JUST SCRATCH THE SURFACE

Nigeria 2019 | TOURISM | FOCUS: HIDDEN MARVELS OF NIGERIA

Nigeria must shed light on its lesser-known cultural and natural splendors.

The world's interest in alternative tourism is still on the rise and Nigeria's awe-inspiring bio-diversity and untouched nature make it a good candidate for becoming the next eco-tourist magnet in Africa. For those travelers who are not keen on alternative tourism, Nigeria has no shortage of old-school hedonistic promises either.

However, although foreign exchange earnings are of critical importance for the Nigerian economy, tourism potentials remain more-or-less untapped. To this day, tourism accounts for under 2% of the country's GDP, while the average figure in the world is around 10%, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
With a population of over 190 million, Nigeria is all set to have a vibrant domestic tourism with just a little investment on attractions which appeal to the local population.

Attracting domestic, regional, and foreign tourists, however, will not be possible without planning which, in turn, calls for a thorough mapping of the existing potentials. Nigeria's lesser-known splendors that, if capitalized on, can fascinate foreign and domestic travelers alike.

Erin-Ijesha Waterfalls is one such gem. Located in Osun State, this multiple-level waterfall is adored by the locals. The waterfall is a sight to behold, especially in early morning hours when the surrounding mist nicely blends with the first rays of the rising Sun, creating nothing short of a magical ambience.

The Erin-Ijesha Waterfalls is now the scene of a growing number of extreme sports organized by local tourism agencies and individual guides. The same guides will also be happy to lead nature sightseeing tours if you are of a less thrill-seeking disposition. Given the popularity of the waterfall among Nigerians, there is definitely a niche for more upscale accommodation, especially as a new access road is under construction.

The Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove is another case in point. Just 50km to the northwest of Erin-Ijesha waterfalls, the Sacred Grove lies on the outskirts of Osogbo, the capital city of Osun State. Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2005, the Sacred Grove has a special place in the belief system of most Osun-worshiping Yoruba people.

The Sacred Grove also has its own long-running annual festival, which is centered around honoring Osun, the goddess of waters and rivers. Each August, the festival is celebrated in the grove, attracting not only worshippers but also a number of spectators from different parts of the world.

Many towns inhabited by Yoruba people used to have shrines similar to Osogbo's Sacred Grove, which were typically located in a nearby forest that was also regarded as sacred. In a sense, the Sacred Grove symbolizes the old connection between Yoruba people and nature, which makes the area an even more appropriate location for eco-tourism activities.
Symbols of Nigeria's mindfulness of the nature are by no means limited to one state. The Lekki Conservation Centre, in Lagos State, is a contemporary case of Nigerians making an effort to preserve their country's natural resources and biodiversity.
Since its establishment in 1990, the center has been a safe haven for the flora and fauna of the Lekki Peninsula. At the same time, visitors can enjoy a 30-minute guided visit including a canopy walk with the added bonus of meeting mischievous monkeys along the path—which is not recommended for the faint hearted.

The Lekki Conservation Center is already a rising star of African eco-tourism as it has successfully drawn a great deal of attention to itself, becoming a trendy topic on different online tourism platforms.
Nevertheless, there are still many attractions across Nigeria whose merits have gone undeservedly unnoticed so far; Lake Kainji national park, ancient Kano city walls, Epe Mangroves are but three such jewels which, with appropriate investment and planning, can bring more visitors to the country.