By Ismaeel Uthman
Tourism has become a worldwide industry which is recognised as one of the top three constituents of world trade, ranking third after petroleum and the vehicle industries. Major developed and developing countries had taken the economic potentials of tourism for their development – turning it to a major source of employment and national income. Countries that explored tourism to boost their economy are the most developed nations in the world. Majority of the tourist attractions in those countries are artificial, not natural, like we have in Nigeria and in Osun State in particular.
Osun is said to be the cultural and traditional centre of Yorubaland. It is blessed with attractive, natural and world class tourist sites. In the Yoruba nation, no state has the number of the eye-catching natural tourist sites like Osun. The state has not less than 60 tourism centres. Some of the tourism centres are historical and spiritual. Tourist centres like Osun Osogbo Sacred Groove, Osogbo; Oduduwa groove and Oranmiyan staff (both in Ile-Ife); Kiriji war site; Oluminrin waterfall, Erin-Ijesa; Ayinkunugba waterfalls, Oke-Ila; Imesi Mysterious caves and movement rocks are some of the major tourist sites which can alone turn around the economy of the state. The Olumirin waterfalls, according to the Chairman, Osun Tourism Board, Engineer Abimbola Daniyan, was the most visited tourist site in Nigeria as at November of 2014, saying from January to November, it had grossed 50,000 holiday makers.
Before the economic recession that compelled the Federal and State governments to make move for diversification, Governor Rauf Aregbesola had begun move to make the state financially buoyant by exploring the economic potentials of tourism in the state. Aregbesola had initiated ideas and programmes for the development and promotion of tourism because of his conviction that the natural blessings could serve as socio-economic emancipation, wealth creation, empowerment, revenue and employment generation.
The Aregbesola’s administration embarked on series of researches to know the peculiarity of the socio-cultural tourism in the state and arrived at the best ways of exploring each of the tourist centres and the best mechanism to make use for the promotion of tourism generally in the state. The researches revealed that Osun and its people had, since the creation of the state, not been having a fair share of the goodies of tourism due to the complacency and lackadaisical posture of the previous administrations in the state which thought that Osun Osogbo festival was the only cultural and tourism asset that needed to be spotlighted and hyped. The failure to enhance and network other tourism sites which abound in the state with Osun Groove; the inability to galvanise the core cultural tourism stakeholders in the state; the traditional religion worshippers, cultural artisans, artists, hospitality and transport operators, into potent economic change agents and the marked absence of deliberate well planned strategy and sensitization for the stakeholders to see their importance in the scheme of things.
After the tourism researches, the administration took a bold step of promoting tourism and culture through recognition of traditional religion in the state and the declaration of a work free day tagged ‘Isese Day’ for the traditional believers. Though, it was trailed by controversies, but the action encouraged the traditionalists to showcase the Yoruba culture and tradition which were germane for the development and promotion of tourism. Throughout Nigeria, Osun is the only state where the traditional religion worshippers are given state or official recognition as at today.
Aregbesola, through the Osun Tourism Board, embarked on documentation and proper scientific planning for the economic prosperity of tourism in the state. This has resorted to having Osun Tourism Master Plan, a viable blueprint for the development and promotion of tourism that will outlived the administration. The main objective of Osun Tourism Master Plan is for the state to become a world class, first choice tourist destination in Nigeria. This will be achieved through industrialisation of the Osun tourism assets.
The goal is to set up a model for the rapid social and economic transformation of the state through public private partnership. The master plan has three project phases: the first phase, which is the pilot projects centred on basic infrastructure and pilot attractions and was developed towards the development of infrastructure, such as access roads to all the tourist sites, electrification projects, land acquisition, etc; the second phase of the project, which is the main plan, is meant to invite private investors to build and manage major attractions; and the third phase is to consolidate gains from phases one and two with Public Private Partnership (PPP). There is no gainsaying that there is massive infrastructural development in the state, and hospitality business is thriving.
The specialized work packages, among which have been carried out, are mechanical/plumbing and environmental engineering, electrical and electronic instrumentation, architectural, structural and quantity survey and generic milestones. But the paucity of fund in the state has halted further implementation of the beautiful and laudable tourism blueprint.
Aregbesola in a speech he delivered at the first Osun Trade, Investment and Culture Conference in Osogbo in April, 2013, said “I am assuring all and sundry that the State of Osun is ripe and ready for the transformation of our cultural assets, tourism blessings and historical heritages from mere target of appreciation into viable economic and revenue spinning ventures to the benefits of all in the state and Nigeria as a country. The State of Osun is indisputably a custodian of the cultural heritage of the Yoruba people, who are mainly domiciled in and originated from Ile-Ife, South-West Nigeria which is the cradle of Yoruba culture and civilisation. It is also the spiritual capital of the Yoruba race.
“Osun occupies a central place in Nigeria’s cultural tourism map. Besides Ife, there are numerous other centres of cultural and tourism significance across the state. There are more than 60 of such in the state. The Osun Groove is already globally renowned as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. History will be unkind to us if we allow all these to be continuously perceived and treated in their shallow fascination rather than enhancing them for both entertainment and as inestimable economic assets to the people.” The conference was packaged by the state government in partnership with the African and Caribbean Business Council (ACBC) of Philadelphia, the Christian Evangelical Economic Development, Inc, (CEED) of Pittsburgh and the Wura Arts Services and Production, LLC (WURA) of New York.
Dr Sheriden M booker, Founder and Managing Director, Wura Arts Services and Productions, New York City, who was at the conference commended Aregbesola for injecting a global perspective into the cultural – tourism assets of the state with the aim of facilitating investment and attracting investors. She described Aregbesola as “one of the few people I have interacted with in Nigeria who understand the import of culture beyond entertainment and ceremonies. He has a vision of turning the abundant cultural assets of the state into money spinning wheel for his people. And he is sparing no effort at enlisting the support of whoever can help him drive this vision for the benefit of his people.”
The Chairman of the Osun Tourism Board, Daniyan said’ “Osun is the cultural and historical capital of Yorubaland and really if we understand our strategy correctly, we should aim to make Osun the cultural capital of Nigeria.”
In Osun, there exist a tourism master plan and the state has been developing it within the possible financial circumstances. What is most important is for entrepreneurs and investors in tourism sector to partner with the state government to take the advantage of the money-spinner tourism potentials. Osun may soon be competing with other more economically viable states as it embarks on a determined journey to harness the potentials in tourism.
Beyond cultural projection, there is the economic imperative of culture, foremost of which is tourism. We can build a thriving economy around our culture and monuments. The annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Jerusalem and Rome are distinct economies that sustain these countries. Osun is the centre point of cultural tourism vibes in Nigeria.