Edo, Nigeria’s heartbeat state, is easily the cultural epicentre of West Africa with its rich history and cultural heritage encapsulating bronze casting, art, craft, coral beads, traditional attire, foods, amazing dances with colourful costumes, and unique traditional institutions. These, alongside other natural endowments, position the state as a potential tourist’s delight.
Edo’s tourism potential has long been recognised. From the Oba’s Palace (rebuilt in 1914) with its repository of history, culture, arts and crafts to Benin’s impressive city walls and moats, the Igun bronze and crafts centre which is home to Benin’s best art and craft makers, the National Museum that houses some of the most treasured antiquities, and much more, even the most picky tourist will be spoilt for choice.
There is even much more to see and learn at the Chief Ogiamien House, the Holy Aruosa Church (Edo National Church of God) built around 1440, Ososo Tourist Centre, Somorika Hill, Sand Beaches of Agenebode, Sakpoba Holiday Resort, Ramat Park, Iyoma, Iyafun and Ozalla Springs, Udo Tourist Centre, Lampese Crocodile Lakes, Ughoton Grave, Gelegele Fountains, Idoma Hill, Amahor Waterside, Edegbake and Oghodoghodo, Ogba Zoo and Botanical Garden, Sir Victor Uwaifo Art Gallery, Okomu National Park, home to forest elephants, buffaloes, red river hogs, chimpanzees, leopards, bush baby, porcupine, pangolins, duikers, antelopes, the white-throated monkey, among many others.
That Edo State can leverage its cultural heritage and endowments to drive tourism and boost revenue has long been recognised. However, pious pronouncements by governments have not always been backed by positive action. But thanks to the Governor Godwin Obaseki-led administration, the narrative is changing as there is a new cultural renaissance in the state. The Obaseki government, having taken cognizance of the sector’s great economic potential, has continued to work assiduously to reposition it as a revenue-earner for the state.
Matching words with action, Governor Obaseki in December 2021 inaugurated the Tourism Steering Committee, headed by the state Head of Service, Anthony Okungbowa, to spearhead the development of a master plan that will lead to the actualisation of the vision of rebuilding the fundamentals of the Edo economy by harnessing the potential of its history, heritage, arts and culture. In September 2022, as part of activities marking that year’s World Tourism Day, the governor launched the Edo State Tourism Master Plan to serve as a compass to drive the sector’s development.
“With this tourism master plan, we are sure of boosting domestic tourism in the state and improving revenue. Our goal is to position Edo State as a world-class culture and tourism destination, leveraging the huge arts, culture and tourism potential of the state,” the governor said.
For the governor, the target is to grow inbound tourist traffic to Edo State to at least 1 million visitors per year from international, regional and domestic markets.
“If we have a million people coming into the state or into Benin City for culture and tourism every year, and each one spends $1,000, can you imagine the amount of money that will come into the state? Not from crude oil or the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC), but from culture and tourism,” Obaseki said in July last year during a stakeholders’ engagement and unveiling of phase one of the Museum of West African Art (MOWAA) in Benin City.
According to statistica.com, a global research body, travel and tourism alone contributed about 2.8 percent of Nigeria’s entire GDP in 2020, equivalent to $11 billion, and the Edo State government reckons that with adequate investment and partnerships, this significant contribution to the nation’s economy could be increased to reflect the true potential of the sector.
In Edo State, apart from the tourism master plan, the government said it was developing critical infrastructure, as well as a cultural district comprising museums, art spaces, cultural and arts bouquet services, entertainment centres, shopping malls, among others required to reposition the sector to effectively contribute to the state’s economic growth and development.
“If the Egyptians are using what they have to represent the arts of Northern Africa, then we should, as a people, have something to represent the arts of West Africa,” he said.
Aside from generating revenue for the government, a well-developed tourism sector will, no doubt, provide viable means of livelihood for youths who will be meaningfully engaged as tour guides, travel agents, tour operators, among others.
Obaseki reiterated his administration’s commitment to promoting cultural renaissance and attracting tourism receipts to Edo just recently during an inspection of the ongoing construction work at MOWAA.
The governor, who was accompanied by members of the bronze casters guild, woodcarvers’ guild, and tourism industry experts, among other tourism industry stakeholders, said the MOWAA project would be transformational and position Edo as the centre of arts and culture in West Africa.
“We are building Edo into a culture and tourism hub. There will be more jobs created in the state through this,” Obaseki said.
He said beyond the physical structure, there would be a lot more at the Museum of West African Art that would shed light on Edo’s rich history and culture through the various art media.
“It is a call for the diversification of our economy as we cannot continue to rely on Abuja for revenue for our existence or to run our state. We are beginning to develop and build the foundation for a resilient economy for the state as this is what the project represents,” he said.
Experts in the culture and tourism sector say the government is on course and the future of tourism in the state could only be bright.
Mark Olaitan, the Curator of the Benin National Museum, in a recent interview with a team from The Nigerian Observer, was full of optimism.
“Whether we like it or not, the bell of Benin is sounding all over the world,” Olaitan said, referring to the ongoing repatriation of objects looted from Benin in 1897.
“We hear of EMOWAA, Edo Museum of West African Art; it is still part of what’s coming out of the museum. Very soon we will be hearing of Royal Palace Museum, that will come on board. Within this area you will be hearing about three different museums that will create more jobs and opportunities for people and more foreigners too will be coming,” he said.
Indeed, the Obaseki administration has set the ball rolling to ensure that Edo State occupies its rightful place in the global tourism map. With its eyes laser-focused on the ball, the government is taking all the right steps to see that this dream is realised. Tourism stakeholders in the state who have not keyed in had better do so now and give the government the needed support. The state would be the better for it.