Jos: A tourist city in decline and disrepair

a refuse container placed smack in the centre of a median at the city centre (terminus)

a refuse container placed smack in the centre of a median at the city centre (terminus)

ImageImagemImageImageImageImageWhile state governments in Nigeria are putting their best feet forward by beautifying their environments and upgrading their best tourist assets, the Plateau State government appears to be doing just the opposite. By Pelu Awofeso, just back from Jos

 A bad first impression

The Jos city centre, otherwise called Terminus, is in its worst state in a decade: it’s lost that familiar air of serenity and in its place is disorder, brought about by illegal buying and selling. And gone with its tranquility is its charm. One of the iconic roundabout art, the slim yellow-and-white column just a few metres away at the Ahmadu Bello Way/ Tafawa Balewa intersection, has lost its shine; it is not only looking wrecked, it is plastered all over with unsightly posters and its base serves as a ‘parking lot’ for wheelbarrows and locally made carts, which their owners pile there overnight.

“Mama Tapgun”, the more familiar of the two sculptures, which once towered from a roundabout at the Murtala Mohammed Way/ Bauchi Road intersection and gave that part of the city its unique character, has long been demolished and two unsightly remnants remain in its place. No attempt has been made to clear them away and construct a befitting replacement. What one find on that spot instead are disused bicycles and broken down cars.

A few feet away, the famed Jos Main Market, which was razed early 2002, remains untouched and unattended 12 years on. In its heyday, the main Market, which had some 7,000 shops, was one of Plateau State’s most celebrated tourist attractions; it welcomes traders and tourists from neighbouring states by their tens of thousands on daily basis. Today, its colourful ruins rise above the filth and noise around it. If anyone needed proof that the government has done little or nothing to bring the city-centre back to its old glory, it will be the Jos Main Market and its environs.

Hustlers’ paradise

The result of that neglect is that illegal street trading has bloomed to the point that much of the buying and selling that should ordinarily take place inside the Main Market have spilled onto the main roads, and motorists are the worst for it. “I avoid that area like a plague,” one resident, a civil servant, says. “If I need to pass through there I always have to find an alternate route or else I have to prepare to spend two to three hours in the bottleneck. It’s terrible.” 

Equally terrible is the multiple refuse collection points in the vicinity, which have filled up to the point of over spilling their containers. “We have wondered how the government can allow the place to become so polluted,” says one resident who didn’t want her name mentioned. “If you report this situation as is, you will be speaking the minds of most residents of the city.”

The bulk of the traders sell imported second-hand clothes displayed on the floors, in wheelbarrows and in makeshift kiosks for a monthly fee. “I paid ten-thousand naira for this space and it is for one year,” Ikechukwu tells me. His space is one of hundreds of waist-high stalls on the Murtala Mohammed Way side of the market. Some pay a lot less per day while others pay even more, he adds.

“It’s not as if I am satisfied to sell on the streets,” says Usman, who recently relocated from Maiduguri. “This is what I could afford to do as a petty trader. If I had my way, I wouldn’t be doing this.”

To decongest the terminus area, and perhaps to serve the population better, the government has built three Satellite Markets. But some of the traders say they weren’t getting enough customers to justify their moving there, so they returned to the Terminus area, where they argue the buyers find easier to access. So I visited the Satellite market on Rukuba Road to see what the place looks like. From the outside, it’s a pretty piece of real estate, sitting on a large expanse of land with hundreds of lock-up shops, all of which I am told by one of the shop owners are already allocated.

On the day I visit, only a few of the shops are open for business.  “We are only managing this place, because since the market was commissioned by the president in 2011 there has not been electricity or water or conveniences. The whole place is just inconvenient,” says Ndubuisi, who sells provisions in one of the ground shops.  “There is not even a single bank we can lodge money from sales. Even if there were, we don’t make enough money here. The little we make, we use it to buy more goods for the shop.”

Vanishing beauty

Driving into the city from the Mararaba roundabout through the Jos-Bukuru Road, and through the Yakubu Gowon Way, I couldn’t help noticing that not much has changed in ten years. If anything, all I could see was a stagnant city, a city in disrepair, partly due to the series of ethno-religious crises that have swamped the city in recent years.

Just before the fire outbreak at the Jos main Market, the Terminus and its vicinity were a beautiful sight to behold. The roundabouts were regularly beautified and maintained. And in the twilight of the Joshua Dariye administration, the market had a budding garden that added to its attractiveness. All of that is gone.

“But you can’t come to a conclusion that nothing has happened or judge the administration just by what you have seen at Terminus only,” an official at the town planning unit of the Jos Metropolitan Development Board (JMDB), told me when I sought clarification as to why the city is looking worse off than it had always been in recent years. “Take a trip to other parts of the city and you will see that a lot has happened. The government is trying in terms of infrastructure development. It is building more inner roads where there were none.”

The official, who wouldn’t give his name, rebuffed every attempt to find out why Terminus and environs are in such disrepair. And almost everyone that I interviewed toed the same line, praising the present administration’s strides in infrastructure upgrade: the flyover at Gada Biyu (and another ongoing at the Secretariat Junction), the dualisation of the Mararaban Jamaa—Mangu Road; the construction of feeder roads; the building of a new Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH); the establishment of a satellite market in three different locations; and the construction of a new government House, among others.

“The current administration deserves credit for all that it has achieved so far,” one resident told me. “It has not only performed in the area infrastructure, it has also done so much in terms of Agriculture, setting up model farms in three towns—Mangu, Kassa and Vom in collaboration with the Isreali government. There is an agency in charge of that project and they provide regular training and support to famers of all types.

“But those are normal capital projects,” one resident says. “It has nothing to do with keeping the city clean and hygienic. The government needs to sit up.”