There was tension in Jos, the capital of Plateau State, Wednesday when it was learnt that a lion escaped from Jos Wildlife Park at feeding time, before it was killed. Many felt it was wrong to have killed the lion instead of tranquilising it. On inquiry from tourism officials of the Plateau Tourism Corporation on why the lion, which had been caged since 1972, was shot, they said the zoo lacked the equipment to tranquilise it.
The officials, who did not want to be named, disclosed that a former Director General, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, Otunba Segun Runsewe, had warned of impending danger when he saw the condition of the zoo as he was said to have written to the state government on it then. This led our reporter to go after Runsewe, who had gone under ground since he was unceremoniously removed in 2013, to share his thoughts on how we can make our zoo tourism friendly. Though, he initially refused to talk, after much persuasion, he spoke.
On why he has gone underground since 2013
I have been on spiritual holiday since my leaving NTDC. We will talk about that another day. My leaving office was due to some political undercurrents which is an issue for another day interview. I am talking to you now because of the lion incident at the Jos zoo that you raised. But, I promise I will grant you another interview on what led to my exit from NTDC. I know those who did it and I will make their names public as they have destroyed the industry , they have taken us ten years backward in terms of what we achieved in tourism . What we are doing today is no more tourism , it is only caricature tourism.
On the killed lion at the Jos zoo
Let me commend Vanguard Newspapers for this. Yes, like you said you were told, I did a letter in 2011 to the government of the state after visiting the Jos zoo. What I saw there was unacceptable, it was below the standards of keeping such animals . It was extremely embarrassing. Let me say this that the people of Jos need to do special thanksgiving for having a lion as big as that escaping and not killing anyone. That lion used to be one of the biggest in Africa. When we visited the place, we saw a couple that came in from Kenya to see that particular lion and they told us they had information on that lion, that the lion was 39 years old. After I visited the zoo and saw what happened, I embarked on a special training at a lion park in South Africa; it was during that training that I realized the mistake we were making and I wrote another letter to the state government again.
This incident in Jos should serve as a warning to other states that have zoos. The standard of keeping zoo here is terrible and dangerous. There is an association of zoo and aquariums in Africa. All those who say they own zoos are supposed to be members of the body. I can tell you lions are loved and feared. There is a special regulation in feeding a lion. To feed a lion , you must have three bar doors. When you open the first one, you lock yourself in between, when you lock the second door, you moved to the third one which still has a boundary between it and the lion.
These three doors must be opened one after the other. The soil of where you keep a lion is tainted so that the lion can not make an attempt to dig a hole out just as the roof too. You know lions sleep for about 14 hours a day and you feed the lions only once a day, but in most cases the people who feed the lions are trained for a specialized approach. They are not just zoo attendants , they called them specialized animal keepers. The lions in the zoo must have artificial rock which is the only thing that makes the lion steady as it sits on it looking at you.
The lions don't like sitting on the floor. To clean the environment, there must be an inner chamber which is operated electronically; once you press the buttons, the door locks like the ones we have in the banks, and you don't even go into the chambers bare footed as it is not ideal for humans to walk where lions are . There is a special equipment to evacuate and fumigate where they are kept. You don't even do that when the lion is around.
I did a research on the safety of where lions are kept as the lions must be checked daily to make sure there is no problem before tourists come around, because once a tourist is attacked, then there is problem. Even where the tourists view the lions, there are four different bars in case anything happens; before the lion goes through the bars, rescue would have come. There is need for regular training for those who work in the zoo as well as health certification. Veterinary services are important as there must be a full-time veterinarian working in the zoo. We are saying this for the right things to be done. Accurate record of the lions is important and there must be routine examination of the lions to have good medical records .
The mistake they made in Jos zoo is killing the lion. They needed not do that if they have properly trained personnel. What they needed was to have used tranquilizer on the lion. If you operate a zoo with lions, you must have tranquilizer gum or electric shock. If there is a lion that wants to escape, they use the shock on it that will demobilize it for about three hours and there is a special equipment to pick it in case of emergency. For this accident to happen at the Jos zoo now as it happened some years ago , I am recommending that the state government should close down the zoo and reconstruct it, because every zoo is supposed to have a life span of two years for renovation and adjustment as well as expansion where needed.
In this case, the Jos zoo has not done that; so they should close down the zoo, re-package it, re- brand it as this incident has done collateral damage to the image of the zoo and the country that a lion escaped there. The state government must bring zoo experts to repackage the entire safety procedure of the zoo and change the construction in the way that if there is a recurrence of this, there will be precaution. In Kenya, when a lion escapes like it happened in Jos, it won't have a way of going out of the cage because of the safety procedure in place.
They have this saying that if a lion escapes where you have three cages, it can only get to one and probably kill one person but not the whole town. I am saying the zoo needs to be closed down for re-organisation as a new and better zoo in Nigeria. If we take this for granted , because they said the lion did not kill anybody, then we should thank God. We need to improve safety in our zoos and other states should learn from this. No tourist will want to go to any attraction that is not secure.
On the Abuja Carnival
The carnival has not served it purpose. Even former President Obasanjo that initiated the carnival wanted us to run the carnival for four years and hand it over to the states. The strategy was for us to have six major carnivals around the country , one per geo-political zone. Now everyone is organising carnival without focus or content. You can not sell the same product in all the parts of the country. Some are strong in cultural tourism, some are strong in aqua tourism, some in sports tourism.
So, our plan was to use the four years period to develop the content and deliver them to the six geo- political zones of the country, and using the carnivals to attract tourists to the country throughout the year. But, they now see it as Abuja Carnival which is not. Abuja carnival was to be a unity carnival that will now be delivered to the zones. Calabar has started well. Benue started another one, so was Lagos. If we develop these carnivals and give them strong contents, Nigeria will be great for it and we will make good returns from tourism.To me, we have lost the focus and the dynamics of facing the real issue of developing tourism , Abuja Carnival should have been handed over to the zones. We were supposed to give the states the contents to empower the people and to create employment as well as to create unity among the people.
On the arrest of a former tourism Perm Secretary for alleged diversion of Sure-P funds
Unfortunately, the ministry is supposed to provide leadership role to the parastatals, but they introduce competition which is what has caused the misuse and misappropriation of the Sure_ P funds. The money was supposed to be deposited in the geo-political zones to strengthen their tourism contents , now the money did not get to where it was meant for as the ministry staff came out fighting over it. This is where some of us disagreed with them. We told them this money is not for documentation, but for the field to develop tourism. If the money had been used judiciously, our tourism strength would have at least be 30% better than what we have today