Culture and Lifestyle

Traditional Worshippers in Lagos: The Catch-Up Policy

Unrelenting in its effort to make Lagos State the foremost tourism and leisure hub in Nigeria, the state government recently stated that it was considering a public holiday for citizens and residents who are traditional worshippers.

The Commissioner for Tourism, Art and Culture, Mrs Uzamat Akinbile-Yusuf during a press briefing marking the second-year anniversary of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu at Alausa, Ikeja, said that some programmes of the government were geared towards accelerating tourism growth. She added that the “Community Based Tourism Initiative” in the local government areas would boost domestic tourism and community participation.

Akinbile-Yusuf announced that the “Tourism Master Plan and Eko Culture Series” were aimed at showcasing and managing the rich heritage of the state to generate revenue. In her words:

“With the master plan, we hope to lay the foundation for developing a comprehensive and sustainable tourism strategy for the state which focuses on a rich heritage, community development, heritage management, preservation and revenue generation.”

One ground-breaking decision the Commissioner revealed was a bill at the Lagos State House of Assembly which would soon be signed into law. This bill is set to earmark a public holiday for traditional worshippers and regulate their activities.

According to the Commissioner, “Very soon, the State House of Assembly will pass a bill regarding the activities of traditional worshipers. With the bill, there will be a specific day earmarked for them as public holiday or work-free day, and that day may likely be in August.”

With the country’s dwindling economic fortunes and the increasing need for each state to look inwards and devise various strategies to boost internally-generated revenue, this venture by the Lagos State Government is in the right direction.

Tourism is a good source of additional revenue and a catalyst for rapid economic development. The world today has seen established tourism models leading to a huge change in economic fortunes for some countries in the Middle East like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar. These countries converted their local heritage and cultural traditions as money-spinning tourist attractions for a global audience.

Cultural festivals with peculiarities to different countries are an integral part of tourism revenue for such countries. This includes the Burning Man Festival (Black Rock Desert) in Nevada; the Grand Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, China; La Tomatina in Valencia, Spain; the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana; the Dia De Los Muertos in Mexico; King’s Day in the Netherlands, and the Krampusnacht in Central Europe, among others. These are examples of global festivals drawing thousands in attendance with the host countries reaping the economic gains.

Nigeria, to some extent, is an inspirational destination for international visitors who come to the country to immerse themselves in its landscapes, indigenous culture and experiences. This could also be a competitive advantage.

Tourism activities reinforce cultural pride, the preservation of the nation’s unique heritage and traditions, as well as the conservation of their environment.

A recent study revealed that tourism is the main source of foreign exchange for at least 38% of countries in the world. It is among the top five main sources of foreign exchange for as many as 83% of countries. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that tourism’s contribution to the country’s GDP stood at 5.4%, 5.1%, and 5.2% for the year 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively; with a major dip in 2020 due to the coronavirus induced global restrictions on travel. In 2019, the travel and tourism sector contributed 10.4% to the global GDP: a share that decreased to 5.5% in 2020 due to ongoing restrictions to mobility.

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s religious demography can be summarised as follows. In terms of Nigeria’s major ethnic groups, the Hausa- Fulani ethnic group (predominant in the North) was found to be 95% Muslim and 5% Christian. The Yoruba tribe (predominant in the West) was 50% Muslim, 35% Christian and 15% adherents of traditional religions, while the Igbos (predominant in the East and South) were 90% Christian, with 10% practising traditional religions. The Middle Belt of Nigeria contains the largest number of minority ethnic groups in Nigeria, who were found to be mostly Christians and members of traditional religions, with a small proportion of Muslims.

With the largest percentage of traditional worshippers located in Western Nigeria where Lagos State is, it should not be surprising that this new objective is from the region.

The Southwest is not new to popular festivals rooted in traditional worship. The Eyo festival in Lagos is a cultural display of splendour and traditional heritage. Although the purpose of staging the festival has been slightly modified over the years, it is now culturally staged in memory of a departed Oba of Lagos or for the enthronement of a new one.

On the assigned day of celebration in Lagos, the Eyo masquerades converge at the Tafawa Balewa Square where thousands of people including the locals, dignitaries, and tourists, will be waiting to receive them. While activities may continue in a carnival-like atmosphere, the Eyo masquerades in their thousands march and perform in a procession that is always a great sight to behold. Amidst singing, dancing, and weird acrobatic moves, the masquerades present an awesome display that is worth taking a trip to Lagos. Tourists in large numbers from all over the World would troop to take part in this event and Lagos stands to gain from the accompanying economic benefits from the event.

Read Also: Constitutional Review: A Touch of Inclusion for Traditional Institutions

The Osun-Osogbo festival in Osun State is another famous traditional festival. Yearly, the festival attracts thousands of Osun worshippers, spectators and tourists from all walks of life. For the people of Osogbo Land, August is a month of celebration, traditional cleansing of the city, and cultural reunion of the people with their ancestors and founders of the Osogbo Kingdom.

The Osun Osogbo festival serves as a strong unifying factor in the land, irrespective of the different social, economic, religious and political convictions of the people, they all come together annually to celebrate the goddess. It is interesting that the 1950s saw the desecration of the Osun-Osogbo Grove. This was until an Austrian cultural enthusiast, Susanne Wenger (alias Adunni Olorisha) came and stopped the abuse going on in the grove.

In light of the existence of a few big festivals and many other little ones in Western Nigeria, the idea of officially dedicating a day or two annually as public holidays for adherents of the traditional faith should be quite easy for the Lagos State government. A coalition can be created for different traditional faiths in the state to come together to harmonise planning and coordination; then an acceptable date can be chosen.

With the assistance of the tourism ministry, public venues can be chosen and schedules of programmes/events to mark such public holidays can be arranged, with the government putting in place necessary security measures to maintain law and order throughout the duration of the programme.

The events should be a fanfare of festivities, displaying the rich colours and heritage of the different traditional religions that will thrill spectators and attendees with alluring, beautiful and mesmerising displays. It could even serve as an avenue for them to share their faith and gain new followers.

With the opportunity available to the government to partner with local and international brands and sponsors in giving broad publicity to the event, attracting the interest and attention of global tourists and enthusiasts to attend the event can be guaranteed. The expected success of this venture is something that the Federal Government should even be attracted to and perhaps establish on a national scale.

Western Nigeria is famous for religious tolerance and harmonious co-existence. This is given that many families from the zone boast of a mix of two or more religions in their immediate or extended families. Hence, the passage of the bill is likely to meet with little or no resistance in the State House of Assembly.

Moreover, freedom of association is an inalienable right entrenched in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Besides, if both Christians and Muslims who make up about 90% of the state can get up to two different public holidays annually, why can’t the state allow the 10% minority traditional worshippers enjoy the same luxury too?