We are fond of saying that our country, Nigeria, is richly endowed – both in human and material resources. When we speak this way, we mostly point at our oil and gas resources. Crude oil has been the mainstay of our economy since its discovery, production, and sale took the ascendancy in the second half of the 1960s. Nigeria’s gas reserves are massive and have been touted to have the capacity to dwarf the contribution of crude oil to the nation’s economy. Our dependence on crude oil exportation for survival is near-total, such that we have been classified as a mono-cultural economy. But things have not always been that way!
Before the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantity, Nigeria relied on agriculture and mining to pay its bills – Cocoa in the South-west; rubber, coffee, and coal in the South-south and South-east; groundnuts, cotton, hides and skin in the North, to mention but a few. Once the “black gold” began to flow, however, these foreign exchange earners suffered neglect and all eyes settled on crude oil. Close to 50 years down the road, Nigeria is yet to escape what has come to be known as the “resource curse”; all promises from one administration to another to diversify the nation’s economy away from crude oil exportation back into agriculture, mining, and tourism have remained a pipe-dream.
Travelling in Ekiti state on holiday with my family a couple of weeks ago, the abundant blessings of God on our people was everywhere on display. How about the vast arable land where food and cash crops grow and thrive luxuriantly at the least prodding? And what of the tourism sites that can draw the whole world to Ekiti if properly harnessed and marketed? The roads were good; meandering around the many hills and mountains (Okiti) which, according to the state governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, gave the state its name. Ekiti should qualify as one of the states with the best road network in the country.
The scenery was enthralling; Ekiti has a peculiar feature – the towns are not far from one another. In fact, many have dove-tailed one into the other. There are hundreds of Ekiti towns and villages, all of which, with a few exceptions, carry the Suffix “Ekiti”. Each town has a long list of academics and intellectuals of note. Reminds one of those numerous Chief S.L. Akintola jokes of the First Republic; this time about Chief K.O. Mbadiwe. Interpreted as it is pronounced in Yoruba, “Mbadiwe” means “I could turn into books”; to which Akintola fired the riposte: “If you turn into books, Ekiti will read you”! Jokes apart, however, Ekiti state is reputed to have the highest density of scholars in Nigeria per square metre.
As I drove round the state, memories came flooding past my mind. Fayuji Park in the state capital, Ado-Ekiti, brought memories of my final-year days as Hall Chairman of Adekunle Fajuyi Hall, University of Ife (1981\1982). At Aramoko, I remembered Yekini, I think, a classmate of mine at Owo High School, whose alias was “Aramoko” simply because he came from the town of same name. At Iropora, I remembered Prof. Funmi Adewunmi. Why do we even call him “Iropora”? At Ilawe, I remembered my friend Femi Falana, SAN. At Ikerre, I remembered Prof. Niyi Osundare, the poet of international repute whose column in the Sunday Tribune, “Lifeline”, I do not miss. Prof., how about Dr. Gboyega? When last did you hear from him? At Iyin-Ekiti, the home of retired Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo, I remembered the long wait in the sun (1970 or 1971) that we endured as secondary school students as the then Military Governor of Western State, just given another military posting, went round on a “thank you” tour. He also took the opportunity to turn the sod of the General Hospital (now Federal Medical Centre), Owo. Did you know that the first Professor of Mathematics in Africa came from Ekiti? At Igbole-Ekiti, a secondary school stands in honour and memory of Prof. Ojo.
My family and I spent four never-to-be-forgotten days at the Ikogosi warm springs tourist centre – and I must confess that I was refreshed. Ikogosi is God’s bounteous gift, not only to Ekiti but to all Nigerians, nay, the entire universe. Scientific explanation for the warm and cold water springs that have flowed ceaselessly at Ikogosi since creation is available. While I understand that, Ikogosi, nevertheless, is God’s miracle. The waters flow at same tempo, day and night, dry and rainy seasons. It never dries. At the point where both the cold and warm streams meet, you put a foot in the cold and another in the warm and experience a therapeutic effect that is better experienced than imagined. A swim in the warm spring swimming pool relieves the nerves and energises the body.
Why go abroad when you can go to Ekiti? The cost and stress apart, the discriminatory glances, even monkey calls from rabid racist bigots, are enough disincentives for someone like me hopping into a plane and searching for what is not lost in a foreign land. Perpetuation of colonial mentality is the reason why many neglect what is theirs and cherish what belongs to others. This way, we kill what is ours while helping what belongs to others to thrive. We diminish ourselves while we enlarge the coasts of others. More importantly, however, is that we have better relaxation spots here than the ones that we flock abroad to witness – and for a token, whereas we pay through the nose to holiday abroad.
