Farin Ruwa: A worthy tourist attraction ignored and untapped by Nigeria Tourism Board.

Farin Ruwa

Once, there was a powerful vision to turn the Farin Ruwa waterfalls in Nasarawa State into a major tourist destination.

Today, the project seems to have gone to sleep and inhabitants of the host community complain bitterly. But the powerful waters pour down beautifully as they have always done.

The journey begins from the sleepy town of Chessun Baki on an unpaved motor road that is akin to a grazing route. It is rough and narrow, allowing for only a one-way vehicular traffic. But it is the only link to an amazing sight: the Farin Ruwa water falls.

It lies about 50 kilometres away from Chessun Baki at the end of the snaky road that links the hilly villages of Aron Chini, Aron Chigbu, Aron Tumara, Aron Sarki, Mama, Marhai, and then Massange, which sits at the base of the falls. These are villages of Wamba Local Government Area, and Farin Ruwa Development Area of Nasarawa State.

The journey lasts over three hours in any type of vehicle. That is when the vehicle does not breakdown with flat tyres, on account of the sharp-edged stones washed by the torrential rains of this mountainous zone of the state. Colourful campaign posters of politicians seeking votes for various high offices of authority in 2011, compete for space on the walls of the squalid houses along the way. They remind one that the simple people of these lonely communities have not been forgotten at all. The posters peel off with every fresh rain, but they are replaced almost immediately.

At Aron Chigbu, one begins to sight the water fall, appearing like some faded white paint on the walls of the mountains because of distance. It looks close, so that first time visitors are deceived that they can reach it in a matter of minutes. But the farther one goes, the farther the sight gets. This appears and disappears because of the many forests, valleys and hills, as well as the curvy nature of the road.

The first contact with the falls is the Njiri River which takes waves of surging waters from the base of the splashing falls, across the south-east section of the state, through Amba, Zali and down to the Benue River. A culvert runs across the river, but it is so low that it easily gets submerged in the river anytime it rains, cutting off access for both villagers and visitors.

The road ends at Massange. The visitor is compelled to park and continue the journey on foot, crossing streams and forests, walking valleys and climbing hills. Then, on contact made previously at the LGEA Primary School at the edge of Massange, the visitor can meet with Emma Agalti, the tour guide who will lead the way in what seems like an endless journey.

Agalti was hired from his home at Massenge, by the state Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2004, to keep watch over the falls as tour guide. He wakes up in his home every morning like all civil servants, and heads to work, trekking over 20 kilometers on a daily basis to and fro the falls. He either sits at the beautifully constructed gates into the thick forest that leads up to the falls, or at the gateway into the well constructed, but abandoned tourist resort overlooking the falls from a distant.

Agalti was waiting at the gateway into the abandoned, massive project. A phone call at the primary school fixed the tour. He quickly placed his transistor radio and the tourists register under his left armpit, stretching out his right hand to welcome this reporter. It was the first time he was receiving a journalist in years, and the first time to receive a visitor after the visit of 12 National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members from Wamba on June 19.

The walk to the gates of the falls brought this reporter face to face with the grace of beauty that abounds: the kilometers of high mountains that form a tall wall around the many communities of Farin Ruwa Development Area, the long tall trees of the thick rain forest, the enrapturing sight and the increasing roar of the cascading Farin Ruwa, as well as the darkness that begins to envelope one with every step down the fall.

Then comes the bolted gate house of the fall, standing face to face with the visitor, and waiting for the tour guide to unlock with the bunch of keys that hung firm on his belt. This is where Agalti, the poorly paid tour guide does the official welcome, asking about the mission of the visitor, and making himself available to be asked questions too. He knows his job too well, such that he can even throw up questions for the visitor, and answer them, all the same. He leads the visitor out of the gate house, to a railed stair case that descends down a pedestrian bridge, and then to another stretch of stair case that ascends in a meandering style. The weather is tropical and gets colder here. The forest is thick with varieties of trees – some of them looking so tall beyond imagination, and some rope round and sandwich the large rocks that litter the area. The walk continues and gets even more delightful such that the visitor is compelled to forget the distance. The beginning of the roaring Njiri River lies on the left hand side of the unending staircase, white-painted iron seats over-grown with weeds owing to disuse, still stand firm on the ground; and the endangered tribe of stray rhesus monkeys that wink at the visitor, leaving one tree branch to the other and plucking leaves with mischief, and then thickening darkness of the tropic, again.

