Okomu National Park “The pride of our natural heritage” is the smallest of the seven National Parks in Nigeria. The Park is a rainforest ecosystem gazetted from the former Okomu Forest reserve in 1935. Today, the Park is a good habitat for numerous endangered flora and fauna species.
About 777 sq.km of the forest was gazetted in 1912 while in 1935 an extension of a further 411 sq.km was effected to the north and east. The forestry department of the then Bendel State Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resource assumed management responsibility for the reserve in 1970. In 1991, Bendel State was divided into Edo and Delta States and the control of Okomu Forest Reserve was passed to Edo State.
Okomu Forest Reserve was originally exploited by the AT&P (African Timber & Plywood Company). However, logging was selective, taking only a few large valuable hardwoods (Lee White, 1988). In 1977 however, an area of 156 sq.km in BC 9 of the reserve was de-classified (de-reserved) and given to Federal Government oil palm project (Okomu Oil Palm Project). In addition, several compartments of the forest reserve have been given to monoculture plantations such as Michelin rubber Estate and Iyayi Rubber plantations.
Wildlife survey carried out in the then Bendel State in 1982 by P.A. Anadu and J.P. Oates revealed the following facts:-
- Okomu was the largest remaining rainforest in the southwest Nigeria
- Okomu contained a viable population of the rare white throated guenon Cercepithicus erythrogaster, a monkey endemic to southwest Nigeria, in addition to several other species of international concern
- Okomu forest reserve was the least disturbed of all the rainforest in the State.
The researchers (Anadu and Oates) then suggested that a wildlife sanctuary be gazetted in the centre of the reserve to give full protection from all forms of foreign exploitations. The proposal for a wildlife sanctuary was accepted by the State Government. The gazette constituting Okomu wildlife sanctuary covering 70 sq.km of the area originally proposed by Anadu and Oates was finally passed by Bendel State Government in August 1985 (Bendel State Gazette No. 73;1986
In 1985, the IUCN/SSC primate specialist group designated the white throated guenon as a species with high conservation priority and Okomu forest reserve as a priority reserve for its development and management. (Oates, 1985) The Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) adopted Okomu as one of its priority areas and launched the Okomu forest project in October, 1987.
The Edo State Government in 1993 requested the Federal Government to take over the management and protection of Okomu wildlife sanctuary as a National Park. Okomu wildlife sanctuary was among the seven protected areas around the country accepted for upgrading into a National Park by the governing board of the National Park Service in 1994. However it was not until 1997 that Federal Government decided to fund recurrent expenditure of Okomu and Kamuku as proposed National Parks. Subsequently after this intervention, the National Parks Board rehabilitated the main access road to Okomu wildlife sanctuary, renovated all the patrol post and office building, provided vehicles and basic facilities among others.
The formal handing over ceremony of the protected area by the Edo State Government to National Park Service took place on 26th May 1999 which coincided with the signing of decree 46 of 1999 (now Act of the National Assembly, cap 65 of 2004) that established the sanctuary as a National Park into law the same day.