Before the flag-off of the payments of pensions to the retired Biafra war-affected police officers yesterday in Enugu, the President of the Association of Retired War-Affected Police Officers from South-East and South-South states, Mr Matthew Udeh, spoke to a select group of journalists on the many years of struggles that led to the development, CHIDI…
Revival of Edo culture
Since I resumed office three months ago, I have been working on the governor’s vision to revive Edo’s cultural heritage. We have met with a lot of stakeholders in the field. Recently, we visited Sir Victor Uwaifo and we saw a lot of cultural artefacts, a lot of things that has history. We have attended a lot of festivals and cultural events. Just as well, we have received a lot of cultural groups and associations and have given out letters of endorsement. So, it is a new dawn for our culture in Edo State.
Areas of interest
The ministry covers all aspects of culture. The directive from the governor is that we must support every festival and every culture of the state. That we have been doing. We recently celebrated the Abbah festival in Igarra. That was the litmus test for us. I dressed in Igarra costume and went on local and national television to invite people to support the Abba festival. We had jingles, billboards and flyers and I did a lot of media interviews. I also learnt to speak in Igarra. Our jingles went viral. And, because of our involvement, this year’s Abba celebration was bigger. People came from all over the world. We had over a million people in that village during the one-week period. The jingles encouraged them that government was involved. It gave a sense of security and legitimacy to their activities. Over a million people came for that festival and it was estimated that over N450 million was pumped into Edo economy. If we can have six of that in the state it will help the economy.
There are other festivals––Akaba festival, New Yam festival in Igbanke and the Igue festival celebrated by the Oba of Benin from the third year of his coronation––the ministry is going to key into them, make them bigger. We have inaugurated a committee and started planning for Edo Fest, approved by the government and scheduled for December 17 to 22, 2017. All local governments will display their cultures. There will be fashion parade, concerts, and entertaining performances by cultural groups. It will be a way of promoting unity and peace.
We want to promote Edo Cultural Day and the plan is to have everybody wear their own attire as a way of getting people to appreciate our own dressing.
Edo tourist sites
We have a record 58 tourist sites. We have begun to visit all the sites with a view to upgrade, revive and rebrand them to world-class standards and make them attractive to people within and outside Nigeria. We have been to Ososo Hills in Akoko Edo. There is the Edo resort, and the Ogba Zoo, which is privately run. We went to the Island in Sokumba village, in Oruen with a view to engendering a Public-Private-Partnership involvement to turn the place into a resort. We took some architects from Lagos and Abuja there to assess the potential of the place. Three investors had declared an interest in the project and the governor has assured that once there is proof of fund and intent to invest, the road leading to the place will be constructed. We have appraised its potential. It is going to create a lot of jobs for our teeming youths. It is going to create mass development in that area and it will be a source of IGR for the state. We also have the Captain Philips tomb, the British man that was killed in 1897 during the capture of Oba Ovonramwen. Architects from Lagos had been to the waterfalls in Amaho, Igueben, Esan Central Local Government. Other attractions are the Ososo Hills, the Crocodile Lake, the Iyamo waterfalls, the Igun bronze heritage site in Benin and the Oba of Benin palace.
Raising the commercial value of Edo arts
By 2020, countries like America UK, and Germany will no longer be using petrol cars anymore, which will reduce their dependence on oil. We are lucky that now we have a governor whose focus is on tourism, culture, festival and agriculture, hence, the new direction for Edo State.
Our roadmap includes meeting with all stakeholders. We are meeting with hoteliers too. At separate times, we will meet with Igun bronze casters, sculptors and wood carvers to help them in what they are doing to preserve culture. We are liaising with France and Germany to have an exhibition next year. We will take carvers and bronze casters and a few of their products to the international exhibition to further expose them and give their works more economic value.
The place of African traditional religion
As Edo State Commissioner for Arts and Culture, it is within my purview to support everybody in whatever they believe in. A few weeks ago we were at the High Priest Osemwegie Ebohon’s cultural centre in Benin. He is a renowned traditional religious leader. He has written so many books and is known all over the world. The American ambassador and the consular general who were in Benin on an official visit to the Smithsonian event of Chief Alonge’s exhibition at the National Museum used the opportunity to visit Ebohon Cultural Centre. That is a traditional man who believes so much in his religion. He has a similar centre in America. By the time we are finished reviving and rebranding our tourist sites, we will have a website and we will print brochures which will be circulated to all Nigerian embassies, hotels, airports and flights, for people to see what Edo has. Ebohon Cultural Centre will be one of our tourist sites. Our target is to have at least 1000 tourists coming into Edo every week.
The Benin moat
It is within the purview of the ministry to beautify the moat. To this end, we have invited architects from Lagos and Abuja to assess its current state and come up with ideas in beautifying the moat. There is a plan to excavate all the rubbish from the moat and plant green grass end-to-end and there will be a cable car from one end to another––subject to the permission of the Oba of Benin. We intend to make it a PPP involvement and we already have a graphic design of how it is going to be.
Interviewed by JOSFYN UBA and MUSA JIBRIL