had only just returned to Cotonou after a visit to his home town, Ede in Osun State, Nigeria; where he celebrated the latest Eid el Kabir.
Similarly, comments could not be got from the Chairman of Igbo Union in Benin Republic, Chief Ebuka Onunkwo. Chief Onunkwo had personally experienced life as kidnappers’ victim, and we thought his views were important in this matter, even though he had been abducted in Nigeria and not in Benin Republic. However, we were told during attempts to reach him that Chief Onunkwo, who is CEO of Bukas International Sarl; was outside Africa for business transactions.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Trial of 4 NGA chiefs billed to resume today

Joe Musa, 3 other NGA chiefs’ trial resumes today
One trial, many bizarre twists and turns

‘Justice is a two-way traffic: the same way the prosecution is entitled to look out for their security, is the same way the accused person is entitled to their speedy trial’ – defense counsel

The trial of four chieftains of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) is billed to resume today, 30 November, from 8.30am at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court near FCDA Resettlement Centre, Apo; with His Lordship, Hon. Justice Olukayode Adeniyi presiding. The hearing is slated to continue tomorrow, Tuesday, 1 December.
Chief Joe Musa, one of the accused persons, was in 2006 appointed Director General of the NGA; Nigeria’s apex agency responsible for the regulation of the nation’s visual arts sub-sector. Aside Musa; Mr. Olusegun Ogunba, Dr. Kweku Tandoh and Mrs. Oparagu Elizabeth; NGA’s Director of Finance, Director of Research and Education, and Deputy Director Administration respectively; are also co-defendants. All the accused persons are on suspension from work pending the outcome of Suit No. FCT/HC/CR/49/09.
The above named quartet, alongside a fifth accused, Mr. Chinedu Obi; were arraigned on 20 July, 2009. However, following amendment of Charge No CR/49/09 preferred against the five accused persons by the prosecution counsel, Sir Steve Ehi Odiase Esq. of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); Obi’s name was expunged from the list of defendants. Seven, out of eight witnesses, have already testified; but, taking the last witness seems to have turned into a tool for foot-dragging.
Initially, the quintet was collectively arraigned on a 12-count charge, which includes alleged diversion of N1billion of public funds between August 2006 and April 2009; but, the charges’ number dropped to 8, sequel to its amendment. Charges preferred against the four still standing trial include “Criminal Misappropriation” and “Falsification of Accounts”. But, this trial; whenever it is eventually concluded will be remembered as one that threw up many curious twists and turns.

Catalogue of curios
Consider this confounding curio: On 20 July, this year, during one of the hearings; the prosecution counsel, while seeking another adjournment, had alleged; inter alia: “I have also received strange phone calls on this matter, which makes me very uncomfortable...”. It is worth noting that this rendition made to the hearing of everyone in attendance; is also documented in the court’s Record of Proceedings. Strangely, however, the misinformation deliberately fed the public the following day by some media had it that one of the prosecution witnesses failed to show up in court over mystery calls to his phone threatening his life; whereas it was Sir Steve who claimed to have received allegedly menacing calls.
Moreover, the prosecution counsel had the previous day, 19 July; secured adjournment on the ground, among others; that one of the witnesses could not come to court due to illness. But, that witness particular was physically present in the courtroom on the date in question and some defense counsels had actually seen him and consequently prayed the court to order the man’s cross-examination.
More excerpts from the same Record of Proceedings: On 20 July, the court had hardly settled down to resume hearing when the prosecution counsel “required an adjournment to enable us investigate whether or not it is true that the 1st accused person has been interfering with the investigation and prosecution of this case”. EFCC counsel, Sir Steve Odiase (Esq.), was referring to what he called “intelligent report”, which he got; “that David Ajiboye, one of the prosecutors’ witnesses, was seen in the residence of Chief Joe Musa the previous day (19 July). According to Sir Steve, this particular witness also failed to turn up for pre-trial conferencing scheduled for 3pm that day; therefore, he needed time to find out what was really going on.
Interestingly, this prosecution’s request was countered by counsel to Dr. Kweku Tandoh (3rd accused person), who said “I urge the court to refuse the application for adjournment”. As preamble, the learned counsel had earlier submitted; “I sympathize with the PC (Prosecution Counsel), but he has not stated that he received any of such calls from any of the accused persons. He (PC) is prosecuting many cases. He (PC) declined to call the same David Ajiboye yesterday, when asked to do so. The PC should be compelled to continue with the other witnesses. Justice is a two-way traffic: The same way the prosecution is entitled to look out for their security, is the same way the accused person is entitled to their speedy trial”.
In the same vein, counsel to the 4th accused person had urged “the court to refuse the application of the prosecution counsel (for adjournment) on the grounds that the investigation the Commission (EFCC) will carry out, can run ‘pari-pasu’ with trial”. Continuing, this lawyer had added; “Adjournment again here will cause unnecessary delay. We urge the court to order that the trial should go on today as ordered by the court yesterday”.
However, the case was stood down till 11am. Immediately after resumption, counsel to the 3rd accused person had submitted: “I want to place on the records of the Court that the same David Ajiboye that was said to have run away by the learned prosecution counsel is present in this Court as I speak”.
Consequently, “The Court confirmed from the said Mr. David Ajiboye whether he was present when the matter was first called in the morning and he answered in the affirmative”; according to official Record of Proceedings. Albeit, the PC had immediately taken a different witness; and, after cross-examination and re-examination of prosecution witness 7, the court had set the matter down to 18 October “for confirmation of hearing”, even as it enjoined “the prosecution to produce all their remaining witnesses on that day”. However, that day’s sitting was overtaken by events; the date fell within the vacation period of the presiding adjudicator.

