Jos: A paradise lost staging comeback on wings of golfing
Tourists choose where they visit because of unique features associated with such places. These include, culture, architecture, gastronomy, infrastructure, landscape and events, sometimes, shopping experience.
According to tourism experts, these features make one destination different from the other.
Jos as a destination for whites
During colonial era, up to the 1990s, many identified Jos, originally called ‘Gwash’ until anglicised to ‘Jos’ by the colonialists, as a tourism hub, as tourists flocked the city for recreation.
Aside from its landscape, which is picturesque, the serene and accommodating weather attracted Europeans to the city on the plateau.
Simply put, Jos was a haven for tourists, who leveraged its natural endowments for corporate and personal recreation.
From agriculture to natural and human resources, tourism contributed much to the old Benue/Plateau State’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), such that the state ranked high among states that earned revenue from non-oil sources.
However, decline in earnings from tourism set in in the late 1990s after the Jos crisis, as well as consistent lack of maintenance of the infrastructure scattered around the state over the years.
Insecurity, in fact, contributed to drive tourists away from the state, which once boasted some of the best habitats for wildlife in Africa.
Jos Wildlife Park
Established In 1972 by Governor Joseph Gomwalk of Benue-Plateau State, the Jos Wildlife Park is a habitat for various animals, mammals, birds and reptiles included.
Jos Wildlife Park, known as one of the Plateau State’s topmost tourist attractions used to be one place in Nigeria where nature has been conserved.
The sights and sounds of nature and wildlife unfold in the park, located in the middle belt of Nigeria along the Jos-Miango road, about 5 kilometres from the city of Jos, and covering an area of 8 square kilometres. It used to be one of the biggest natural/artificial zoological garden and park in Nigeria.
Recently, the Park has become an eyesore and in very poor state as a result of poor funding. This, in a way, has affected the welfare of animals put in seclusion.
Its Manager, Mr. Sakburkya Mohammed, said because there had not been any form of animal pairing for breeding purposes in the park for a while, “there’s hardly any hope for continuity for the animals there.
“In a sector for conservation such as this, we need continuity, where we get new animals and the animals get paired to enhance breeding.
“But once there is no any pairing, you know that you cannot even get any much new animals and really there is no hope for continuity.”
In 2020, an animal lover, Mr. Zendi Mikuk, donated a pregnant African rock python to the Jos Wild life park.
The African Rock Python feeds on small antelopes, monkeys, guinea fowl and domestic animals with fish, monitor lizards and crocodiles.
Rayfield, Nigeria’s oldest golf club
Rayfield Golf Club is the oldest in the country. Its golf course is believed to have been established in 1935, however, it was the discovery of ‘the Angus Butler Cup’ that proved the course is, indeed, the oldest in the country, and perhaps, the entire West African region.
Proof of the establishment of the course is boldly engraved on the now antique trophy which reads, “This trophy celebrate the occasion of a visit to Rayfield in 1948 of Mr. Angus Butler, who laid out the first golf course at Rayfield in 1913 and the first six holes of the present course in 1921 or there about.”
The trophy also carried several foreign names and dates on its wooden base.
Indeed, the establishment of Rayfield Golf Club led to the upshot of other notable golf courses in Plateau State such as the Rhino golf course at the Rukuba Barracks and the Lamingo Golf course at Lamingo.
BUT in recent times, Plateau State government has begun a process, which, it believes, will restore the state’s position as the number one tourism destination in the country.
Anchored on the promotion of sports, the government believes infrastructural development and the relative peace that has returned the state will help bring back tourists.
According to a former Plateau State Tourism Corporation member of staff, Mr. Godwin Musa, golf tourism has started having a salutary effect on the state’s GDP and it is expected that with time, it will rank as one of highest contributors to the state’s economy.
“Tourism on the Plateau was a very huge revenue base in terms of human and natural gifts to the state. Prior to the era of Plateau/Nasarawa State, the state had a huge mineral deposit of tin, columbine, precious stones, tourist centres such as Wase Rock, Jos Museum, Jos Wild Life Park, the Asa Falls in Riyom, Polo Club, the Golf Club, Rwang Pam Township Stadium and others. This is apart from the hotels, the Yakubu Gowon Airport and the Dryland Port.
“Today, most of these places have lost their attraction. The airport that used to have regular flights has only one now. The tin mining sites across the Plateau are now left as ponds and death traps.
“The bustling and hustling of miners, who came in and out of the state to buy minerals and precious stones are now a thing of the past, while, the Jos Museum and Wildlife Park, Hill Station Hotels, Asa Falls at Hawan Kibo are now moribund.
“Everything was left to dilapidate, while no new species were added to the Wildlife Park,” Musa told The Guardian.
