Osun State Commissioner for Home Affairs, culture and Tourism Mr. Aderona Sikiru Ayen spoke to Omololu Ogunmade on the efforts made by the State Government so far to boost tourism in the state.
The state government upon its take off promised to make Osun a centre for tourist attraction. About two years later, is the vision still on course?
Tourism is the income generating aspect of the administration, which we have started. First of all, we have started feasible studies on how to enhance tourist potentials of the State of Osun through Public Private Partnership (PPP). This is because the financial involvement to transform the potentials of tourism in the state to what we want it to be is very huge.
We know that the state doesn't have that financial capacity and resources to do what we want to do in that regard. So, we have already done that and we are putting it on hold till the PPP arrangement scales through. But at present, what we are doing is that, we have already internationalised our cultural festivals in the state. Recently, you are aware of how we celebrated Osun festival, Osogbo, Olojo festival, Ile-Ife and Iwude Day, Ilesha. We made sure it is now an internationally accepted festivals that the people from the Diaspora would come to be part of in the state.
Also, we have made improvement on some of our tourist sites. If you go to the groove, you will see the extent of work we have done. Initially, the place constructed for reception was not good enough. So, we are mounting a podium which, hopefully will be ready for use next year.
We have also commenced work at Oluminrin Waterfall at Erin-Ijesha. The road to that place is also under construction so that people can have easy access to the place. It is the same thing with Ile-Ife.
Already, we are putting up what we can call The World Cultural Heritage at Ile-Ife. The governor tags it Ife Tuntun (New Ife). We are putting it up to depict who we are and how we are as integral part of Yoruba race. These are some of our efforts in tourism. But at present, the revenues that are being generated now, are direct revenues. We are using tourism in tripod stage. One, to create employment, revenue generation for the government and direct revenue for the citizens of the State of Osun.
What do I mean? If you come into the state and you sleep in hotels. That is part of what we want tourism to achieve by generating revenue for the people. Then we want to generate revenue for the improvement of our tourist sites through the sale of our memorabilia, or buying of condiments like kola-nuts and bitter kola. These are direct revenues to the citizens which are also part of what we want to use the revenue to do.
We want a situation where the people would have enough resources to engage in trading and business. We know that anybody who comes into the state would be able to spend a minimum of a thousand dollars or a thousand and five hundred dollars. And by that, even if the government wants to tax the citizen, it will be comfortable for them to pay the tax because whatever commercial ventures they are into, they are already getting patronage.
Is there provision for security at the sites?
This same question agitates the mind of the tourists from the Diaspora. And I will say today that if you are talking of secured states in the country, the State of Osun is one. And that is part of the efforts of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola's administration to get the state secured for all and sundry.
It is a security matter, so, I would not say more than that. Whoever is coming to the state is assured of security and rest of mind. Also, we have instructed our hospitality providers to have necessary security gadgets installed in their areas of operations so that the government would have the record of who comes in and who comes out in the state.
How many tourist sites do you have in the state now?
Traditionally, if we want to count them one by one, we have almost 1001 (one thousand and one) tourist attractions in the State of Osun. But we have been able to identify about 63. Out of these 63, we have Ife clusters, the Oodua Groove, Opa Oranmiyan, The Palace, The Museum and all the artifacts. Also, we have Oluminrin Waterfalls, which is a seven-level waterfalls with its natural endowment.
We have a very unique one, which is a waterfall into a lake and which cannot be found in any part of the world. It is Ayekunugba at Oke-Ila. Also, we have a stream in Ilie similar to what exists in Canada. And this is what transforms Canada and is attracting tourists all year round. Also, we have the place where 100 fractricidal Yoruba war ended. That is Kiriji at Imesi-Ile and Igbajo.
Aside this, we also have at Inisha the symbol of Jalumi war where the Fulani were defeated. So, we have a lot of places we have identified that we can keep visiting in the State of Osun for more than three months without repeating any of them. We also have Ogedengbe at Ilesha. This is just to mention but a few of our tourist attractions in the State of Osun.
When will activities eventually take off in those centres?
Activities are already taking place at all the mentioned sites. We are just trying to them to make them more attractive. For instance, if you go to the groove, the road to the place has been tarred. And because of the multitude of crowd coming for Osun Osogbo festival, what we did in order not to affect the eco-tourism effect of that groove, was to reconstruct an exit gate so that people would come in from one gate and exit at another gate so as to avoid stampede. We are already constructing a stadium-like podium where guests would be well seated to see whatever is happening during the festival.
These are some interventions we are already making. Also at Oluminrin too, we are doing some interventions. We want to make sure that what we are doing is to have standard chalets around Oluminrin so that when you go there and you cannot climb all the seven levels in a week, you have a place to return to after each level. There will be a relaxation point where you will relax with your family. We also have a liberium where you have some medicinal plants.
Do you think you can generate substantial revenue from these moves?
We are already generating revenue, I must be sincere with you. And if you ask round even from those doing the hospitality business, they will tell you that they have been having dividends of the improvement we are talking about. We are already reaping the dividends of that investment. If you had been in Osun two, three years back, you would discover that the number of hospitality ventures we had then was not the same with what we have now. And more importantly, the peace that reigns in the state today is encouraging and attracting a lot of people to this state.
Even when you are talking of tourism, it is more than just going to the groove and all that. We have a lot of other things that attract tourists into the state. The Yoruba culture itself resides here in the State of Osun. The State of Osun is the centre of civilisation. It is the navel of Yoruba civilisation. And when we talk of this, we are talking about tie and dye which people come to pick.
So, series of tourist attractions we have in the state are already attracting tourists. And naturally there is no way you come to this state, with the peace we are enjoying now and want to leave in haste. Today, hotel business is growing up everyday. Restaurant business is growing every day. Every hotelier is employing unemployed youth in the society. And this at least, reduces the burden of the government which is the essence of what the government is pursuing in our tourism industry.