Ever heard about Mount Patti?
Once upon Mount Patti
Ever heard about Mount Patti? Definitely it is none of those Biblical mountains where amazing miracles were once worked. It is none of those few Africa’s standout, freestanding mountains. Rather, Mount Patti is an outstanding tourist spot right in the heart of Lokoja, Kogi State. For the records, Lokoja is Nigeria’s first capitals.
Indeed, Lokoja is never lacking in breath-taking, awe-inspiring features, which have not ceased to amaze many. Imagine the awesome majestic Rivers Niger and Benue and the scenic splendour of their confluence. Add that to the magnificent Mount Patti.
Mount Patti, a wooded range of highland, is an unmistakable landmark standing in a commanding fashion in Lokoja Township. Its height averages 458.3 metres above sea level. Yet, on its peak lies this surprise swat of land, which can house more than 10 football fields.
For everyone curious about having more than a smattering knowledge of Mount Patti, the natives are ever there to speak. One of them is Mr. Niyi Ejibunu, a guide who helped the reporter to explore the wonders of this striking mountain.
“Patti, in Nupe language, means mountain,” Ejibunu disclosed. “When the first set of the whites arrived at Lokoja a long time ago, they were fascinated by this mountain range. So they began to inquire about it so as to discover more of its striking features. And the natives told them that ‘patti’ means mountain. So they said ‘oh mountain, mountain.’ And to make it easier for themselves, they named the spot Mountain Patti. And the name has stuck.”
The way the name has stuck is the same manner Mount Patti stands out. From every part of the sleepy city, its peak can be seen jutting out into the sky. Because of its height, there is often this grey haze which appears to envelop and prevent the curious observer from clearly seeing it in full. From a distance, the green vegetation, which seems to clothe it like a robe, appears faded blue in colour.
Beside its tourist value, Mount Patti eminently stands tall in the annals of Nigerian history. This is its flip side that many Nigerians are yet to know. A tourism historian is emphatic that Mount Patti is the birthplace of Nigeria, and challenges anyone to fault the claim. Mr. Joseph Olowolaiyemo, General Manager, Kogi Hotels and Tourism Board, insists that the Nigerian project began atop Mount Patti, maintaining that it was right there that the inspiration to christen the geographical entity everyone now knows as Nigeria was first given and received.
“In fact, any version of the Nigeria history that does not make reference to Mount Patti as the place where the seed of the Nigerian project was initially planted is incomplete,” Olowolaiyemo says.
He recalls how Sir Lord Frederick Lugard, the British administrator who amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914, developed the spot and later converted it to his prime relaxation centre.
“On arrival at Lokoja, Lord Lugard was thrilled by the spectacle now called Mount Patti. In the first place, the temperature at such height is cool. But more than that, the mountaintop offered him a good view of the great rivers Niger and Benue and their confluence. From there, he could monitor the movement of boats and trading activities on the rivers.
“The story was told that the first time he, Lugard, went up Mount Patti to see things for himself, he was convinced beyond words that it was a pretty good place. That was how he went on to build a rest house for himself on the mountain. That rest house is still there till today. And so, he is credited to have developed Mount Patti, a place which can still mint money for the country if we give it the due attention it deserves.”
Earlier, Sir Lugard had built his office on a lower portion of the same mountain range, a shouting distance away. It was from there that he administered the defunct Northern Protectorate. That office was called Lugard House. It is now Kogi State Government House – the official residence and office of the state governor.
In order to get the best out of Mount Patti, the reporter learnt that Lord Lugard had proceeded to develop it in his own way. First, he evicted the indigenous people he met on its peak. The people had fled to Mount Patti to escape slave raiders who in those days went about viciously snatching everyone they saw and selling them for cash. Then Lugard constructed a windy road all the way up to the mountain peak where he built a little two-room house, which still stands there today. The administration of Captain Idris Wada gave the Lugard Rest House a facelift recently.
The reporter was told that after some hectic hours at work, Lugard used to sit up on Mount Patti catching some cool, evening air. On one occasion, his fiancée, Flora Shaw, a British journalist then writing for London Times, (whom he later married) was said to have visited him all the way from London. It was while they were relaxing that the lady felt enamoured by the beautiful landscape in the distance and the wonderful confluence of the rivers Niger and Benue beckoning below. Having observed to her heart’s content, she mooted to Lugard the idea of naming the vast place “Niger area,” and Nigeria for short. She was said to have followed up her idea with a proposal she wrote to the British parliament for the area to be named Nigeria. And it worked out!
