Arts, Culture and Tourism values in Edo State - the Untapped Wealth
Dr Philip Orumwense (November 2017)
This lecture looks at Edo State’s Arts, Culture and Tourism values from the perspective of an outsider but informed from the point of view of an insider. By this I mean that the lecture examines this perspective from the view of a potential patron of our arts, culture and tourism and in so doing, it seeks to identify the opportunities, gaps and the extent to which this untapped wealth can be unleashed.
Let’s imagine that I am a middle aged white man, Uxbridge or Russell Group University Graduate with middle to upper class disposable income and seeking to explore the connections between Britain and some of its colonial past. My search will most probably begin with a visit to a number of places including a search engine (Google, Microsoft Edge, Yahoo etc.). This will most probably unearth the British expedition to Benin in 1897.
Source: http://photoclec.dmu.ac.uk/content/photographic-treatments-benin-punitive-expedition-two-british-museums. Accessed 28/10/2017
Now that we’ve established a link to Benin City and by implication Edo State and Nigeria, my next search ultimately takes me to the Nigerian High Commission to investigate possible points of interests in Benin City and Edo State. The High Commission describes Nigeria’s versatility in the arts as “so great that it is generally felt that all African nations should view Nigeria as the principal trustee of the most durable fruits of black artistic genius” (http://www.nigeriahc.org.uk/culture-tourism). It goes on to identify the shipment of Benin Bronzes and Ivories to England with further dispersal to Europe and the Americas from the British 1897 expedition. Some of these Arts form the major attractions at the British Museum in London including the now famous Queen India (FESTAC) mask. The High Commission also describes Benin Antiquities as the best known Nigerian artworks (http://www.nigeriahc.org.uk/culture-tourism).
The foregoing discussion has so far acknowledged the pre-modal place of the legendary Benin Art and Antiquities. We were signposted here via the internet and the Nigerian High Commission, neither of this medium especially not the Nigerian High Commission draws the link between these historical connections, the legendary status of Benin Art for the promotion of tourism excursions to the place where these Arts originates from – Edo State. In fact the Nigerian High Commission identified only two of the many tourism attractions in Edo State, these being the Oba's Palace in Benin and the Benin Moat. Being the gateway to the world, it could have drawn a link between the stolen artefacts from the 1897 British expedition to some of the tourism attractions in Edo State.
Edo State Tourist attractions
Benin Brass Work and the Igun Bronze Casters – Globally renowned and remarkable art works, produced by a guild of Benin art and craft makers who casts bronze into crafts.
Okomu National Park – A prestigious national park that boasts of several wild life and rare animal species including elephants, buffaloes, red river hogs, chimpanzees, leopards, bush baby, putty nosed guenon, porcupine, pangolins, duikers, antelopes, the white throated monkey in their natural habitat (https://itohanleisure.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/focus-on-edo-state-culture-and-tourism.html). A search of the internet reveals that South Africa, The Gambia, Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, Bostwana and even Zimbabwe are all listed as African game reserves and parks for tourism. Not Okomu or indeed any other game reserves or parks in Nigeria are mentioned.
Oba’s Palace, Benin City - A palace in the heart of the city and a center of historical monuments, parallels can be drawn to Buckingham or Windsor Palaces in the UK. Both of which are marketed global tourist attractions. The same can be done for the Oba’s Palace.
Benin City Wall & Moat – Comparable to the Great Wall of China, should be rebuilt, reinforced and turned in to a global tourist attraction instead of being left to crumble and dilapidate.
NIFOR – Popular for its oil palm and coconut plantations. Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere in the world are reaping significant benefits from investments in this sector.
Benin City Museum – Comparable to the British Museum and houses some of the most treasured antiquities and world famous bronze works, terracotta, Ivory carving and cast-iron artifacts of the ancient Benin Kingdom (https://itohanleisure.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/focus-on-edo-state-culture-and-tourism.html).
Ososo Tourist Centre - a hilly and rocky town situated on the boundary between Edo and Kogi states and provides spectacular views. The Rivers Niger and Benue confluence can be viewed from this tourist attraction.
Somorika Hill – Boasts of a picturesque and beautiful environment and brilliantly suited for climbers.
Gelegele Fountains & Historical Port of Benin Site - Gelegele is reported to be the first place of contact with Europeans in 1472. Evidence suggests that slaves were also conveyed from the region via the Gele Gele Sea Port to Europe. (https://www.vanguardngr.com/2011/10/benin-city-of-tradition-and-culture/). I welcome Governor Obaseki’s plans to invest and rejuvenate this historical port and condemn the current opposition from a member of the House of Representatives from Edo State to the development of this port.
Ughoton - A historical landmark for early western expeditions into the shores of Africa and connected with the British expedition of 1897, also served as a depot for the infamous Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Caves - The Edegbake and Oghodagho Caves in Estako which accommodates over 200 people for purposes of relaxation. The stream that flows from Edegbake cave provides beautiful scenery. These caves are believed to be prehistoric and home to a community of early men.
Caves - The Ede or Anagwu Caves in Etsako with a stream which flows through the basement of the caves. The two chambers combined, can conveniently sit up to 500 people.
Ogba Zoological Garden - A botanical and zoological garden with an arboretum and distinctive features of a nature park in an urban setting. Houses such animals as Lions, Chimpanzees, Giant Tortoises, Rock Python, Pea fowls, etc. with extensive landscaped grounds, picnic areas, and children's playground. Also has forest trails and a river beach.
The giant footprint of Ukhuse Oke - Hosts the distinct footprints of a pre-historic giant which are permanently embedded on the flat granite rocks. It is believed that the footprints were made when the world was still in its molten state and presents a challenge for archaeologists and anthropologists.
