A picture of a smiling Ooni of Ife, His Imperial Majesty, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, resplendent and regal in his white apparel, and Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, Director General, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) standing side by side could mean only one thing: Cultural tourism.
That is what both men stand for. That is the gospel being promoted by the duo since they both took their respective offices. The image gains further importance when members of the Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) intrude on the picture. The big picture then becomes a gathering of like minds, a congregation of the movers and shakers of the Nigerian culture and tourism industry. The occasion on Friday, May 24, was the 2019 Annual General Meeting of the association, held in Osun State and hosted by the Ife monarch, who seized the moment and the momentum provided to showcase the tourism assets of Ile-Ife, the acclaimed source of Yoruba civilization.
For some months now, Ile-Ife has subtly crawled back to the front row of cultural tourism, a rebound triggered by the renaissance started by the Ooni.
Indeed, Ojaja II has made some refreshing changes since he became king of Ile-Ife. Anyone who visits the city in the past 24 months would feel the wind of change blowing in all direction. Hitherto, Ile-Ife had slipped into perennial lethargy. When I visited the city in 2010, its attractions were old and mouldy: Statue of Oduduwa at Ifenworo Park, the ruins of Modakeke; much ado about the city’s famous food of akara and eko….it was a city drowning in antiquity.
Go back to Ile-Ife now, its visage has become new-fangled; it’s a city in a new age, an ancient city reborn, a phoenix rising from the ashes of antiquity. You could smell the change in the air, a change arising from the alchemy of cultural awakening.
In four years, Ile-Ife has gradually regained its pride of place as the cynosure of the Yoruba race. Its rebirth has diffused to the diaspora, to faraway places with especially religious affinity for the Yoruba tradition, places like Brazil where the Yoruba religions of Xango, Oxum and Obatala are deeply rooted.
As a town where African culture is venerated, Ile-Ife is gilded with a smorgasbord of cultural heritage, relics, sacred places and antediluvian monuments. Add to this ensemble, epic cultural events and festivals that draw a great number of visitors from far and near, and you have a town with greatness in its DNA. Now a king is working hard to take it to greater heights. What he has done with the Olojo festival, reinvigorated to become one of the biggest cultural fiestas in the country, is an indication of how his mind works.
The wheel of cultural reengineering set in motion by the monarch has been turning progressively, steadfastly grafting the new into the old, laying the economic foundation for the future. The twinning of Ile-Ife with the Brazilian city of Salvador is a development that will in no distance future brings Brazilian “cousins” from the State of Bahia.
For students of myths and mythology, Ife still maintains a tight grip on its reputation as a city where myth walks on four. Opa (staff of) Oranmiyan is a top tourist attraction. The architectural artifact associated with Oranmiyan, legendary founder of the Oyo Empire, is a 5.27 metre-high protrusion, believed to be the staff used by Oranmiyan which now marked the spot of his grave.
For Oloosa (dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist), a spiritual retreat at the renovated shrines of Orisas could be a gratifying side attraction in the city. The average tourist will be delighted by the beautiful sculptures scattered around the city. Among others, the Ori Olokun sculpture is a must-see. The huge sculpture at the Ori Olokun Roundabout is a precious heritage of the Yoruba race, reportedly discovered in the early 20th century by German explorer, Leo Frobenius.
Another landmark a visitor cannot help but see is the Moremi Ajasoro Statue of Liberty, the tallest statue in Nigeria and third in Africa, built by the king.
One of the biggest attractions in the town today is the Ife Grand Resort and Leisure Centre. Located a mere five-minute away from Obafemi Awolowo University, it is a tantalizing place for family holidays vacation or romantic getaway, for both tourists and nature lovers. Owned by Ooni Ogunwusi, it is a mainland branch of the famous Inagbe Island Resort, off the coast of Lagos. This mecca of leisure is built on 252 hectares of land, a 300-room facility with breathtaking scenery.
By its amenities, it is one of kind in sub Sahara Africa: a mini stadium with all the sporting facilities, children theme park, jungle experience park (Igbo Olodumare), largest floating platform, natural habitat zone for animals, jungle rope climbing, 18-hole golf course, African village and tree houses.
Back in 2018, the Ooni said: “I want to build the largest multipurpose Resort in Africa that can occupy 7,000 people…where Africans in the diaspora and people at the home can always come and rest and at the same time learn about their roots, a place where Africans in the diaspora can come and feel and learn about their history, ancestors and they see the need to contribute to the development of Africa.”
With the inclusion of a library and museum where people can really learn about Africa especially the Yoruba, the objective is not quixotic.
The resorts has the trappings of a five-star hotel. It comprises of rooms with adjoining sitting areas, stunning interior décor, full air-conditioned, tiled floor and ornate Persian rugs, en suite bathroom and cabled TV. Its guests also enjoy the privilege of a well-stocked bar and an outdoor pool and a laundromat. It is also not lacking in activities range that include horse riding, tennis, quad biking, and volleyball.
One symbolic importance of the Ife grand resort: Ojaja II, the architect of Inagbe Grand resort, hasn’t lost the touch since becoming the foremost traditional leader in Yorubaland. What’s more, he has brought his acumen to bear on the city.
Oba Ogunwusi, while speaking to the NATOP team in his palace, expressed optimism with regard to domestic tourism.
“I have come to realise that some Nigerians want to leave their being and stressful environment and visit areas where they can enjoy and relax at periodic intervals.
This is one of the reasons we planted this resort here. To give Nigerians a wonderful taste of home away from home in a serene and cool environment with excellence service offered.”
Once a city that has been slumbering, Ile-Ife now basks in the limelight, as a city with tourism potential that is multi-faceted, even limitless. A visionary is at work. He is building a modern Ife. Perhaps he would one day make Ile-Ife “Cultural City of Africa.”