|Tuesday, August 3, 2021|
IDYLLIC TOURIST HAVEN
04/05/18, Biodun Omojola
Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State (R), and chairman of the State's Traditional Rulers Council, His Royal Majesty King Alfred Diete-Spiff (M), listen with rapt attention while former Nigerian president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (L), addressed the Council during his 3-day visit to the state to commission several landmark projects, as part of activities to mark the 6th Anniversary of the Dickson administration.
Bayelsa is not just about hard-nosed business, it has plenty to offer in tourism, including extreme tourism around the creeks and rivers that litter the state. Its clean beaches are ideal for adventurers seeking good wholesome fun.
Imagine a vast land of dynamic and enterprising people with a rich and diverse culture, nestled somewhere in an area that has being identified as one of the richest and most complex ecological locations in the world, in one of the richest countries, resource-wise, in a continent that is still an enigma wrapped in a mystery to many. The people of this land had one of the earliest contacts with the Europeans, were politically advanced for their time and were proponents of ethnic nationalism at a time when such was unheard of in their country. Now imagine that land finally opening up to the world. Won't you be one of the first to come visit, to see what is, probably, the best kept secret in the world? That place is Bayelsa State, south of resource rich Nigeria, the most populous Black nation in the world and the biggest economy in Africa.
Bayelsa is the heartland of the Ijaw Nation, the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria, which spreads from the rainforest region of Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers states within the Niger Delta to other states including Akwa-Ibom, Edo, and Ondo states. They are believed to be one of the earliest inhabitants of southern Nigeria and have long lived in places near sea trade routes and, as early as the 15th century, were connected to far-flung areas by trade. Master mariners, they can be found as migrant fishermen as far as Sierra Leone to the west and Gabon to the east along the west African coastline. They have engaged in commerce with the Europeans since at least the 19th century and underneath their land is crude oil that has transformed Nigeria into one of the most prolific oil producers in the world. The Ijaw culture is also unique; there is no mistaking the Ijaw man anywhere in the world.
Bayelsa State is an aquatic state perched on the Niger Delta, lies below sea level and is characterised by tidal flats, coastal beaches, beach ridge barriers and flood plains with lagoons the state's dominant relief features. There are numerous rivers and creeks crisscrossing the state that it is said Bayelsa has more creeks than roads. The soil types are shallow and poorly drained, and the climate is equatorial type in the south and tropical rain in the north with rain occurring generally every month - Akassa, a town in the state, has the highest rainfall record in Nigeria - and the wet season lasts for over 340 days, that's about 90 percent of the year.
The 3.5 kilometre runway of the new international cargo airport under construction by the Dickson administration in Yenagoa. The airport will be commissioned this year.
One would think the difficult topography and natural challenges would make the development of the tourism sector nightmarish. With a rich culture, beautiful beaches, beautiful art and excellent cuisine of fish and other sea foods, the topography was going to be the last thing that will hamper the sector's development for a determined administrator who knows the potentials of tourism. Rather, such an administrator would use the topography as a fulcrum to develop tourism. And that is what has been done in the state. To say Bayelsa's tourism potential is enormous is stating the obvious - what was needed was the political will to boost it and that is what Governor Seriake Dickson has provided.
To elevate tourism above the pedestrian, the Dickson administration established the Bayelsa State Tourism Development Agency with a mandate to develop the local tourism sector. Part of the agency's objectives includes the promotion and marketing of Bayelsa State as a destination of choice for local and international holidaymakers. This may not be an easy job description considering all Nigerian states with pretentions of tourism success have the same objective. But for Bayelsa, it is a bit different. As mentioned earlier, Bayelsa state is said to have more creeks than roads. This may be true. There are, indeed, many creeks in the mangrove forests and freshwater swamps.
