The quest to develop Kwara State’s tourism potential as an alternative source of revenue has gained momentum lately. Coming especially after the worsening economic situation in the country occasioned by the effect of the crash of crude in the international market and the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation in the state has left many sectors competing for attention from the shrinking revenue from the central government. But, how well has Kwara fared in thinking outside the box to tap from the huge tourism potential of the Eromola waterfall in Oke-Ero Local Government Area in Kwara South to complement its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR)? Daily Trust on Sunday investigated.
The Eromola waterfall is located in Oke-Ero Local Government Area of Kwara State. For a first time visitor to the place, the sight and sound of such a wonderful natural endowment are simply breathtaking. Though the water was not at its peak when Daily Trust on Sunday recently visited, the echo of the water that continuously splashes the underlying rock is a spectacular view.
Located approximately 4 kilometres from the main town, Oke-Ero, Eromola is a popular spot among the people of the area and neighbouring towns who have come to see it as a refuge in many ways.
Located some three kilometres from the site of the Osi campus of the Kwara State University (KWASU), the cashew fragrance from the large plantation of the crop that dominates the area, welcomes a tourist to its domain.
To the uninitiated, Eromola, a compound word meaning Ero (River), and Omola (One who owns it) is a fascinating cascade located between Ajuba in Ekiti Local Government Area and Idofin-Igbana in Oke-Ero Local Government Area of the state. It is formed from River Ero which flows directly from Ikun town in Ekiti State into the main river and then to a point where the water becomes swift and descends into a gorge to form a waterfall known as Eromola which sneaks into the River Niger at Lafiagi.
It is a spectacular work of nature with unique features flowing over a length of rocky ridges down the high cliff of about 50 metres above sea level
and almost 70 metres wide at full flow. The fall, a wonderful sight to behold, is best viewed during the rainy season when the breeze is cool and refreshing. The site is equally fascinating during the dry season as it offers an awesome vista of the fabulous network of rock formations.
Eromola is traditionally worshipped by both the Idofin Igbana and Ajuba communities and there are different mysterious stories linking the site to some others in the area.
For many of the indigenes and owners of the waterfall, Eromola is endowed with great spiritual powers just like its counterpart, the Osun Osogbo. It is widely believed among the indigenes that only the members of the clan that are directly in charge of the place have a spiritual connection to the river, though its sacred prowess is all-encompassing.
According to one of the guides who is also an investor in the tourism potential of the place, Aare Oluwanisola Adeoti, a native of Idofin Igbana Community of Oke-Ero Local Government, Kwara State, the waterfall is famous among the people of the community because of its believed spiritual and mystical powers.
“People come here for the annual ritual festival, which is why they always sing their praises of Omo Olomi Eromola because they are the only people in this place that can bring anybody that falls into the water out from the river. No other person can do that. Anyone who tries to bring out a corpse from the river, no matter the effort, won’t succeed.
But anyone from the Igbo Ogan family can as the corpse automatically comes afloat and they go into the water. Last year’s festival held on December 30,” Adeoti explained.
He noted that people came from different parts of the country during the festival to celebrate and that the water from the waterfall was taken by those afflicted with barrenness, those seeking progress at work, those seeking jobs etc.
Adeoti further explained that the myth has it that Eromola can grant people, whatever they seek, particularly those who are barren and suffering from various ailments, whether terminal or otherwise. Anybody that bathes with the water or drinks from it is bound to get cured.
Secondly, the people who are the owners believe that this place is a source of protection for them wherever they may be in the world, particularly, concerning floods. In fact, the myth has it that anybody that falls into the waterfall here, their corpse will mysteriously be deposited in a well in the community. To date, how that happens remains a mystery to us.”
A monarch’s cry
Speaking on the issue, Onidofin of Idofin Igbana where the fall is situated, Oba Samuel Ilufemiloye Aramumije, Alomilogba II, told Daily Trust on Sunday that Eromola away from its deep sacred attachment was a huge asset towards developing the economy and agricultural sector in the state.
Going down memory lane, the monarch said, “The fall has been in existence since time immemorial and a ruling clan used to worship the place. Legend has it that one of the wives of the first oba who was a Sango worshipper used to go there and worship it. But subsequently, civilisation took over and it was decided that such a place is suitable to be designated as a top tourist destination and relaxation spot. We began to visit it not only for the tradition of rituals, but as a destination of choice for its indigenes.”