Olowolaiyemo says the edition of the London Times in which Shaw first wrote about her experience was still being preserved right in the Lugard’s little rest house up on Mount Patti.
Ejibunu told the reporter: “Both Lugard and Shaw were probably enjoying some good time together with a bottle of rum when Shaw got fascinated by the sprawling, greenish landscape in the distance and the beautiful union of the Niger and Benue rivers.”
Till this moment, Mount Patti’s awe and clout are still intact. Many decades after Lugard attempted to provide a way to its top, Col. Danladi Zakari (retd), a former administrator of the state at its creation, paved the snaky road up the mountain. He thus made it easier for light and semi-heavy vehicles to reach its peak.
“There is no time tourists come to Lokoja without accessing Mount Patti,” Olowolaiyemo informs. “They come here from different parts of the world. In recent times, ambassadors from China, Australia and Turkey had all come here and indicated interest in helping to develop Mount Patti. We just hope that something good comes out of those expressions of interest soon.”
He believes a lot more can be done on the mountain to enhance its value. “We can build a golf course, zoological garden, a hotel and recreational facilities there. It is a massive place that can be accessed using a cable car. And who says we can not have another Obudu Cattle Ranch there?”
However, an expedition on Mount Patti is not one that comes easy. No one chicken-hearted fellow can ever contemplate it. Though the road is partially paved, anyone attempting a climb on foot must be reasonably healthy. The journey from the mountain foot to its peak averages five kilometres. Only strong motorbikes and healthy cars can make it safely.
From the starting point, you pass through a gate where you pay a token to its keepers. The road up the mountain cuts through a mylina tree plantation from where wooden-electric poles are harvested. Midway up, the vegetation pattern begins to change.
After an arduous upward journey, you walk into the embrace of an amazing plain. A first timer instantly develops some goose pimples. And the reasons are simple. The air on Mount Patti is refreshingly cool. The spot is dizzying, especially at seeing the vast, greenish landscape down, down below. You get this feeling that you are on a take off point to another planet.
From that height, Lokoja town is simply alluring. It lies sprawling in the distance. Its many houses are seen spread out like sand on the seashore. It is an amazing site to behold.
“Every evening, as the story was told, Lord Lugard used to sit up there and with the aid of his binoculars, he monitored activities on the great rivers. He also monitored what people did on the lowland,” Olowolaiyemo recalls.
Because of its outstanding features, Mount Patti’s peak is home to various radio and television houses in Lokoja. There is for instance, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Confluence Cable Network (Grace Fm, Radio and Television). The defunct NITEL also had a presence there.
Mobile telephone providers in Lokoja all have their masts on Mount Patti too. The reason according to Mayor, a broadcast journalist, is because “its vintage position provides ample opportunity for broadcast and GSM signals to be received fully and clearly.”
The rest house that Lord Lugard built is easily the centre of attraction on Mount Patti. It welcomes visitors as they arrive at the peak.
Peering through the window of the house, one sees a royal chair sitting in majesty in one of the rooms. There is a wardrobe too housing a teacup and plate believed to be some of the relics of Lord Lugard. “What you saw there were Lord Lugard’s seat and tea cup,” Olowolaiyemo, explains. “They have been preserved to give visitors a clear sense of the past.”
On Mount Patti grows baobab and other trees. One of the baobab trees according to Ejibunu “is as old as history. It has been there much, much longer before we were born. Who knows it might still be there in the decades ahead.”
Because of the apparent historical significance of one of the baobab trees standing close to a cliff, many seemingly attach some diabolical values to it. Its big trunk is grey. All manner of sacrifices were being offered at its foot. Its bark is being constantly assailed and slashed by people who needed it for some inexplicable reasons. Various fetish items prepared and tied with black trades were seen nailed to its trunk. In some cultures, it is believed that anyone who is nailed at its trunk is possibly doomed.
Indeed, going up Mount Patti is as tough as descending. It takes as much energy to do so safely. People tremble with fear at such dizzying heights. Ejibune explained that those who have phobia for heights hardly dared the mountain. One is gripped by this strong feeling that one might carelessly stumble and crash down the threatening cliff. That alone compels everyone to exercise utmost care as they make their way down. Those who access the mountain on foot also exercise similar care. They choose the point to rest before continuing on their way up or down.
Down at the starting point, the air of trepidation that seems to stay endlessly gets lifted. It is replaced by an exalting feeling of fulfilment that seems to go with accomplishing a great feat. Call it an excursion to the sky; it is certainly a worthwhile experience that everyone who loves adventure would die to have.
By Cosmas Omegoh
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