He also listed the poor state of the airport, which has forced passengers to travel by road instead of flying to Jos, as one of the factors that have contributed to the reduction in the number of tourists visiting the state.
Musa revealed that most of the mining sites in the state have been taken over by illegal miners, adding that the miners’ activities have contributed to recent security challenges in Wase, Kanam and other parts of the state.
According to Musa, although there are currently over 50 hotels in Jos, only a few are operational due to the activities of some Community Based Organisations (CBO), Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and Faith Based Organisations (FBOs), who use them for their workshops, seminars and trainings.
Musa believes government’s efforts to secure more daily flights for Jos and eventual completion of the Jos Dry Port would aid the growth of the state’s tourism industry.
“By 1988 up to 1996, it was a 24–hour flight daily. But today, it is one flight per day. The Jos Dry Container Port has not been completed and has not started bringing in any good or services.
“Again, the Hill Station Hotel known all over the world has been shut down for over three years.
“The office of the Plateau State Tourism Corporation, opposite Plateau State Polytechnic, is in a dilapidated shape, while all the vehicles, machines and equipment used to transport tourists have been grounded.
“Where the state’s revenue comes form now is from tricycles, vehicles particulars, lands and Pay As You Earn (PAYE) from civil servants salaries and shops.
“Plateau is now purely a civil service state with no factory to generate revenue. In the past, there used to Jos International Breweries (JIB), Steel Rolling Mills, Vitafoam and Coca Cola factories, among others,” Musa said.
But things are beginning to change
WITH the recent upsurge in tourism through the many golf championships across the state, some of the hitherto neglected hotels are coming back to life.
A survey by The Guardian showed that these hotels charge between N20, 000 and N30, 000 per night. They in turn remit some of the money to the state government.
Some of the thriving hotels in Jos are Crispan Suites and Event Centre, Shetan Hotel and Suites, Silk Suites, Elim Top Suites, Crest Hotels, Sharna Palace, Valada Hotel and Resorts, Universal Hotels and Festival, Mandela Hotel, Kamdala Hotel, Yelwa Club, Treasure Inn Hotel and Hotel Samarita.
All these centralised hotels, according to Musa, contribute to the state’s GDP.
Another former staff of Plateau State Tourism Corporation, Mr. Godwin Pam, believes that golf can contribute more than it is doing currently to Plateau State’s GDP, saying that the sport has not made as much impact as expected because successive governments in the state didn’t see the need to invest in tourism.
He believes the state will start reaping full benefits from its natural endowments when government begins to look at the neglected tourist sites and the beautiful centres that have become moribund.
Chairman of the Plateau State Golfers Association, Mr. Thaddeus Yilmen, who is also a member representing North Central Zone on the Board of Nigerian Golf Federation (NGF), as well as NGF”s Director, Media and Publicity, described golf as a game of life, which gives the player life lessons that when applied leads to success in whatever the person is doing.
“It is a game of gentlemen. It is a game of integrity. It is a communal game. It teaches us communal living because if you are playing the game and your ball mistakenly goes into the bush or goes off the fairway, other players of your team will not abandon you. They will come to help you look for your ball and the game continues.
He described golf as a major contributor to the development of Plateau State’s tourism industry, saying it has improved the gross domestic product of state through patronage of the public and private sector facilities.
“So, golf is a good therapy for hard situations that do not require medication. For those suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure, it is a therapy for them. It has a lot of health benefits.
“Golfers arrive by different means of transportation; some come by road, some come by air. And if they come with their personal vehicles, they buy fuel. And when they come like this, they don’t sleep under the trees, they don’t sleep in the golf course. They patronise hotels, eateries, recharge card sellers and even the caddies, the small boys, who help them carry their bags. They get paid.
“Some of these boys are students and from their little savings, they help their parents in buying things for their school and also in feeding their families. So, it is a circle.
“Let me take it one after the other. Any time there is a golf tournament on the Plateau, you hardly have space in any hotel. Almost all the hotels are fully booked, thereby, adding value to the hotel owners. Apart from that, even the staff of the hotels, some of them get stipends out of the goodwill of the golfers and some whose duty is to wash vehicles in the hotels, earn something.
“These hoteliers pay tax, there is VAT (Value Added Tax) which they remit to the state government. This adds, not only to tourism, but also the state’s IGR.”
He revealed that some hoteliers came into business when golf started booming in the state. These individuals saw the opportunities presented by the sport and decided to utilise it, he said.
“Senator Sati Gogwim of blessed memory and Engineer Morphy Dogum, the owner of Novel Suites, never had hotels before they started playing golf. They later went to build their hotels. These are hotels that golfers stay in when they come for any tournament.”
He attributed golf’s rising profile under Governor Simon Lalong to the fact that the governor knows what the sport can offer the state.