Natural mariners, most Bayelsans know the creeks and rivers intimately so navigating them on canoes or speedboats is an easy task. Despite its difficult terrain, Bayelsa is open to the fun-seeking tourist as well as the studious one. The clean beaches - the state prides itself as having one of the longest coastlines of beaches - are a fun place to be while the forests, swamps, rivers and creeks are a botanist's haven. Home to several threatened and endangered plant and animal species, the Bayelsa forests and swamps are the perfect place for eco-tourism, a growing niche of the global tourism industry. With Bayelsa's vast array of exotic flora and fauna, some threatened by man's activities, it will, in no time, be a Mecca for eco-tourism.
To boost eco-tourism, Bayelsa has built a Heliport located just at the edge of Yenagoa, the state capital. Launched February 21, the Heliport, which can take about eight to ten helicopters at the same time, will make it easier for visitors from any Nigeria airport to land in Bayelsa to observe wildlife in their exotic ecosystem. A potential tourist just needs to take-off from any airport and fly into the state for an unforgettable experience.
Diete Spiff Heliport.
Complementing this is the newly inaugurated Grand Pavilion and Boat Club, Oxbow Lake. A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed with Bristow Helicopters, a leading aviation company in the country, to provide air services from major airports straight to inland Bayelsa. The initiative saw the first seaplane land at the Oxbow lake February 21. Work is also at an advanced stage on an airport, which will would be inaugurated as early as June. Undoubtedly, as air transport services are now available at the Oxbow Lake, the King A. P. Diete-Spiff Heliport and the international airport would enhance business, tourism and wealth creation. Governor Dickson said at the inauguration of the heliport that this was part of his developmental vision for the state. He said with the Heliport and the new airport Bayelsa is open and safe for business. He said the seaplane could land in any riverine area of the state. He invited prospective investors to "come to Bayelsa now before it is too late because Bayelsa in Nigeria's best kept secret". Governor Dickson has an impressive tourism master plan. Eco-tourism is not the only aspect of tourism the state is developing. For those interested in the culture, history and language of the Ijaw Nation, Bayelsa has a museum of monuments, an archival building and a language center, thus encouraging the documentation, celebration and studying of Ijaw heroes, cultures and languages. It must be said that the Ijaws are fiercely proud of their identity - they see themselves as being bound together by ties of language and culture - so the museum, archival building and language center are places where the ethnology and etymology of the Ijaw Nation can be studied and further understood.
Like many languages of the world, the Ijaw language has evolved over centuries to what is now spoken by millions of people. Interestingly, the Ijaw language is said to relate to a language that migrated from the Nile Valley by way of Ile Ife in Nigeria's south-west and Nupeland in the Nigerian heartland. There could be some truth to this as the famous glassmakers of Bida in Nupeland can also trace their origins to the Nile Valley. The now extinct Bernice Creole Dutch, spoken in Guyana, in the Caribbean, is partly based on Ijaw lexicon and grammar. That is an indication of how far the ancient Ijaw mariners travelled whether willingly, on trade missions or fishing expeditions or by coercion, through slavery. Suffice to say the Ijaw speak nine languages that are closely related to other languages and their etymology is worth studying.
Being a coastal state, Bayelsa is blessed with many beaches. One of them is the Okpoama Beach, site of an annual Christmas fiesta. For adventure seekers, there is a thrill for tourists willing to brave powerboats moving at breath-taking speed on the open, vast sea. There sea is treated like an actual road so there are marine "road junctions" and "bypasses". There is the Apoi creek forest, a tidal freshwater lowland swamp forest composed mainly of marshes, mangrove forest and freshwater swamps. Rich in flora and fauna, the forest serves as an important spawning and nursery ground for fish. It is a major area in the Niger Delta, the third largest wetland in the world, that supports birdlife and other mammals like the red colobus monkey, manatee, royal python, and chimpanzee.
The Ijaws of Bayelsa are reputed to have some of the most delicious delicacies in the Niger Delta region some already making a crossover to mainstream cuisine and accepted across Nigeria. For instance, boli and fish (coal roasted ripe or unripe plantain served with barbequed fish in palm oil or peppered stew) is said to be indigenous to the Ijaw people but is enjoyed by everyone. Many of the Ijaw delicacies evolve around fish and other seafoods. There is polofiyai, a traditional Bayelsa recipe, served with pounded yam, comprising periwinkles, plantains, dried fish, and scented leaves in palm oil and onion base and opuru fulo, made with lots of lobsters with condiments of smoked fish or fresh fish, spices and eaten with starch, yam, rice or plantain.
