Has it ever occurred to you that we spend a lot when we move across borders? (either national or inter – state) Be it primarily for business, convention, conferences, vacation, leisure, or to visit families and friends. To say tourism has the potential to immensely contribute to the GDP of any country is stating the obvious.  As a matter of fact, tourism can be a major source of internally generating revenue in the local economy of the pacesetter state.

Globally, travel and tourism directly contributed approximately USD 2.9 trillion to GDP in 2019. The United States contributed the highest amount to global GDP with a total of USD 580. 7 billion. The Tourism Industry has an official employment record of not less than 32million people. This remains a clear indicator as to why the United Arab Emirate (UAE) depends significantly on tourism for sustenance. Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and The Gambia are examples of African Countries that have decided to tap into the enormous possibilities in tourism at varying levels.

Major industries that benefit from tourism expenditure include domestic and international air transportation, accommodation services, food services, automotive rental and travel agencies to mention but a few.

In a 2016 population projection, 7840900 persons live in the pacesetter State. 2006 Census as conducted by the National Population Commission placed the figures at 5580894. With population and a huge landmass, Oyo State has not fully tapped into the enormous, unique and socio – economic potentials that tourism has to offer.

For those not familiar with Oyo State, the topography is one of a gentle rolling low land in the South, rising to a plateau of about 40 metres and above in the North.  It covers a total of 28,549 square kilometer of land, bounded in the South by Ogun State, in the West by the Republic of Benin, and Ogun State, in the North by Kwara State, while in the East, it is bounded by Osun State.

Oyo State is well drained with rivers flowing up land in the North – South direction while the vegetation pattern of the State is that of rain forest in the South and guinea savannah in the North.  The thick forest in the south gives way to grassland interspersed with trees in the North.

I need not say that Oyo State comprises mainly of the Yoruba ethnic group, who are rich in culture and strong kinship ties. Oyo State is amply endowed with socio – cultural and tourism potentials of both ancient and modern origin, scattered in its nooks and crannies.

Those of ancient origin are of two kinds; the wonders of nature and relics of her people’s rich heritage. Oyo State has nothing less than 115 prominent tourist sites. These include, among others; Ado – Awaye Suspended Lake, Agbele Hill, Iyamapo Hill, Royal Forest (Igbo Oba), Alaafin Oyo’s Palace, Irefin’s Palace, Cocoa House, Captain Bower’s Tower, Agodi Gardens, Cultural Centre, Water Falls, Sogidi Lake and Mapo Hall.

It is worthy of mention that there are numerous traditional festivals of note in the State, some of these festivals are; Sango, Ifamole, Oke – ‘Badan, Osemeji, Ogun, Egungun, Obalufon, Beere, Gelede and Oloogun.

The intimidating political history of Oyo State is actually meant to be a showpiece for other parts of the country.  Oyo State with its capital, Ibadan, the political headquarters of former Western Region, is home to ‘many first’ in Nigeria and Africa such as; the first television station in Africa. (The Nigerian Television Authority( NTA), formerly Western Nigerian Television, WNTV), the first skyscraper in Africa South of Sahara (the Cocoa House building), the first University in Nigeria (the University of Ibadan), the first teaching hospital ( University College Hospital, UCH), the first Stadium in Africa   (Obafemi Awolowo Stadium formerly Liberty Stadium) and home to most of Nigeria’s research institutions that were first of their kinds like Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), Institute of Agriculture, Research and Training (IAR&T), Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) and National Horticulture Research Institute (NIHORT).

If you have not been privileged to be in the pacesetter state, a visit to Oyo State, will convince you of the varied tourism goldmines that are waiting to be explored. I will gladly volunteer to be your guide once the pandemic is over.

The appointment of Mr Ademola Akeem Ige (a former Chairman of Ibadan South East Local Government) as Special Adviser on Tourism in the course of the week stirred my thoughts concerning the endless opportunities within the Oyo tourism sector. If the State Government and critical stakeholders could harness an opportunity to draw a holistic sustainable culture and tourism plan for the State, I am strongly of the opinion that this would create job opportunity, economic growth and development, reduce crime rate and generate substantial income and revenue for stakeholders and the State Government.

Permit me to show case some sites across various towns and cities in Oyo State:

Ado – Awaye Lake

Ado- Awaye is a pretty small territory with its own unique but interesting history.  In ancient time, Ado and Awaye settlements existed separately.  The ancestors of the Ado people were forced to migrate from Awori land to settle at the top of Oke-Ado Mountain because of the Dahomey war (of 18th century).  The ancestors of the Ado people reportedly found favour in the eyes of the gods of the mountain and were kept safe till the war subsided. When the Ado people later descended the mountain to settle at its foothill, the nearby Awaye people also decided to settle with them, and hence the name Ado – Awaye by which the town is called till this very day.

