Africa: Bini heroines, Oguta Lake myth, Old Calabar circuit, Dada pottery headline 7th Seven Wonders of Nigeria webinar as former UNWTO Sec-Gen Taleb Rifai joined in

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It was another exciting and stimulating session on the Seven Wonders of Nigeria® Zoom Conference which took place today July 31, 2020.

The seventh instalment in the series, the online webinar which featured a dynamic panel of enterprising Nigerian travel and tourism professionals, had the former Secretary-General of UNWTO, Taleb Rifai joining in from Jordan.

The show kicked off with the host, Amb. Ikechi Uko welcoming everyone, before declaring that the primary reason for the conference was to stimulate and sensitize Nigerians about the coming search for the next Seven Wonders of Nigeria project which is expected to kick off later in the year. The first set of the Seven Wonders of Nigeria were unveiled back in 2012.

Speaking further, Amb. Uko highlighted two remarkable events that happened this week concerning the travel and tourism industry – the launch of the Abuja-Kaduna train services and the acquisition of a new Embraer aircraft by Air Peace – still in production. Both events, according to him were commendable, because they will help to boost the domestic travel industry. However, he asked that the train service should incorporate a digital portal for travellers to book tickets online.

The first panellist of the day was Mrs. Rita Obidike, the MD of Discovery Travel & Tours who expressed her delight at being on the platform. After the opening pleasantries, she delved straight into her task, taking the audience on a classical history lesson of the ancient Bini Empire, as she highlighted her favourite travel destination.

From the Great Bini Moat, designated as the second largest man-made structure after the Great Wall of China, to the famous Igun Eronmwon (Igun Street), the home of the Bini bronze casters who made several of the ancient artefacts and bronze heads which were stolen by the colonialists and presently adorn many museums across Europe and other parts of the world; Mrs. Obidike who is a descendant of carvers held the audience spellbound, as she made her presentation.

She moved on to talk about three specific Bini heroines, starting with the famous Bini mask used as the face of FESTAC 1977 – Queen Idia, the mother of Oba Esigie – a valiant matriarch who led Bini army to battle. There are statues of Queen Iden, wife of Oba Ewuakpe who sacrificed her life for the kingdom, and Emotan who hid Oba Ewuare when he was deposed by his brother, enabling him to regroup and reclaim the throne.

Although, she wasn’t quite done yet, Mrs. Obidike had to make way for the next panellist, with the host hoping to bring her back again on another episode. With that, on came Mrs. Maryann Nkiruka Onuoha, CEO of BellaMaria Travels. If Rita Obidike was the professor who held the class spellbound with her expansive presentation, Maryann aka Bella-Maria was the 21st century I-can-do-all-things charismatic preacher, firing up your imagination with her effusive energy.

Her profession of love for the country would overwhelm many a patriots and nationalists – and it is the kind of open display of solidarity Nigeria needs at such a time as this. Starting with the popular Oguta Lake in Oguta LGA of Imo State, she explained the real pronunciation was amended to suit the colonialists. According to her, the local myth was that the two rivers were actually a married couple who had irreconcilable difference – which explains why the waters never mix. She also mentioned the Ojukwu Bunker and relics of the civil war which are in the location.

The destination also features an amusement park and a mini golf course, which makes it an ideal tourist spot. From there, she moved to her next destination, the Pleasure Park in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. She commended the efforts of the state Governor, Nyesom Wike who embarked on the project of building the park and completed it in a year.

From there, Madam Bella-Maria, moved to Omu Resort in Bogije on the Lekki axis in Lagos State, about a 10-min drive from the Lagos Business School. The property has the first wax museum in Africa and has a host of interesting slides, rides and wildlife to rival some of the places Nigerians go to outside the country.

Up next Hakeem Omotosho Olamilekan, MD of Omotosho Travel & Tours. Unfortunately, poor network stopped the Prince of Kwara Tourism from sharing some of the amazing destinations in the state with the audience. However, the organisers hope to bring Omotosho back some other time on the show soon.

With that, the baton was picked up by Hope Obeten, CEO of Calabar Blog who swiftly took the audience on a tour of the Old Calabar Circuit, starting with the Eleven-eleven Park. He navigated to the Old Residency Museum which he called “the first Aso-Rock of Nigeria” – because Calabar was the first capital of colonial Nigeria and the Old residency Museum was the administrative office. The structure was built in Britain and shipped down to Calabar where it was assembled.

Mr. Obeten also talked about the Old Slavery Museum, Duke Town Pry School, Presbyterian Church and the Ekpe Lodge, as well as the European cemetery, palace of the Obong of Calabar, before going up to Obudu Mountain and the discovery of Igaga Waterfalls.

Finally, it was the turn of Abigail Olagbaye, CEO of Desigo Tourism and country representative on the African Tourism Board (ATB). Starting her presentation after the necessary protocols, the former Miss Tourism Nigeria unveiled one of the oldest and largest pottery centres in the country, Dada Pottery Centre in Okelele, Ilorin LGA. The centre is owned and run by a highly skilled, though not formally schooled all-female group numbering over a hundred, making arguably Nigeria’s biggest all-female traditional enterprise.

Her next mention was the Zoological Gardens of her alma mater, University of Ilorin. The zoo is home to several wildlife such as lions, hyenas, pythons, giraffes, Nile crocodiles, monkeys, camels, tortoises, peacocks among others. The facility also features a 500-yard canopy walk across the crocodile pen.

From there, she moved on to Lokoja, capital of Kogi State where her tour of the country began when she was Miss Tourism Nigeria in 2005. She spoke about the National Museum of Colonial History, a building which initially served as one of Lord Lugard’s senior staff quarters. Prefabricated in England, it was shipped down to Nigeria, and it is one of five scattered around the country.

The CEO of Desigo Tourism also highlighted the Iron of Liberty monument, located inside the Holy Trinity Primary School established by Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther in 1860. Samuel Ajayi Crowther was an Iseyin-born captured slave who was rescued and grew to become the first African bishop of the Church of England. The Iron of Liberty marked the spot where slaves were freed. The Holy Trinity was the first primary school in northern Nigeria. It was constructed by the Church Missionary (CMS) and is still functional.

Finally, the former Miss Tourism Nigeria highlighted the Ovia Osese festival of the Ogori Magongo community. The festival is an initiation ceremony of young maidens into womanhood and dates back to ancient times. About three decades ago, the festival was revived after it ceased to be celebrated due to the advent of Christianity. The festival takes place annually and attracts lots of visitors, with many indigenes returning to witness and participate.

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