Story by Maxwell Adeyemi Adeleye
Ondo State, Southwest, Nigeria, was first created on 3rd of February 1976 by the Muritala/Obasanjo military administration before a state, Ekiti was carved out of it in 1996. It is a land filled with abundance mineral and natural resources -from large deposit of Crude Oil, Bitumen, Limestone, Kaolin, glass sand, granites, tar sand, clay, iron ore, quartz sand, coal and marble to agricultural products such as Cocoa, Oil Palm, Cassava, Rice, Cocoanut and thick forest. Ondo, known as the Sunshine State, is a haven of honey and grandeur.
With a population of 3.4million people comprises of riverine communities of Ilaje-Eseodo and Ijaw; the Ikale ethnic nationality with their headquarters at Okitipupa; Ore, the land of the Odigbos; to the Ileoluji/Okeigbo occupying the southern senatorial district of Ondo State; the Akures, the Ondos, the Idanres and the Ifedores comprising of six local government areas inhabit the Central while the Akokos, the Owo and the Oses dominate the North senatorial district.
The Sunshine State has a youthful population that provides affordable labour for industrial activities. Ondo State puts education as a high priority, which is evident from the fact that the State has the largest number of public schools in Nigeria. Ondo’s considerable crop of educated elites has led to its classification as one of the most educationally advanced states in Nigeria.
Its economy, which is thirteenth largest in Nigeria, is dominated by oil & gas and agriculture which together generate 90% of the State’s Gross Domestic Product. The State has an extensive deposit of crude oil. In addition, Ondo State is arguably the most peaceful state in the oil-rich Niger-Delta region, boasting a stable political atmosphere and a relatively peaceful coexistence among its various ethnic and religious groups.
The State’s economy is basically agrarian with 65% percent of the State’s labour force in the agriculture sub-sector. There is large scale production of cocoa, oil-palm produce and rubber. Other crops like maize, cashew, kolanut, yam and cassava are also produced in large quantities. Ondo State is richly blessed with varied and favourable ecological and climatic conditions with vegetation ranging from mangrove swamps to southern coastal riverine areas through the rainforest of the midlands to derived savannah in the northern part of the state suitable for cattle grazing.
The southern zone is home to some of the most exotic timber in Nigeria and forest resources like teak, gmeligna and indigenous tree species. However, unknown to many that aside the coastline and agricultural products embedded in the state, Ondo is also a sanctuary of many natural and record-breaking tourist centres. The three-day tour of some tourist sites in the state recently facilitated by NAIJANOMAD, an organization that specializes in selling tourist centres in Nigeria to lovers of tourism within and outside the shore of Nigeria was an eye opener.
Led by the Executive Director of the organization, Mrs Yejide Akeredolu-Runsewe, the first point of call of the fun-loving tourists who are Lagos based young professionals numbering about 20, was the Smoking Hills Golf Resort located on the outskirt of the quiet town of Ilaramokin, 15 minutes from Akure the capital city of the state.
A truly challenging course with world class features, waiting to be tamed by adventurous golfers, the resort is strategically situated in a beautifully endowed location where the golf course has been carefully carved out of 140 acres of surrounding jungle and rolling hills which emit smoke early in the morning and also at dawn to derive the name of the resort. The Ilaramokin Smokin Hills Golf resort is the leading endurance private golf course in Nigeria with standard facilities which includes a practice area, driving range and a Par 3 course for beginners.
From the championship tees, the course measures a healthy 6510 meters and from the members tee, the course measures in at 6044 meters. With a course par of 72, there are two par 5’s each on both the front nine and back nine. The signature hole is number 16, a par 3 – 160 meters from the members tee over water to an island green – Golfers have compared this hole to No.17 in T.P.C. Sawgrass, United States.
According to its head, Marketing and Promotions, Prince Bayo Aderinto, the Smoking Hills and golf course which is presently the third largest in Africa was designed by Ron Garl in 2010 and constructed by one of the top leading certified golf course builders in the world – Messers Total Golf Construction Company of Florida, U.S.A at a cost of over Fifteen million dollars ($15M) with annual maintenance fee of One million dollars ($1M)It was opened for play in 2012 is owned by Chief Michael sAde Ojo – the founder, Elizade Nigeria Limited, Toyota Nigeria Limited, Lagos and Elizade University, also situated at Ilaramokin.
