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Developing Our Cultural Heritage For Sustainable Domestic and Foreign Tourism Patronage


By Dare Babarinsa Chairman, Gaskia Media Limited

Keynote address at the Olojo Festival Summit on Wednesday September 18, 2019 at the Ooni Palace, Ile Ife.

I am happy to be back home in Ile-Ife today. For me, Ife is not just the home of the Yoruba, it is especially my home. In 1969, I was admitted into the Ife Anglican Grammar School, Ondo Road, Ile-Ife, where I spent four and half years until I wrote my School Certificate Examination in June 1973.

Dare Babarinsa

Therefore, Ile-Ife is my roots. I was one of the young students who lined the streets of Iremo when President Leopold Senghor, the poet-President of Senegal, visited Ife when he was honoured with a doctorate degree by the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1971. Senghor was accompanied on that trip by his host, General Yakubu Gowon. I later joined thousands of people who trooped to this palace when the august visitor was received by our father, Oba Adesoji TadeniawoAderemi, then the Ooni.

In his speech at the University on that day, President Senghor referred to Ile-Ife as the “land of the First Dawn.”Indeed, our ancestors believe that the world began in Ile-Ife where humanity first took form. At the dawn of all beginnings, Oduduwa came from heaven, accompanied by the 401 deities of the Yoruba pantheon, armed with the soil of heaven and a celestial cock. He poured the soil on the unsettled elements of early creation and with the help of the cock who spread the soil, the continents took form. Since then, Ile-Ife is Ile, home while other towns are ode, abroad, like you have Ode Ondo, Ijebu-Ode, Ode Irele and Ode Oyo.

The prospect presented by our cultural heritage as a tourism product shows that not less than 50% of global tourist travel, Nigeria inclusive, is in search of new experience, leisure, knowledge, understanding and entertainment to historical, archaeological, museums or heritage sites in places outside the usual places of residence.

The portfolio of our cultural heritage in terms of sites and festival is not in short supply in Nigeria from the Eyo festivals in Lagos to the grandeur of the Ooni Palace, Calabash carving and Alaafin Palace in Oyo, EkpoMasqurade in Akwa Ibom, Igue Festival in Edo, Mmanwu festival in Enugu, Durba in Kaduna, kano City walls, Agungun Fish Festival Sokoto, Tiv anger Weavers in Plateau and Ushafa Pottery Center in Abuja, our own Ojude Oba and Osun Osogbo Festivals and our various museums, just to mention a few across the Country.

All of this deepens tourism and delivers a process of giving our rich and deep routed culture abounding untapped commercial value. This is not in the least leaving out our cultural affinity, food, cultural safaris and our palaces. Yoruba are principally in the South Western part of Nigeria below the River Niger to the North and the same river to the East. In the South, the land is boarded by the Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps there are as many Yoruba living outside Yorubaland as those who are living in Nigeria. Millions of our people call Northern Nigeria their home.

Nigeria is a country endowed with a lot of cultural heritages sourced from its multicultural communities. Globally the importance of heritages to countries and even in developing nations like Nigeria cannot be over-emphasized. This is due to its economic, historical, tourist, aesthetic, educational and research significances. Heritages are cherished characteristic features of a society passed down from generation to generation through conscious preservation.
Heritages refer to the riches of extinct and extant societies which are of historic, educational, recreational, and economic importance, preserved and handed over from one generation to another. Put differently, heritages are significant endowments emanating from man and nature.

Following from the above, heritages could be categorized into two, based on their sources namely: ecological/natural heritages and cultural heritages. Ecological or natural heritages emanate from nature and environment. Ecological heritages can be defined as the relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas with its wild plants (flora) and animals (fauna) and its geomorphic features (caves, rivers, lakes, hills, mountains, cataracts) conserved for the specific objectives of studying, admiring, and enjoying the scenery which it affords. In Ile- Ife, we have many of such and kudos must be given to Kabiyesi AROLE ODUDUWA ‘OLOFIN ADINMULA, OONI ADEYEYE ENITAN OGUNWUSI, OJAJA II, OONI OF IFE for works done to renovate many of these in his domain. We have OpaOranmiyan, Moremi Statute, Ile Aje etc.

