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Eko New Yam, Beach Fest… on mission to lift tourism in Lagos

By Omiko Awa   |   18 September 2015   |   12:04 am  

Aerial view of Lagos

Aerial view of Lagos

MOTIVATED by the desire to take Igbo New Yam Festival to greater heights, Chinedu Idezuna has renamed the fiesta in Lagos as Eko Oni Baje New Yam and Beach Festival. Spicing it with other theatrics in addition to the aquatic splendor of Lagos State, the new name is to create a wider audience and acceptance for the Igbo cultural festival held at the beginning of new yam harvest.

Idezunna, a celebrated sculptor and commonly referred to as Ezemmuo Africa among virtual art practitioners, hopes to use the festival, which is in its 7th edition to attract tourists and promote Nigerian art and culture.

Started as Iriji Ndigbo (Ndigbo New Yam Festival) in 1998, organisers of the yearly feast keyed into the vision of Eko Oni Baje of the immediate past governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) with the aim of participating actively in the efforts to reclaim the state’s lost glory, and thereby preserving its aquatic heritage and lifting its tourism profile.

He said: “The rechristening became necessary because it enabled us to bring all the communities in Ibeju Lekki and the state in general into the festival. Though an Igbo idea, the festival is coined from Yoruba etymology and celebrated by everyone because Lagos is seen as a mini world.

“This edition, which holds from September 18 to 20, 2015 has been enlarged to incorporate expatriates and organisations like the Nigeria Fields Society. This goes to say, it would be world-class festival. In addition, it has received acceptance and endorsement from the paramount ruler and the Onibeju of Ibejuland, Oba Olusegun Salami. He was part of the festival last year and still remains committed to it. We also have the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Lagos State Council of Arts and Culture, and Lagos State Ministry of Tourism and Intergovernmental Affairs solidly behind the festival.

“Others are notable groups like Oganiru Ndigbo, Igbo in Diaspora, Onyeaghalanwanneya group of Ibeju Lekki, as well as groups from Calabar, Nupe, Isoko, Senegalese, African Pride of Arts and Culture of Nigeria (APACON), Ogene Omambara Cultural Group and Professor Maurice Fangnon-led group from Republic of Benin, who would thrill the audience with potpourri of acts during the festival. We equally have in attendance representatives of the human right community and the media. We shall also be having children from the less privileged home showcase their craft, alongside Taekwondo group from the Republic of Benin and masquerade dancers,” he disclosed.

Apart from all the activities line up to make the festival a grand one, Idezuna dreams to see United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) endorse the festival and as such make it an international event.

“Plans are on ground to make UNESCO adopt the festival and this is the reason we are involving the Nigeria Fields Society. When Susan Wenger, Adunni Olorisa, was still alive, Nigeria Fields Society supported her and others to promote the Osun Osogbo Festival and today UNESCO has endorsed the festival. So, the involvement of Nigeria Fields Society in Eko Oni Baje and Beach Festival gives us hope that in no distant time, the festival would have the stamp of the world culture body.

“Their major prerequisite is that the community where it is being celebrated, which Oba Salami has provided and endorsed, must accept the festival. There were 400 of them, who visited the Oba to ascertain the level of acceptance of the festival by the community. And at the end of the day, they felt satisfied. This year, they have promised to bring in more tourists into the state to witness the festival by setting up their own organising committee. They are concentrating on tourists, who want to use the opportunity to visit the state and other tourists’ sites in the country.

“Last year, over eight people from Nigeria Fields Society attended the festival for the first time. And one of the ladies from the Ibeju Lekki got married to one of the white men, who came for the festival, while another one bought a piece of land at Ibeju Lekki beachside, because according to him, he likes the beach,” he revealed.

Holding at Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu Central Business District in Elemoro, Ibeju Lekki because of its good space for crafts exhibition, stage performances and packing lot, Idezuna calls on governments at all levels to pay more attention to the development of tourism.

“Federal Minister and State Commissioners of Arts, Culture and Tourism should cut down on travels to the various festivals abroad as we experienced in the immediate past administration. I also want President Buhari to deal with domestic tourism the same way he is dealing with the oil and gas sector. We need a policy thrust that can diversify the economy from mono product of oil as major Federal revenue earner to tourism and mining. This is the only way our dependence on oil can be challenged. I must point out that tourism is God’s gift.

“The importance of the arts and culture to the development of tourism, cannot be overemphasised. In fact, if our tourism is properly managed it could be next to the oil sector. It could raise our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) earning. The oil sector with its galloping prizes is still unstable.
And there are a lot of technological feats that are today challenging it. But tourism can be felt and seen on daily basis. Our natural endowment still remains unchallenged, waiting to be tapped for
optimum growth and benefits.

“The 800 year old Igimeta (three-in-one tree) tourists spot in Ibeju Lekki cannot be moved from where it is and anyone who wants to be part of the healing, which the tree provides must come to Ibeju Lekki. And its potential to contribute to the promotion of domestic tourism of the state is always prevalent. For example, if we have about 5000 tourists visit the community yearly the effects in terms of earnings from those selling pure water, seafood and other edible articles would be unquantifiable.

“We have mapped out 20-year plan for the festival to become a global festival that would attract Africans in the Diaspora and boost tourism of the community and Lagos State at large. We are reaching the goal because it is no longer a one-man show. It now has the backing of Lagos State government. Some people have even called me from the Caribbeans and Brazil to request for the calendar of festival and tourists sites of the country.”

Prepared to use the platform to showcase Nigeria’s historical sites, Idezunna has packaged a tour group that would take tourists around the country. “We have put together a tour plan that would take tourists to Osun grove in Osogbo, Olumo Rock, Tinapa, Ogunike cave, Arugungu festival, La Campagne Tropicana Resort and the Whispering palms.

“And for those of them that love religious tourism, the RCCG Redemption Camp and Father Mbaka Church and others would be visited,” he said.



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