Presently, the Smoking Hills Resort boasts of suitable accommodation at the Travellers Lodge with a total of 14 two-bedroom chalets, well furnished with kitchenette and internet facilities. Aderinto also disclosed that the management of the Smoking hills and golf resorts will at any moment from now commence the construction of a new 5 star hotel with swimming pools to provide world class accommodation to the 18-hole championship course and it will come with shops, hair and nail salons and a relaxation spa so that those who do not play golf you can enjoy the food and entertainment that will be on offer in Nigeria’s latest get-away resort.
On the acceptability and how lucrative the smoking hills and golf resort has been to Nigerians, Aderinto said though that has not been encouraging but it’s no issue as the vision of the founder is long-term and not aimed at immediate profit maximization. He however said the recent Air Peace daily passenger flight from Lagos to Akure and the reconstruction of the access road to Ilaramokin by the Akeredolu administration has tremendously improved patronage to the golf course.
Obviously happy with what she saw at the Smokin Hills and Resort, a tourist in the delegation of NAIJANOMAD, Miss Adeola Ibitola, a Human Resource Manager at Guinness Nigeria PLC said the visit to Ondo State which she described as “Independent Groove” is going to be memorable for her, calling on all Nigerians to come as see things for themselves herein.
On why chose to come all the way from Lagos to Ondo State to catch fun, Ibitola, a native of UsiEkiti in Ido/Osi Local Government of Area of Ekiti State, said “I am here to get fresh air, catch fun, meet new people; even though I am from Ekiti State I never knew something like this exist here. The nature, the calmness, the serenity, the fresh air, the standard; this is incomparable to what I have seen everywhere, even in America. I am impressed. I am surprised at the extent of development here. Now, I could fly in and out of Ondo State. I was at Muritala Mohammed Aiport in Lagos and here I am in Ondo State. We flew Air Peace Airline with just N10, 000. You can imagine! I urge Nigerians to come and see things for themselves here.”
After Ilaramokin, the next point of call was Idanre Hills Resort in the hilly town of Idanre, an agrarian community reputed for producing 10% of the cocoa being exported out of the country. The Idanre Hills is an indication that God truly exist. The Hill(s) listed in UNESCO world heritage sites in 2007, is one of the most awesome and beautiful natural landscapes in Ondo State and Nigeria. Located in Idanre Town, about 24 kilometres drive from Akure, the state capital, the flora, fauna and the topography of the place is a great virtue of mankind creating excitement to fun lovers of nature witnessing spectacular view of the town. The hills which is 3000 feet above sea level, have a deeper place in Yoruba folklore with talk of Oduduwa, Olofin and other Yoruba founders having contact with them.
The NAIJANOMAD team, led by its Initiator, Mrs Runsewe, climbed the first 100 steps in a twinkle of an eye and found the first resting room where the head of maintenance and administration of the Hills Reosrt, Mr. Gbenga Oyinbo expressly told fun-catching tourists the history behind the rock. According to him, the rock was a useful hideout for the indigenes during the time of war in 19th century. He showed them a point which was called Dagunro, which means the end of war.
The people of the ancient city actually lived up the hill before heading down in favour of civilization, said Oyinbo to the NAIJANOMAD team; that they had 682 steps to climb. Up on the hills are several attractions like the unreadable letters of the flood, the Arun River which is said to contain healing powers, an ancient palace courtyard, great steps, the Aghaga Hill and the wonderful mat, shrines and others.
The Climbing by NAIJANOMAD continued until the end of the 682nd steps which most of the delegates had lost their breaths before they could complete. Lo and behold, the place was a beauty place to see. We, the tourists were shown a chalet; then proceeded to some other parts of the hills such as the first primary school in Idanre which was called Igboore standard school. The delegation were shown the Ancient Oba’s Palace which was in the middle of another hill.
Next point of call on the hill was the Arun River where the NAIJANOMAD were told the healing power of the God creature. Also visited on the hill were the Agbogun footprint, the wonderful, ark of Noah and the unreadable letters of the flood.
After the tour of the old city on the hill, it was time to go home but this time through a different route, a very challenging one but never mind, NAIJANOMAD team were master-rock climbers. Down, they descended the hills safely and headed back to the resort of the hills. The resort has lodges for people who would like to stay over. The lodges are actually wooden chalets which come in different sizes and fittings. They also have swimming pools, an outdoor entertainment area, a playground, indoor sports facility and events hall respectively.