Nigeria is endowed with ‘about 29 game reserves, 1129 forest reserves, 4 game sanctuaries, 2 strict nature reserves and 8 national parks. It is pertinent to state that ecological heritage is outside the scope of this paper, therefore we are going to concentrate on the second type of heritage mentioned above which is cultural heritage.

Cultural heritage is the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. Cultural heritages evolve from man’s ingenious activities, preserved and transmitted through oral traditions or in written concrete forms across generations of human societies. Oral tradition is the body of information concerning history, culture and environment of a people at any given time and space.

This information is often obtained through the words of mouth. It is also a set of verbally transmitted pieces of information about the experiences and worldviews of a people. These experiences and worldviews are preserved in the memories of the group of people and are transmitted from one generation to another. Oral tradition remains an indispensable cultural heritage management strategy among pre-modern and pre-historic Africans which continues to be relevant in contemporary Nigeria.

Most oral traditions obtained through ethnographic studies have been confirmed by archaeological and historical findings. The clan & village heads, kings, chiefs, deity priests, aged/older men and women serve as repositories and custodians of their oral traditions. They include traditional adages, lullabies, poems, riddles, incantations, praise songs such as oriki, recitals of traditional religions like the Ifa verses among the Yoruba of western Nigeria and other facets of their individual community’s cultural heritages. Oral tradition has proved to be a useful instrument to professionals like the archaeologists and ethnographers in locating and identifying cultural heritage sites/areas for further studies and preservation. Cultural heritage is, however limited to man-made artifacts and ideologies.

Cultural heritages can be defined as the sum total of the people’s cherished arts, customs, festivals, sacred or worship sites, norms, values, ideologies, dress and dress-patterns, traditional monuments & architectures, technology and technological sites and other artifacts which are cherished and conserved for their historical, political, educational, recreational and religious significance among others. Cultural heritages are therefore the sum total of material and non-material cultures of a particular society transmitted across generations.

Developing Nigeria’s cultural heritages is capable of promoting collective consciousness in terms of unity, oneness, nationalism and fostering peaceful co-existence among Nigerians. For instance, cultural heritages can be categorized into two namely material/tangible and non-material/intangible cultural heritages. This is because culture in itself is “both physical and non-physical in character”.

Tangible cultural heritages include man’s physical ingenious products which can be touched and seen such as architecture/buildings, defensive walls and ditches, crafts, tools, ivory, cowries, paintings, textiles, pestles, mortars, iron furnaces, knives, food, wooden objects, tombs & grave goods, temples, dresses, pottery & potsherd pavements, monuments, books, works of art, and among other artifacts. It is therefore important to state that man cannot survive without the construction and use of artifacts”.

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This further gives a deeper explanation to the function of cultural heritages to society. On the other hand, non-material or ideological cultural heritages include all intangible and invisible aspects of a peoples’ ways of life such as ideas, folklore, kinship, norms, values, worldviews, philosophies of life, religious beliefs and practices, music, dance, festivals, traditions, language, and knowledge among others.

The cultural activities, arts and festivals were managed by the traditional rulers and chiefs in council through delegation of powers to talented specialist. For instance, the carvers made masks for masquerades, the traditional costume designers made royal regalia, beads and dresses, other crafts makers made baskets, local talking drums and other musical instruments; the music and dance specialists made music, praise songs to celebrate valiant warriors and trained dancers for annual festivals.

These skills were preserved through oral tradition and training of this crafts men and women; and then the skills were handed over from generation to generations. This generational pattern of preserving Nigerian cultural heritages was completely or partially truncated in most parts of Nigeria due to unsolicited incursion of colonialism.

