No matter how much a city or state’s tourist sites and other natural or artificial attractions are well developed, they cannot flourish without infrastructure, which is usually the sore point with quite a number of states in the country. OMOLOLA ITAYEMI was in Akure recently to discover a town that is fast overcoming these challenges
Tourism provides a major economic development opportunity for many states and a means of improving the livelihoods of its residents. Both the public and private sectors involved in tourism depend on planning to achieve sustainable tourism development that respects the local community, creates appropriate employment, maintains the natural environment, and delivers a quality visitor experience. However, many tourism destinations have pursued development without proper planning and without considering the many impacts such development will bring to the community but the Ondo (the sunshine state) seems to have it all mapped out.
There is no gainsaying that Akure town is more urban than rural, and unlike most urban towns and cities, you can comfortably live within your means. From transportation to feeding to education (Akure, like other towns in Ondo state has Mega schools with modern libraries, computer laboratories, qualified teachers and sufficient students in classes), the capital of Ondo state will not bleed your wallet. The evidence is there in Ondo State via, the mega schools ,which have been unprecedented,
Having undergone a total revamping and transformation in the last two years since the administration of Dr Olusegun Mimiko came to power, Akure is definitely enjoying a new lease of life.
But for the discerning tourist, infrastructure on ground holds as much interest as the tourist’s location. In that regard, Ondo state is not lacking. A cursory look reveals a well-organized transport system with modern transport facilities. Putting his money where his mouth is, the governor commissioned the construction of an ultra modern motor park worth several millions of naira along Ondo road late last month. In other parts of the world this might not be considered novel as parks like this abound but same cannot be said her where few states have parks like this.
The park, which was founded around the early 70s, had only some ugly sheds, a contraption of iron sheet and woods just to provide some modicum of protection for vehicles and travelers. That’s now history with its transformation. The ground is well covered with asphalt, there are four, well-covered loading bays, the arrival and departure lodges have ten split air conditioning units (offering respite from the scorching sun) and vending machines. But more than a comfortable ambience, refreshments and other last minute buys like toiletries are sold in shops situated in the park. The purposely built canteen offers vast array of food, from indigenous local dishes to more continental cuisine.
Like any world-class modern motor park, it boasts of sets of toilets, Industrial bore hole, communication cubicle, a first-aid bay, offices for Nigerian union of road and transport workers (NURTW) officials and a dedicated transformer! What more can a tourist ask for?
Speaking to the branch secretary, Nigerian union of road and transport workers (NURTW), Akure central branch, Muyiwa Ogunsusi, who agrees this is the first of its kind in Ondo and something he has never seen. ‘Passenger traffic is more than before, before we used to load thirty to thirty-two buses both ways (arriving and departing) daily but that has increased to forty buses (both ways) now. This has definitely promoted business positively. And this encourages citizen responsibility as government intends to maintain it for six months and pass it on to us and we’re waiting to handle it well. I can attest to this by his projects which have direct bearing on the common people,’ he explained.
Adio, an indigene of Kwara state on a visit to Ondo share the same opinion as Ogunsusi. ‘I travel a lot around the state because of the nature of my business, its business and pleasure as it affords me an opportunity to appreciate our natural endowments at a close glance. As a marketing officer of a soap factory in charge of distribution within the south-west axis, transportation has vastly improved within Ondo state. Much more than the ultra modern park, the inter and intra state buses are more modern and comfortable, inadvertently making my job easier and faster,’ he admits.
The most significant aspect of road development in Ondo State is their quality, as most roads have been taken over and tarred by the Federal Government e.g. Akure-Owo-Ikera, Akure-Ondo et cetera. The state is also involved in constructing all weather roads. Local Governments have also shown keen interest in tarring both township and inter-settlement routes within their jurisdiction.
With transport sorted out the tourist is in for an experience with Ondo’s bounty of natural resources. From the historic Idanre hills (one of Naija Top 7 Wonders) to Owo’s museum of antiquities, tourist facilities abound in Akure and environs. The historic Idanre Hills located about 24 kilometres southwest of Akure is in Idanre town. The town is divided into two, the new settlement which is at the foot of the hills and Oke- Idanre the old settlements on the top of the hills.
There is the hill top sanctuary of Idanre, which consists of about 640 steps. These had necessitated, in addition, the construction of five resting posts along the steps to the top. At the top of the hill, there is an intriguing footprint, which is widely believed to enlarge or contract to accommodate every foot. It is as well believed that anybody whose foot does not exactly fit into the footprint is considered to be a witch or a wizard. The cultural relics in term of gods, goddesses and traditional arts can still be seen in addition to the old palace built around the 17th century. The panoramic view of the new Idanre never fails to fascinate first time visitors.
Owo museum is rich in antiquities, artifacts and relics of historical and traditional value. These relics are readily available for the tourists to see for themselves. This centre is significant for educational research.
Generally, most facilities/infrastructure gain their power through the electricity grid but not Ondo state where most facilities are powered by solar-powered electrical set made locally by former unemployed youths that have been empowered by the state. The new modern markets, small resorts and hotels, motor parks, ultra modern mechanic shops, mega schools, auto marts who formerly provide their own power through solar power or generators which is often noisy and is almost always more expensive rely on these solar-powered sets.
A variety of tourist attractions abound in the state, from Alagbaka cenotaph, Akure to Caves of Ashes, Isarun. Others are palace of Deji of Akure, Igbo Irunmole, Coast Creeks and Canals, Oke Maria at Oka-Akoko, Ebomi Lake at Ipesi-Akoko and Iho Eleru at Isarun.
Akure is another town that places premium on its beautification projects as seen in major roundabouts all over town. These projects which include the erection of historic and cultural statues, water fountains, planting of ornamental flowers and recreation parks brighten the dull outlook of the environment providing the necessary aesthetic attractions for citizens and tourists visiting the state.
Markets offer a glimpse into people’s lives and culture and the transformation of old markets such as Isikan market and NEPA market, Arakele into ultra modern markets is a beautiful fusion of culture and civilization. Like any modern market, these markets have their own crèche, clinic, min-fire service stations and police stations, ample parking space, solar-powered electricity, borehole water, wheel chair ramps for the physically challenged and effective monitoring management committee to help maintain infrastructure in the markets. At the Isikan market, a bustling commercial scene it was and colouful no doubt.
Under the 12-point programme of Governor Olusegun Mimiko’s government, codenamed “A Caring Heart”, which encapsulates the thrust of his administration and is a mix of agriculture and food security, community-driven and coastal region renewal and general development initiatives, roads and infrastructure, industrialisation, gender equality and women empowerment, health care and housing, education and capacity building, artisanship development and empowerment programe, rural development as well as tourism, sports and youth development, Ondo state offers its citizens and tourists a safe and comfortable haven.