Director, Africa Operations, Bristow Helicopters Nigeria Ltd, Dapo Ayeleke (right) and Managing Director, Bayelsa Airline, Capt. Henry Imgbuku (2nd right) handing over copies of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the State Government and Bristow Helicopters Nigeria Ltd. for their services in the State at the Grand Pavilion and Boat Club Yenagoa, while the Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (rtd.) (left) looks on. Photo by Lucky Francis.
There are other attractions for the tourist especially in Akassa where slave transit camp and tunnel is located. This is where slaves were camped before being ferried across the Atlantic Ocean to the so-called New World. The Ijaw had one of the earliest contacts of Nigeria's peoples with Europeans and were intermediaries between them and the interior during the inglorious slave trade era. There is the Akassa Lighthouse, built in 1910 but relocated to its present site in 1912. Sixty metres tall, it has a spiral staircase leading up to the lighthouse; it is one of the tallest lighthouses in west Africa. Over 100 years old, it is constructed like a modern telecommunication mast and remains a great tourist attraction. There is the Akassa Wildlife Forest, a major forest reserve, ideal for bird watching with over 60 species of birds. It is an important roosting area for wintering pale arctic waders and terns in southern Nigeria.
No one comes to Bayelsa state without a visit to Oloibiri, site of the first ever oil well drilled in Nigeria. The well marked Nigeria's transformation from an agricultural powerhouse to a hydrocarbon one. There is the Mungo Park Residence, named after the famed British explorer who discovered the source of the River Niger that pours into the Atlantic Ocean through the state. His residence used to be the divisional headquarters of the old Brass division in the colonial days and has been preserved and refurbished as a monument of historical tourism.
Bayelsa is rated as the most peaceful and secure state in the Niger Delta region. There are no militants on fast boats with guns waiting to spring up from the depths of the mangrove forests to kidnap and demand a ransom. Governor Dickson made security a cardinal point of his Restoration Agenda and has delivered on this.
TOURISM MASTER PLAN: Bristow helicopter seaplane landing for the first time at the Aqua-port which was commissioned by Governor Dickson, February 21. This Aqua-port, perhaps the first of its kind in Nigeria, is located facing the Grand Pavilion and Boat Club in the state capital, Yenagoa. The Aqua- port will compliment the heliport which is already in place and airport which will be commissioned before the end of this year. Establishing the Aqua-port is part of the developmental vision of Governor Dickson. He believes with this facility now in place his administration will be able to take Bayelsa State to the world and the world to Bayelsa State.
Granted, the state's rich recreational facilities are yet to be fully developed, they are gradually moving towards it. There are luxury hotels, electricity is constant, there is ease of air transportation from anywhere in the country and infrastructure including roads and conference centers are being developed at a fast pace to accommodate visitors and make their stay enjoyable. Already the state has played host to high profile international music and fashion festivals and awards including the International Jazz festival, the African Academy Movie Awards, the Caribbean African American Nations, the Music Awards and the African Fashion Reception. The state surely has a place on the international entertainment map.
Awaiting the tourist are sandy beaches, traditional festivals, creeks, streams and rivers as well as forests with their rich array of wildlife and ancient shrines. And, of course, the cuisine. Bayelsa is a green state, so expect to see lots of greenery and enjoy cool sea breeze from the Atlantic Ocean. Remember, it is not all about nature in Bayelsa state. Be sure to sample their unique dresses, grab, as a memento, one of their fedora hats and free-flowing blouses and witness one festival or dance. In art, the Ijaws are very good at carving especially canoes, boats and coral beads. They are also handy at using shells to create crafts for fashion, and decorative purposes. So, grab an Ijaw objet d'art. Bayelsa's tourism is no longer going to be a kept secret for long. You can have the privilege of being one of the first to visit just as the state opens up to the world.
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