Then comes the remains of a shrine built many years ago, by the Kulere speaking tribe now scattered in Massange, Marhai and the Sha and Daho parts of Bokkos Local Government Area in the neighbouring Plateau State. Juh, the chief god of the Kulere people of Massange, is believed to be sitting in this shrine. Juh, the people’s god of vitality, of bumper harvest, of livestock, of nourishment and fertility, and of unity and other good things, is believed to be the god of vengeance as well. In the early days of migration and settlements, the people of Massange came under various invasions, but they fought back only after prayers and supplications are made to Juh, from whom they got the approval to proceed to war, and win thus.

“The belief of the Massange people is that no war was ever fought and won without the approval of Juh”, Agalti explained. He said the people’s chief priest and high priests would first take a bow and arrow, and place in the shrine to stay overnight. Called Karam, the priests of Juh would return by daybreak to see the position of the bow and arrow. “If they remain lying down, it means Juh was not taking vengeance. But if they stand upright, as believed, it means Juh wanted vengeance. Then, the priests would return to the village where the large army of tribal warriors was already assembled. The priests would signal, and the war chants will begin. The people will roll out drums, and the drums will roar”, Agalti said as he walked this reporter up to the direction of the big falls.

The hilly staircase reaches the peak, and begins to descend, bringing the visitor face to face with the over-powering grace of nature. It is the rage of the cascading Farin Ruwa Water Falls. It is breath-taking, dropping 200 metres down the mountain, with a roar that compels the visitor and the tour guide to shout in order to be heard. The stair case terminates here with a railed bridge of about 10 metres that snakes round a rock. There is no going further, but both the visitor and the tour guide are drenched in soothing waters that fly off the falls.

Agalti comes in with some insight: “There is a basin of water on top of the mountains. It is surrounded by the thick vegetation you see over there. It is the source of the falls”, he shouted, pointing continually in the direction of the mountain top. “The basin collects from different tributaries that flow into the Sha River from the neighboring Bokkos in Plateau State”, Agalti shouted again, panting as he explained. He restrained this reporter from going closer to take a photograph, explaining that at this time of the year, the water surges with higher pressure which can sweep off even the best swimmers, and drown them.

The Kulere tribe calls this falls, Mayes, meaning “it comes from somewhere”, just as the people of Marhai call it Kur Maha Muchacha. But it has come to be popularly known as Farin Ruwa, Hausa for white water, because of the clean water that gushes down the mountain. In the dry season, the falls are sparkling clean, and calm, but the rainy season increases the pressure. This is because at this time, the basin of water that lies on top of the water swells up further, overflowing the banks such that the falls collect dirt and rubbish around. This reporter captured this scenario during last week’s visit as the water that splashed down was something of a colour mixed with dirt. A water goddess called Jakawa lives there, according to the Massange people, and they have always gone there to offer sacrifices of giant kola nuts and well fed chicken, while praying for rains.

Leaving the falls is like moving away from the grace of nature. The tour guide opened the register for records to be made of this reporter and Abubakar Audu Wamba, the commercial driver who hung around to also catch the beauty. The register which was opened in April of 2008 was the second since 1999 when the administration of former Governor Abdullahi Adamu began the development of this scenic spot and tourist destination. The gate house was erected at this time.

More than two years after, this register – made of a hard cover higher education notebook, is yet to reach its middle. This reporter was the 1212th visitor to this scenic location since 1999 when the gate house was constructed, the 230th since January 1, 2010, and the second in the month of June, after the group of 12 corps member that visited on June 19. It shows a couple of foreigners had strayed in around 2009 with remarks that Farin Ruwa is some great tourism potential waiting to be harnessed and explored.

The visit does not end there at the great falls; Agalti, on demand, can take the visitor to the abandoned project to develop the scenic location, and, by extension, attract tourists with the multiplier effects of investment. An uncompleted building and a yet-to-be connected transformer stand at the gateway, staring at the visitor. The once graded road meanders up the hill where the massive project of the state government’s Tourist Resort lies abandoned. The only aspects of the project remaining are the electricity connection, furnishing and the construction of the road that leaves Chessun Baki, off the Akwanga-Wamba-Fadan Karshi highway.