According to Yilmen, when Lalong became governor of Plateau State, he brought experts to promote the sport, build infrastructure and make it attractive to the private sector.
“During this administration, over 19 youths have become professionals. Anywhere they go, they play for money. Many of them live on the game and feed their families though it. Golf has employed a lot of youths. And because of this, a lot of development are springing up around golf courses.
“If you go to Lamingo now (Lamingo Golf Course) in Jos, there are many people who have turned their houses to bread and butter because they know that every year there will be a golf tournament,” he said.
Yilman said the sport has also brought peace to Plateau State, as well as opened the state to outsiders.
“Before Lalong, people thought Plateau was a no-go-area. But golfers who came from outside the state have seen things for themselves and are now in the position to tell others that peace has indeed returned to Plateau.
“Let me give you two examples: During the Governor’s Cup competition, two things happened. A female golfer, who is Nigeria’s number two in the amateur category, Amina Wilfred from Abuja, forgot her phone in a tricycle, but the tricycle man traced her and returned it. This shows that people are mindful of their behaviour when they have visitors during major events. Golf has laundered the image of Plateau State.”
Yilmen credits Lalong for Plateau State’s golf revolution, saying that the governor created more golf courses in the state, and therefore, raised more awareness for the game.
“When he came here, all golf courses were brown, but now they are all green, just as you see in overseas. This is the handiwork of the governor. Jos is one city that has more golf courses centralised within the city.
“We have the Rayfield, Lamingo and Rhino (Rukuba Barracks) golf courses, as well as facilities at the Police Staff College, National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) and the Government House.
“One is being built in Shendam to take care of the Southern Zone. All these are possible because Jos’ weather is favourable for the sport.
“In other places, when you are playing golf, you use towels and drink a lot of water because of heat. Here, you don’t need to use towels; you don’t have to be drinking water. All is because the weather is good. And also the comfortable nature adds value to the place.
“The hotels are also much cheaper than those in other cities. The highest you can get in any hotel for a golfer is ₦15,000 per night. One thing about golf is that anywhere golfers are going, they get rebates either in airfare or hotel rates. They get the discount. Most times they get up to 10 to 20 per cent discount anywhere they are going. So, if you pay ₦15,000 and you are given 20 per cent discount, it is even enough for a golfer to pay comfortably for one week and enjoy himself.”
He revealed that Jos has become so comfortable that golfers don’t hurry to leave the city after each tournament. This, he attributes to the serene and alluring nature of the state.
“Everything in Jos is relatively cheap and affordable and there is no traffic jam. The government and citizens have created a conducive environment for visitors to enjoy themselves. People come for holidays in Jos yearly.”
But, even with all the improvement made on facilities by the state government, Yilman acknowledges that private sponsorship of golf is still low.
“We have companies like NASCO, Grand Cereals and others. They picked up the challenge because they know what golf club does. The sponsorship was mainly by government. The club has taken it upon itself to reach out for private sponsorship.”
Golf and tourism
For Yilman, “golf and tourism cannot be separated. The greatest tourists in this country are golfers. All the golfers stay in hotels close to the golf course. During the recent National Sport Festival in Delta State, most athletes stayed in hotels allotted to them. But all the golfers stayed in hotels because they needed to stay close to the golf club so that it will be easier for them to transport their bags and other things to the golf course.
“In Jos, most hoteliers are always ready to entertain the golfers. For example, the Governor’s Cup featured over 460 golfers. How many hotels are there? Most of them came to Jos with their families and their caddies. Some came with their friends. If you put everything together, close to a thousand people were in the state,” he said.
The Governor’s Cup is Plateau State’s star competition, but there are other tournaments and kitties that ensure there are weekly competitions in Jos.
He disclosed that the least professional competition in Jos offers N10 million as prize money, which means the winner will go home with as much as N1.7 million, while the rest is shared to the first 40 players.
“The winner of the Plateau State Governor’s Cup went home with a car, and he is not a native of Plateau State. He came from Lagos.
“There are always golf competitions during public holidays, including Christmas, Sallah, id el-Maulud, New Year, Children’s Day and Workers Days.
“Every January, we hold the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 3 Armoured Division’s Jos tournament, after the Armed Forces Remembrance day. Other tournaments are coming after the general elections, and there will be the last one too for the governor, which will attract a star prize. Before you know it, almost every quarter, you have one or two tournaments,” he said.
Yilman also attributes golf’s growing popularity to the state’s decision to build a golf academy.
He said: “We are grooming the young ones to take over from the current professionals. Plateau’s young golfers have started dominating the sport in national competitions.
“Golf is a unifying game. I have seen the governor play with people from opposition political parties. They crack jokes and exchange banters. I have seen the governor even paying yearly subscriptions for people from the opposition party.”