It will not be an overstatement to say that Nigeria is saturated with both cultural, tourism sites and monuments that the country can conveniently rely on for her Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). However, the recognition, sale and management of these monuments have, over the years, become more than worrisome, to say the least. A situation which has left the sites and the economy the worse for it
A rude awakening on how derisive we have held some, if not most of our own cultural and tourism sites, was made by last week's visit of the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, to no other place than the openly vilified Afrika Shrine, a legacy of the late Abami Eda (The weird one) himself, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Throughout his singing career, he was hounded by successive governments until the Afrobeat pioneer finally died on 2 August, 1997.
Everything Fela stood for during his life time was scorned by the military junta in the country then. This important monument that represents the resolute stand of the African against foreign domination, high handedness and oppression by the military government and the protest against their being in power, which he termed an aberration, were held in disdain even by the elite. The New Afrika Shrine came to being after Fela's demise. It was done by his children to immortalise him and what he stood for. Prior to his death, his abode and performing centres had been vandalised and even razed by the powers that be, while he was beaten mercilessly and viciously for many times. He was also incarcerated a number of times.
But the French President had said of the Afrika Shrine. "I know the place and I have some memories, I have to confess at a time that there was no president around. I hope I will not spoil the party. First, I think that is such an iconic place for a lot of African people and African culture.
"I mean Fela, Femi, Seun Kuti are obviously very famous in France and Europe. I mean they are big successes but the Shrine is a cultural hub an iconic hub and it is very important for me first on a personal level, and that is why I want to say with a lot of humility that I recognise the importance of this place, I recognize the place of culture in this current environment" .
Most of Fela's hunters, however, listened to him and enjoyed his rich repertoire of knowledge and celebration of the African culture in private partly because of their colonial mentality and religious bigotry. Some of the derision and apathy were also extended to other monuments and festivals like the Osun Osogbo Festival, Olumo Rock, Ogbunike Cave, Nok statutes, Bida brass and others which religious bigots labelled pagan, animistic and idolatry.
The perception of the Osun Osogbo Festival and the Osun Grove changed for the better only after UNESCO adjudged it a world heritage site. The image of the Africa Shrine has also soared since the visit of Macron, all thanks to Lagos State Governor Akinwumi Ambode and his team.
Must it take the visit of a white man or recognition from a global body for the Nigerian government and Nigerians to recognise their own and maximise its existence, not only for relaxation and festivities, but also to garner foreign exchange? Other African countries like Kenya, Botswana and The Gambia have latched into tourism for a long time and made it their mainstay. Other places which are synonymous with our celebrated arts abound in the country. Stadium Hotel, Lagos is synonymous with the highlife maestro, Dr Victor Olaiya, Hill Station in Jos for Bongos Ikwe, Sir Victor Uwaifo's Joromi Hotel, Chief Hubert Ogunde's Osoosa Film Village and many other monuments. They all lay in waste, partial or total abandonment. This is while spots associated with great artistes like Mamman Shata, Dan Maraya Jos, Oliver Decoque, Osita Osadebe, Yusuff Olatunji, Haruna Ishola were not even preserved.
It is rather mindboggling that at a time when conscious efforts are being made all over the OPEC member states to deemphasise their economies' over dependence on oil, Nigeria with all her potential to tap from the resource is still not doing the needful. It is high time we exhumed our buried and moribund heritage and cultural sites, not only for our filial and pedantic wants and kicks, but for more endearing and lasting pecuniary interests, which not only benefit the current crop of Nigerians, but also generations yet unborn and the world in general. The wakeup time is now.