The administration of Abdullahi Adamu graded the road, providing a Safari access to the falls. At the same time, the tourist resort was constructed. While the project was on going, the then governor hosted a staggering number of visitors to the state including foreigners who were surprised at sighting the awesome grace of nature that lies in the state, yet untapped. The administration’s life came to an end on May 29, 2007, marking the abandonment of this project.

“The former governor was a regular visitor to this place”, said Agalti as he walked this reporter to the abandoned project. The facilities are world class. But they have been abandoned to the thick grass and shrubs, providing a natural habitat for the endangered species of bush animals, rodents and insects. The project site is also a fine grazing field for cattle. The structures are fast wearing off with rain, sun and disuse. A couple of the houses have been affected by winds, and they now collect rain waters that soak the fine interior. The tourist resort project is at best a pump of public funds into the drains.

Back at the pristine village of Massange, the people have continued to complain without an end to it. They have counted too many losses since the day the project was stalled. “Adamu used to visit this place regularly, with large number of visitors. For easy access, he had to grade the road that took vehicles up to the foot of the falls. The multiplier effects were so much, and we counted some of them in cash”, said a teacher at the LGEA primary school at Massange.

He said the presence of government was felt in those days, adding “and the project means so much to us.” He said these days, no government official comes that way since they have completely killed the hope of developing the tourism potential that lies in the area. “We are good farmers and we produce good quantity of varieties of crops. When government was visiting, it created an opportunity for sales, as most visitors turned out produce from the farms for visitors to buy. That period also eased transportation problems for us .The government then gave priority attention to our road. Now we don’t have any road, and there are no government facilities”, the teacher who declined his full identity said.

The road he talked about is now washed off by rains, exposing sharp-edged rocks, during the three years since the project has been lying waste at the falls. The police post which was built to completion level to provide security to villagers and visitors alike, has also been abandoned to reptiles. This is just as the preservation of the eco-system has been abandoned, with government looking the other way, while hunters and dealers in timber have a field day at destruction. A signpost reads: “No Hunting, No Bush Burning, No Felling of Tree”, with a warning to prosecute offenders, but government is not enforcing any such laws here. The result is that hunters are are killing the animals there, for sale with Dane guns or through bush burning, while dealers in timber are making brisk business felling choice trees for sale.

Sunday Trust spoke to Saf, the village head of Massange, Kyobok Agisam. He expressed surprise that government has not deemed it fit to look the way of the water falls for over three years now, wasting the opportunities that lie there for socio-economic development “This abandoned project worries the community because we benefited from it right from the start. We sold our farm products and honey which we produce in commercial quantity. But now, who comes this way, just as we have no access road to get to the market. What we are experiencing is post harvest loss”, the Saf said.

He also expressed fears of easy security threats, since there is neither a police post at the village, nor any government facilities, to remind wrong doers of the presence of government in the community.

This view had been promoted by the administrator of Farin Ruwa Development Area, when Governor Aliyu Akwe Doma visited Kwarra, headquarters of the area, recently, as part of his on going “Meet the People Tour.” The administrator, Barrister Dauda Ngwai sought the state government to implement the Farin Ruwa Eco-Tourism master plan, construct roads, bridges and culverts to link Kwarra with the border communities including Massange and Marhai. A community leader in one of the border town of Mama, the Madaki Mama, Alhaji Audu Lugu also made a case for the security of the border communities, insisting that security threats in the area can best be tackled if government makes its presence through the provision of physical structures.

The Nasarawa State commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Dauda Markus Esu is in South Africa where he led the state’s cultural troupe to represent Nigeria. But Sunday Trust spoke to the Information commissioner, Barrister Mamman Alakayi. He said he is barely three months in office, which makes it difficult for him to know if the Eco-Tourism project at Farin Ruwa is among the inherited abandoned projects Governor Doma promised completion this fiscal year.

Christened “Budget of Reality”, the 2010 Budget which capital expenditure of N40,646,265,383 represents 60 percent of the entire year’s budgetary expenditure, has outlined the “completion of inherited abandoned projects considered essential for socio-economic development of the state”, as one of its policy thrust in 2010.

Source: Sunday Trust