Jabi Lake was once no more than a pond, serving the water needs of Federal Capital Territory, FCT residents in the district known as Life Camp. Today, a development program of the FCT Administration has turned the once tiny resource into a magnificent man-made lake and an alluring tourist site. Stella Maris Amuwa writes.
Jabi Lake, a man-made aquatic environment in the heart of Abuja City Centre has evolved to be an alluring tourist and relaxation spot. Though artificial, the environment has been so recreated that it easily inspires appreciation for nature. Gmelina, mango, neen, orange, palm and bamboos trees form a splendid groove around the lake. Flamboyant flowers and well-groomed grasses cap the naturalness of the lake sides. Though it stretches from Jabi District to Kado, a greater part of it is in Jabi part of the Abuja City Centre.
Jabi Lake was once a small mass of water in 1993 before it was expanded by the Federal Capital Territory Administration for commercial fishing.
The development of Jabi Lake Resort, West Coast Phase One, was commissioned on May 7, 2007 by former president, Chief OlusegunObasanjo. In October 2008, an investor engaged three construction companies namely: Old Mutual Investment Group, Dural Properties Limited, and Louis Karol Architects for construction work on the lake. The then minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Dr.Aliyu Modibbo Umar instructed the Federal Capital Territory Administration to provide the plans.
Although, Jabi Lake was formerly a body of water which residents around Life Camp area of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT depended on for their domestic water needs, with the relocation of the nation’s headquarters from Lagos to Abuja in 1993, the lake was expanded to cater for more residents of the federal capital and its environs.
On daily basis, sports lovers are seen engaging in various sporting activities on the lake. On Saturdays, the lake booms with wedding, sport activities, and sundry programmes. On Sundays, Jabi Lake bustles with religious gatherings. Swimmers also charge into the lake for a swim. Only film makers seem to be missing in action in inviting Abuja tourist centre.
Brisk informal businesses boom in the lake. Photographers, snacks sellers, people who rent mats, tents, bicycle, horse and speed boats smiling to the bank in Jabi Lake as just all manners of businesses flourish in the park.
Kele Ugoji, a civil servant who works with one of the tourism agencies in Abuja is a regular visitor to the lake. He said, “The lake is a perfect site to behold nature and burn out stress anytime any day.” He urged the federal government to complete the development of the site as this will attract more foreign and local tourist alike.
However, Andrew Okoye, a keen watcher of affairs in the lake says that he is worried about security in the lake especially in the evenings. It can be noted that there is no security personnel presence at the entrance of the park like it used to be. The gates are shambolic, with people coming in and going out without any inhibitions or security search of any sort. These according to Okoye do not encourage any security and safety conscious person to go into the lake and relax.
Okoye says that the park is a fit and proper place for relaxation, but that adequate security measures need to be put in place to secure lives and properties in the lake.
Although police patrol around Jabi Lake in the night, a patron of the lake, who identified himself as Shauibu said some criminal activities go on in the area especially at night. A visit to the lake around 7pm last Thursday confirmed that there could be security threats as some group of young men swarm the vicinity, idling away, even as the smell of weed and cigarate dominate the air.
Although the initial plan for the site was to have two hotels, an office and residential compartments. Mayowa Idris, a tourist enthusiast who resides in Gwarimpa, Abuja, said the site gets better by the day unlike the slow start of things at the lake after it was commissioned. He added that with the Shop Rite located in the ambience of the lake, many nature lovers who troop in to enjoy the alluring atmosphere now kill two birds with one stone by doing their shopping afterwards.
Ezekiel Samson, a fisher man at the Jabi Lake, said swimming especially at night is restricted due to security reasons, he said it is better to have full knowledge of the water before engaging in swimming and more so, the lake is known to have crocodiles living in it. He advised that caution must be applied when it comes to flowing water, as every river, dam, lake or even seas dangerous fauna and as such it is better to apply caution. Crocodiles are very fast in water and they can catch up with humans in few minutes if troubled. “We fishermen know the particular part of the lake crocodiles live, but a visitor may not know. I have stayed here for about 20 years.We have been living on the banks of the lake for the past 20 years. The FCT administration confirmed our stay and gave us authority of temporary site 18 years ago. I was born into fishing.”
Investigations showed that the park’s management was concessioned to some South African investors in a contract worth $1.5 billion about N225 billion, meaning that the Lake is in the hands of some private developers. Tourism experts insist that concerted efforts should be made to develop all the phases of Jabi Lake Park so as to boost tourism in the FCT and provide expanded recreational services to the residents.
Ishaku Adamu who has been doing horse riding business in the site said, “We charge N300 per ride with two children or one adult. Sometimes, a family may end up spending over N2,000, especially if they are all interested in climbing horses. During festive periods like Christmas, New Year or Sallah, the business is more interesting because of high patronage. Many families and other fun seekers would want to ride horses and take pictures. During such periods, we struggle to cope with the demands from customers. We would even beg them to be orderly.
He however, notes that “Many entertain fears that we might disappear with their children or kidnap them, but I assure you that we have never recorded and will never record such a case. There are some instances in which families would leave their children with us and after the rides, we would re-unite them. Do not also forget that even though there are bushes around, this place is not too large for any horse rider to disappear with anybody’s child or children. Our identities are documented and we are even more interested in our business than anything else.”
Apart from horse rides, speed boat and canoe as well as other water craft rides are available in the lake. Families cruise on such rides with experts, and can spend as much as N1500 on such cruises.
An speed boat operator known as “Mans People” said he would not exchange the business for any other job. He disclosed that he could make more than N30,000 daily, especially during festive periods.
“We charge N1000 per family and as you can see, we have two speedboats to attend to customers. Interestingly, we struggle to cope with the demand during festive periods because many families want to enjoy boat cruising. During such times and busy weekends, we make as high as N30,000. But, there are days that patronage is very low and discouraging,” he stated.