Fagunwa’s Igbo Olodumare: And the neglect continues…

Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, Aditu Olodumare, Ireke Onibudo and others are Yoruba classics written by the late D.O Fagunwa, who reportedly died during one of his expeditions. Fagunwa’s books opened up Oke-Igbo, his hometown, to the world. For literary enthusiasts, paying a visit to Igbo Olodumare (God’s Forest) in Ondo State, one of the locations that impacted the literary creativity of Fagunwa, has remained an attraction. TUNDE BUSARI, after a visit to the famous forest, reports how the site is losing tourists’ patronage.
One tourists’ destination in South West Nigeria which derives its popularity from literatures written by an indigene of the location is Igbo Olodumare sited in Oke Igbo, Ondo State. If you have read any or all the Yoruba classics written by the late D.O. Fagunwa but not made a pilgrimage to the forest of which you have read in those books, you are denying yourself a complete grasp of Fagunwa’s stories.
As important as the tourists’ attraction has been to the lovers of nature, however, the current state of Igbo Olodumare leaves much to be desired.
Nigerian Tribune gathered that the site is currently confronted by unprecedentedly low patronage of leisure seeking public; so bad that no individual or group has visited the place since the beginning of 2018, the Gregorian calendar which is fast approaching the end of its first quarter.
The development is a contrast to the traffic of tourists which was regularly recorded in Igbo Olodumare. Individuals, groups, professional bodies, foreign tourists, secondary school students and those of higher institutions form permanent feature of the site as they treat themselves to a brief life inside the jungle where they relish the serenity of nature.
An important reason observed is the state of the road leading to the site. Igbo Olodumare is conservatively about 20 kilometres to Oke Igbo township. Less than half of the stretch is covered with weather-beaten tar while the rest of the distance is incongruous for such a tourist site expected to host foreign visitors.
The sign of the abysmal state of the road is seen at the junction leading into Oke-Igbo, off Ife-Ondo road, where commercial motorcycle operators demand exorbitant fares from commuters seeking to visit the site. Effort to persuade them for discount is usually frustrated by their argument not only on the distance but on the bad condition of the road. A visitor would not but show understanding in the middle of the journey. In dry season, thick dusts usher the users of the road to and fro their destination.
The same road serves other communities some of which include Gbinrindi, Ajegiri, Kajola Arepa, Bolorunduro, Awo, Camp and Oke Alaba, the junction that leads to Igbo Eledumare. During the rainy season, gully erosion indiscriminately cuts off sections of the road, thereby making passage a herculean task and a discouragement to would-be tourists.
Mr Remi Adetayo, a school teacher, who claimed to have led his students to Igbo Olodumare on excursion in the past, lamented the difficulty and indeed danger posed by the road to vehicles, arguing that use of motorcycle offers a tolerable experience. The literature teacher said he had long expected government to rehabilitate the road to make it more accessible to the public.
“Year in, year out, I pass through the same bad road not befitting a place like Igbo Olodumare. Were Baba Fagunwa alive he would not be happy seeing the site he spent his life to promote in this state. What would he have done? He must have been too old.
“My view is that with this road, there is no need to say that our government is not interested in tourism development. All they say in the newspapers and radio are just lip service to appeal to public sentiment. That is my view and they need to prove me wrong by repairing this road,” he said regrettably.
Although a motorable road is a significant feature of a holiday haven as Igbo Olodumare, lack of sitting spots in the forest has also turned tourists’ leisure to pains. Visitors are expected to find seats at different spots where they relax their veins after energy sapping touring of the forest.
An indigene of Igbo-Olodumare community who lives some metres away from Fagunwa Memorial High School, a secondary school named after D.O. Fagunwa, said groups of tourists often used the school premises as a relaxation centre after they might have climbed and descended Oke Langbodo. Such, according to him, usually offered the indigenes opportunity to engage in brisk businesses.
Aside convenient seats, tourists, especially those who have visited more than once, are said to express their desires to have all characters about whom they read in Fagunwa’s book sculptured at appropriate spots in the forest.
For instance, only the statue of Baba Onirungbon Yeuke, one of Fagunwa’s characters is currently available aside the entrance into the forest. Statues of other protagonists such as Akoni Meje (The seven brave hunters on expedition to Oke Langbodo), Ekun Oloju kan (one-eyed tiger), Anjonu Iberu (dreadful demon) and Olowo Aye, are said to be in demand by regular tourists.
