Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki has stressed the need for repositioning the culture and tourism sector to become a veritable source of revenue for the state.
Obaseki noted that given the rich cultural heritage of the people, especially with regards to the Benin artefacts currently being repatriated in batches from Europe, it holds great economic potential for the state.
The governor stated this on Thursday while addressing participants at a stakeholders’ engagement and unveiling of phase one of the Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA), in Benin City, the Edo State capital.
Obaseki noted that the people have rich cultural assets from the past and it is their responsibility to recreate and protect them.
“It is beyond just several pieces of artwork; no, it’s beyond that. It is about using that as the contact point to bring out the best of who we are.
“There is a whole lot of research that still needs to be done. We can’t have things about us being explained to us from Europe. Nobody is going to do it for us.
“That is why we must insist that when these works come, we host them here in Edo State, their home, so that it’s available for everybody to see.
The governor clarified that there is no dispute between the state government and the Palace of the Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, over the return of looted Benin artefacts.
“There is no quarrel with the palace.
“It is not just about us but the people of the state. So, let’s facilitate it so everybody can access and benefit from it.”
He added, “I don’t see why we cannot achieve this. So, each and every one of you here, from your Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), have the responsibility to make sure we get the first phase of the EMOWAA done and then let those coming after us build on what we have started.”
Speaking on the revenue side, Obaseki said, “If we have a million people coming into the state or into Benin City for culture and tourism every year, and each one spends $1000, can you imagine the amount of money that will come into the state? Not from crude oil or the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC), but from culture and tourism.
“I think it’s another way to look at our development trajectory and please, I am encouraging all to provide whatever support you can to the team. Let’s do it because we must start this work this year and by the time we are leaving office, we should have the first phase completed.”
Speaking on the impact of the looted artefacts on the state, the governor said that the invasion of 1897 shocked its system and it’s taking the state almost 100 years to recover.
“The invasion of 1897 shocked our system and it’s taking us almost 100 years to recover from that shock. Just imagine a civilization that was intact for more than seven centuries and suddenly it got shocked and the people have been in transition for better parts of the century.
“That is what we found when we came into the government. So, as a democratically elected government, we owe our people and posterity that responsibility, to first explain who we are and what we have to the rest of the world.
“If the Egyptians are using what they have to represent the arts of Northern Africa, then we should, as a people, have something to represent the arts of West Africa. It is important to help you understand why we are doing what we are doing and why this project is very significant,” the governor stated.
Earlier, the Chairman of EMOWAA Trust, Mr. Phillip Ihenacho, explained that the core mandate of EMOWAA is to support the preservation of West African heritage and culture.
Ihenacho further said the project will help to empower contemporary creatives by providing infrastructure, research, education and career-building experiences for professionals in the cultural and creative space.