By Jide Ojo
I am not a stranger to Kogi, the one aptly named the Confluence State. I have traversed the length and breadth of the state going to the South-West and South-East parts of the country. I have also attended a number of workshops at the state capital, Lokoja. However, each time I visit, as I did last weekend, I am always in search of what is new. The last time I was in the state was in 2017. So, when the Executive Director of Conscience for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Idris Miliki Abdul, sent me an invite as a special guest at a workshop his NGO was holding on Monday, August 2, 2021, I gladly accepted. My tasks were three-fold: To be a guest on his organisation’s radio programme on Grace 95.5 FM; present a paper on “The role of CSOs in anti-corruption and accountability in the electoral process” as well as unveil the “Charter of demands on prioritising anti-corruption and accountability issues during the upcoming 2023 General Election at the state level”.
Off I went on Sunday, August 1, 2021, a day before the event. As we drove towards the Confluence State, I was amazed that the federal road rehabilitation and expansion that were started way back in 2007 had yet to be completed. Vehicles are still diverting from one lane to the other. I arrived my hotel in Lokoja about 5pm and decided to go on sightseeing. I observed that the link road that passed through the town linking Ganaja to Ajaokuta is still under reconstruction. This, though a welcome development, has been on for many years.
Before I recount vividly my observation, let me give a bit of historical background of Kogi State. According to the website of the state government, it was created on August 27, 1991 by the Ibrahim Babangida regime. The state is heterogeneous in nature with the Ebira, Igala and Okun (Yoruba) forming the major group. The smaller ethnic groupings include Bassa Kwomu, Bassa Nge, Oworo, Nupe, Ogori/Magongo, Egbura Koto, and Kakanda. Kogi is the most centrally located state in Nigeria and shares boundaries with nine states! To the North, it shares boundaries with Plateau, Niger and the Federal Capital Territory. Benue and Anambra States to the East and to the West, it is bordered by Ondo, Kwara, Edo and Enugu states.
It is in short, the gateway state with very rich cultural values, great natural endowments and infinite stretches of arable land. The state capital, Lokoja, is an ancient historical town which once served as the colonial administrative headquarters of Nigeria. The town is situated on the slope of a range of hills, Mount Patti. It is located at the confluence of the rivers Niger and Benue.
Kogi State consists of three senatorial districts namely Western Senatorial District, Central Senatorial District and Eastern Senatorial District. It also consists of nine federal constituencies viz Okene/Ogori-Magongo; Ajaokuta; Okehi/Adavi; Kabba-Bunu/Ijumu; Yagba; Lokoja/Koton-karfi; Idah/Igala-mela/Ofu; Dekina/Bassa and Ankpa/Omala/Olamaboro. It also has 21 Council Areas: Adavi, Ajaokuta, Ankpa, Bassa, Dekina, Ibaji, Idah, Igalamela/Odolu, Ijumu, Kabba-Bunu, Kogi, Lokoja, Mopamuro, Ofu, Ogori-Magongo, Okene, Okehi, Olamaboro, Omala, Yagba-East, and Yagba-West. Among the prominent sons of Kogi State was a former Governor of Old Kwara State in the Second Republic, Alhaji Adamu Attah, former governor Prince Abubakar Audu is said to be the father of modern Kogi due to the many infrastructure he was able to establish in the state such as the state university, hotel and roads. Others are former Minister of Health, Prof. Eyitayo Lambo, as well as pioneer Director General of National Broadcasting Commission, Prof. Tom Adaba.
Among the institutions of higher learning in the state are the Kogi State University at Ayingba, Federal University Lokoja, Kogi State Polytechnic, Lokoja and Federal College of Education, Okene. There are several private universities in the state as well. My research shows that Kogi State is one of the most endowed in terms of natural resources. Ten mineral resources found in the state are Coal, Dolomite, Feldspar, Bauxite, Iron Ore, and Tar. Others include: Limestone, Gold, Petroleum and Tin.
Tourist sites in Kogi State include: the colonial relics (such as Lord Lugard House), the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue, Ogidi (an African town with formations of Igneous Rock mountains and a traditional art and craft industry) and natural land features hills and terrains that serve as hiking trails. The Inikpe statue was built in memory of Inikpe, the daughter of the first Attah of Igala kingdom who was buried alive on the instruction of the oracle to restore peace in the land.
Osome Falls, Ukpongo is a stream that makes its way through rocks of different heights before sharply descending in a valley about 50 metres below. Mount Patti is a massive hill towering Lokoja, the Confluence point of Rivers Niger and Benue can be seen from the flat top. Holy Trinity School Lokoja was established in 1860 by Bishop Ajayi Crowther. It is the first primary school in Northern Nigeria while the Awo Tunnel was a former refuge for the royal family in times of war dug during the reign of Onoja Obari. It is about one kilometre-long. The late Attah of Ebira’s Palace is a modern and ancient architectural wonder. Lord Fredrick Lugard’s first residence is a significant site. By the way, Lord Lugard was the colonial Governor General responsible for the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria protectorates in 1914.
Quite unfortunately, despite being a state with huge tourism potential, Kogi is a perpetual underachiever. Despite having been established 30 years ago, the state of infrastructure in the state is appalling. Yes, I saw the expansion work at the state Specialist Hospital and the Lugard House, which is the seat of government in Lokoja but the construction has been on for years without any idea of when they will finish. I saw the abandoned Kogi Hotel which has gulped over a billion naira while the former Confluence Beach Hotel built by Prince Abubakar Audu has been left to rot. The Ajaokuta Integrated Steel Complex was conceived in the 1970s with the vision of erecting a Metallurgical Process Plant and Engineering Complex with other auxiliaries and facilities. It is tagged as the “Bedrock of Nigeria’s industrialisation”. I have passed there a couple of times on my way to Enugu State but the place is still a shadow of itself. It was never fully completed and an attempt to privatise it has been enmeshed in a lot of controversies and legal tussles.
During my previous visit, I took a boat ride to the confluence point where River Niger and River Benue met in Lokoja. This time round, my host took me to another tourist site, Mount Patti, which is estimated to be 1,500 metres above sea level. It has a similar ambience to Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River State which I have also been privileged to visit. On Mount Patti, you can have an aerial view of the whole of Lokoja. There, I saw Lord Lugard Rest House, a mini museum, a Baobab tree said to be 150 years old and green vegetation populated by Teak tree plantation said to have been cultivated by the colonial masters over 100 years ago. Unfortunately, the asphalt road leading up to this historical site has peeled off in many places. Such a place which should have been used to build recreation and relaxation centres with souvenir spots as well as mountain race has been left to rot. It is now hosting a couple of broadcast stations.
There is nothing wrong if Kogi State has its own airport and airline like Akwa Ibom did. Imagine the patronage that would have accrued to such an airline that would have been serving communities in the nine adjoining states apart from itself. While it is true that Kogi may not be one of the states getting highest monthly allocations from the Federation Account, it can engage in public-private-partnerships to develop many of its great potential goldmines from tourism to agriculture and solid minerals development.