Considering the avalanche of benefits that could be derived from Nigerian cultural heritages, there is need for a clarion call to consciously develop, sustain for domestic and foreign tourism patronage. Language is major while we have continued, regrettably though, the moonlight stories has given way to cartoons and the televisions.

Nigerian cultural heritages are faced with a lot of challenges such as the influence of modernization, Christianity, commerce, civilization, change, development, looting, and antiquarians, among others. Apart from smuggling, theft, vandalism and looting of museums, another most threatening challenge facing Nigerian cultural heritage is religious dogmatism and iconoclasm as a result of die-hard suffering from colonial hangover which make the religious zealots burn cultural objects in the name of deliverance.

Notwithstanding, Nigerians have been able to preserve their cultural heritages till date and hopes they would be sustained for patronage, locally and internationally. We have practically westernized our sensibilities at the expense of our cultural heritage.

Million of Yoruba are living in other parts of Nigeria outside Yoruba land and they still speak their language, wear clothes that are peculiar to them, eat foods that Yoruba’s are known for. I would like us to focus more on Yoruba’s who live outside Nigeria. They are grouped into three categories.


In January 1988, I joined a group of journalists on a trip to the Republic of Togo as a guest of the late President Gnassingbe Eyadema. As part of our trip, we were taken to a coastal town where the traditional ruler said his ancestors came from Ile-Ife. He was bedecked like a full Yoruba Oba. In 2010 also, I met with Oba OnikoyiAbesan in his palace at Ajase (Porto-Novo). In front of the palace was a full statue of Oduduwa. He said he had visited his father, the Ooni of Ife, several times. He spoke Yoruba fluently without the reckless affectations of Nigerian-Yoruba elites who love to mix Yoruba language with English. Yoruba people who are in Benin Republic and Togo are actually living in Yorubaland. It was the partition of Africa in the 19th Century that took that part of Yorubaland to other countries.

When we visited President Eyadema, the Commander of the Togolese Air force could easily be recognized as a Yoruba because of his prominent Oyo facial marks. In Benin Republic, the biggest Yoruba town is Ketu. We know that Oba Alaketu is one of the most prominent princes of Oduduwa. In Porto-Novo, Radio Weke broadcast only in Yoruba. You have many prominent landmarks, including Hotel Aiyelawaje, in Porto-Novo, Hotel Alejo in Cotonou and other landmarks in Ketu and other towns. President Thomas BoniYayi, the former leader, is a Yoruba.

We know there are people of Yoruba descents who are now living in Sierra Leone, Ghana and Liberia. I used to have a friend in The Guardian of the 1980s. George Ola Davies from Liberia. I explained to him the meaning of his full name, Olabiwonnu and told him his ancestors must have come from Yorubaland. In the 19th Century and early 20th Century, Yoruba civilization and culture was dominant in West Africa. The milieu was called the EekuCivilisation which was signposted by peripatetic preachers of both Christian and Muslim faiths and traders. Eeku is the Yoruba form of greetings.


During the Yoruba Wars of the 19th Century, millions of youths were forcibly uprooted from their fatherland and sold into slavery. They were transported mostly to Europe, North America, South America and the Caribbean Islands. The wars were fought with uncivil ferocity leading to the destructions and evacuation of many towns and cities. Cities like Ikoyi, Ijaiye, Owu and many others were destroyed and many of their population sold into slavery.

The Civil Wars was sparked off in 1817 by the rebellion of Afonja, the Are OnaKakanfo, the leading Marshall of Oyo Imperial Army, whose intransigence forced his overlord, the Alaafin, to commit ritual suicide. Not mollified by that, he proclaimed his independence only for him to be killed in 1824 during a violent coup detat executed by jihadists led by Malam Alimi, a Fulani imam who was supported by many Yoruba chieftains, including Balogun Alanamu and Balogun Ajikobi, who were fed up with Afonja alleged high-handedness. At the time of the armistice organized by the colonial government of Lagos in 1896, more than 500,000 Yoruba troops were under arms.

