On one particular date, Mr Clifford Emeka and his family wanted to have a good time in a good, quiet location and they resolved that Jabi Lake Park in Abuja would be an ideal location for such relaxation.
Visualising what the park used to be in the past and some verbal reports about the place, Clifford convinced his family members that they should all go there for a picnic.
So, every member of the family was excited about the excursion and looked forward to the ecstasy of relaxing in the serene park that is located midway between Jabi and Kado neighbourhoods of the FCT.
However, at the entrance to the park, Clifford’s wife asked if her husband really knew the way to the park.
“This is strange; this is a caricature of what we used to have here in those days. What is really the problem?’’ a visibly shaken Clifford mumbled.
“This place is unkempt, the gates have been vandalised and everybody comes in and goes out at will. There is no security, this place is the exact opposite of what it used to be in those days,’’ he added.
But the couple’s amazement only typifies the bewilderment of many recent fun seekers who came to the park for leisure in recent times.
A visit to Jabi Lake Park confirms the unspeakable neglect which the park has suffered, as the pond is visibly polluted, while the lake’s shore is littered with layers of garbage and animal dung.
There is no visible sign of development at the park, while two boats — either used for racing or fishing – are usually seen anchored by the side of the lake. In a nutshell, the park looks disgusting, lonely and dirty.
Observers, however, note that the park is often used for religious gatherings, wedding receptions and theatre groups’ rehearsals, among others.
They, nonetheless, insist that park ought to have been a veritable tourist destination in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), adding that it also has the potential of generating considerable income for the FCT Authority (FCTA), while providing jobs for the youth.
Mr Nduka Kelechi, the Manager of Astoria Travels and Tours Ltd., says that the Jabi Lake Park, if adequately developed, has the potential of competing with some well-known artificial lake parks in other parts of the world.
“The Jabi Lake Park could be developed to a level that it could compete with recognised ecotourism sites such as the one in Goyang city, South Korea, which has a lot of ecotourism attractions such as water, trees and flowers where people can interact with nature,’’ he adds.
Jabi Lake Park, which was inaugurated in 2007 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, was specifically designed to boost the tourism potential of the FCT but observers lament that the raison d’être behind the park’s creation would be defeated unless urgent actions are taken to revive the park.
Jabi Lake Park is originally intended to be later upgraded to an international tourist resort with a five-star hotel with 400 rooms, office suites and other facilities to boost tourism.
Mrs Rose Brown, the owner of a flower garden by the park, says that the park, which is now derelict, has suffered years of neglect by the government.
She, therefore, urges that the government and the management of the park to make tangible efforts to revive the park and save it from further dilapidation.
Besides, Brown notes that the park is no longer serene; adding that it no longer has the quiet natural soothing effect it used to have on visitors in the past.
“When the park was in good shape, the environment was inviting, stimulating natural feelings and encouraging robust engagements. These days, however, these are no longer there,’’ she says.
Sharing similar sentiments, Dr Kate Udoh, another florist at the park, stresses that the current state of the park is by all means pitiable.
“It is more than five years now since the inauguration of the park. We are not happy about its current condition because we don’t have other recreation spots in Abuja apart from the Millennium Park and the Zoological Garden.
“Initially, the environment was well-kept and parties and picnics were held there but right now, the environment is no more conducive for that,’’ she says.
Expressing similar concern about the state of the park, Mr Dan Ukachukwu, a lawyer, says that he once wrote a letter captioned “Jabi Lake Park has gradually gone from beautiful to the ugly’’ to the editor of a daily newspaper.
Ukachukwu, who particularly bemoans the collapse of the perimeter fence of the park, stresses that it has made the park exposed and insecure.
He recalls that the park is formerly an ideal location for solitary reading, writing and sober reflections, adding that it has now become a place for questionable characters.
“Indeed, Jabi Lake Park has become a ghost of the place, previously visited by the connoisseur, to experience the ecstasy of a splendid sunset on the lake,’’ he says.
However, Mr Abdullateef Olajide, a musician, says that he and his group still use the park for their rehearsals because of its serene atmosphere.
“We have enough space to do all our rehearsals without disturbing anybody; even the cool breeze and fresh air there is inspirational but the place could be better, if well-managed,’’ he says.
Mr Ikechukwu Iyeke, a businessman, who underscores the need for the proper maintenance of Jabi Lake Park, claims that he usually visits the park twice every week to have a good time with his family.
“The park, however, needs a face-lift; weeds have taken over a larger part of the place; due to the lack of proper maintenance, the whole place is now littered with garbage and filth.
“On Saturday mornings, civil servants still come here to jog and have their walkouts in large numbers,’’ he says.
Mr Olatoyinbo Hosea, who resides in the neighbourhood, also complains about the state of Jabi Lake Park, expressing concern about the possible presence of scorpions, snakes and other dangerous reptiles at the park, which is now taken over by weeds.
Mr Ndubuisi Okoye, an engineer, says that he is largely uncomfortable with the state of security at the park.
“The gates have been destroyed, nobody mans the gate; people come in and go out the way they like without any qualm. The park’s lighting facilities have all been vandalised and stolen; you cannot come here at night.
“Jabi park can be as good as any other park in the world; the concept is laudable but the vision is never sustained,’’ Okoye says.
However, that is not to suggest that the government is unmindful of the current state of Jabi Lake Park.
Investigations reveal that as part of government’s efforts to revive the park, the park’s management was ceded to some South African investors in a contract worth 1.5 billion dollars (about N225 billion).
The two-year contract ought to have commenced in October 2008, while the Parks and Recreation Department of the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMAC) was given the mandate to oversee the accelerated greening of the park.
“What then is the effect of the contract on the park?’’ some observers are often tempted to ask.
Mr Ologun Rolands, the Acting Director, Department of Parks and Recreation, FCTA, however, declines to comment on the matter.
He explains that a law suit on the park’s management is before a competent law court, adding, however, that his department still undertakes a skeletal monitoring of the park.
“Commenting on the issue would be sub juidice; it would be tantamount to a contempt of court,’’ he says.
All the same, tourism experts insist that concerted efforts should be made to revive Jabi Lake Park in good time so as to boost tourism in the FCT and provide exceptional recreational services to the residents.
Nwapi and Onuegbu write for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
Edith Nwapi and Perpetua Onuegbu