He said the tradition continued until about 10 years ago when researchers from the University of Ilorin conducted research on the prospect of generating hydroelectricity from there.
“They brought an instrument to measure the volume or velocity of water that will be needed in that place to realise the electricity generation. Although we did not hear from them again, what they told us was that we should look for somebody who could help us to push for its realization at the federal government level.
Oba Samuel Ilufemiloye Aramumije noted that a number of letters and proposals were written to the relevant authorities within and outside the state, including Abuja, on how to develop the place as a top tourist destination site, and irrigation, but nothing came out of it.
“I think it was during the tenure of Senator Suleiman Ajadi Makanjuola. Fortunately, when Architect Lola Ashiru came on board, he started it as his constituency project and that is why we can see the ongoing development.
“Eromola is no doubt a top tourist destination and huge money-making spinner for the state if they can focus on it. During my secondary school days in the ’70s, my uncle who was Oro used to trek from there down to the Esie Museum and back just to get a feel and sight of the artefacts collected there. About four years ago, some traditional rulers, about 15 of us, visited the Alake of Egbaland to go see the much talked about Olumo Rock that we had heard so much about. We saw how it had been developed to the extent that climbing it is no more as difficult as one would have envisaged. But, while being apologetic for saying this, I don’t see anything that is so spectacular about that place and yet they gave it a facelift and people patronize the place as a tourist destination. Eromola with the waterfall isn’t just a dazzling sight to behold, but it’s one of the wonders of God’s creation located in Kwara State,” he noted.
He said apart from the financial benefit that could accrue to the state government from the fall, its economic potentials could not be ignored.
“This a very good initiative the government can explore in a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement to generate electricity to solve the problem of power supply in its environs and the state at large. Then beneath the waterfall, there is a natural dam which can be used for irrigation for dry farming,” he explained.
Attempt at development
Although the first bold move to develop the place began around 1992 during the tenure of Alhaja Shaaba Lafiagi, it is on record that Peter Ogar remains the only governor to have visited the site to date. Since then, it has been a tale of who or when the jinx will be broken until Senator Lola Ashiru took the bull by the horns and led the effort that has birthed the present positive narrative.
Before Ashiru’s laudable effort, the waterfall has been associated more with tradition and superstition than a gold mine which could be cash cow for the state.
Tradition versus civilisation
From the myth associated with the place, civilization and education, have eroded most of the superstitious beliefs except for those upon who it is mandatory to continue to worship the fall. The place to this day is still being worshipped by the people annually, led by the Chief Priest, Joshua Abolaji Ooye. He usually offers prayers for the sons and daughters of the town, wherever they may be in the world. The prayer is then followed by the slaughtering of animals as a symbol of sacrifice amidst dancing and singing for successes and prosperity. The
items of worship – a pig, dove and snail are still shrouded in secrecy as to why they are preferred. The Chief Priest could not be contacted for comment on this.
A senator’s intervention
For Senator Oyelola Yisa Ashiru, the Vice-Chairman, Senate Committee on Housing, what is in Eromola is beyond tradition and rituals, but nature’s gift that can become a top revenue earner for the state if its potential and development are well articulated and managed.
The upgrade and development of the waterfall facilitated by Senator Ashiru have led to the opening up of the waterfall to tourists from all over the world to see and appreciate the tourism potential in the state. Though a gigantic project, the upgrade which is being handled by the federal government is under the Ministry of Water Resources and executed by the Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority (LNRBDA).
Speaking on the issue, Senator Ashiru told Daily Trust on Sunday that this was a starting point, adding that the idea was to open up a tourism treasury box that would unleash the state’s tourism potential to the outside world.
“In the last 100 years, this place has been unrecognised and people don’t know the potentials this place offers to the state and the country at large. We are opening it up and building some facilities that people can come and use, which include solar lights, boreholes, and a pavilion where people can come and party, including an executive arm complete with a toilets.
