It has been asserted many times over that of the many failures of many Nigerian leaders at various levels, the failure to turn the nation’s immense natural endowment to prosper its people is probably the worst. In the case of Osun State, it baffles the informed why a state that is the cradle of the Yoruba race should seem to be operating in relative obscurity and poverty, in spite of its rich culture and monumental potentials in the tourism sector. For eight years, before the coming of Mr. Rauf Aregbesola as the state governor, Osun State was virtually a shadow of itself, especially in terms of tourism development and hospitality business despite its natural endowment, which includes various exhilarating sites capable of generating multi-million dollar revenue annually. Thankfully, the Aregbesola-led administration in the state is taking bold steps to reinvigorate the sector and make it a major revenue earner for the state.
In his election manifestoes to the people of Osun State before the 2007 election titled “My Pact with the People of Osun State”, the governor stated that his vision for tourism in the state was to make it the hub of attraction in the continent. Six months after, the governor has left no one doubting about his government’s commitment to turning the state from that of subsistence tourism to one with an aggressive tourism drive, by setting up a special team, made up of experts in their various fields to ensure that his vision becomes a reality.
The team set up to draw a blueprint for the revival of the sector, in its first media parley, revealed the lofty initiatives that will facilitate the revival of the state tourism sector, make it the core of attraction around the world, as well as a medium of industrialisation for the state. The leader of the team, Engineer AbimbolaDaniyan disclosed that the team had concluded works on moving the state’s tourism sector from its present cottage subsistence level to an industrial one. According to him, the state governor had always marveled at the degree of connection that blacks all over the world have with the state, being the cradle of the Yoruba nation. Yet, past administrations had not been able to exploit such a great advantage to the benefit of the state and its people.
The team’s initiatives include projecting the rich culture of the people beyond the shores of the country to the living rooms of blacks in the Diaspora, using the talking drum (Gangan) as a point of connection between the natives and those away from home. The drum, according to Daniyan, is to show that it talks because the people have a voice inside their body. The team also emphasised its resolve to involve the public by capturing their interest through various branding and marketing activities, such as branding of cars, couches, clothing etc. Food vendors would also be involved after going through all the necessary training process of standardising their services to meet the international standards being worked towards. This would not just be to stimulate their interest, but to enhance commercial activities among the residents and boost their revenue generation power.
Schools in the state would also be integrated in the project. This, according to the team leader, would make the youths embrace tourism as part of their lives. He said, “In line with the vision of Mr Rauf Aregbesola to internalise culture among the youths in the state, one of our goals is to carry the younger generation along in the process of revitalising tourism, by reawakening culture among the teeming young population in the state and safeguard the future of our tourism and numerous cultural heritage”
Indeed, it is not an overstatement, if it is said that the cultural richness of the state is unmatched anywhere in Sub-Sahara Africa and professionalising the sector would generate job opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths in the state. Also, commercialising it would encourage private organisations to partner the state in developing it to a world class centre of attraction within the shortest possible time. This is what the team is trying to achieve within the first two months. Daniyan disclosed that the team is working on establishing a modern tourist’s information centre at Oke-Fia in the state capital, which would be the hub of information for everyone, who wants to keep abreast of Cultural Revolution and the latest development in the state’s tourism industry.
As part of the team’s resolve to kick-start its activities with this year’s Osun Osogbo international festival, it has christened it “Festival of Renewal” and tagged it ‘OO-fest’, which would be the best ever celebrated. A film titled ‘Ebun Osun’ would be premiered to coincide with the festival. The film, which features renowned Nollywood stars, would be used to project the festival internationally and also tell the story of the people and their beliefs, as well as the significance of the divinity of the Osun River and its place in the Yoruba nation. In a bid to give the festival facelift and institutionalise tourism in the state, a new logo, comprising of OriOlokun cowries inside the map of Osun State and a bamboo tree, has been unveiled to showcase not only the rich cultural heritage of the state, but also show its intuitive technological awareness. Besides, before the commencement of this year’s festival, facilities at the venue of the grand finale would be given facelift through public-private partnerships to give the people and the festival itself a befitting international recognition it deserves. Unlike in the past, roads would be constructed and some renovated to allow for easy accessibility, an effective crowd management plan would be put in place and a special platform would be put in place for dignitaries, parks would be provided for cars and security of officials and participants at the festival would be given adequate priority.
Besides the revival of the sector, the state government’s intention is to improve its revenue base by N7.5 billion by 2015. According to deputy governor, Chief (Mrs) Grace Laoye-Tomori, “Our target is to bring in 4000 tourists from the Diaspora in 2012 from which we hope to realise N1.5billion. In 2013, we hope to increase the traffic to 10,000 and rake in N3.6 billion. By 2014, the figure would jump to 15,000 and our projected revenue would be 5.6 billion. In 2015, we would have hit the 20,000 mark and attain N7.5 billion in revenue.
This projection was made on the rate of $2500 per tourist, but it is hoped that this would increase with improved services and goods. Our unique selling advantage is in packing Osun State as the cradle of Yoruba civilisation and our target market is the Yoruba nation at home and the Diaspora. There are estimated 91 million Yoruba people scattered at home and abroad in West Africa, Brazil, United States, The Caribbean, Europe, Venezuela and Colombia” She further disclosed that the government of Mr Aregbesola’s tripod stand approach to building the industrialisation of Osun State has tourism, agriculture and solid minerals as the legs on which it is working. She remarked, “As you are all aware, we have gone far on the other two legs, and this is how we intend to start on the third leg”.
The tourism potentials in Osun State, according to her, are limitless: it is home to many indigenous towns and villages that boast of existence of more than 500 years and many of them are more than 1000 year old, adding further that these historic legacies come with a rich culture, history, monument, artifacts and legends. There are not less than 63 tourist centres and monuments in Osun State, from which the Osun grove has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Indeed, since Osun is the spiritual home of Yoruba people, tourism can therefore, be built on the concept of home return for them. Government’s approach, according to the deputy governor, would be integrated, from packaging to marketing, including integrated development of hospitality industry and the provision of goods and services and strengthening security in the state. The government has not only signified its intention to be involved in the whole process to demonstrate its seriousness, it has also accommodated many serious partners and stakeholders in the initiative. When this initiative by the Aregbesola-led administration is fully implemented, tourism will not only boost the economy of the state by providing jobs, empower families and increase the government’s revenue base, it will project Osun State in positive light as a topmost global brand.