Attracted by its temperate climate and fertile grounds, settlers have been coming to Nigeria’s Plateau State for thousands of years. The earliest arrivals have been traced to at least 1,000 BC, members of the Nok culture whose life-size, highly valued terra-cotta sculptures are actively sought on international art markets.
Initially Neolithic or a Stone Age culture, Nok culture made the transition to the Iron Age. Its people raised crops and cattle and paid particular attention to personal adornment, especially of the hair.
Speaking in Atlanta on July 27 at a dinner in Buckhead arranged by the American Nigerian International Chamber of Commerce, the Plateau State’s executive governor, Barr Simon Bako Lalong, encouraged Georgians to visit his state and experience its virtues as settlers have done over the centuries.
In May at a dinner hosted by the chamber and the World Trade Center of Atlanta, Kayode Laro, Nigeria’s consul general based in Atlanta, said that Nigeria’s current economic development plan calls for diversifying its economy away from oil and focusing on other sectors such as agriculture. Recently arrived in Georgia, he said that his preliminary tour of the state impressed him because of the importance of its agriculture sector and the prospects for developing trade with and investment in his country,
Mr. Lalong and members of his cabinet, who came to the U.S. for the sole purpose of visiting Atlanta no doubt at the urging of the Consulate General and the chamber here, emphasized the climatic conditions of the Plateau State that are conducive to growing a wide range of flowers, fruits, vegetables and grains.
With temperatures throughout the year resting between 70 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit and more than 50 inches of rainfall over the course of a year, Mr. Lalong portrayed the state as a flourishing garden, if not a Garden of Eden.
Archeologists have determined that even Nok settlers developed an “agroforestry system,” where a plot of land was the site for crops and trees. Charred plant remains indicate that pearl millet and cowpeas provided the basis of the Nok people’s diet.
Today millet and cowpeas still are grown in the state, but the range of agricultural products has vastly expanded to the extent that its roses are sold in the Netherlands’ flower markets and that palm, tea, cocoa and sugar cane plantations as well as fish farms have been developed.
Mr. Lalong was equally adamant about opportunities in animal husbandry and livestock production. He also underscored touristic opportunities including its natural sites of rock formations, waterfalls, and game parks providing venues for art galleries, souvenir shops and amusement parks.
Due to its elevation of more than 5,000 feet above sea level, he said that his state had been a haven for white missionaries and colonialist vacationers through the 19th century who appreciated the mild climate.
With the discovery of tin in the state at the beginning of the 20th century, it became a mining center attracting white industrialists and miners. The state remains a mining center, Mr. Lalong said, with kaolin, gypsum, lime available as well as tin, tungsten and columbite, which is used in jewelry and microchips.
The legacy of the missionaries and the white miners have been the development of educational institutions including a technical school responsible for training a capable workforce and even a golf course, Mr. Lalong added.
The Plateau State’s attractive geographical attributes, however, have also contributed to some of its woes. Located in the middle of Nigeria, it is in a belt line where Muslim and Christian practitioners live closely together. The mining industry attracted many Muslim Nigerians from the North who settled with their cattle next to primarily Christian ethnic groups primarily living as farmers.
Serious clashes led to outbreaks of violence that claimed many lives since 2001 and it wasn’t until 2014 that a “Forum for Inter-Communal Dialogue” led to a “Declaration of Commitment to Peace,” which has quelled the outbreaks having resolved conflicts over land, resources, identities and political power through a process of trust building, rebuilding of places of worship, and addressing issues of youth unemployment, cattle rustling and reparations.
Mr. Laro, the consul general, followed Mr. Lalong’s presentation with a lengthy defense of the current government’s success in beating down the political and religious tensions fomented by the Boko Haram terrorists who have exploited the religious tensions in the country. He also praised Mr. Lalong’s ability to maintain peace throughout Plateau State.
Before the dinner adjourned State Sen. Donzella James, who represents metro Atlanta’s 35th District of Georgia, and State Rep. Valencia Stovall of Ellenwood, presented Mr. Lalong with a proclamation of appreciation for his visit and interest in Georgia.