“This is just the first step. The second step will be landscaping and opening up the place for the rest of the world to see the beauty of nature, which God in His wisdom deposited here. Then we are going to do some deforestation and cleaning up, and after that, we will come up with the natural landscaping which includes topography modulation, planting of relevant grasses and flowers, which will be followed by the introduction of the children’s play area. This place is also going to be a destination for people who want to make films, outdoor marriage ceremonies, and picnics,” he explained.
The senator further said, “We are still working out the administrative structure and the commercial side of it because we will be collaborating with a lot of individuals who will want to have one or two things here, and this place is equally good for conferencing and relaxation. The idea is ultimately to open up this rural community by making use of the natural endowment and we can see that it is quite a beautiful scene and sight to behold. In a few weeks’ time when there is more rain, the type of microclimatic condition you find here is interesting and captivating, including the nature of the waterfalls and its vapour content which is so magnetic, and I am sure so much can be done.
Speaking on the duration of full actualisation of the economic potentials of the waterfall, Senator Ashiru noted that, “Although the concept is for a lifetime, we can talk about a starting point which should not take more than three years, after which the momentum can go on its own. But it will be a beautiful destination for people in Kwara, Nigeria, and across the globe.”
On why he embarked on the project, Ashiru said, “It is just (the) commercial aspect because there is money to be made here and tourism is a large sector of the economy. I know the people are looking for natural venues to relax, hold conferences, filming, etc. This is going to be a beautiful destination where everybody will want to be part of.”
Regarding stakeholders, “I feel and pray that more people will come in quickly, like the community associations and private individuals to do destination homes among other business ventures and concepts.” He said.
Partnership with state government
According to Ashiru, “Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq is open and optimistic about additional revenue for the state through the area of tourism among others. I have a dream that Kwara South can rest on its abundant tourism potentials, which can put us on the world map.”
According to the guide, Adeoti, “The idea we envisage is to turn the local ceremony of the people to an international carnival like the Osun Osogbo festival and make it a huge alternative source of revenue for the state.
“The community has already marked our plots for development in this place. We didn’t pay a dime for all we are doing here because everybody sees it as advancing the progress and development of the community.”
More tourist potential
A member of the Igban clan of Eromola which comprises about six tribes and the Oniwoye of Iwoye in Oke-Ero, Chief Ayodele Awoiji Samuel, said the full tourism potential was limitless.
“This place is a tourist attraction and the federal government is developing it through the patronage of Senator Arch. Lola Ashiru. You can see that he has been putting up structures to house the people that will be coming here as tourists. Civilisation and culture are concomitant friends and as long as we cannot forget about tradition, we cannot also be static because dynamism is one which oils the wheel of progress which allows culture to mix with modernity”, he said.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Communications, Hajiya Rabat Mopelola Abdulrahman, whose responsibility includes tourism, said the government was willing and ready to develop the place and partner with relevant and interested bodies that would put Kwara on the global map.
“The governor is a tourism-friendly person and loves tourism, which prompted his visit to Owu falls recently. Eromola is also in the pipeline. The governor is very happy regarding the prospect of Eromola. Our plan is to build hotels and guest houses amongst other things for people to come and relax. We’re not resting on our oars concerning the development of the place because we know it is nature. The governor hasn’t only assured us that he is ready and willing to see it to fruition, but added that we should be constant with the demand of these places. ” She said.
Commending Senator Ashiru for his effort, Hajiya Rabat appreciated him for deeming it fit to put some structures there while noting that the state government was moving in with its plans for the development of the place.
“It is not in the budget, but there is a special fund for that and the governor is ready when we are ready to do whatever is necessary for the place,” she said.
“God has given Kwara State in terms of tourism a goldmine. I want to encourage people to come to Kwara State and see the wonders of nature. We are ready to unleash our tourism potential to the world,” Hajiya Rabat said.
Engr Seun Ayodele from the Lower Niger River Basin, Kwara State, one of the engineers in charge of the project, told Daily Trust on Sunday that Eromola waterfall development was a joint one with Owu falls as part of the constituency project of Senator Lola Ashiru, adding that both projects cost N54m.
“Initially, there was no good access road at both falls which are tourist sites. We came in and opened it up through grading. Now, within the fall areas, we have cleared a space and constructed a relaxation building. We also dug a borehole that will supply water. We graded a 3kilomtre access road to Eromola and we are going to replicate the same in Owu in Ifelodun Local Government Area,” Engr Ayodele said.