Tourism potentials of Ekiti State, mostly untapped, can change the fortune of the people….
By Mustapha Ogunsakin
The major tourism belt of Ekiti is located on the mountains that form the state boarder with Osun State. A first timer visiting Ekiti cannot fail to notice the mountains with their aesthetic vegetation in different undulating ranges.
It spanned from Okemesi, across to Efon Alaaye, Ipole –Iloro, Ogotun-Ekiti, and Ikogosi –Ekiti. The mountains around Okemesi were reputed to have shielded the Ekitiparapo warriors from Ibadan soldiers during the Kiriji war. The caves in these mountains are still there untapped.
The major tourist attractions here however are the Ikogosi Warm and Cold Spring and the Arinta Waterfalls. The warm spring is a place where warm water and cold water flows from the mountains differently and meet at a point, and both maintaining their different thermal properties.
The warm spring, according to tour guides, has a temperature of about 70 C at the source, which usually increases in evening time. By the time it gets to the confluence, it has reduced to 37 C.
The myth that surround the springs is that they were once human beings, women to be precise that got married to the same husband who was a hunter.
The first wife was said to be ill tempered while the second is an exact opposite, having a cool character. Out of rivalry, both fought one day and in anger, the hot tempered one turned into the warm spring while the cool tempered turned into the cold spring. Their hunter husband seeing this also turned into the mountain to protect them.
As if in validation of the myth, the colours of both waters, even at the confluence is different. While the hot water is brownish, the cold spring is crystal and they both flow for a distance without mixing.
There is however a scientific explanation to both springs to the effect that the warm one, having passed through a distance inside the rock formations in the mountain cannot but come out warm.
The world attention was drawn to this wonder of nature in 1952 by a Baptist Missionary; Rev John McGee who visited Ikogosi from his Okesu, Igede-Ekiti, to see for himself what the locals had told him over time.
The reverend waded through the very thick bush to get to the site and with the consent of the Baptist Convention; he started building the place as a youth camp. Over the years, he also built a chapel and chalets where people could stay.
It was the same Rev. McGee that founded Ekiti Baptist High School, Igede –Ekiti. As a mark of recognition for his work, he was given traditional titles both in Igede and Ikogosi. Also, Oba Daniel Anirare Aladesanmi, the then Ewi of Ado-Ekiti, in 1961, gave him a beautiful beaded walking stick as a mark of honour for his service to the Ekiti people.
Since government showed interest in the spring in 1973, things have not been the same. In that year, Western Region government took control of the spring itself, leaving the chalets and the chapel to Rev McGee to manage.
The following year, government completed its own chalet and opened up another route to the spring that today serves as the VIP chalets.
On January 18, 1974, the Western Region government again took over the swimming pool, which was the main attraction of the spring. From this moment on, the little patronage that the spring got from the Baptist Convention and the locals who visited during holidays declined.
When the McGee and his family retired in 1977, there was not one person to continue the management of the facilities and in 1978; the government bought it from the Nigerian Baptist Convention for three hundred thousand naira only.
Ten years after, Rev McGee visited Nigeria, and went to the site at Ikogosi. When he got to the gate, he turned back. He did not bother to enter as he could well predict what he would meet inside. The whole place had returned to the way he met it in 1952, save for the houses and structures that have been overgrown with weeds.
The Ondo State government also took up the site after Western region was divided into three states. The state further built more chalets, carried out general cleaning and re- introduced the tourism center back to the public. It did not work.
Since the creation of Ekiti State in 1997, subsequent governments had pumped resources into the place but lacked the means of effectively managing the site. Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo administration rekindled the fire but it went down when he left office.
The political turbulence faced during Ayo Fayose’s first coming as governor, and Segun Oni’s tenure did not allow them to even think of the place.
Recently, a substantia part of the N25 billion bonds taken by the Kayode Fayemi administration was used to develop the Warm Spring into a world class tourist centre. However when this reporter visited last week, the signs of neglect have started to manifest.
The carefully manicured lawns are unkempt; the water in the swimming pool is dirty while bad odour ooze out of the lavatories that serves the swimming pool, polluting the entire arena.
Arinta Waterfalls, five kilometers away in Ipole Iloro-Ekiti is another tourist centre that is coming out strong. The first visit of this reporter to the falls was 1988 when two students in search of adventure left their university campus at Ado-Ekiti and trekked the five kilometers from Ikogosi –Ekiti to Ipole-Iloro. It was hilly and windy.
The road to the town was dusty and only big Lorries ply the road. Electricity was nonexistent as cable thieves was reported to have stolen the electricity cables meant to electrify the entire towns of Erijiyan-Ekiti, Ikogosi, and Ipole-Iloro.
Another visit in 2004 did not show much development. Only that this time, the two students of 1988 took friends and visited the town in their own automobiles.
The road this time around was dusty and not asphalted. The difference being that we were able to park our cars two kilometers away from the waterfalls.
The visit last week was different. The roads in the entire area are well laid. From Erijiyan, Ikogosi, Ipole-Iloro to Efon –Alaaye are now well paved, while the road to the waterfall is now tarred.
Approaching the site is as awesome as it is scary. It is about three hundred meters walk from the car park on a very rocky path. The farther you go the darker it becomes due to the very thick tropical vegetation comprising of thick woods.
The noise of gushing water is palpable and it becomes louder and louder as you approach. The atmosphere becomes cold and chilly, developing in the skin goose pimples! Then it becomes visible. The water coming down its rocky path in torrents with high velocity!
Somehow, there is enough space above that allows the sky beam its light on the torrents- rays of sunlight from above lighting up the environment in golden colours!! It is an amazing site to behold. It is nature at its best, untainted.
You watch as the waters turn into a stream that flows on the rocks down the hills.
According to tour guides, the waterfall comprises of seven steps. Unfortunately tourists only have access to the first step. Any attempt to go further becomes risky and dangerous. Only expert mountain climbers can go further. Some of the guides however claimed they that reached the fifth step.
The waterfall according to guides has the same source with the Erin-Ijesha waterfall nearby in Osun state. For tourists to take full advantage of the natural beauty of the falls there is need to create wooden steps like Ikogosi which will give tourists the opportunity to climb as high as possible to the seventh step. It could also attract professional mountain climbers to hold competitions at the falls.
There are great potentials in all these tourist centres if it could be managed professionally. One thing is however clear. Successive governments from the western region to Ekiti State have not been able to run the centres with much success. It could be argued that most of the governments pay lip service to the development, budgeting high funds which usually end in private pockets.
Government should allow professional private concerns to run them and pay to government. This way, the centres can enter the world map and provide needed revenue for the development of the state.