A representative of Ondo State Ministry of Culture and Tourism, who is known by tourists as the curator of Igbo Olodumare, Mr Okeaja Olanrewaju, corroborated the public complaints and added that lack of accommodation also discouraged tourists from distant places to stay long.
“I have worked here for the past 15 years and the complaints have always been the same. Igbo Olodumare is our goldmine here if needed amenities can be put in place. Visitors were always enthusiastic when they arrived here. Foreigners were more excited at the whole environment and rural dwellers whom they come in contact with on their way. But this site needs to be more attractive in terms of facilities to make visit more memorable for the tourists,” he disclosed.
Despite the afore highlighted deficit, some tourists insist they would always savour the experience in Igbo Olodumare for a long time because of its educative value which, according to them, further illuminated their understanding of Fagunwa’s books.
Mr Adetayo said looking forward to visit the forest to appreciate the ingenuity of Fagunwa and also enjoy nature offered by the serenity of the tropical forest, is already part of his annual calendar.
He said the value in the trip is more intangible than physical for him and his students, urging language teachers in secondary schools to share his passion and give their students further exposure.
“The effect of such visit to Igbo Olodumare stays till another year when I return there with another set of students for excursion. When I teach any of Fagunwa’s books, my experience in the forest gives me a clearer picture of the places I come across in the book. Fagunwa was a gift to the literary world. Unfortunately he did not live long to enjoy that goodwill. He might have been given global award,” he said.
Apparently uncomfortable with the news of the current state of Igbo Olodumare, a member of the D.O. Fagunwa Foundation, who is also the Agba Akin of Ibadanland, Oloye Lekan Alabi expressed his dismay, describing it is a disservice to the memory of Fagunwa.
Alabi added that the site ought to have been upgraded to what he called acceptable standard to showcase the value of Igbo Olodumare to the outside world. The foundation, he said, draws no fund or grant from any source, hence its incapacitation in rehabilitating the forest.
According to him, chalets should be constructed to house tourists who would not mind to acclimatize with the serene atmosphere and the people.
“We have visited various tourists’ centres in other countries and seen the facilities in place and how they are run to generate revenue for the ownesr. Tourism is a big, serious investment but in this country, all they are concerned now is 2019 elections.
“If you take a proposal to them now, they won’t reject it. They will glance through and dump it somewhere because their mind is on how to win elections in the next general elections. It is unfortunate we are wasting non-oil resources through which we can make cool money with little investment in them,” he remarked.
The curator, who understands the geography of the site like the back of his palm, is ironically not on the employment of the ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Engaged in 2003 shortly before the late Chief Adebayo Adefarati government lost elections to the late Olusegun Agagu’s government, he said efforts to have his appointment regularised had yielded no fruit. Nevertheless, he is unrelenting as he daily reports at Igbo Olodumare like every worker and returns home in the evening, an evidence that he enjoys what he does.
Significantly one prominent animal that features in Fagunwa’s book, a snake is said to be alive till date. The mysterious snake, image of which Fagunwa paints as carrying human head, is not only alive, it also leaves its hole every year to make appearance for the delight of the people. Olanrewaju clarified that the long snake does not have human head but gave credit to Fagunwa.
“I must tell you that all Baba Fagunwa wrote in his literatures are present in Igbo Olodumare, hence the warning against entering the forest without a guide. Ojola Ibinu still comes out every August. It’s coming is preceded by a rainbow and light rain. It is black, long with a head that is not too far from how Baba Fagunwa paints it in the book. But it is not a human head,” he said.
An Oke Igbo social group known as Okelangbodo Development Association (ODA) is said to have set aside a month every year when members mobilise traditional rulers and people of Oke Igbo and surrounding communities to celebrate Igbo Olodumare.
They visit the forest after which they return for refreshment and cultural dances. The group, according to Olanrewaju, have been effective in repackaging the site to draw more attention.
The state Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Ismaheal Olumirisi, said the state government has embarked on renovation to turn around all the tourist centers in the state so as to improve the economy of the state.
Olurimisi said Igbo Olodumare is one of the tourist centers in the state which would be made attractive to tourists across the globe but said the state government was taking a step at a time.
“We are putting all the tourist centers in the state in good shape, as tourism remains one of the contributors to the economy of the state. It will contribute maximally to the development of this state. Most of these centers will provide avenue for many people, organisations and communities to host activities within the state and we have many hotels which will serve as part of development of tourism activities,” he said.
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