Protocols- with profound humility, I salute Chief Nosakhare Isekhure JP-the Isekhure of Benin Kingdom; Prof. O.G. Oshodin-the Vice Chancellor-University of Benin for honoring us with your esteemed endorsement of this program as co-chairmen of this noble ceremony; I greet Your Excellencies here present, palace chiefs, distinguished members of the Service (high) Table, our highly revered recipients of the 6th Benin National Merit Award, gentlemen of the press, ladies and gentlemen. Ise l’ogbe to all Edo people and Nigerians on the occasion of the 2010 Igue festival.Oba gha t’ okpere, ise.
By academic training, I am a social scientist with a background in political science; when I was unanimously tasked by the Local Organizing Committee members to attempt a contextualization and elucidation on the aforementioned topic; as an appraisal of contemporary issues in Nigeria on behalf of Benin National Congress; I was faced with the challenge of delving into an academic environment that was different from my field of study. By the grace of God and the ancestors of our land, I was able to synthesize a substantial appreciation of the issue under focus, based on relevant research. The focal point of this presentation is to mirror Nigeria’s untapped resources in culture and tourism, and to proffer a realistic way forward.
The Dictionary have various definitions of Tourism as a social concept or phenomenon, by my inquiry, the common denominator to all the definitions is that “tourists visits places with special reference or unique features ranging from cultural exposition to technological or architectural structures”. The first trans-Atlantic interaction between the Europeans and Africans revealed that there were millions of priceless structures and artifacts made by the pre-supposed uncivilized people of Africa. Nigeria is a country with hundreds of ethnic nationality groups, each possessing unique tourist outlooks which deserve to be developed with a view to attracting huge tourist revenue.
No matter how distinct Nigerians may be, an in-depth look at the various ethnic nationalities will espouse some measure of cultural similarity; this underlines the phrase- cultural diversity of Nigerian people. It is God ordained that in spite of our diversity, we are still together as a federation. In Edo State for instance there are well over twenty tribal and culturally distinct groups; however, we are bound by a common ancestry- the Benin Empire.
Every ethnic or tribal group has several art works that symbolizes the life and times of its ancestors; the artistry of Nigerian people reflects hospitality and dignity of labour to the extent that European explorers who claimed to be on a civilizing mission to Africa agreed based on overwhelming facts that “the natives had a formidable system of administration; including the propagation and maintenance of a vast tourist industry consisting of monuments, artifacts; and a well preserved value system” (source-the Wikipedia journal on Benin Empire). In Benin Empire for instance, after a critical inspection of the Benin moats, the Europeans explorers declared that “it was by far an amazing and intriguing earth movement, an unprecedented monument”. The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) endorsed Benin moats as next to the walls of China and a viable World Heritage site. The intriguing history and exploits of defunct Empires in pre-colonial Nigeria can be a source of tourism if we can build multi-purpose museums across the country to showcase the remnants of their paraphernalia or artifacts. It is sad to say the least that most of our monuments and relics have been destroyed or carted away. Some years ago, it was alleged that some of the remnants of Benin Artifacts (that were looted during the Benin infamous British expedition) kept under the management of National Commission for Museums and Monuments have been systematically looted by top personnel saddled with their preservation. This prompted petitions by the Congress against the agency; and it was climaxed by a Law suit at the Federal High Court, Benin, because we believed that it was a grievous act of irresponsibility.
Very sincerely, the Tourism potentials of Nigeria are very enormous and there is no gainsaying that if properly developed will herald huge revenues into our country. According to information posted by an International tourism journal on Nigeria’s potentials by online Nigeria Portal “Nigeria offers a wide variety of tourist attractions such as extended and roomy river and ocean beaches ideal for swimming and other water sports, unique wildlife, vast tracts of unspoiled nature ranging from tropical forest, magnificent waterfalls, some new rapidly growing cities and climatic conditions in some parts particularly conducive to holidaying. Other attractions include traditional ways of life preserved in local customs; rich and varied handicrafts and other colourful products depicting or illustrative of native arts and lifestyle, and the authentic unsophisticated but friendly attitude of many in the Nigerian population”. Our over dependence on oil is undermining other potent areas of development; it is high time we appraised other ventures that can generate mass employments for our teeming youths. I make bold as to say that tourism holds a lot for us if we are sincerely desirous of building its tentacles. To have a full-blown tourist industry, we need to appreciate the following tasks-the development of arts and crafts which constitute symbol of the people's cultural values and love for nature; enhancement of water transportation and the provision of educational facilities for water skiing and swimming; Establishment of hotels and resorts near waterfalls, springs, caves and temperate climate areas such as Obudu, jos and Mambila Plateau; Provision of cable bus system to take tourist through the very rugged but scenic terrain of the mountains especially in Kanyang, Obudu and Mambilla Plateau Construction of lodge cabins for expedition tourist and rangers.
It has been argued that our dependence on oil revenue is a reflection of the “Dutch disease syndrome” whose symptom includes land and environmental degradation; rivers and seas pollution- thereby depleting precious aquatic foods; youths and communal restiveness and if not mitigated could lead to civil war like the security climate of Nigeria before late President Umaru Musa Yar Adua declared amnesty to armed militants of Niger Delta region. Closely associated with the syndrome is official corruption which is the bane of most third world countries. Nigerian government should not wait till our oil wells dry up before building alternative sources of revenues- like tourism.
I sees this opportunity to reiterate the clarion call of the Edo people for the return of all our artifacts that were violently carted away during the infamous Benin expedition of 1897 by the government of Britain. In all known federations, the central government seeks to reassure the federating units of social justice as well as unalloyed commitment to security of life and properties. In the case of Nigeria, the central government has continued to pay leap-service to dear-issues of the looted priceless substances of Benin Empire; which was subsumed into the ‘fragile superstructure called Nigeria’ in the 1914 Lord Lugard’s amalgamation. A proactive central government will strive, using diplomatic and international legal means to redress injustice done to its federating units. As a matter of policy, we call on President Goodluck Jonathan to constitute a high-powered committee to prosecute the task of repatriation of all looted artifacts from Nigeria. It is a shame that our federal government appears look-warm in this regard.
Benin culture is synonymous to peace, hospitality and pre-colonial civilization; the sustenance of these values is part of the aims and objectives of Benin National Congress. Funding of our activities and programs has been substantially done by our members, most of whom are job-seekers and under-employed. We are immensely grateful to Captain Hosa Okunbor JP, who single-handedly funded the two years rents of our secretariat. We seek this medium to solicit for more public-spirited supports as the Congress seeks to develop its land situated at Ugbiyokho which was donated to the Congress by the Lucky Igbinedion administration by first week of February 2011.
We are immensely grateful to you all for taking time out of your busy schedules to attend our annual ceremony; may God continually attend to your heart desires, amen. Oba gha t’ okpere.