Speaking after the tour, a member of the NAIJANOMAD team, Akeem Olonisakin, an indigene of Osun State said he love the adventure and won’t mind visiting the hills again.
Next after Idanre Hills resort was a visit to the palace of Olowo of Owo, known for being the largest on the continent of Africa. The NAIJANORMAD delegation was received by a high chief of the town who does not want his name mentioned on the print. The palace sits on nine and half acres of land with over one hundred courts of which about 13 are still in use.
The high chief who traced the origin to the ancient city of Ile-Ife, the cradle of Yoruba land, led the NAIJANORMAD delegation in and out of about 30 courts, patiently explaining the purpose and significance of each. First in line was the court where the Olowo came out to relax and play ayo (Strategy board) game with some of his chiefs. It was usually out of bounds to all, except to a few invited by the king himself.
According to the Chief, only the Olowo sits inside the place and only calls on his subjects who are expected to sit feet away from his reserved area if he needs to discuss with them.
“Each of the courts, though serving various purposes has a reserved area for the king; the other parts are also apportioned for some of the town’s chiefs. All the town’s title holders know their place in the various courts and they all know better than to cross their bounds; and nowhere is this sitting arrangement more enforced than in one of the largest courts in the collection, where vital aspect of the all-important Igogo festival takes place”, he said.
Also visited in the palace was the court where every chieftaincy installation ceremony in Owo is performed. The Chief further showed the delegation a red and black Rolls Royce and a white Benz, Clear signs that a past Olowo rode in style back in the day. As a parting shot, the chief showed the delegation an extension of the present palace and where all the kings that have reigned from inception of Owo are buried.
What a trip to behold. A three-day adventure ended with everyone telling their stories. The trip, however, did not end without the initiator of NAIJANOMAD; Mrs Yejide Runsewe telling this writer what led her to establishment of NAIJANOMAD.
In her words, Runsewe who is the first daughter of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State said “I got the initiative when I got to United Kingdom (UK) in 2011 for my Masters Degree. I met people from different countries; different culture, different languages, different ideas; people from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, etc. and we exchanged ideas. After my academic programme in the UK, I travelled to Morocco, in North Africa where I slept in the desert of the country for three days.”
Runsewe said on her return to Nigeria in 2014, she started writing on tourist centres across the world through her blog, naijanomads.com. “I started blogging about my experience in the UK when I returned to Nigeria through my blog which I started in 2014. When I started the blog, people started showing interest; some would even send me their stories to publish for them.” She stated.
On the journey thus far, Runsewe said the first place she visited in Nigeria was Kajuru Medieval Castle in Kaduna state in 2015 and today, she has led many tourists on holidays to different part of the world such as Rwanda, Morocco, Kenya, Ghana, Chad, South Africa, etc.
She said people were shocked when she uploaded the pictures of Ilaramokun smoking hills and resort on her facebook page early this year. Runsewe said she hope to visit the popular Igbo Olodumare, situated at Okeigbo in IleolujiOkeigbo local government area and Araromi Beach in Ilaje Local Government Area all in Ondo State, soon.
In the same vein, the mother of one called on the state government to provide a cable car for Idanre resort. She equally suggested that government to build proper infrastructures around all tourist centres in the state.
She commended the Ondo State Development and Investment Promotion Agency (ONDIPA) for facilitating the Air Peace’s Lagos to Akure daily passenger flight to the near-moribund state airport. She said the development will help to attract investors who are interested in making money through tourism to the state to tap from the tourism potentials that litter across the state but remained untapped.
The NAIJANOMAD team, who arrives Akure by road from Lagos on Friday September 30th, departed the state through air peace airline from Akure airport to Lagos on October 2nd 2017.
The Special Adviser to the state Governor on Development and Investment, ONDIPA, Mr. Boye Oyewumi in a chat with me said one of the ways the Akeredolu led administration plan to industrialize the state is through tourism.
Oyewumi said the state hope to start create thousands of jobs and improve her Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) through tourism in three years to come, hence the first thing his agency, ONDIPA, did upon resumption was to approach air peace to be plying Lagos-Akure.
The widely travelled Oyewumi said “tourists do not like spending much time on the road; they prefer to travel by air. The essence of tourism is to catch fun, not to suffer”.
Adeleye is a Journalist/Researcher. He can be reached via Maxwell_adeleye@yahoo.com