TOURISM IN EDO STATE.

A number of the cultural forms taken for granted in Benin are not found in some other parts of the world.

WRITTEN BY TOYIN ADEPOJU
Benin-City demonstrates significant potential for tourism but I wonder to what degree that potentialis being realized.To what degree private individuals and the government are exploiting the tourist potential of Edo State and Benin in particular? A number of the cultural forms taken for
granted in Benin are not found in some other parts of the world.

Groves and the Built Environment

Benin is striking in the integration of groves and the built environment. Located at strategic points in many parts of the city are groves,and at times,trees, that embody a precise historical and/or spiritual
significance. Examples of these are the Oro grove(if I remember the name well) at Uselu and the grove at the top of a hill at Ikpoba hill.They are likely to be at least one century old, if not much more.
They are spaces kept inviolate for centurie (s?) where no flora or fauna has been disturbed,as attested by their vegetative density into which it seems little light enters,providing a numinous presence to the environment even as they are surrounded by human habitation and busy streets.I have written at more length on groves in Benin in another post on the culture of shrines in Benin-city.

Architecture

Benin also boasts some impressive architectural forms,from the exteriors represented by beauiful houses made of solid mud walls, to the interior architecture of the utewodo(forgive the poor spelling),the impluvial courtyard,the empty space inside the compound which is open to the sky,used
by some for fetching water but,in at least one case,used as a garden,where the plants are watered and fed by natural sunlight and water,creating an oasis of open sky and beautiful vegetation inside the walls of the house.

The Benin Moat

The Benin moat,a most impressive fortification many feet deep round a section of the city, has suffered over the years but it is still significantly visible.It is a marvel in the engineering skill and the
manpower it required to construct it.

The Oba’s Palace

The palace of the Oba is architecturallly impressive,a centre for a broad range of ancient art forms,as well as the location for striking trees,on one of which can be found flocks of bats flying to and from the city.

Natural Landscapes

Benin and its surrounding villages also boast some fantastic landscapes.One is the Ogba forest at Ekenwan,where the Ogba river first breaks ground after a long underground journey,where one can see the water of the Ogba river pouring out from inside the forest as well as from the ground under one’s feet, in a space the unearthly stillness and awesome peace of which evoke the beginning of time.

The Benin Museum

Benin also has a musuem which contains asrtistic forms from Benin and different parts of Nigeria.
From what I remember,the Benin Museum was located in the centre of Ring Road,at the centre of a round about where cars are moving at high speed. Visiting the museum implied a delicate,quick witted dance as one crosses the roundabout to get into the building.That might be one reason where I hardly saw a significant number of visitors at the museum in the times I visited. The location of the museum was aesthetically appealing on account of its central character,but was impractical in terms of access,and the greatest ease of access is fundamental to the being of a museum.
Ideally,the museum should be moved from that location,if it is still there,to a more easily accessible location,a location one can reach with ease.A good model in terms of access is the British Museum in London,which is at the side of a road so that one simply walks into the museum from the street.
 The street on which the British Museum is located,Great Russell Street, , is also not a particularly busy street,this makes it safer for the regular crowd of visitors to the museum.The presence of the museum on the street I expect has contributed to the many bookshops,art and antiquarian
shops that line that street,since tourists are likely to want to buy the items the shops sell as they visit the museum.

Igun Street and the Idubor Art Gallery

Igun Street in Benin is famous as a street of artists who work in metyal and have done so on this street for generations. Many houses on the street either house metal works or are museums for these works or both.Near that street,on Sakponba Road,are also one or two private museums,such as the Idubor Art Gallery,founded by Felix Idubor pioneering modern Nigerian artist, that showcase a range of African art,both Classical and modern.

The Ebohon Cultural Centre

The Ebohon Cultural Centre,off Dumez Road, is an intriguing location to visit because not only does it display a number of open air sculptures and striking architectural forms,it is a learning centre founded by Osemwingie Ebohon, a man who has openly declared himself a witch as well as a high
priest of traditional African religious knowledge and who undertakes to teach people this knowledge.
 He once announced a global meeting of witches in Benin to take place in the non-physical realm and invited members of the press and the public to attend.I am not aware of anyone who took the offer.He has written and published books and articles on Nigerian affairs and African Classical(also called “traditional” African religious knowledge.

The Open Air Museum of the Ekenwan campus of the University of Benin

Architecture

The Ekenwan campus of the University of Benin has a striking open air museum.The ambiance created by the presence of sculptures of various sizes,some monumental,some realistic, others abstract,in open spaces throughout the campus but concentrated towards the lecture halls, is a sight
that cannot be replicated unless in an open space.The architecture of the courtyard of the British Museum attempts a similar effect using a semi-transparent dome.