Driving around Ekiti is enough tourist attraction. The many hills are beauties to behold. The lush vegetation is another. Igede-Ekiti harbours Elemi River; humble-looking, yet said to be the source of the internationally-acclaimed Osun (Osogbo) River. Elemi never dries, even in dry seasons, and never overflows its modest banks in the rainy season. The traditional pottery works of Isan-Ekiti, Gov. Fayemi’s pace of birth, is another first-class tourist attraction.
Ikogosi warm spring tourist centre is a paradise on earth. Drinking its sparkling clean water soothed my soul. The Fayemi administration has done a marvellous job at Ikogosi. Comparing the state of Ikogosi in 1982 when Fayemi visited the place as a secondary school student at Christ School, Ado-Ekiti (as shown in photograph), with the facility is today is like comparing sleep with death. The environment is baam, as they say. It is waaoh! There are facilities for conferences, seminars, staging of plays, retreats, name it. And the facilities are all first-class: From two-star to five-star accommodation, depending on your purse (there are over a hundred of such facilities); serene and beautiful environment laid out in its natural habitat; courteous and responsive staff, and security at the facility was reassuring. The food was good and affordable. I ate pounded yam with egusi, efo-riro, and bush meat like I never did before. My family enjoyed themselves to the hilt – my kids especially, who made the warm spring swimming pool their second home. The internet services were okay and I had no difficulty at all sending my stories from there or keeping abreast with happenings around the world.
As delightful as Ikogosi was, we however found the near-by Arinta waterfalls at Ipole-Iloro (seven kilometres away) much more enthralling. Cascading from a height of about four or five-story building, Arinta is God’s marvel to behold. Like Ikogosi, the water of Arinta is sparkling clean. I went as close as possible to be bathed in its torrential falls. I asked the guide for how long the water has poured out like that and he answered, “Since creation”. The ancestors met it there and it has never for one day failed or diminished, be it rainy or dry season. Water from Arinta has been piped to provide potable water to neighbouring villages. Gov.Fayemi said he was looking to add more communities to the list of beneficiaries.
Despite God’s bounteous gifts, water shortage has been a perennial problem to Ekiti. I understand the problem has been greatly ameliorated now but the last time I visited Ekiti during the Segun Oni administration, most water pipes, including those sponsored under the auspices of the Millennium Development Goals, were dry. Not because Oni did not try but because of what we generally call the “human factor”: An insider disclosed that a big man who was in charge of laying the water pipes collected money for new pipes but bought “second new” pipes. Worse still, he procured those that had been used to convey oil and, therefore, unfit to convey water. According to the source, pressure could not allow Oni deal decisively with the erring top gun. Could this be an example of what President Goodluck Jonathan meant when he alleged that Nigerians encourage corruption?
Arinta is still in its state of nature. Apart from the tarred road to the waterfall and the enclosure that prevents anyone going in there without authorisation, no development has taken place there. Gov. Fayemi said his plan is to connect Ikogosi and Arinta via cable car, the type that we have at Obudu cattle ranch\Tinapa. A South African company with expertise in the development and marketing of tourism sites has been identified and talks have gone far on how to implement the holistic plan for the development of the tourism corridor of Efon-Alaaye, Okemesi, Ikogosi, and Ipole-Iloro. If Fayemi’s plans work out well, tourism may soon become the major source of internally-generated revenue for the government. As of today, Ekiti is one of the poorest states in the country; that may soon change.
I have plans to return soon to Ekiti to spend many more days of leisure and relaxation there. I will start the day at Ikogosi’s warm spring swimming pool; then take a stroll to the near-by “Palmy” joint and demolish, as breakfast, a gourd of undiluted “oguro” (What is it called in English? “Oguro” is the younger brother of palm-wine). I will spend the whole morning and early afternoon soaking in the soothing balm of the magnificent Arinta waterfall and return in the late afternoon to Ikogosi for my only meal of the day – well-prepared pounded yam with efo-riro\ egusi soup laced with bush meat.
The inimitable Yoruba literary giant, D. O. Fagunwa, had his literary prowess horned by constant forays to the serenity of his native Oke-Igbo forest. Present-day writers and thinkers should do no less. The imagery, imaginations, revelations, inspirations, and insights that you get in polluted and noisy environments – even in air-conditioned offices – cannot compare to those you get under God’s own roof, with nature’s vast array beckoning on you to drink from God’s immeasurable fountain of wisdom.
LAST WORDS: As I scripted this, a neighbour called to gleefully announce to me, in we-have-arrived-fashion, that he was calling from the USA where he was holidaying with his family. I couldn’t but wonder why go hole up in a foreign land in the name of holidaying when, for a fraction of the amount so wasted, you could get something better at home. Incidentally, the couple are Ekiti! Can you see how we are ourselves’ best enemies?
–Mr. Bolawole, former newspaper editor and columnist, can be reached through- firstname.lastname@example.org.