The animal footprint of Ivbiodohen – Boasts of footprints of various species of animals which are embedded in flat granite stab that confound all imaginations. Legend has it that the footprints were imprinted during the formative stages of the planet earth. The footprints are very detailed and like the ones in Ukhuse Oke, provides an extensive archaeological or anthological research base.
Holy Aruosa - A traditional Bini Church which is similar to the Church of England and referred to as the Church of Benin has the Oba of Benin as the Spiritual Head. Established in 1849 and located on a site where the Binis are believed to have had contact with God.
Masquerades – Highly prevalent across Edo State, linked to festivals and believed to be a medium for communicating with ancestors and celestial deities. Popular amongst these is Ekpo and Igbabonelimi. A platform for showcasing and making these masquerades more popular should be explored in order to attract potential visitors and tourists.
Festivals – Edo state has a rich tradition of festivals and masquerades which should be showcased and promoted. They offers tourism opportunities for visitors to see our rich cultural heritage. Some of these include: Igue and Ewere, Eho, Ebomisi, Ohonomoimen, Adu Ikukun, Ighele, Oto Uromi, Ivbamen or Ororuen and Oriminyan festivals (https://www.nigerianbulletin.com/threads/top-10-exciting-festivals-you-should-not-miss-in-edo-state.224165/).
Releasing the un-tapped Wealth
But something is not quite right! My hunch tells me that there is an un-filled gap, an un-tapped wealth to unleash and some re-branding, promoting, myth busting, incentivisation, marketing, capacity building, partnering, investments, awareness and knowledge creation, provision of appropriate and adequate facilities and infrastructure. Infrastructures such as roads, water, electricity, communication, recreational facilities and health and safety services should be developed and provided to a standard that encourages internal and international tourism. There should be an effective campaign in the media about tourism and tourism sites in Edo State to encourage internal and international demand for tourism, similarly effective training and education should be provided for developing the requisite professional skills required for sustaining the industry (Dorcas. A. Ayeni, O. J. Ebohon, (2012) Exploring sustainable tourism in Nigeria for developmental growth, European Scientific Journal, Vol 8, No 20).
The successful release of the un-tapped wealth should generate employment, bring about an influx of foreign exchange, attract both domestic and foreign investors, enhance the fusion and cross fertilisation of technology, educational know-how and our cultural and natural habitats, greatly improve cultural interaction, promote cultural awareness and intensify rural and urban integration. Helps facilitate increased local disposable income, increased demand for leisure, drastic reductions in local travel costs, economic growth for local economies and the preservation of our heritage and our natural environment.
I particularly welcome the recent announcement by the Honourable Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Diaspora Affairs - Honourable Osaze Osemwingie-Ero that the Governor Obaseki led administration plans to revive and re brand 58 tourist sites across Edo State. It will be good to clearly identify these sites as tourist sites with appropriate signposting. It will be good also to commence a re-branding and marketing exercise with global tourism industry experts to assist with the promotion of these sites and their historical and recreational heritage. Where appropriate, all designated buildings and sites should be “listed” and afforded the protection of the state from any unapproved modifications to help protect their historical significance and the natural environment.
The vision expressed here accords with those set out by Governor Obaseki when he met with the United States’ Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Stuart Symington. At this meeting the Governor expressed that his government prioritises the promotion and exploitation of art and culture for the benefit of the people, … pioneered by a new set of actors … championing the course of Benin arts through the Edo way, with premium being placed on the cultural and human capital of the Edo people (http://www.edostate.gov.ng/obaseki-calls-for-synergy-tact-to-sell-nigerian-art-culture-to-foreigners/).
The aims of the Alaghodaro investment summit is laudable as it includes investments in Art, Culture and Tourism in Edo State. Whilst it is important to attract foreign investments and to grant investment concessions to these investors, ample consideration should be given to the role that the Edo’s in the Diaspora can play in making these inward investments happen. In this regard, I urge the Edo State Government to consider inviting investment bid proposals from the Edo’s in the Diaspora and to explore incentives, aids and concessionary investment packages for these groups of people.
Edo State and indeed Nigeria is quite a populous country, we should therefore start by promoting and selling tourism to us Nigerians to a point where we can see the value in it. Leveraging the gains made by Nollywood, where our culture, arts, beliefs and tourist attractions have become a global phenomenon can and should be leveraged to good effect. Lancelot Imasuen one of our directorial son and Nollywood Ambassador should be consulted on the best ways of seeding our tourist attractions into Nollywood films.
Another great export of ours is Pentecostal churches where in Edo State we have a thriving global church base with traceable roots and origins from the state. Global Churches and International Ministries such as Love World International (aka Christ Embassy), Church of God Mission International, Omega Fire Ministries, The Christ Chosen Church of God, The New Covenant Bible Church and many more should be encouraged to hold their global conventions in Edo State. This should see a spin-off of pilgrim related tourism and the repatriation of foreign exchange into Edo State.
Incentives should by way of soft loans, tax breaks, grants, duty free import of equipment, land at concessionary rates, surety of foreign loans and all existing disincentives removed or consolidated to drive up both domestic and foreign investment in tourism in Edo State. Similarly, collaboration between the private sector, Individual investors and the Edo State government should be encouraged to help develop sustainable growth within this sector.
Finally we should all become positive role models and ambassadors for our art, culture and tourist attractions in Edo State. We should speak well and positively about our birth place. We, especially those of us here and elsewhere in Europe and the Americas should stop running down our state and find the very best in us to show case. As they say charity begins at home, we should start by patronising our art, tourist sites and bring our friends, colleagues, co-workers, neigbhours and others along for the visit. If we don’t others may not come.
Author -Dr Philip Orumwense