By this time, new settlements have been built like new Oyo, Ibadan and Abeokuta and old settlements like Ede, Osogbo and Ogbomosho have been transformed by the influx of refugees. One significant new settlement was Modakeke, peopled who trooped to the ancient land of Ile-Ife. Modakeke was to remain for many generations a sore reminder of the Yoruba Civil Wars.

The impact of the Yoruba Wars was even more evident outside Africa. Able bodied men and women were seized, and sold in the slave markets of Eko (now Lagos), Ajase (now Porto-Novo) and Agbadarigi (now Badagry). To show that they knew the severity of what they were doing, the slave market in Lagos by the Marina was named OjaOdaju, the market of the heartless. Therefore, we have descendants of those who were forcibly taken away to foreign land who are actually of Yoruba descent but may not be aware of that fact. Yoruba blood flows in their veins, but many of them have lost all traces of home. These are the Yoruba in the Diaspora.


The Yoruba of the Diaspora are those who know they are Yoruba. They voluntarily travelled abroad, mostly to study and as economic refugees, who believe that at the right time, they would return home. In August 2000, I attended a Sunday service at The Apostolic Faith Church in Chicago where I was a guest of my friend, Mr. DapoAjanaku. One man who was seated by my side was praying fervently, Olorunmajekinkusiluyi o!! Since the seizure of Lagos Island by the British in 1862, and later the abolition of the notorious Slave Trade, millions of Yoruba have voluntarily travelled abroad. Most of them have also voluntarily returned. However, since the economic downturn that began in 1983, many of our people have become permanent refugees in foreign land.

These categories of people are now witnessing second and third generations of Yoruba abroad. Many of them still bear Yoruba surnames, but apart from that, they seem lost. To worsen the matter, many young people, believing wrongly that there is no hope, have fled abroad. Some have paid huge sum to travel by road across the Sahara Desert to confront the peril of the ever-hungry Mediterranean Sea.

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Available statistics from the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and other sources indicate that Yoruba land in Nigeria is the richest part of the country. Look at in absolute terms, it seems good. However, the truth is that Yoruba land is almost as poor as any other part of the country. Lagos, which controls most of the currency in circulation, is the area distorting the statistics. Youths between ages 18 to 35, constitute about half of the population. They are mostly unemployed, unemployable, underemployed or misemployed. For these young people, the prognosis of the future is not good. We have a duty to change our story. The truth is that the wealth of the Yorubaland is in the Yoruba people all over the world. Until we are able to think in a universal term that would encompasses the whole of Yorubaland, both within and outside Nigeria, we would not be able to harness our full strength. The Yoruba are the hope of the Black race. If we get it right, then the Black race would be redeemed. If not, Africans would remain the poorest part of humanity living in the richest portion of the earth.


We have to harness the full power of the Yoruba people all over the world for the development of Yorubaland. We need to let the Blacks all over the world know that Yorubaland is home to them and that Ile-Ife is the centre of that home. Africans in the Diaspora should be encouraged to come and we should be willing and ready to receive them. In the late 19th and early 20th Century, many Africans in the Diaspora were willing to return home in Africa. Indeed, the Jamaican pan-Africanist, Marcus Garvey, started the Back to Africa Movement which yielded a lot of results. His campaign that Africans should return to Africa was received with alarm and hostilities by the Whites.

For us in Yorubaland, many of the freed slaves and descendants returned home. One of them was the great Bishop Ajayi Crowther, the first African Bishop. He decided to translate the Christian Bible to the Yoruba language, using his native Oyo dialect which today has become the standard modern Yoruba. Many of these returnees participated in the closing years of the Yoruba Wars. The leader of the Ekiti Parapo Society in Lagos, Mr. Doherty was originally from Ijero Ekiti. Prince Adedeji Haastrup, the leader of the Ijesha in Lagos returned to Ilesha after the war in 1886 and later became Oba Ajimoko, the OwaObokun of Ijeshaland. Many of these returnees returned to Abeokuta a town where many of the early Christian missionaries found welcome. However, a group of Ekiti returnees who believed they were being discriminated against left Abeokuta and returned home to form a new town called Aisegba (We are not Egba). The town is now part of Gbonyin local government of Ekiti State.

