I had the experience of visiting one of Nigeria’s national parks this weekend. In a typical Nigerian style last minute plan, my program set out on our journey to Old Oyo National Park early Friday evening, planning the trip that afternoon.
Leaving from Ibadan around 3:30 p.m., we arrived at the park’s hotel in Sepeteri around 7:30 p.m. The ride was beautiful-vast expanses of green savannah stretched out on each side of our bus. Thanks to the few recent rain falls the trees and grass are lush and full. We encountered a surprise on the way that definitely shook me up a little bit and gave me more insight into politics in Nigeria. The surprise was the aftermath of a political rally for Nigeria’s PDP (People’s Democratic Party) party–specifically it was a 50-car caravan of political campaigners to reelect Oyo State’s current governor, Alao Akala. We met the first 20 or so cars-mostly Prados, Mercedes Benz’s, Jeeps and pick-up trucks carrying Akala, his advisors and a bus of “important women” (as the sign that hung on the bus said) coming around the turn to enter Iseyin town. We stopped on the side of the road there to wait for one of our teachers to meet us and thank God we did. In the 30 minutes we were stopped, we saw the second half of the caravan pass by. Mini bus (danfo) after mini bus filled with young men wearing tattered jeans and shirts, waving machetes and guns in the air, shouting pro-PDP sayings drove by. These people are referred to as Akala’s thugs. Then came the school busses wrapped in Akala campaign slogans, a couple Coach busses adorned with Akala and Goodluck’s (President of Nigeria) faces, lines of cars wrapped with pro-Akala jargon and the man’s face. Quite a sight to see. Our teacher met us and we continued on through Iseyin. The hundreds of people standing in disarray on the street, shattered glass covering the streets, mini-busses with all the windows shattered and bullet holes in the sides told a story of what must have happened just 30 minutes before. Our bus filled with white students passed cautiously through the mess, attracting stares from the crowds. We continued on our path to the park full of wildlife and exotic plants that awaited us.
Maybe it was because we set out for the park too late-we left at 9 a.m. and apparently all the animals are already hiding from the scorching sun by then- or we were just unlucky but our journey around the Old Oyo National Park did not see one animal,the unidentifiable brown mass that scurried across the road in front of our car does not count. From the comfort of our air-conditioned van we saw a minuscule fraction of the park that spans a remarkable 2,512 sq km (970 sq mi), most of which fall in Oyo State, some extends to Kwara State. The park is named after Old Oyo, the political capital of the Oyo Empire between the 16th and 18th centuries. You can actually visit the city’s ruins inside the park, but we didn’t make it that far. We saw lots of plants used for medicinal purposes (the Yoruba’s call it ago), one river, yam farms and a beautiful river basin that is dried now exposing smooth flat rocks. We toured the park for about 3 and half hours in total. For a journey that took almost four hours, including the PDP caravan sighting, it was worth it for all of the villages, yam/cassava/cashew farms and natural beauty we saw along the way.