Ikogosi, the hub in the tourism corridor of Ekiti state with a waterfall about ten kilometers ahead in Ipole-iloro and religious tourism hills in Erio-ekiti offers an arguably rich blend of interesting places. Currently under rehabilitation, Ikogosi is transforming into a prime world-class resort in its bid to retain its status as be a prime tourism spot. OMOLOLA ITAYEMI writes
Ikogosi Warm Springs and Resort natural attractions has as much allure as its history. Though yet to be verified, these myths run whole gamut, from wives of the same husband turning into warm and cold springs to a hunter discovering the spring on a hunting expedition.
Scientists on the other hand, give the possible and plausible explanation that the deeper a body of water goes underground, the hotter it becomes and if by chance it is forced back to the surface through some earth fault, the temperature will be relatively high.
Like any natural wonder, it has its own devotees, mostly members of the immediate community who swear by the healing and therapeutic nature of the warm water.
Over the years, its allure diminished with the neglect it suffered from previous administrations, despite its good start with the Baptist mission, which established a youth and conference centre and other conveniences on a hill adjacent to the warm spring area, attracting both local and foreign tourists in the 50’s.
However in 1978, Ondo State acquired it from Baptist Mission putting in a few infrastructures before the resort centre was acquired from them by Ekiti State government after it was carved out of Ondo state. It however, suffered a lull as until the administration of Kayode Fayemi started the rehabilitation process in July 2011.
Like any work site under construction, workers and equipments common to construction sites were strewn all over but that didn’t take a shine away from Ikogosi as its rich fauna, rolling hills and awesome view are still stunning. Coupled with the serenity that comes with areas like this, Ikogosi is the perfect getaway for couples, retreats and meditations especially with the chaotic lifestyle presently imbibed by many.
Part of Ikogosi’s attraction is the quaint colonial buildings dotted all over adding to its picturesque aesthetic. In other climes, such buildings would have been done away with during such rehabilitations, but not Ikogosi who prides itself as a historic location. Hence, retaining most of the things naturally habitat to it without losing the essence of their uniqueness such as the chapel.
The rooms have been redesigned to meet international standards, 3 to 5 star to hostel accommodations (24 units for educational purposes such as excursion trips from school). There will be internet availability, ample car parking space, shopping malls, amphi-theatre, good road network, security with CCTV, security gadgets and personnel, warehouses, laundry, restaurants and all other amenities that make up a world-class resort.
The newly refurbished resort is also keying into business tourism with its big amphitheatre and conference halls.
The resort will be managed by Mantis known for their expertise in tourism development in resorts and wildlife parks. With over thirty year experience, Mantis has brought their experience to bear. According to John Dixon, the general manager Mantis Collection, ‘I certainly think that what is key in tourism is location and Ikogosi springs resort is in a beautiful location. Our vision is to make it a first-class resort with adjourning nature reserve. We’ve seen the sincerity of purpose of Ekiti government. I’m impressed with the passion of every member of the government team. Part of our mandate is to train and manage members of the community in helping to run the resort, only the top executives will be south Africans, the remaining work force will be Nigerians. We know this is part of the multiplying effect of tourism and will work towards it,’ he said.
The first phase, which is the development of the Mc Gee Camp (named after the Baptist missionary that built the chapel) the 3-star area, JKF Chalets (32 rooms), the Warm Spring site, the Western Chalets and the Villa, which will be amongst those completed and opened to the public in October. This phase will be offering a total of 100-room accommodation catering for different category of tourists.
Shedding more light on this, Senior Special Assistant to the governor on Tourism Development, Sesan Obidiran is going to be in three phases. ‘At the Mc Gee Camp, we are expecting about 24 rooms with a bunk for 48 students. At the villa, we met four and we are adding eight to make 12, which is for the VIPs, while the western chalet is for the choice category.’
‘The McGee camp also has the conference centre which can sit 300 guests, the shopping mall, the business centre, restaurant, bar, music centre and a chapel for the religious tourists.“At the back of the Mc Gee camp is the amphitheatre where people can hold various forms of events and social functions. This is served by a big well paved motor–park,’ he revealed.
At the Warm spring site, the old swimming pool has given way to the new one with a fountain, dressing room, toilets and a restaurant. Also new is a track for nature trail within the forest
On the cost and management of the site, Ibidiran revealed: “It is being wholly financed by the Ekiti State government and the place will be managed by the Mantis group from South Africa. In fact, the official of the Mantis Group is on ground to see that the structures and facilities are well planted so that what the government is expending 135 billion naira on will not only worth it but come out beautifully to justify the investment.”
Governor Kayode Fayemi and his passion for tourism:
Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti in an interview revealed his determination to turn Ikogosi Warm Spring into a resort of international standard attracting the jet set crowd of the society, tourists and travel-enthusiasts. He also revealed why the first phase has to come in now. “As political animals, we all know that efforts are great but quick result is very important.