Benin City Cultural Center

The Benin City Cultural Centre demonstrates an impressive use of space in the relationship between solid structures and empty space.This dialectic gives both an impression of spaciousness and of grandeur.. The Centre was designed by Demas Nwoko achievements at the emergence of modern African art span sculpture,painting, stage design,architecture ,drawing, aesthetic theory and
the founding of the art magazine New Culture.Nwoko is described as drawing inspiration for the design of the Centre from a number of sources,including Greek art and architecture and Japanese Kabuki Useful works that help one appreciate the tourist significance of Benin are the book The Benin-City Pilgrimage Stations Aisienas well as the website and writings of Dr.Charles Gore
Progress in Benin,however, in my view is significantly dependent on good road networks linking the city to other parts of the country.Along those lines,if the Lagos-Benin road has not been fully repaired and maintained,perhaps that job could be done through an investment involving a consortium,in which investors pool funds to repair and maintain the road to a high standard,collect a toll at entry into the road at the Benin and Lagos ends and hand over maintenance to the government after some years,a strategy similar to what was described as done for the local airport in

OGBA FOREST AND TOURISM IN BENIN-CITY

BY ANDY EHANIRE
Hello Toyin,
pardon my delay in replying you. This is partly because I underestimated the pressure of my itinery while I was on a local trip here in Nigeria; but the real delay was from the feeling of being daunted whenever I contemplated the wide information needed to be generate in response to your passionate inquiries about the state of conservation of the biodiversity and cultural resources in Benin. Permit me to take them in three clear areas.

OGBA FORESTS.

Of the initial estimated 53 Sq. kilometers of the Ogba forest reserve, what is now left is about 1 squre km, which is within the Ogba Zoo. Massive depletion of this forest reserve took place because of its proximity to Benin, where hunger for urban land, illegal farming and hardwood are the vogue. Even the Ogba Zoo had nearly two sq km of urban forest, but it is now under severe threats from local communities and other land grabbers, as well as poachers. The Ogba Zoo management, which I head, has spent more than 7 years trying to deal with massive encroachment on the Zoo land, which started under the guise of Govt dereservation of outlying forest reserves., but I see the Conrade Governor putting an end to this charade soon.

However, the Zoo still offers some elements of the pristine nature of our forests and continues to retain its status as a botanical garden and arboretum. This last vestige of the Ogba forest reserve is a veritabe gene bank since it is one of the very few places this Guinea Lowland Rain Forest has been presrved, especially this being in an urban setting. Students fron with Edo State and beyond regularly visit on excursion; including students of Uniben Forestry and Wildlife Department who use the Zoo for fieldwork. The nearby Federal Forestry Department used to conserve an equally large expanse of rare urban forest, which is probably where you visited more, but even this is largely degraded. Of course Benin City has grown papidly far beyond Ugbiyoko village.
SACRED GROVES. I an happy to report that this tradition still persist in Benin and environs; it is shared by most communities up to Ikwerre land in Rivers State, as far as I know.
THE MUSEUM is still in the city center. It is more easily accessed by motor vehicle, but can do with an acces by sub-way, in view of its location within concentric traffic lanes – except that some private structures would have to give way for such construction. There are many intersting private galleries and collectors of artifacts that are more than a match for the museum.
You have the Chief Priest Osemwingie Ebohon Center located off Sapele / Dumez road, the Idubor Art Gallery, amongst others. Other interesting sites include the Igun Street Bronze Guild, the Sir Victor Uwaifo Revelation Center, the historic Chief Ogieamien Palace, etc. The famous Benin Moats are also of importance but there is little political will to preserve it, not to talk of the massive restoration work required to make it

A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Benin has potentials for real tourism development but with low institutional support, the industry is still fledgeling. Apart from the poor state of the physical enviroment / infrastructure, inadequate security, dearth of public utilities, low public awareness for keying into opportunities, etc, there is also the dearth of competent tour guides to make it a real tourism friendly destination. I am currently the National Vice President for South-South Zone in the Tourism Federation (FTAN), which is the apex Private Sector tourism body in Nigeria, so I can tell you that there is very weak interface between the Real Sector and the Tourism Administrators.
The idea of building synergy through PPP is still teething and as a result you could use all your energy trying to get very little done. We are praying for a time when Government Tourism Budgets would impact the indusrtry positively, especially in conservation shemes and capacity building. Its a major challenge considering that Edo State should actually be giving tourism leadership to the Zone, if not to Nigeria as a whole.

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