Mrs. Harriet Oshatimehin is the Kwara State Commissioner for Communications. Under her portfolio are also the Ministries of Information, Culture and Tourism. In this interview with Edozie Udeze in Ilorin, Kwara State, Oshatimehin dwells on the many programmes the state government is embarking upon to promote culture, enhance the heritages of the people and then redirect attention to the various tourist sites, more so, the Owu falls in Ifelodun locality of the state. And lots more.
Mrs. Harriet Oshatimehin is the Kwara State Commissioner for Communications. During the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) 39th Convention held in Ilorin, Kwara State, she did not only stand in for the state government, she also had time to speak to the press. Oshatimehin is a total lover of culture. For her, tourism is one of the best ways to attract people to a state. And this is why she also believes that culture informs tourism and together the two can help a community to thrive, grow economically thereby boosting the IGR of a state.
Oshatimehin is a woman of many parts, someone on whose shoulders three ministries are rolled into one. She says: “You will agree with me that what a man can do, a woman can definitely do better. That we have Ministry of Communications in Kwara State where we also have Ministries of Information, Culture and Tourism being handed over to a woman shows that they have seen that I have the capability to handle them all. Now, how well has it been handled? Yeah, we have been doing excellently well, even better than how it was before we took over. It has been fulfilling, yes. All we have to do is to map out the strategy so that none of the directorates is neglected or overlooked, or left untouched. So far, so good, it has been so wonderful”.
She narrows her attention to culture and says: “yes, in terms of culture, we have been doing well also. In terms of tourism, we’ve been looking at how we can tap the many untapped resources in the state in the areas of the tourist sites. Basically, the state is so blessed in terms of tourist sites. There is virtually no local government area that is not blessed with one tourist site or the other. Kwara State is so endowed. Before now, most of these sites had been left untouched but we have to do our very best now to turn them around.
For her, the development of the tourist sites is a priority of the present government. She makes it clear, “We are looking at how best to develop these sites, in terms of culture and the heritages in them. Kwara State is a miniature of what we have in Nigeria. So many ethnic groups in the states so diverse in terms of natural sites and so forth. There are several cultures and they are so rich that we have to see which and which to look into first. Before now, the sites were neglected, nose-diving, so to say. A lot of people didn’t know about these as we have continually lost our values. But we now say, no. We have to rise to the occasion, develop the sites, redirect people’s attention to them and then they begin to yield money for the government, for the communities”.
It is time also for various governments at all levels to pay maximum attention to tourist sites as a way to attract revenue to the states. Oshatimehin concurs thus: “It is because we have lost so much values that we are having these challenges we have at the moment. Economically, we have lost so much. So, it is our priority as a government to ensure we restore these values. There are lots of gains inherent in culture tourism in our state. In terms of information, we have taken it as a responsibility to the people to communicate to them adequately in the clearest languages they can comprehend. Whatever that is happening, we try to get it to the grassroots, to the remotest local areas in the state. In this area too, we have been doing wonderfully well”.
Kwara State is noted to have one of the brightest cultural troupes in Nigeria. The troupe has won many cultural laurels over the years. Oshatimehin takes a closer look at their role both in the state and outside of it. She says: “we have the Kwara State Council for arts and culture which has been able to thrive over the years promoting our local cultural values. We know the troupe has participated in different cultural and dance programmes in Nigeria, including the Drums Festival in Abeokuta, Ogun State, even in NAFEST. Yes, in times past we have been doing so well and like you rightly noted, we still have old artistes there. So, in 2021, we have better plans for that. So, we intend to have a junior troupe, like a feeder to the main troupe. The troupe is indeed in a better position to promote our culture, harness them and let the world be aware of them”.
So for this reason, the areas of presentation, performances and so on, need to be improved upon. The commissioner reasons this way: “We have seen some lapses. But come 2021, we will do lots more. This I can assure you because the troupe is the forerunner of the cultural elements and commodities we have in Kwara State. Before the end of this administration, it will be a different story entirely”.
The state feels it is time to invite investors in the tourism sector. This will help for development and economic gains. Oshatimehin enumerates the gains; “Yes, we hope to bring in investors in the tourism sector. A number of them have shown interest. They have spoken with me. According to the plans we have, very soon development will start. But we are still in the process. We are trying to see who is the best person; the best investor, to give us the best”.
Once this is done, the tourist sites will be handed over to the person for work to commence. “The most notable site in the state is the Owu falls in Ifelodun local government area. This happens to be one of the highest falls in Africa. So, you can imagine what place it will occupy once it is properly developed. It has a socio-political and economic impact on the state. People, more people, I mean, will come into town because of it and this will further help to develop the transport system in the state. Then the hospitality sub-sector will be further developed; all these will be to the benefit of the whole state and the people of Kwara State. Even the economies of the local areas where these sites are located will begin to bubble, yielding more income to the people”.
The state hopes to develop the Owu falls to the level of UNESCO recognized site. The commissioner says the possibility of that in the nearest future is the dream of the state government. She opines: “I tell you the site that will soon meet the UNESCO requirements is the Owu falls. We will work on it and ensure it gets to that stage as soon as possible. It is not artificial; I mean the site is natural, so engrossing when you behold it. We are fortunate to have it here in the state. It can always attract not just the locals, but international organizations across Africa”.
Yes, Kwara State is the state of harmony, co-existing and harbouring many ethnic groups, peacefully. Oshatimehin is optimistic that the state will continue to live in harmony with one another. “It has always been a peaceful state, a state of harmony. Last year, we had a show of different cultures, different cultures within the state. It was such a rich harvest of cultures. It helped to build more harmony, love and unity. But because of Covid-19 we couldn’t do much. However, we try to protect what keeps us together, what makes us a state of harmony. We have been doing it so well, co-existing as one and showing the world the essence of harmony, love and togetherness”.
The state, she points out, has many laudable cultural programmes for the youths. “Yes, recently government developed a visual art and crafts centre for the youths in the state. You will agree with me that there is nothing like that in Nigeria. But we have it in the state. People may no longer go as far as South Africa to do cinematography. It is now done in the state. We have started to construct that visual art centre. It is in Ilorin and it is a huge project. Here there will be the production of cinematography and it will be of high quality. This will contribute to the sub-sector and we have many youths to benefit from this. We have also digital capacity build-up for the youths. So, then, this is a three year plan. Every year, we take or absorb ten thousand of the youths into it. So, we see how we can carry the youths along because we believe they are the hopes of tomorrow.
Concerning the state of literary appreciation and the reading culture in Nigeria, the commissioner says: “reading culture in Nigeria is actually nose-diving. Therefore having a body like the Association of Nigerian Authors that is totally in charge of writing books and creating story ideas for the society and with the support of government, I think they’ll make a great deal of difference by contributing to knowledge. This will also help to impact on the people thereby encouraging the reading culture to return. This will be better for us, for the whole society.
She admitted somewhat that Nigeria is peopled by quite enough, knowledgeable and gifted writers to make the literary scene bubble endlessly. In her words “oh, we might not have enough writers in the strictest sense of it. But the fact that we have some committed ones writing all the time and on topical issues is enough for us. That we have authors at all is what we should be grateful for. That they have time to create, to think, to imagine and to write is what we should be thankful for. We need to be proud of these writers and you know what, the ones we have, we should further encourage others to join them, so that we have more writers, more books.”
Like she offered at the convention where she stood in for the state government, Oshatimehin offers that “with more writings and with total focus on the issues of the times, this will help to improve and encourage socio-economic indices of Nigeria. Books say a lot about a people. Definitely so. I only wish to encourage Nigerian authors to do more, to continue to write more books.
Source: The Nation