Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo state seems to be getting into the right groves on restoring the lost glory of Imo state, heartbeat of Nigerian culture and tourism economy. In this quest, there is a noticeable fast pace in restoring the Owerri city outlook in terms of cleanness, and livability options, restoration of the sports complex or stadium and aggregation of the state’s strength in producing the basket net of sports men and women, in all aspects of sports ecology and to which the state used to be the hunting ground for fresh legs and hands not only during national sporting competitions but also key flag bears at International games.
I recall the famous Imo grasshoppers and their many exploits locally and internationally and which the state became the capital of handball sports in Nigeria many good years ago. Gov. Ihedioha has also taken a passing look at conservation of flora and fauna resources in the state through interest to revamp the Nekede Zoo, a possible stepping stone to revisit the entire forest and waterways ecosystem in the state. Unknown to many, the state got its name from the famous Imo River and is surrounded by rivers Otamiri, Nworie and others emptying into the atlantic ocean across neighbouring Rivers state.
To also show cultural direction and sign post, the governor recently appointed Mr. Amanze Obi, a former Commissioner of Information in the state as Director-General of Ahiajoku Institute, a research and cultural centre on Igbo culture. To the credit of this cultural hotspot, the famous Ahiajoku lecture series of the institute recently clocked 40 years, a feat that would probably be appreciated if the cerebral submissions and contributions in those years are sustainably and practically captured to develop the state and direct its future growth and advancement in science, agriculture, technology, music, arts and culture.
For instance, the cultural message in Imo’s famous culinary wonder, “Ofe Owerri” has greater advantage and creative mileage to position the state and indeed the economy as destination for culinary tourism and agro-economy.
This indeed brings this intervention in-view which should not mistaken for an agenda for mere localization of tourism visibility and the some of the most misguided pronouncements noticeable in some elemental proposals in this very important area of our economy by politicians just trying to fulfil social righteousness.
There is no doubt that Imo does not need to go “Samaria” or Egypt to seek for expert opinion to help situate the real and actual practical benefits of tourism economy to the state. Having travelled the 36 states of Nigeria, participated and helped hatch some of the best practical tourism and cultural festivals and other developmental blueprints across the country, I believe and can bet that Imo can be the pulsating tourism capital in the entire eastern frontier and even much more.
Except there are nay sayers, there are no denying the full impact but hardly captured data presence of hospitality, trade and transport economy which Imo state is hugely blessed but ignorantly allowed to leak ceaselessly. The hospitality sector which commands the most visible presence in the state economy has over 60% capacity, broken down to the downstream sectors of eateries, outdoor shopping and recreation, could drastically seduce Imo’s huge unemployment force and generate revenue into state coffers for advancement in building more tourism infrastructure that could drive traffic and fill empty hotels round the year.
The transport economy which cannot be over emphasised, gives Imo advantage in growing its cultural and tourism economy as this area business with a capacity about 30% of the economy and with creativity driven practical blueprint, would also create sustainable jobs, revenue, levies therefrom deployed in road construction and opening up new township and rural roads leading to yet to be discovered and discovered tourism sites, rivers, lakes and a possible road map to one zone, one tourism cultural product economy.
Another major strength of Imo’s cultural economy is in rural trade which has been neglected over the years. Significantly most of the local markets and rural trade posts are captured in cultural cosmos of the Igbo people, their history, birth and political development. All market days have cultural meanings and so drives some sort of inclusiveness, and social orderliness such as clearing of refuse and roads of over grown weeds and much more to which a practical cultural tourism blueprint could impact a gainful revival.
Indeed, governor Ihedioha would not find it difficult to make a local and national statement in this very highly sensitive area of the economy if he could diligently search and appoint a tested hand to drive this reality, particularly through the state tourism board which has been moribund for years. I must overemphasize that Imo state’s cultural tourism economy would accelerate the fastest socio-economic revival of the people more than some tested but bleeding economic laxatives.
Do I need to also draw the attention of the governor to the fact the thriving but unorganized Igbo music genre, the oriental beats can fill, three times the size of Dan Ayiam stadium, Owerri, with gate fee paying fans, creating a pool of verifiable downstream entertainment and hospitality economy. Apart from the social implications and advantage, this local musical economy would help revive the dying Igbo culture and language, not excluding empowering the youths positively to become part of governance and true ambassadors of the new Imo to which governor Ihedioha so cherished.
There is a huge cultural economy in Imo state to which pretenses of certain developmental economic blueprints had relegated to the background. As those from this clime may know and acknowledge, there is no part of the state or community that could not raise a standing local dance assemble or a football team, not frowning at the very possibility of showing capacity to host visitors at short notice and protecting the gift of nature and cultural attributes.
Imo state is exotic, a wonderland waiting to be discovered but needs a state tourism institution with hands on practical approach to husband the abundant goldmine found in the state. Can governor Ihedioha get Imo tourism right? We pray!