Speaking on, “you have not seen anything yet. What you have seen is just a caricature of the real thing that we are putting on ground. The facilities and structures which are there now are just for the first phase of the project of a three phase initiative which will culminate in a golf course, a helipad, a games village, a wild life park, a cable car and other range of tourists’ facilities.”
And this is what our people yearn for. The first phase is to tell the world. Come, kindly see what we are bringing out. This will enable us to go along with the other two phases with public confidence, support and understanding.”
Reacting to the question on what drove his vision and propelled him towards uplifting the status of the Warm and Cold Spring despite the fact that his predecessors failed to do this?
Governor Fayemi said: “My passion for tourism is driven mainly because of my interest in anything which will add value to the development of the society, particularly any project which is capable of changing the status of the common people for the better. My education and exposure have greatly come in handy here. There is no part of the world that I have not been to. I sure know the import of a deluge of people; I mean heavy tourists traffic to a state. I know what and what to put in place to have this effect in any creative environment which Ikogosi Warm Spring offers. I also know that tourism propels an economy by mobilising wealth, creates employment, empowering and initiating development. Hence, it will be wrong of me if I said because of my predecessors failed to enhance the awesomeness of Ikogosi. I too should follow suit. No. The fact is that I see what they did not see in Ikogosi. I know the economic wonder which the full enhancement of Ikogosi Warm Spring will perform in the lives of my people, the economy of Ekiti State and Nigeria. This is why my government is making it a priority of development. And I assure you, we will not rest on our oars until Ikogosi Warm Spring becomes the best tourism resort in Nigeria. Mark my words.”
Talking on the values that could ensure the sustainability of the project, Governor Fayemi allayed the journalists’ fear: “I thank you for this question. Like I said, my exposure and interactions with peoples of differents races and my understanding of how and why organisations, companies and concerns crumbled has enabled me to know that tourism vision is not only about building great edifices, planting out-of-this-world infrastructure and mounting first class facilities but what can make it sustainable is the richness of service which it renders. And that is why we have to put up with Mantis. We were looking for a partner that understands rural resort, that understands theme park, a partner that knows how to run a games reserve, a partner that can combine all with operating a hotel in the city. We made research and we found out that the Mantis squarely fits in better than others who are mainly good at operating chains of hotels in various cities of the world. Some of you know the profile of the Mantis Group in South Africa and I have visited three of their holdings and I found out that Ikogosi will benefit greatly from their experience and benefits.”
Governor Fayemi also revealed that Mantis selection and engagement is a blessing. “The selection of the Mantis Group is an act of God. This is because we later found out that the group had earlier carried out a detailed research on Ikogosi forest and has the list of all unique flora and fauna which are endemic to the place. Though some of these are at the fringes of extinction, we have to re enact and re–generate them. Hence, we have acquired about 10,000 hectares of land beyond the Ikogosi forest to serve as a buffer zone for the wildlife. I mean, as I said, what is on the ground now is just a tip of the iceberg. The warm spring is just serving as the niche while the wildlife, the games village, the golf course will be major attractions in there. And to God be the glory, the Mantis also run some of the most successful games reserves in South Africa. I have been to the Samwarhi Games Reserve run by them and I saw how inspiring it was and how the group runs the jungle so well by balancing and protecting the flora and fauna, making it attractive and interesting without letting you feel that you are in the jungle, yet you have the real ambience of the natural jungle.
On whether the government would run the resort?, Governor Fayemi declared,” I am making this clear that the Ekiti State government will not run the resort.We know that government does not do well in running businesses. We are not going to burn our fingers and ruin this laudable project with that.
We cannot afford Ikogosi going aground. The money being sunk here is not mine. It is the generational fund which must yield the dividends for this generation and generations yet unborn. There are facilities for all categories of people. There are five star facilities for those who can afford it, there is three star majority of the people.
On the chain of reactions which the project had caused Governor Fayemi disclosed that the Ikogosi project was propelling other laudable projects in Ekiti.
“Ekiti is the nodal state between the administrative capital which is Abuja and the business capital, which is Lagos. It will take you four hours to get to Ado-Ekiti from Lagos and the same four hours from Abuja.
But what about the busy and time up tourism buffs who cannot afford wasting such a time? This is telling us that we cannot run away from having an Airport in Ado–Ekiti and a heliport in Ikogosi for that dash – in and dash–out wealthy spenders who can afford it. We are going to do this.”
Responding to a question whether the Ikogosi is a mono tourism product, the governor said. With a drive of 5 minutes from there is the Ipole Iloro waterfall and just after, with a drive of 10 minutes is the religious tourism hills of Erio Ekiti. So, you have a lot to salivate about when you come to Ikogosi Warm Spring resort. This is why we are making sure that the accommodation facilities on ground at Ikogosi are of international standards which can be accessed by all.”