By Osa Mbonu-Amadi,
The occasion was the 2019 Annual General Meeting of Nigeria Association of Tour Operators, NATOP which theme was Impact of culture, partnerships, & governance on Nigeria tourism development. The venue was the new sprawling Ife Grand Resort, Ile-Ife, Osun State, built by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, (Ojaja II), and the date was Friday, May 24, 2019.
Among those who attended the event were Otunba Segun Runsewe, Director-General of National Council for Arts & Culture; Mr. Bernard Bankole, President, National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies, NANTA; Dr. Obawale Simon Adebisi, Hon. Supervisor of Home Affairs, Culture & Tourism, Osun State; Mr. Gabe Onah, Chairman, Carnival Calabar Commision; Mr. Ikechi Uko, organiser, Akwaaba Travel Market; Hajia Bilkisu Abdul, President, NATOP; Alhaji Rabo Saleh, FTAN President; and Mr. Nkereuwem Onung, Chairman, NATOP BoT.
After the AGM, the party went to visit the Ooni of Ife in his palace. Making a ground-breaking speech at the palace, the D-G of NCAC, Otunba Runsewe, a man with invaluable wealth of experience in culture and tourism, advised the Ooni to facilitate a railway system that will connect the Ife Grand Resort with Lagos, as well as paying attention to health tourism for which the resort is very suited given its breathtaking combination of nature and luxury.
Otunba Runsewe also seized the opportunity to offer the hosting right of the 2020 National Festival of Arts and Culture, NAFEST, to Osun State.
“Your imperial majesty, the spiritual leader of the Yoruba Kingdom – home and abroad; today, your majesty, I feel very proud and happy that I am in the centre of culture in the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” Otunba Runsewe began.
“You are the traditional and cultural leader of our people. You are an Oba with a difference. You are an Oba that is impacting on the people. You are an Oba that keeps promises. You got your results and the statement has been made. What I saw in South Africa, I said to myself, when can we have something like this in Nigeria? Today, I have seen it here (at the Ife Grand Resort) in Osun State, Ile-Ife, courtesy of His Majesty.
“Your majesty, you are a man of two parts. You interact with the old and the young people. You are the bridge of our universe. And today you are the accountant we have been looking for but this throne cannot allow you to touch those figures for now, but you are touching lives with your expertise and we are very proud of you.
“Your majesty, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am in charge of culture. By God’s grace, I am the President of the World Craft Council (African Region). I am also the Chairman of African-Chinese Cultural Development, and by the grace of God, the D-G of culture in Nigeria.
“I have travelled a bit. Honestly, your majesty, I choose my words. I saw what you have done from the beginning of the empire of this place. You are the 51st and you are a man of a very large heart. You built one chalet for everyone of them, from one to 51. I want to celebrate you sir. I want to thank you for what we have seen. The result we saw today, we ask ourselves: how many traditional rulers are creating jobs? How many of them are touching lives? How many of them are doing what you are doing?
“In the history of Nigeria, we will never forget 7th December, 2015, when God bestowed on you this throne to come and make a difference. Your majesty, you are the Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Since you got there, the history got to us. You didn’t go there because it is in the east. You decided that change must come to Nsukka. I celebrate you. All of us here celebrate you sir.
“It touches my heart that many people don’t know your importance. But I will reveal one of them today. Immediately you got to the throne, the first thing you did was to visit the Alaafin of Oyo. Many people don’t know what that means. You broke the jinx that was destroying the Yoruba empire. And since you did that, the unity has come back. And now today, there is peace everywhere.
“Your royal majesty, it is very important for me to make it known to you that there has been a vacuum. There is a festival that unites the nation. It is called NAFEST. I just got back from Benin. I met the Oba just two weeks ago, because Benin (Edo State) is hosting 2019 NAFEST. But today, I took a decision that I am coming to beg you; I am coming to see the governor. The next NAFEST must be in Osun State. The Oba of Benin just endorsed 2019. And 2020, whatever it will take, it must be here. The whole world must come here and see what you are doing.
“NAFEST is the festival that started after the civil war in 1970. Our then elders sat down and considered what can unite the country again. And that was how the festival came about. When I saw the hall you are building (at the Ife Grand Resort) and they said it has 4,000 capacity, I said it can take 6,000. Now you are confirming that its real capacity is 7,000.
“Your imperial majesty, I want to beg of you two things and I am ready to give my life to it. We need to have a rail system from Lagos to that resort (you built). Nobody will spend weekend any longer in Lagos (if there is a rail system connecting the Ife Grand Resort and Lagos). They will come here because what you have here is nature. The second one is health tourism. I have never seen where nature is married with luxury (the way we have seen it at the Ife Grand Resort).”
The Ooni responded, saying “there is no country that is perfect. It is people that live in any country that manage their imperfection and try to project positive side of them. Johannesburg is one of the highest crime spots in the world, but yet, you will not read it anyhow. So I am imploring each and every one of you to practise what is called ‘charity begins at home.’ Let us project Nigeria very well. Let us use our mouth to confess positivity of our country. Once we do that, then, we are in real tourism.
“Let us use that initiative of making lemonade out of lemon – it is very important to each and every one of us. In the Western World, people like you are major decision makers. You influence the government and their policies, because you tell them and show them statistics…it is very important for us to know that what we are looking for in the Western World, we can get something better in Nigeria. We have the richest coastal terrain in the world.
“So my point is, let us all come together. I am willing to work with your organization. I am willing to partner with your organization to make sure that the bottom line of each and every one of you is being well improved. Once again, thank you for coming to Ife. God bless you.”
The Ooni said tourism is a sensitive sector and therefore advised journalists to focus on positive news when reporting tourism.
“It is also very important to appreciate Otunba Segun Runsewe that has been a household name in tourism for many years in Nigeria,” the Ooni continued. “He doesn’t even look tired. You can see the way he spoke out of passion – very energetic. So I want to appreciate his efforts and all the things he is trying to do to position and reposition tourism in Nigeria. So we need more patronage, particularly from the private sector. And the biggest tourism that can ever happen to this country is domestic tourism. Do what you believe in first before you will now invite others. You don’t encourage ourselves to move around that much. So let us propagate domestic tourism very well, and God Almighty will help all of us.”