Ado-Awaye Suspended Lake is located on the crest of an igneous rock formation in Ado – Awaye, Oyo State.  The Suspended Lake is the only one in Africa while the Hanging Lake in Colorado, USA, is just a mere resemblance of the lake. The Suspended Lake is about 12 feet in diameter and its water is greenish.  A small palm tree, a baobab tree all stand at an angle to the Lake.  Few people venture to touch the water of the Lake, apparently because of the fear of the unknown.  The place offers visitors the opportunities of seeing the sanctuary of various shrines of Ado and Awaye Communities.           

It is also reported that there are sixteen (16) gods on the Oke – Ado Mountain.  These gods are embodied in specific natural landmarks on the mountain.  Each of these landmarks constitute tourist attractions on the mountain, lined up along the path which leads up the mountain.

The first of all the landmarks is the Ishage Rock, which is a large elongated boulder of rock, balanced and standing in one of its small edges.  The fact that this boulder has not fallen off the steep mountain side on which it rests remains a mystery to the Ado-Awaye people and tourists visiting the mountain.  Ishage Rock is regarded as one of the most powerful among the gods on the mountain.  It is said that it grants the wishes of people who prays at its foot.

Another attraction on the mountain is Iya-Alaro Lake, which is one of the lakes on the mountain.  The lake was named after an old woman in the Ado – Awaye village, who specialized in dying of clothes.  It is said that the old woman, known as Iya Alaro, worshiped the lake and sacrificed to it at specific times.

Iyake Lake is the largest and the most popular attraction on the mountain.  Unlike other lakes on the mountain, Iyake is known for its clearness, neatness, size and spiritual significance. It is said to be the main god of fertility of the Mountain.  It is however, a taboo to bath or swim in it.  It was said that whoever swims in the lake would drown and the person’s body will never be seen again.  The villagers believe that beneath the lake exists another world that looks like the earth, and whoever transits into that world by diving into the lake will never be able to return to planet earth again. There is a small hole (also filled with water) about two meters away from the edge of Iyake Lake which the people call Agbomofunyake.

The Elephant Tree is another fascinating attraction on the Mountain.  It is composed of the tangled trunk or root of a fallen tree which dramatically takes the form of the head and trunk of an elephant.  The eyes of the elephant are also well represented on the formation.  Hikers on the mountain are often tempted to climb the formation and sit on the “elephant’s head” while posing for photos. I am yet to try this though.

Ese kan Aiye, Ese kan Orun is a wide and deep chasm on the mountain which separates one part of the mountain from the other part which hosts the peak of the mountain.  Only brave mountain climbers dare cross this valley as the rock slopes steeply along the valley walls.  Only a narrow, very steep and slippery path across the valley links the two parts of the mountain.  At a corner of the valley wall exists a small fissure which the locals refer to as Maje kankan Shrine.

Iya Oniru Lake, which although is shallow, never dries up all the year round.  The lake is located on the part of the mountain which hosts the peak.  On this part of the mountain also lies a dramatic cluster of about a hundred foot-sized depressions set along the rock surface, which the locals refer to as Ese awon Agba which translates as the footprint of the elders.

While these historical facts are fun to uncover, it is worrisome that the existing 249 steps (staircase) remain dilapidated. They are 22years old.

Any visitor would not mind spending a longer period of time in Ado Awaye if access roads to and around the mountain will facilitate a panoramic view of the mountain. Befitting chalets and rest zones will make this noble town stand out.

How about the construction of an elevator that could move from the base to the zenith of the mountain, mountaineering sport, and a gymnasium centre?

Royal Forest (Igbo Oba) Igboho

Igboho was the second settlement of Alaafin, after the first destruction of old Oyo Empire by the Fulani Jihadists. It was known as Oyo Igboho at that time because Igboho was then the temporary headquarters of the old Oyo Empire. A city famous for its magnificent city walls created and built for defensive purpose. It is situated on a plain land but with hill locks all around it.

Alaafin Ofinran who led the people to Igboho died enroute Igboho while his successor Alaafin Egungun Oju finally led the people to Igboho in 1510.  The history of the Oyo Empire is not complete without Igboho which was the temporary headquarters of the empire and which also housed the burial ground of four Alaafins (Lord of the Royal Palace); Alaafin Ofinran, Egungun Oju, Orompoto and Ajiboye Obamoro (ghost catcher)  that led the people back to Old Oyo (Oyo-Ile) before the final destructions in 1873.

The forest retains its natural setting with big trees like Ose, Iroko, Arere, Aaka, Emi etc. 

A visit to a well – structured (administration and management) forest which is right inside Igboho township will forever be worth the while for tourists, historians, archeologists, and researchers.