High wire distortions
Interestingly, it is not only inside the court you get to encounter twists like this; outside, the manoeuvre assumes gymnastic, even acrobatic, dimensions. For instance; a respected national daily had, probably without the knowledge of its editor; carried a report purportedly emanating from the court’s sitting on 18 October; whereas no hearing took place on that day. Also, some news media had reported that it was a witness that expressed fear for his life over threatening calls; whereas it was Sir Steve, the prosecution counsel, who claimed to have received allegedly menacing calls.
In deed, there are many other points to ponder as far as this trial is concerned. For example, Charge 8 reads: “That you Chief Joe Musa being Director General of the National Gallery of Art, and Olusegun Ogunba being Director of Finance on or about the 1st day of August 2006 to April 2009 in Abuja within the Jurisdiction of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, willfully and with intent to defraud, made false entries in your employer’s books of accounts by inflating the monthly overhead cost of National Gallery of Art from N15million to about N19,257,116 and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 371 of the Penal Code Act Cap 532 of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (Abuja) 1990”
However, one of the witnesses; Mr. Henry Uche Achugbu, who is a Deputy Director in NGA’s Finance and Accounts Department, in a sworn statement to the EFCC; stated inter alia: “On salaries paid to staff; in 2006 we were paying about N16million monthly; in 2007 we were paying about N18million monthly; in 2008 we were paying N19.2million monthly; and, presently (around June 2009) we are paying around N21million monthly”. Record of the Court’s Proceedings on 19 July 2010 reveals that one of the Prosecution Witnesses, Eyioluse Solomon, a Senior Accountant with the NGA; practically corroborated Mr. Achugbu’s averments.
Mr. Solomon had re-echoed in the court, what he told EFCC operatives, while he was their guest following his invitation by the anti-graft agency in early March 2009. In Solomon’s words: “I was asked questions on petition against personnel cash, in 2008; I told them (EFCC) that before the era (of) consolidated salaries, we prepared salary to the tune of about N16million and that when we started paying consolidated salaries, we prepared salaries to the tune of about N19.5million on the average monthly basis. Consolidated salaries mean salaries which came before after (sic) the introductory (sic) of the monetization schemes for MDAs. The average monthly releases for the period 2008 was (sic) about N24.270million. Sometimes there could be stoppage of salaries of some staff due to one offence or the other. I could not therefore give an accurate figures (sic) of the salary expenditure”.
Months after the accused persons’ arraignment and after following the case based on exchanges inside the court; a hitherto little-known arts activists’ body with the acronym of AHEAD (Arts for Human Empowerment and Development) had jumped into the fray by calling a press conference, where it alleged a “Plot to kill the Arts and its symbols”. “The framing of Joe Musa and the destruction of the Art Community in Nigeria”, a statement issued by Ahead, signed by the association’s President, Mr. Dan Nwokoji-aku; reads: “That the sum of N2.2billion said to have been misappropriated by Joe Musa is totally false and a callous misrepresentation of the facts. When the DG (Musa) and other officials of the NGA were arraigned on 20 July 2009, the initial amount they were charged is N1.2billion. These much can also be found on EFCC website”.
Additionally, Ahead also reminded that “On 20 July 2010, the prosecutor alleged that he received several telephone calls that morning threatening him over the case and for that reason he wanted the case to be adjoined. He (the prosecutor) also claimed that one of the witnesses, Henry Achugbu, could not come (to court) because he was sick. (However), all the defense lawyers argued that Henry Achugbu was seen in court the previous day 19 July, 2009 and prayed the court that he should be cross examined.
Culling from documents in the public domain, the arts activist’s statement recalled that in 2008; the budget for NGA was N2,163,229,278. However, total amount remitted to the Gallery was N1,178,362,054; leaving a shortfall to the tune of N984,867,224. Apparently referring to accusations of embezzlement, Ahead queried: “Is it possible to embezzle an amount that was never released”?
In the arts activist’s words: “The testimonies or statements credited to all the witnesses were all misrepresented: They were all made up for the purpose of media bashing of Joe Musa…” and that “The court record of proceedings of this trial is available to the public to verify all the witnesses’ statements”.
Ahead had, among others, further pointed out that; “The counts were 12 and not 14 as widely reported. As at date, these counts have been reduced to 8 after 4 counts were quashed on December 17, 2009 and this has further reduced the amounts charged from N1.2billion to only about N800million”.
To be sincere, misappropriation is defined more by the deed than the sum involved; therefore, one could not attempt to exculpate the suspects because the money allegedly missing is less than N2.2billion. As things stand, the revered adjudicator, Hon. Justice Olukayode Adeniyi; is the only person that can declare any of the suspects guilty or otherwise based on proven evidence.

