When one of the leading inbound tour companies in the country decided to have a special package for the Easter festivity period, it was to offer Nigerians and non-Nigerians the opportunity to enjoy one of the iconic tourist sites in the north, the Kajuru Castle, in Kajuru council area, southern Kaduna, Kaduna State.
Kajuru Castle is pitched on a rocky hill giving visitors a bird-eye view of the surrounding area. It is a medieval style fortress edifice with baronial style hall with suites and armour; however, it is pitched on top of the rocky hill like a Barian castle. The bedrooms look like dungeons. The castle, like the ones of old, has towers.
There is also a swimming pool in the centre of the castle. All these have become a pull for local and inbound tourists. It has enjoyed a steady tourist traffic until the black Easter Friday in Kajuru when bandits snuffed out life from two out of 11 tourists that had gone hideaway to relax, rejuvenate and return to the city.
In the hellish attack by the bandits, two tourists, Faye, a British aid worker, and Mathew Danjuma Ogwuche, were unfortunately killed. It was a black day for tourism in Nigeria.
In the last two or three years, there has been a buzz about tourist sites in Nigeria. These sites have become exciting to visit and enjoy the ambience. The positive about this new found interest in Nigerian tourist sites is that the push is coming from the young and vibrant in search of adventure and new experiences.
The current difficult economic climate in the country has made it difficult for many to go on holiday outside the country. Ghana that used to be a favorite destination for the Nigerian tourists has also become expensive for Nigerian tourists, hence the desire to explore Nigerian sites.
The castle was built by a German national, Gerhard Huebner. It all started sometime in 1975 when the District Head of Kajuru, acting on the instruction of the Emir of Zaria, granted permission to the German to build a temporary weekend hospitality resort on a hilltop in Kajuru village. It was initially a temporary structure but it later became a permanent structure, which he named The Kajuru Castle.
Although the construction started in the early 80s, it was not completed until around 1989. Since then, it had become a hit to both local and international tourists. The tourists who arrived the castle last Easter Friday, were among the thousands that had visited the place in the last 20 years with no incident. Hitherto, there had never been any serious security issue at the castle, nevertheless, adequate security has always been provided for visitors.
Before the Easter tragedy, Motley Tours and Logistics Company had released a beautiful flyer for the tour it intended to package to Kajuru Castle, titled: “Explore Kajuru Castle”. Other activities lined up for the tour included train ride, castle tour, lunch, pool fun, hike, game and more. It was to be at the cost of N19,999 for single lodgers and N39,999 for two persons sharing a room.
There had not been anything out of the ordinary from Kajuru packaged tours, but this time, tragedy struck. An insider with the tour company narrated what subsequently happened. He said: “On Friday, April 19, 2019, a group of tourists from various parts of Nigeria assembled in Abuja and took the train to Kaduna, numbering 11 guests, accompanied with a representative of the tour operator and two mobile policemen.
In Kaduna, we took a coaster bus which transferred us from the train station to the destination, Kajuru Castle, in Kajuru council area.
“In the night, around 22:30, a gang of heavily armed bandits attacked Kajuru Castle. While the tourists were climbing the hill, the attackers were shooting sporadically. The policemen within the walls returned fire and repelled the attackers so they could not enter. However, some of the staff members were outside the walls at that time and five of them were abducted.
Two of the guests tried to come down from their rooms and, most unfortunately, they were shot by the bandits on the stairs from outside. The two killed turned out to be Mooney and Matthew.
“Because of the fierce resistance of the policemen, the bandits left the scene towards Kajuru Station, where they intercepted a motorcycle coming towards them. They laid ambush and killed the passenger, but the rider escaped. Two out of the five abducted staff, however, later escaped as they ran into the bush”.
Press men contacted a staff of the Kajuru Castle on the fate of the staff of the resort kidnapped by the bandits, he replied: “The bandits have been calling. We’ve been in talks but today(Thursday), we couldn’t talk to them because we have been having meetings on the issue.”
The Kajuru attack has become a source of worry to practitioners and stakeholders in the tourism industry. As a result of this, many stakeholders are calling for the creation of a Tourism Police Department within the Nigerian Police Force.
The President of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), Alhaji Saleh Rabo, said about the incident: “FTAN unequivocally condemns the dastardly attack on Kajuru Castle. We are saddened by the news of this brazen banditry that led to the death of Ms. Faye Mooney, a British aid worker, and Mr. Matthew Oguche, a Nigerian, while visiting Kajuru Castle in Kajuru council area of Kaduna.
“As the private sector representatives of the tourism industry, over the years, we have consistently called on both the federal and state governments to provide adequate security at every tourist site across Nigeria. This is necessary because, aside the protection of Nigerian tourism sites and investments, tourism is an international service trade and social endeavor, which can improve Nigeria’s image globally. Hence, tourism business in Nigeria should be encouraged, not poorly unprotected. Insecurity in any country is an anathema to tourism development.
•Tourists climbing the hill that leads to the castle
“This latest attack on Kajuru Castle is a sad commentary and a glaring wake-up call. The government should immediately rise to the occasion and prevent a recurrence before it escalates and become entrenched in Nigeria. Such attack on tourists can deeply hurt Nigeria’s tourism development efforts and destroy our growing brand as a cultural tourism destination.
“We, therefore, recommend the establishment of Tourism Police to be deployed in popular tourist destinations in Nigeria. The idea of Tourism Police is not new, it is a tested policing structure currently being implemented at several international tourist destinations in Africa and the West. “Additionally, we call on the Nigerian Police and Department of State Security to readily avail tour operators with armed escorts, as they move around with tourists at known flash points in Nigeria.”
One individual who has championed tourism development in in Nigeria, Chief Mike Amachree, also described the event as a sad development for Nigerian, saying that if people can’t travel freely without fear, then the business of tourism in the country would collapse. He also called on the government to create a special police department that would be in charge of handling issues that have to do with tourism as it is obtainable in other countries.
The fear among practitioners now is that the attack would dissuade international tourists from visiting Nigeria despite the fact that places where most tourist attractions are situated in the southern part of the country are safe.
However, the Federal Government has moved to assure the visitors that the country is safe. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had issued a statement, saying: “The ministry also wishes to assure foreign nationals working in Nigeria that the Federal Government is committed to guaranteeing their safety by ensuring the security of lives and property.”