Cultural Centre, Mokola Hill, Ibadan

This massive and great architectural masterpiece is sited on the imposing Mokola Hill, next door to Agodi Gardens and Premier Hotel, Ibadan. It is the only one of such constructed alongside the National Theatre in 1977 to complement the historical hosting of the Black Festival of Arts and Culture tagged FESTAC 77.

With a spacious foyer for exhibitions and a tarmac that can accommodate about 1000 cars, the edifice is in classic ruins. The dire need for the rehabilitation of the exterior of the complex, wall fencing and landscaping are visible to the blind and audible to the deaf.

Cultural Centre which used to be a delight to visit when I was a kid is now a shadow of its old self (save for the savouring pepper soups that you’d find l’ori Oke Mokola). With the main theatre, a multi – purpose auditorium with a seating capacity for 1500 persons and a musical rehearsal hall that can accommodate 500 folks at once, an urgent intervention is required to reposition the revenue goldmine.

Triplet Rock, Itabo, Lanlate

This is a set of three (3) big rocks well arranged on top of each other.  Multiple birth  (triplets)  is very common in Itabo Community and it is the belief of the people that  the triplet rock formation’s spiritual power remains the source of such births.

Agbele Rock  

Agbele Rock Formation is a geographical phenomenon which depicts a picture of a woman that carries a load of dried sliced yams and a baby at her back.  It is a wonderful cultural and historical site.  Its historical significance is rooted in oral traditional of Igbeti people. It can be likened to the figure of Lot’s wife who turned into a pillar of salt in Biblical records.  Agbele if properly planned, can be a choice recreational centre.

Aso – Ofi (Indigenous Textile) Tourism Market, Iseyin

The hand-woven cloth, known as Aso – Ofi or Aso – Oke, is peculiar among the Yoruba.  Aso – Ofi literarily means a cloth that is woven on the Ofi (loom) and corrupted to Aso – Oke which means Aso – Ilu – Oke (clothes from the up country).

Aso – Ofi weaving in Iseyin is as old as the town itself and the craft has since become a  generational occupation  as virtually everyone within the society or family partakes at one stage or another in the weaving process.

Aso – Ofi is a fabric without which kings cannot be crowned and a bride’s beauty is said to be incomplete. At any Nigerian ceremony such as chieftaincy titling, wedding or burial ceremony, the possibility of seeing Aso – Ofi on display is perhaps 99 percent guaranteed. Aso – Ofi has indeed evolved overtime from being traditional into the contemporary world. Today, the use of Aso – Ofi has been expanded to include interior decorations, fashion, shoes, bags, chairs, suit wears, head rest and many more.

Putting a structure around this will definitely profit Oyo State ever than before.

Captain Bower’s Tower, Oke-Are, Ibadan

This tourism destination which was built in 1936, served as the home of Captain Bower, one of the earliest Colonial District Officers of Ibadan (a city set on seven hills). This masterpiece is strategically located on one of the highest hills in the city. This confers on the site a vantage position from the top of the Tower with spiral staircase (Layipo, the first in West Africa) which enables a breath-taking panoramic view of virtually the entire city of Ibadan the City of Brown Roofs. It also contains a small restaurant, amphitheater, Captain Bower’s colonial residence, chalet and game area. This veritable historic and economically viable site has enormous advantage given to its proximity to the new Olubadan’s Palace, Ibadan House, Cultural Centre, Agodi Parks and Gardens, Oyo State Secretariat and the University College Hospital (UCH).

From the Ironsi – Fajuyi Memorial Park and Gardens, Lalupon where Nigeria’s first Military Head of State, General Aguyi Ironsi was killed in the company of his host the first Military Governor of Western Region, Lieutenant Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, on July 15th 1966 to Mapo Hall and then Iyamapo Hill, that once served as a hiding place during the Yoruba internecine war, the narrative remains the same. Opportunities Untapped.

The Oyo State Government recently intimated the public about an ongoing PPP project on the Eleyele Waterfront Resort, Eleyele, Ibadan and this in itself remains remarkable provided the implementation comes to fruition.

It is imperative that we showcase and promote local tourism destinations, highlight tourism potentials, find a lasting solution to tourism issues, induce the creation of new tourism frontiers and strengthen better relationship between tourism investors, policymakers, industry practitioners and product/service producers.

A clear roadmap by the State Government will definitely transform the Oyo tourism sector into a money spinning one; traveler accommodation, air travel arrangement and reservations, food and beverage establishments, car rentals and other transportation opportunities, recreation, entertainment and other retail activities.

Remodeling the tourism agency into a veritable one that would position Oyo State as a convergence where cultural activities, tourism, entertainment, arts and business potentials are explored to the maximum will be a dream come true for a son of the soil like myself.

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