A 4-hour dangerous trek through the Jos-Plateau ‘Down Below’

329 views | Victor Gai | May 24, 2020

Kwall powerhouse connected by a pipe that stretches to the mountain top.

The Jos Plateau is a range of mountains in the north-central region of Nigeria and like its name, is situated in Plateau State. It covers the entire northern zone of the state and a greater part of the central zone.

The highest ranges stand at about 1800 meters above sea level and have an average high temperature of 31.9°C and an average low temperature of 17.9°C. She can boast of weather almost similar to that of some European countries.

She has crops that are unique because of the climate conditions and soil. 

It is indeed a tourist’s haven!

Because of the rugged terrain of scattered mountains, plateaux, hills and valleys, the colonial administration tapped into these potentials and built hydro-power stations to supply the mining industry, offices and homes with power. Already, there exist the Kurra Falls, Jeko 1 and 2, Bukuru thermal station, Ankwil 1 and 2 and the Kwall 1 and 2 power stations which were built for that purpose.

However, at the western axis of the Jos Plateau, in Kwall district of Bassa LGA to be precise, is a power station situated deep in the valley of a range of steep mountains. It is the Kwall power station, run by the Nigeria Electricity Supply Company (NESCO). It is originally a 6mw power station, established in 1923 by the then British colonial administration. Because of its low capacity utilisation, the two generators, Kwall 1 and 2 generate only 300kw and 400kw respectively of electricity.

It is popularly called the ‘down below’ because of its very remote location in a deep valley far away from Kwall town which sits on top of the mountain.

A team made of local youths (myself inclusive) set out on an adventure to this remotely located power station on a Saturday morning. The team consist of 11 youths, 8 men and 3 women.

Going on a trek at this period can be very challenging and risky for the following reasons: The general area is faced with terror attacks from Fulani herdsmen. These attackers frequently ambush their victims in remote areas such as the one we threaded on that day. Suffice it to say, the land had lost over 300 souls to these attacks between 2017 and now mainly due to village raids and ambushes. Secondly, the rains have set in and we stand the risk of been hit by the daily mountain rains and occasional deadly thunders. Besides that, ascending the mountain can be dangerous when rain falls as it can be slippery. We are also exposed to reptiles like snakes and scorpions that hide in rock crevices and holes. Then, of course, the rigours of mountain climbing and phobia for heights.

For first-timers, they had little idea of the journey they were about to embark, but for me, I was well prepared psychologically, mentally and physically, having been there before.

The great trek begins!

We boarded some motorcycles from Miango town to Kwall town which is about 7 kilometres apart. We disembarked on a lonely road away from the town, passing through the point where 4 youths on a motorcycle were ambushed and gruesomely murdered two weeks ago.

We then gave ourselves numbers for close monitoring just in case any of us gets missing. I was number 7, slightly missing my age-long favourite number 8.

We began descending on the Kwall- Kamaru road, a very old rugged road built on steep mountains that connects Kwall in Plateau state and Kamaru in Kaduna State.

Walking down the road was less tasking and very exciting for sightseeing. We were practically walking towards the Plateau-Kaduna boundary. Straight before us and by the west were several hamlets scattered on the Kaduna plains. Some of them are without inhabitants because they have been displaced and the hamlets razed down by the marauders. Then just by our right are very high Jos Plateau mountains.

After almost an hour trek, we found ourselves at the ‘down below’ powerhouse where we rested a bit. We heard the sound of engines in the powerhouse but could not enter it because that was not our mission. Just by the entrance, I saw the photo of an 87-year-old Briton, one of the early engineers and residents who passed on recently.

This station is made up of a few quarters for the staff, the foreman’s apartment, the powerhouse, an office and a clinic. The size of the place is just a little bigger than a football field. The residents have constant electricity and water. Interestingly, their source of water is spring water from the mountains which is connected by a pipe to taps in the quarters.

