He’s a multiple award-winning tourism reporter, one that has toured the world in his over three decades of journalism practice. In April, Wale Ojo-Lanre, then an editor with the Nigeria Tribune, was appointed by Ekiti State governor, Dr John Kayode Fayemi as Director-General of the state Council for Arts and Culture. His arrival has since given the hitherto moribund agency an inspiring rejuvenation.
Since Ojo-Lanre’s appointment, the council has been working hard to reignite the cultural passion that is usually ingrained in the mind of the average Ekiti man. The state’s cultural troupe has been performing locally and internationally, and the reviews have been flattering.
Early in October, the troupe performed at the Nigerian independence celebrations in Budapest, the Hungarian capital where the dancers and artistes showcased Ekiti arts, fashion and culinary skills, among others. Later same month, they also performed at the 2019 edition of the National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST), held at the University of Benin Sports Complex, Benin, Edo State where they emerged the most culturally creative and innovative state in Nigeria. They had earlier performed at the African Drum Festival held in Abeokuta in April.
Between Wednesday, December 11and Friday December 13, the council would stage this year’s edition of the state arts festival tagged Ekifest 2019. The event would feature carnival parade, traditional games and sports, fun-ride to Ikogosi Warm Springs, performing arts competition, a colloquium, and fashion shows, among other events.
At a recent encounter in Ado-Ekiti, Wale Ojo-Lanre informed that the state governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi had been quite supportive of the council. He also insisted that the nation’s economy could be revived with the right attention paid to the promotion of arts, culture and tourism.
“Everywhere here was dry when I resumed,” he told the reporter over a meal of pounded yam at a popular cafeteria in the state capital. “I inherited a parlous situation, The morale of the workers was low, although the people are very vibrant. For years, they had stopped participating at festivals. None of the four official vehicles was working. The previous governor had treated the staff as if the council never existed. The entire funding approved for the council was not up to N1million in four years. The troupe never attended any festival, local or international, in four years. Not even the most important national festivals like the Abuja Carnival or the NAFEST did they attend in four years.”
But Ojo-Lanre, who is also a journalist, said no progress would ever be made if all people do is to bewail and whine endlessly. He explained that as soon as he became DG, he convened a meeting with the six directors in the council and mapped out strategies to get the agency up and about again. With his contacts in the arts, culture and tourism corridors owing to his many years of covering the axis as a reporter, Ojo-Lanre has been enhancing the influence of Ekiti State Cultural Troupe at different festivals. He’s also grateful to Governor Fayemi for his encouragement and faith in the council.
Ojo-Lanre said he has been able to identify the key stakeholders in the state and has been reaching out to the artists and artistes, the university communities, local artisans, youths and others critical to the development of the arts and culture sector in the state.
“I have also visited communities that have over the years been identified with certain skills. I have been to Ogotun-Ekiti, a town renowned for the manufacture of local mats, Isan-Ekiti, where people do traditional pottery. We just want to develop and promote the very rich arts and culture of Ekiti and, through that, create jobs and make the place a tourism hub.”
The director-general said the council has been supporting festivals in different towns, including Okemesi and the Udiroko Festival in Ado-Ekiti.
He regretted that for years, no robust policies were instituted to promote arts, culture and history in Ekiti, a development that could have been driving tourism in the state. He wondered why past governments, for instance, never promoted Ire-Ekiti as the home of Ogun, the fiery Yoruba god of war and iron.
“I lived in Ondo, and I know how the people celebrated Ogun festivals. I naturally assumed that Ogun must be from Ondo. I was surprised when I learnt that Ire-Ekiti was Ogun’s home. Imagine how the town’s economy would have been boosted if government had been involved in promoting tourism in Ire. These are the things we want to be doing and are already doing.
“I have held meetings with people in Ire. We have not even spent any money, but they are already prepared. We want to drive tourism to that part of Ekiti. We have advised them not to do certain things that would not encourage or attract tourists. We said they should not use canes flog one another. They could use palm fronds. At the end of the day, everyone would be happy”
Ekiti is situated on a hilly topography, with long stretches of ridges and undulating mountains and rocks running across the entire land. Ojo-Lanre also believes that developing the tourism capacities of these natural endowments would boost employment and reduce youth restiveness.
“We have started making something out of it,” Ojo-Lanre said. “We have begun promoting the hills of Ekiti through mountain hikes. We are collaborating with some young Ekiti men. There’s a young Ekiti man who stays in South Africa and who has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. It turned out that he also has the same vision to promote Ekiti hills. We have started doing the mountain hiking,” Ojo-Lanre said.
He urged the Federal Government and other state governments to be more committed to investing in arts and culture, noting that it would help in boosting the nation’s economy.
“In January, all the hotels in Ado-Ekiti and its environs would be fully booked, as members of the Oodua progressive Union who are in about 86 countries would be having their world congress in Ekiti State. Now imagine what that event would contribute to the local economy of the state. That is why every government must be interested in supporting the promotion of arts and culture,” he explained.