All these people like the great Candido Da Rocha, AbiolaAgbebi, Gureje Thompson, the founder of Eti Oni town in Atakumosa local government area of Osun State, the great historian, Samuel Johnson and many others contributed greatly to the growth of Yorubaland and Nigeria. However, by the middle of the 20th Century returning home to Africa was regarded as a poorer option for Africans in the Diaspora. Now it is time to change. There are three steps to we have to take to change our story.


When Chief Obafemi Awolowo became the Leader of Government Business following the coming into force of the Macpherson Constitution, he became the first Yoruba person to rule most of Yorubaland since the princes departed from Ile-Ife at the dawn of time. In 1958 at the London Constitutional Conference, Chief Awolowo and his Action Group party proposed two amendments to the Constitution. That the Ilorin and Kabba Province in the Northern Region which is populated by the Yoruba people should be merged with the Western Region. That the Lagos Federal Capital Territory populated by the Yoruba should be merged with the West. Both proposals were rejected by delegates from the North and East and Awolowo came home empty handed. To add insult to injury, the Western Region was the only one that was Balkanized when the Mid-Western Region was created in 1963. In 1967, General Yakubu Gowon created the 12 states structure, leaving the West as it was with the excising of some of the provinces to join the Federal capital Territory of Lagos to form Lagos State.

The Yoruba of the North were given a new state called the West Central State. Later the state was renamed Kwara State. Today, the old West now has eight states namely, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun Oyo, Osun and Ondo States. The job that once belonged to only one Premier is now being done by eight governors. Instead of one Parliament, we now have eight. Instead of 16 regional ministers, we now have at least 300 commissioners and special advisers. I dare say that there is no indication that we are now being better governed than we were when we had only one Premier instead of eight governors. We could ask ourselves if Papa Awolowo had being the governor of only Ogun State instead of being Premier of the West whether he could have functioned better.

The truth is that if that had been the case, our history would have been different. Some of our leaders, agitated by this scenario, have asked that Nigeria be restructured so that we could have six or eight regional bodies as the federating units. I am not going to go into that. However, I would dare say that it would take a long time for the whole of Nigeria to agree at the same time to restructure Nigeria along regional lines. Indeed, politicians of the two major political parties have been speaking from both sides of their mouths about what they consider to be the restructuring of Nigeria. They are yet to properly define it in their manifestoes.

We should be prepared to hear the old songs again by 2023. I would like to advocate that the Yoruba leadership should create a Central Regional Authority that would be in charge of activities across all the Yoruba states. This bodies would be legislated into existence by the Houses of Assembly of the Yoruba State. It should be a body whose existence would not contradict the provisions of the present Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

I do not see any contradiction that would arise from formalizing cooperation among two or more of the present states in the country. Indeed, if the introduction of Sharia Law could not undermine the Constitution, I do not see how unity of some of the states for the betterment of our lives would become an obstacle to the Constitution. The body I am advocating should be used to coordinate activities with the Yoruba of the old North in Kogi and Kwara States and those in Yorubaland outside Nigeria in Benin Republic. The body should have fund provided for it by laws passed by the Houses of Assembly. The body should have access to and coordinate activities of Yoruba groups all over the world especially those in Europe, the Americas, Asia, the Middle-East and the Caribbean islands. Within Nigeria here, the Regional Authority should be in charge of inter-state infrastructural development of the Yoruba states.

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There should be major inter-state highways linking all the state capitals: Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan, Oshogbo, Akure, Ado-Ekiti, Lokoja and Ilorin. We should also link these state capitals with modern rail lines. It is time we take a deliberate decision to build another railway line apart from the old one built by the colonial government. We should also develop our coastal and water ways for transportation and other usage.