Now, having rested, we began our return journey up the mountain. We are to follow a footpath beside a huge pipe which channels water from the dam at the summit of the mountain to the turbines at the powerhouse. For those who are brave enough, they could walk on the huge pipes to the top. It is, however, a no-go area for those who have a phobia for heights. Initially, we all climbed the pipe and began the walk. Almost halfway during the walk, it was becoming quite arduous and the mountain getting steeper and steeper.

One’s chances of getting to the top on this pipe depend on one not looking back because doing so is quite frightening and could discourage one of going further. Therefore most of us got down and used the much easier footpath. I endured the walk alongside, perhaps the youngest fellow amongst us, who was ahead of me, sometimes looking back and resting on the pipe columns. Infact, the journey was both psychologically and physically tasking. It was either phobia or exhaustion or both.

Just midway, I could see, far behind me, one of us, a lady, battling to climb. She was a first-timer and a relatively fat. Two men tried to encourage her to go on. It seemed that for every five steps, she got exhausted. We had more meters to trek and so what can we do at that point with this ‘burden’? I advised that she returned to base where we began, to board a motorcycle to Kwall town. But others insisted it wasn’t the wise decision because we have gotten to a ‘point of no return’!

Well, from that point, we battled with this lady to the top with occasional pushing and pulling. She had a well-deserved rest, drank some water and got a bit revitalised. The top here was the highest pressure point but not where the pipe ends. From there, water flows with the highest pressure to the turbines which power the machines and generate electricity.

From this point, we had to trek for another 200 meters again to the forbay where the dam water is received through a canal, sieved of dirt and released after the man at the base station confirms the water level. At this point, there is a water gauge (measure) and a control panel which controls the flow of water after it has been sieved of dirt. I was told by the staff there that the engines at the station could get damaged if the pressure is not controlled, hence the presence of the staff to communicate with the base station on the water level and pressure so that they could adjust the machines for that matter. I sighted a sort of pre-analogue telephone that is still in use to communicate with staff at the base station. It has no dialling knob or numbers but just a handle that is used. When turned once to the right, it rings the other end. It is an interesting colonial relic still in use there. 

In essence, the source of water for generating electricity varies by seasons. During the rainy season, water is channelled from the nearby Ngel River which is high, to the station through the canal and pipes. However, during the dry season, water is channelled from Ouree dam to a small reservoir (Top camp) to the forbay and down to the base station. No wonder, the water during the rainy season is dirty and brown while that of the dry season is clear.

We were, however, very lucky to escape the fierce rain that started as we were approaching the forbay. Thank God for the ‘scapegoat’ of the adventure managed to continue the trek, but still broke down on the way and had to get some help. This time around, a gallant fellow, backed her up to the place we took refuge. Getting there was like a big retreat and we all rested well in a small room. Now at the very top, we could take stock of all we had passed through. We could view the pipe going down the powerhouse, the powerhouse itself, staff quarters as well as the river that has its source from the powerhouse. We also looked at the group pictures and selfies during our journey. They were not so sharp because the atmosphere was cloudy.

The return

After a much-deserved rest, we embarked on our return journey to Kwall town on footpaths, traversing farms and huts used for traditional rituals. It was another long trek of another hour. This time around everyone was exhausted. No more taking pictures and selfies, we were all determined to reach our destination and rest. Even our ‘scapegoat’ had to brace up. She gathered strength, a renewed vigour that could have been triggered by her recent experiences. I believe she has learnt something and will have a story to tell not only about adventure but life itself.

We found ourselves in Kwall, four hours after we had begun our journey. It was a four-hour journey of fun, excitement and great lessons. We then boarded a vehicle back to Miango, where it all started.

Meanwhile, the Kwall power station is one that needs attention by the government and investors. It is a great potential for electricity and tourism. Therein lies the great potentials of the Jos Plateau, not agriculture or manufacturing, but the God-given gift of nature-tourism.

 

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