In for a long haul
Currently, the summary of observers’ views across the land regarding the ongoing prosecution of the suspects seems to be; “if this trial’s antecedents are anything to go by, those involved are in for a marathon”. This perception derives from the surprises that have dogged this trial since it began on 20 July 2009. Therefore, skepticism shrouds the possibility that Monday’s planned sitting would be fruitful. “The 30 November scheduled resumption of trial may well turn out another motion without movement”, mused one of many observers, who on arrival at Lugbe High Court in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on 18 October, when the case had earlier been slated for continuation; learnt that the sitting had been postponed.
Expectedly, the suspects and their defense counsels as well as numerous watchers had turned up at Lugbe Federal High Court only to hear that the sitting had been put off. The reason, we gathered, was that the trial judge had just begun his vacation. The man deserved the rest after sitting to hear urgent cases throughout the period, when his counterparts and colleagues had their annual break.
However, the decision to postpone the resumption seemed not to have been communicated to both sides of the interested parties; otherwise, the prosecution team would have been seen at the court premises on 18 October, 2010.

It could be recalled that the memo that sent Musa on suspension, reference number FMCT/25/S.3/C1/54, dated 10 September, 2009; was allegedly delivered within 30 minutes after Justice Sylvester Orji of Federal High Court Wuse struck out motions filed by Chief Joe Musa seeking preservation of the status quo pending the court’s verdict after his trial. Many respondents had, at that time, observed that the haste behind that suspension letter; given that Musa had 30 days within which to appeal against the judgment, hint at disregard for the rule of law and due process.
Such watchers see the current situation, where some media reports sequel to the sitting of a court are grotesque distortions of what transpired during the trial in question as continuation of an agenda, they described as “unwholesome”. Money, many followers of this case believe, is the suspected hallucinogen that inspires wild creativity on the part of some reporters, who jettison ethical principles with reckless abandon.
This situation; where proceedings in the court end up in the media with bizarre tweaks must be tracked and their perpetrators sanctioned. The scenario is the more disturbing because of its spread; from the sober to literally inebriate media, few are exempt; and, it is also worth noting that the writer’s identity or by-line is conveniently missing against some of these warped reports.
Evidently, editors, media proprietors and activists et cetera need to keep a close watch on this unfolding saga. Move over Nollywood; for, none can afford any distraction from the thriller unfolding in the trial of NGA chieftains! This is why for countless observers; all roads will lead to High Court on Monday, 30 November; 2010.