The Yoruba language is the greatest treasure we inherited from our ancestors. For thousands of years, the language, with its various dialects, has been handed over from generation to generation. It is our duty to pass it on to future generations. It is indeed therefore very sad that many Yoruba of this generation, out of deep ignorance and abiding inferiority complex, have neglected the study of our language. Indeed, in many homes, especially among the half-educated elites, they pretend to speak some kind of English to their children, ignoring and neglecting the mother tongue.

Sadly, we are ending up with children who could neither speak good English and are also deprived of their mother tongue. This indeed is double jeopardy. Governments of the Yoruba States should pass laws making Yoruba the language of instructions in all primary and secondary schools. English should be treated as one of the subjects to be used and not a language of instructions. It is proven scientifically that children, if properly taught, could learn up to eight languages. Indeed, the late Kofi Anan, the first African to be elected Secretary General of the United Nations, was fluent in more than eight languages.

My friend, Prince Bisi Olatilo, the Managing Director of Biscon Television and one of Nigeria’s most eminent broadcasters, is fluent in all the three major languages of Nigeria. Major General Ike Nwachukwu, Nigerian former Minister of Foreign Affairs, also speaks Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa fluently. Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, Chairman of Tanus Communications Ltd and former Managing Director of the old Daily Times who is also a chief of Ile-Ife, speaks the three main Nigerian languages fluently. Therefore, it does not serve any practical purpose to say your children can only speak Nigerian English.

Today, children in England are learning French, German, Chinese and Russian. Officers of the Metropolitan Police in London, are learning Yoruba and other African languages because of new dimensions to international crimes in which some of our people are involved. This is one aspect in which the Regional Authority should be involved.

The body should help set up schools among Yoruba communities in Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean. Our children, wherever they may be in the world, should have the opportunity of learning in their native tongue. We would not be the first to do this in the world. The Russians, Germans, Chinese, Arabs and Japanese are all doing it. As of now, the Gulen Movement of Turkey have more than 1000 Turkish schools in Europe, Africa, the United States, Brazil and other countries. They have at least three schools in Nigeria.

If the Regional Authority is intent on creating Yoruba schools all over the world, it would generate at least 100,000 jobs for our youths who would have to travel all to other countries to teach in those schools. As of today, because we deprive ourselves of the capacity to act, many of the second and third generation Yoruba living in foreign countries have no intention of coming back home. Yet this is where we need them.


We should take charge of our land instead of giving excuses that Abuja is disturbing us or putting obstacles on our ways. Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian liberator was asked whether Indians were capable of gaining independence from Great Britain. He said “the problem of India is not Great Britain. The problem of India is the Indians.”Then he declared: “When Indians are ready to be free, nobody can stop them.” Nobody is stopping us from creating our own Regional Authority. Nobody is stopping us from re-creating our educational system to serve the peculiar needs of our people. Nobody is stopping us from constructing regional super-highways to link all our state capitals. Nobody is stopping us from building our own rail lines or coordinating our farming to become the backbone of our economy as it was in the first Republic.

We have to build new cities and provide electricity to power our industries and light our communities. All these we have to do ourselves because nobody would do them for us. Our people during the First Republic were not blaming Prime-Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa for their woes.

They knew they were the masters of their collective destiny. When we make Yoruba land attractive, tourists would come. Africans all over the world, especially in the Americas, would know that this land of Oduduwa and Orunmila is their home. They would come here, not just as tourists, but as natives returning to the land of their ancestors. No date could be better suited to start this new Back to Africa Movement than the period of Olojo Festival, a festival established by our forefathers to commemorate the First Dawn when Olodumare created the heavens and the earth. That we have a festival to celebrate and a date to commemorate shows that the ancestors did their duty. Now let us do our duty for we are the ancestors of the future.

I appreciate your attention. Thank You.