Some places of attraction in Abeokuta are losing their brilliance.
The ancient city of Abeokuta is the capital of Ogun State. It is the land of the Egba people, made up of four regions: Ake, Owu, Gbagura and Oke-Ona.
The city, founded about 183 years ago, has many tourist attractions. Most popular is the famous Olumo Rock (137 metres tall), which served as a refuge for the people during the wars in the 19th century.
A visit to the town shows that, apart from the popular Olumo Rock, Itoku Aso-Oke and Tie & Dye Market, some tourists attractions have suffered set-backs while the city still has more untapped tourism potential.
While the war experience played a major role in arriving at the name Abeokuta, meaning ‘under the rock,’ the name of the state, Ogun, came from the Ogun River, which flows through its capital.
Ogun River has its historic source near Shaki town in Oyo State. Its chief tributary is Ofiki River and a major source of water supply to three states – Oyo, Ogun and Lagos.
The Oyan Dam across Oyan River, another tributary of Ofiki River, supplies water to Abeokuta and its neighbouring communities.
Merchants once used the water as transit route for their goods to reach the then Lagos Colony. Residents near Ogun River in Abeokuta say there was plan by the state government, many years ago, to dredge it in order to make it an extension of Lagos ports. Apart from using the water for domestic purposes and fishing from it, residents around the river also drop waste in it.
"We dispose our waste here, as the water flows away with it," a vegetable farmer at Lafenwa riverbank, Ganiyu, said.
Across Ogun River is Lafenwa Bridge, which links Lafenwa with Enu Gada area of Ago-Ika. The bridge was constructed to convey British Queen Elizabeth II across Ogun River during her visit to Abeokuta in 1956.
The Queen, according to a septuagenarian who claimed to have witnessed the visit, boarded the train from Lagos to Lafenwa Railway Terminus and also had to cross the river to visit the then Alake of Egbaland, Sir Ladapo Ademola II. "We had a wooden bridge before the visit and a limited number of persons could be on the bridge at a time. The bridge is very significant but little attention has been paid to it," the septuagenarian,who pleaded anonymity, said.
Being one of the first points of contact by the colonialists and missionaries, Abeokuta prides itself as the cradle of Christianity, civilisation and journalism. The first church in Nigeria was built in Abeokuta and it is now known as the Cathedral of St. Peters (Anglican Communion), Ake.
The church is a stone’s throw from the ancient Ake Palace built in 1830. The palace, which houses the Alake and Paramount Ruler of Egbaland, is another tourist destination – it also provides shelter for the first bible in Nigeria brought by the missionaries.
Also, the building that housed the first printing press and indigenous newspaper in Africa — Iwe Irohin Fun Awon Ara Egba ati Yoruba — published by Rev. Henry Townsend of the Christian Missionary Society is located in Oke-Ilewo area of the town. The eight-page paper was sold for 120 cowries. The building, now rebuilt, serves as the secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists. However, relics of the printing press are not found there.
The Centenary Hall built in 1830 is opposite the palace. Behind the palace is the first hospital building in Nigeria (Sacred Heart Hospital) built in 1859. The hospital was relocated to Lantoro area many decades ago, while the building now serves as hostel for nursing students.
Not far from the hostel is the Ijaiye Pottery. Known to have been a major market for crafts made of clay, only a few craftsmen were seen when our correspondent visited. An aged woman, who sold clay pots, says that although pottery used to be family business, the younger generation no longer found it lucrative.
The Aro Railway Bridge constructed in the 1940s. Across Ogun River, it links Aro Railway Station with Oriyanrin Village in Owudotun. Now abandoned, the bridge was the only rail-dedicated bridge in the country.
Unlike the River Benue Road-Rail Bridge in Makurdi – the only rail link between Eastern and Northern Nigeria – that provides for vehicular movement, the Aro Bridge was one of its kind in its heyday. It has two rail lines and an adjoining foot bridge.
Akeem, who lives in Oriyanrin Village, said the last train must have crossed the bridge in the 80s, while it has since been used as pedestrian bridge.
While pedestrians familiar with the bridge find it easy to cross it, first-timers are usually frightened by the risks involved. The iron ties (plates joining parallel rails) have been exchanged with flat wood ties that are about one foot apart. Beneath the bridge are large rocks and a free-flowing river.
"Shortly after the train route was abandoned, we could ride on our bicycles across the bridge. Primary school pupils who have their schools at the other side of the river cross the now dangering bridge twice daily," says Akeem.