Over a decade ago, at the training for my first TV job, one of the trainers, an American, said he realised why green is the dominant colour on the Nigerian flag when he arrived in Abuja. Bob loved the Abuja landscape and how the city was planned. The mountains and the lush greenery are key features of Nigeria’s political and administrative base, anyone who comes across the natural beauty of the main districts would most likely be struck by it, though there are chances that those who live there may see nothing extraordinary as a result of see-finish. The city is enveloped by rock formations, creating organic aesthetics that only nature can provide. Outdoor and recreation activities built around these steep-sided natural geographic landscapes are now gaining traction.
Various social media posts of Abuja residents documenting their hiking experiences are enough to convince you no one has seen the backyards and obscure corners of the city like a hiker. Beyond knowing the city in and out, I have always wondered what excites or motivates people to hike in Nigeria, especially in regions where security concerns are prevalent. I was interested in the backstories – What are the gains or the pains? There’s only one way to find out, join the trail.
On a cloudy Saturday morning, at about 8 am I joined one of the hiking groups at a muster point in Asokoro area of the FCT. I googled safe hiking weather – blue skies; puffy white clouds are ideal for day hiking. So, the day’s weather may be casting shadows over the exercise. Would it be cancelled for safety reasons? As I would later find out, turnout may be affected but the light showers are a good recipe for the long trail we were about to embark on.
We left the muster point in Asokoro, and after a 15-minute drive, we arrived at a community in Nyanya – a border town between the FCT and Nasarawa. At this point, cars are parked and everyone kits up, which includes having lightweight hiking gear like a backpack, water bottle, snacks and other essentials needed for hours of hiking.
The journey on foot started and about a kilometre into it, I sighted the signpost that reads “Welcome to Dnalagwa Community, Aso Pada Karu L.G.A, Nasarawa State.” As a first-time hiker, I was intrigued by the fact that I had casually walked into a new state I never planned on visiting – all thanks to hiking.
There are literatures where journeys of early European hikers are documented. In the late 1700s to early 1800s, the idea of walking for pleasure was said to have been popularized mostly by writers in the United Kingdom. Various writers and influential figures published works about their journeys on foot. An English priest named Thomas West published a guide to England’s Lake District in 1778 that piqued interest in walking as a leisurely activity. As these writers and others began publishing works about their travels, more and more people began taking walks in the countryside and enjoying walking tours throughout the UK and Europe.
As an African, I guess it’s not out of place to ponder why people take such a strong interest in hiking. Most people who went on long walks or hikes in the Middle Ages did so out of necessity or religious reasons. It is interesting to know that the idea of a long walk can be considered a recreation. Fidelis Mbah, a journalist who’s currently based in Abuja, hikes every Saturday. He networks and believes hiking helps keep the body and mind fit. “Apart from making friends, keeping very fit has also helped me, that is why I don’t really have any weight to lose, but again this serves the purpose of all sorts of exercise I would have been doing in the gym or spending my money but this comes free and it also comes natural,” he says.
For frequent hikers, wildlife observations in a remote or forest reserve are part of the attractions that keep them going on some trails. On this particular expedition, discovering some remote destinations with very welcoming dwellers and enjoying the almost-unreal landscapes are the reasons I would love to do this again and again. This is also part of the reason why Timi Oke who has hiked beyond the shores of Nigeria never gets tired of the experience. “What interest me the most are the minutest details in nature, this is actually a long walk, along the line I saw some butterflies, some little leaves, some little water that caught my fancy, those are the experiences and it makes me, because I’m a Christian, it makes me appreciate the wondrous works of the creator, of God almighty,” he said.
We walked through the remote natural landscapes on a designated path led by pathfinders. As the name implies, they found the path and are expected to provide direction for other members of the group. Pathfinders are like the advanced team; their core responsibility is to ensure no one goes astray and is left behind. Mountain hiking requires a certain level of energy and coordination, the physical and mental supports are, by default, provided communally, with the pathfinders looking out for everyone.
After walking for about five kilometres, the pathfinders signalled it was time to hit the brakes and rest our obviously tired legs, the neat green oasis near the rock – our destination – was where we all took a rest. At this point, my knee joints were already making straining sounds and asking questions, having had to take the body weight longer than usual. The body is busy, and so is the mind. I had a roving thought about how much toll this trail will take on my body. If my feet were already this heavy, and there was still another 5 kilometres journey back to where our cars are parked, would I not be dealing with an increased risk of excessive strain or injury at the end of this hike?
Besides physical weakness or injury one may sustain from a tedious trail, for those who hike often, caution is the watchword and safe group hiking is expected to be guided by certain unwritten protocols. A fatal fall of a young hiker was reported in 2020. The hiker who wasn’t identified in most news reports fell to his death while climbing a mountain in the Kubwa area of Abuja on a rainy Saturday. This sad incident has also made the hiking community in Abuja more cautious and stricter with keeping to safety measures.
The litmus test came for the group I joined. They are confronted with the tough decision of whether to terminate the hike by the foot of the foggy rock or risk it all and climb. It’s midday and it continues to drizzle; the rock is wet and would certainly be slippery. The voices of the pathfinders were resounding, it’s a No for them! None of us could boast of fresh legs and there was no need to push our luck by climbing the tempting mountain. The climax of the hiking trail is setting one’s foot at the top of the hill – but it’s a damp day – so as deprived as many members of the group felt, it’s a lot of risk to climb. The satisfying view of the luxuriant vegetation and the wallpaper-like mountains made the decision to settle at the bottom of the rock an easy one.
Countries such as Germany, France, Russia, and the UK have witnessed rapid growth in hiking over the last few years with increased support from private and public institutions.
In Nigeria, the interest in hiking is growing especially amongst Abuja residents but with almost zero government involvement. This urban tourism can be developed into a big earner even for suburbs and the remote neighbours of the big cities. Abel Ozigi says FCT authorities can tap into hiking tourism potentials. “FCT administration can do a whole lot to improve tourism because in every location where we hike, we see potentials of tourism. Look at this background here now, there is a whole of potential, assuming this place is fully built, and you have a tourist’s point, you know it would have increased the IGR (internally generated revenue) of the FCT or even the neighbouring states that are here,” he says.
At the end of the day’s journey, as always, the group tracked and recorded the key hiking data for the day. 48 hikers took a total of 15,343 steps, covering a distance of 10.71Km traversing several communities. It was an insightful and worthwhile journey for me. I hiked for the first time, made new friends and shot a 30-minute TV piece capturing the motivation of Abuja hikers, security concerns, tourism potential and what the country stands to gain from hiking.