The other day, Aare Afe Babalola wrote an article. It was about Ikogosi Warm Springs and the tourist resort that was built around it. He was one of the original investors and complained about how they are yet to get any dividend therefrom, while the tourist centre is dead today. The Aare – a legal luminary – suggested that the federal government should place particular emphasis on tourism, and that for a place like Ikogosi, there may need to be an expressway which leads directly to it from the airport, while police and soldiers dot the roads to provide security to those who may want to go and enjoy themselves there – especially those coming from abroad. He also suggested a dedicated power plant to supply the resort with 24 hours electricity.
These all sound nice… and utopian. No self-respecting, normal tourist will want to navigate gun-toting police and military men just to get to a tourist resort. Also most foreign tourists have little to spend and all our fixation on ‘luxury’ this and that hardly impresses them. Indeed we get the whole ideas of tourism wrong in Nigeria. It is simply about livability. A tourist wants to be able to walk down freely on any road or side street in any city he has chosen to holiday in. There are also business tourists who flow with business opportunities. To all these tourists, what matters the most is safety. Things like electricity come second. People even go for tourism just to be in touch with nature. We see on TV many adventures where people get abandoned on lonely islands. But first, they want to be sure that nobody would rob them – even when they make themselves very available, on some occasions, to become dinner for wild animals. I think it’s some weird sort of reverse racism (or specie-ism) that these guys who dare animals are into.
Nigeria has hit the radar for all the wrong reasons for decades now. Things keep getting worse, rather than better. In the minds of billions of people around the world, Nigeria as a name does not conjure or elicit safety. It rather conjures up a disorganised place with millions of impoverished faces looking to take advantage of one another – and where a foreigner is good game. I doubt if anyone wakes up in Europe, America or elsewhere and dreams of spending their next vacation in Nigeria. Who in their right minds wants to come to an unsafe country, where their embassies have warned against, which also has dilapidated infrastructure and cannot keep its basic tourist sites clean and functional? We are still prominently mentioned in several travel bans and restrictions. What started as a joke – for we had as much opportunity as any African country enjoying tourism today – soon became a nightmare, as all but essential foreign staff now give Nigeria a wide berth. All the attempts to show ‘our beautiful, hidden sides, have been meet with sealed minds. Nobody budges. The world is watching Nigerias from a distance.
With regards to Ikogosi, it doesn’t appear that we are thinking outside the box. I would suggest that we do two things: Take a slightly longer-term view, and also look inwards. Let us think DIY (do-it-yourself). We cannot have a water resource such as Ikogosi and think we have achieved something, just to invite people to come and see a mystical wonder where hot water meets the cold one. Let’s take Ikogosi beyond the mythology. That place looks like it should be generating its own energy. There are many clever ideas around mini hydro these days that can be driven in Ikogosi. The famous professors of Ekiti should by now know that being in classrooms and attending conferences is no longer an in-thing; we now need to begin to activate the imaginations of our youth in universities and polytechnics. There is so much to do. Imagine that we start a huge experiment around Ikogosi, using localised technology (I’m not talking of voodoo), and manpower, to generate electricity – first for the resort in itself, then for neighbouring areas? Would that not drive a certain good degree of tourists to Ekiti? I would certainly want to see that technological wonder. In other words, the solution could actually lie in the problem. Tourism is not all about enjoyment, access to swimming pools, wine, beer and all that.
This brings me to Idanre. Whereas I grew up partly in Akure, which is a stone throw away, I never visited Idanre Hills until a few weeks ago. On my visit, the first thing I realised was how small the gate to the ‘resort’ was. Whoever drove that business in the past did not have a good idea how such should be packaged. I expected some large gate, well designed, proud and welcoming. But no. First of all, there are many rock formations in Idanre, but only one access works. Only one of the hills was developed as the access to the tourist resort on the hills. I didn’t have enough time to climb to the mystical old city which I hear is several hundred metres above sea level, but I wondered what the white man would have done with such heritage, such space. All the hills and rocks would be swarming with curious foreigners. But not in Nigeria.
We went to the hills in the early evenings. Only one out of the dozen people we met lounging around the entrance seemed approachable. The rest were lost in different zones of reverie. One gets an idea that the tourist resort is some sort of beer parlour. There were quite a number of ‘area boys’ at the resort, with ‘red eyes’, looking at how to ‘obtain’ curious foreigners, but there was no one in the reception and the only reasonable man we met was unsure about what the fees was supposed to be. That could cast a lot of doubt in the minds of visitors in the first place. Well, we decided to climb about 40 steps to the first landing. The entire number of steps is about 600. At the first landing, we met two boys (barely teenagers – one could be 10 or 11), smoking Indian hemp at the seats. A bar had been cleverly created out of the shadow of a rock formation at that level but the bar was as dead as dodo. People had started urinating around the area and there was stench. Our emergency guide said the past government of Segun Mimiko spent about N200 million on the resort ‘but the money went into wrong hands’, in his words. What he meant is that some party bigwig was put in charge of the resort, who believed it was time to ‘hammer’ or that this was his own piece of the national cake. I don’t know what will happen in the near future, and who can turn the place around. As we left, the resident area boys swooped down on us asking for whatever we could gift them. Pathetic!
Obudu. Once Nigeria’s most-prominent tourist resort. But my neighbour who hails from there and was so enthusiastic and wanted us to go there together now tells me the place is dead – a shadow of its former self. You will notice that no one is talking of the Obudu Cattle Ranch anymore. The federal government could not keep up with its own side of the bargain and the foreign partner pulled out. Again, we have had a university in Nigeria since 1948 but look at us today, we cannot manage anything except we have foreign help. Depressing.
Our understanding of tourism needs to be worked on. From Yankari to Jos to Obudu, and indeed all over the country, it doesn’t seem we will ever get tourism to work; at least not until that understanding has changed markedly. Our view of life, and our ways of life, have to change. We need to understand and enjoy the little things of life, and develop attention to details. We need to dump our present primitiveness, which shows in every aspect of life, and see through the eyes of the world. We need to know what the world wants and requires of us, not only in our tourist site, but on our streets, in our conduct, in our government, in our interpersonal interactions, in our thinking; in the little things. Tourists are actually not as interested in our choreographed tourist centres – even if we could remotely get any of those right – as much as they are interested in knowing that our people are beginning to live better lives and that we have outlawed the base existence, whereby we revel in filth, stench, disorderliness, chaos, sadness and hopelessness which we often try to obliterate with alcohol, drugs and sex.
On the day we understand how the world sees us and how much work is required to cause a reversal of our phenomenal descent, we will only waste our time on fleeting adventures which we shall think is tourism, to no effect.