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With Sungbo Eredo, Tourist Hub in Ilara-Epe underway

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Prof. Adisa Ogunfolakan (left); Ambassador Jerome Pasquier; Oba Olufolarin Ogunsanwo; his wife, Olori Bolanle; and Prof. Gerard Chouin at the event.

Sungbo-Eredo Heritage, the largest monument in Africa spanning 160 kilometers, which has been in existence since the 13th century in Ilara-Epe, Lagos State, is receiving global attention with support from French and American governments in addition to efforts to secure UNESCO endorsement as world heritage site writes GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR

Last Wednesday, Ilara-Epe, the ancient kingdom situated in Eredo Local Council Development Area of Lagos State played host to an unusual guest, the French Ambassador to Nigeria/ECOWAS, Mr. Jerome Pasquier. It was historic as the French envoy was the first Ambassador to pay homage to the ancient town of Ilara-Epe.

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As early as 8:00 am, the high chiefs, women and community leaders had converged on the expansive palace of Oba Olufolarin Ogunsanwo, Telade IV, to accord the August visitor a rousing reception.

Feeling at home among the Ilara indigenes, Amb. Pasquier’s visit to the ancient Ilara Kingdom is in two folds: to strengthen bilateral ties between both countries and to further develop the immense tourism potential of the division particularly the ongoing project, Sungbo Eredo which is tailored at turning the famous UNESCO world heritage site, into a world-class tourism hub. The project is being carried out in conjunction with educational institutions such as Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), University of Ibadan (UI) and Augustine University, Ilara (AUI). The Sungbo Eredo is a system of defensive walls and ditch built-in 800 AD in honour of the Ijebu noblewoman, Oloye Bilikisu Sungbo. The location is on Nigeria’s tentative list of potential UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Dignitaries at the gathering include Executive Chairman, Eredo LCDA, Hon Adeniyi Saliu, the Queen of Ilara Kingdom, Olori Bolanle Ogunsanwo, Prince Segun Osifeko, Dr. Taiwo Olufemi Salaam, former Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Transport, Local Government and Community Affairs.

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Others are, High Chief Badru, the Seriki of Epe Kingdom, and High Chief Charles Keshinro, the Odofin of Ilara, as well as members of the Alara-in-Council, Baales and Chiefs and other tourism enthusiasts.

Addressing the excited gathering, Ambassador Jerome regretted that the COVID-19 pandemic had prevented him from visiting a year ago, as planned. He expressed his fascination for the archaeological projects in Eredo LCDA, which, according to him, informed his visit.

“I’m very happy to be here. I came to see the archaeological project tagged Sugbon Eredo Heritage being supported by both the French and United States governments. It is a monument, which is proof that this part of Nigeria has been in existence before the colonial era.

“My President, Emmanuel Macron has a strong interest in Nigeria and he received several businessmen some days ago from Nigeria and he wants to push for more projects. Agriculture is one of the priorities; we know how important it is for Nigeria. We really consider agriculture as important and we the French people have a good knowledge of agriculture, even tropical agriculture. We are ready to work with you on any project, any request, any demand, we shall be happy and proud to accommodate you,” he said.

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The top diplomat thanked Oba Ogunsanwo for the warm reception and hospitality, noting that his government has the utmost respect for traditional institutions, particularly in view of its role in preserving culture.

He appreciated the diplomat for creating time out of his busy schedule to visit the ancient kingdom of Ilara, and for identifying with them, which he said, is ‘historic and unprecedented in the annals of our history.

The monarch also highlighted the long-standing relationship between Nigeria and France, noting that France has the largest trade relationship with Nigeria in Sub-Saharan Africa with over 100 successful industries in the country.

Alara also lauded the French Government, who, according to him, was the first country to invest in the Sungbo-Eredo monument project as far back as 2015 before the United States (US).

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The traditional ruler commended the efforts of France and the United States in ensuring that the monument is preserved and accredited as one of the United Nations (UN) world heritage sites.

“For us here, the significance of that is that we will have a world-class tourist centre that the monument would be the largest in Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa by extension. The pandemic has made it important for us to develop our tourist centres.”

While thanking the drivers of the project in the persons of Prof. Gerard Chouin from the University of Virginia, the United States and Director, National History Museum, Obafemi Awolowo University. Prof. Adisa Ogunfolakan and other members of the team working on the project for their dedication and resilience, Oba Ogunsanwo seized the opportunity to request French companies to invest in other sectors of the community’s economy whose major occupations is farming, fishing and hunting as well as cottage industries. “Our tropical weather gives room for products and farm produce to thrive. The environment is serene.” This he believed will bring economic development and job opportunities for the youths in the area. He also enjoined the French Government to extend her hands of fellowship towards brilliant but disadvantaged indigent students for academic scholarship consideration.

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Throwing more light on the project, Oba Ogunsanwo went down memory lane. “The Sungbo Eredo is a monument that has been in existence since the 13th century.  It is the wall that extends to Ijebu Ode that is the footpath that people used in the olden days to move from one place to the other. Even within our own Eredo here there are some tollgates, there are still some cowry shells that people used to pay for a toll when they are moving their goods and services from one place to the other.

“And it has been a very, very important project that the French government and the United States government have been sponsoring; the archaeological research and the excavation to expose what the monument looks like. And the United Nations, as also UNESCO is also planning to name it as one of the world heritage centers. So all these activities that we have been doing are geared towards ensuring that the project is aligned.

“We are planning in conjunction with the Lagos State government, the National Commission for Museum and Monument, the National Tourism Development Corporation as well as the Ogun State government, the University of Ibadan and the National History Museum of the Obafemi Awolowo University in conjunction with two professors from Virginia in the United States and one of our own. They are all on this project and they have all been working together on this project. And also the Augustine apparently part of the Sugbon wall extends to their campus. So we are enthusiastic and we are looking forward to making it a world tourism center where people can come and see for themselves.

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Enumerating the benefits of the project to Ilara, Lagos and Nigeria in general, one of the co-directors of the archaeological project and Director, National History Museum, Obafemi Awolowo University, Prof. Adisa Ogunfolakan said Prof. Gerard Chouin muted the idea and they have been working on it since 2015.

“Sugbon Eredo Heritage is a fantastic one. It is a classical one such that in West Africa or in Africa, the type is not seen. Because they span almost about 160 kilometers and we need to research into it, to let the world know about it so that eventually it will become a world heritage site. By the time we open it to the outside world then the tourists will be coming and then it is going to change the economic, social and political status of Ilara,” he said.

Corroborating Oba Ogunsanswo, Hon Adeniyi Saliu praised the French Government for its immense contributions towards the development of tourism and the agricultural potentials in the kingdom, the significance of establishing robust ties between Eredo and other economically viable entities across the international community. He implored the French emissary to intimate its government on the mutual benefits that could result from investing in hi-tech, robot-assisted farming.”

Oba Ogunsanwo later presented the diplomat with a portrait artwork that symbolises the three occupations of Ilara indigenes — fishing, farming and hunting.

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