Central to the cultural breath of Abeokuta, the Ogun State Capital, is the OLUMO ROCK, a multi-faceted upsurge of granite rock forms that exhibit an enchantingly weird array of massive overlapping boulders. Like alpine jigsaw puzzles the rock formations shoot skyward to up to 137 metres above sea level. These boulders rise high to create diverse observation spots that present a panoramic view of the budding metropolis.
To the fun-loving visitor, such a lively geospheric feature must be an ideal place for fine touristic delights. To the natives, however, this imposing rocky hill is the cultural cradle from which emerged the ancient town of Abeokuta, the heart land of all Egba people.
It was this place that served as both refuge and fortress to the Egba people, under the leadership of Balogun Sodeke, during the first quarter of the 19th century, when rebellion against royal misrule, led to a series of internecine wars across Yorubaland.
The solacing structure of Olumo Rock played the dual role of a natural fortress and an observation post to the Egba military leaders throughout the duration of those turbulent times. And, in manifestations of religious gratitude, the early settlers readily rationalized that the ‘Rock’ was specially made by God to guarantee their safely .This belief is reflected in the name OLUMO, from the Yoruba words OLUWA MO- God Built or Built by GOD.
According to Dr J.O Akin Sofoluwe, a scholar, veteran broadcaster as well as an Egba prince, OLUMO equally derives form the Yoruba expression, OLUWA FI MO, that is GOD HAS ENDED it. In this context, it is assumed that God Has used the safety of the Rock to end their crises. Thus, from the comforting safety of this rocky settlement emerged the present- day Abeokuta (from the Yoruba expression Abe okuta- which means ‘under the rock’ and connotes ‘the town built from under the rock.
Having emerged as an historic symbol of peace and the royal harmony of five different Egba crowns in a world ever- craving for lasting security, the OLUMO ROCK has become a major tourist attraction in the country. And the international appeal of the historic significance of this natural monument to peace and security can be well appreciated against the background of a world ravaged by the genocidal bloodlust and plunderous rampaging of jihadists in Northern Nigeria, North Africa, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Central Africa, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Peace, cheer and tranquility seem to be the unique melodies that characterize the heartbeats of OLUMO ROCK. Apart from the breeze–bathed, refreshing atmosphere at the top, one is treated to a garden of trees and shrubs here and there around the rocky curio.
From a view atop the Rock of Safety the city of Abeokuta spreads out into an expanse of wooded hills, hillocks and valleys that nestle old buildings and structures of modern architecture, rusting houses and rising homes, a variety of estates and hotels, sport facilities and sundry hospitality structures. Once and again attention is drawn, within the panoramic view, to masts and sundry steel structures shooting into the sky to mark out the people’s yearning for tantalizing modernity, in terms of effective telecommunication and regular supply of electricity.
It is so breath-takingly enrapturing on the topmost parts of this Rock that one gets transported into nursing the temptation to compare the experience with strolling on the magnificent steely structures of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. In fact, it’s safe to assume that Olumo Rock is to the Egba people what the Eiffel Tower is to the fun-loving people of France.
Coming down from the altitudes of Olumo Rock, one gets treated to the basic counter-misogynistic fact that this Culture Rock has not only raised a town but also amazons of outstanding international reckoning. Abeokuta is the home of Madam lyalode Tinubu, one of the first black women to purchase a car in Africa. That was in 1912 when most African men were myopically content with reeling out circumferences with speeding bicycle pedals. And fond memories beckon to the celebrated human rights activist, Mrs Olufumilayo Ransome Kuti, mother of Afrobeats megastar, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. She was one of the first women in Africa not only to own but to drive a car. She shepherded men into renouncing misogyny as she drove her own car as a well-educated Amazon in 1938.
In the light of the fact that these women of yore had combined the passion for the defence and promotion of human rights with the love of uplifting technology, it is easy to project that, sooner than later, Abeokuta will be producing pace-setting amazons in the fields of innovative technology and human rights advocacy.
Over the years, the Olumo Rock Tourist Centre has been attracting visitors and tourists from within the country and other parts of the world. And despite the relatively slow pace of development within the tourist facility, it is coming out into the embrace of progressive modernity. The once dusty roads leading to the centre have been well-tarred. The ambitious investment in infrastructure by the Ibikunle Amosun Administration has also smoothened out access into the tourist centre from any part of the city.
The strategic importance of good, motorable roads cannot be over-emphasized in any purposeful development of the tourist industry. Transport infrastructure is the pivot of all tourism business. And Governor Ibikunle Amosun comes across as someone with a fair understanding of how strategic the transport sector is in any design to profitably and effectively boost business and sundry socio-economic activities in the state.During this particular visit, on the occasion of Nigeria’s 54th independence anniversary, the centre was agog with diverse festive activities. People thronged in from near and far.
This was a particularly busy day for Mr. Idowu Alade, the Assistant General Manager (Public Relations) of the centre. Seated al fresco within full view of the ticketing office at the entrance-way, he politely answered my probing questions.
On what is new in regard to improving facilities at the centre since the inception of the Amosun Administration, he said, “When we took over in 2012, from the private concern that was running it, it was only about climbing the Rock to explore its historical and cultural values. But then we felt that such service was not enough. We thought out more creative ways of adding value to the basic package.
“So we introduced relaxation bars and other facilities, including an operational elevator for those who cannot bear the stress of climbing”.
Facing him with the fact that it was Governor Gbenga Daniel who introduced the elevator during his administration, Mr. Alade explained, “When the lift (elevator) was commissioned in 2005, it operated for only one year and then packed up. And it remained that way till we took over in 2012.
“Appreciating the fact that some people have phobia for heights, we saw the urgent need to get it fixed. We did just that and it has been working perfectly ever since.”
Other touristic innovations introduced are the Gallery of Contemporary Arts, the Historic Gallery, Crafts and Souvenir Gallery and the Musical and Cultural Heritage Centre where the tourist can enjoy or purchase such old school music as the songs of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Ebenezer Obey, Herbert Ogunde, Sunny Ade and Ayinla Omo Wura.
In hospitality circles, we’re familiar with having ‘wine on the rock’. But such usage surges into a new meaning uphill when the experience is about ‘Romance on the Rock. Love, in its plastic, placid and pure forms, finds diverse expressions as tourists celebrate in couples and groups in the eateries and cosy corners uphill.
How about trying out the elevator instead of the habitual mountaineering sport? The tourist guide in charge of the expedition was Mr. Jimoh Olushola, an official at the Centre. The ride was segmented into three stages. Each stop opened up to a particular zone of both cultural and historic significance. None gave room for boredom as we explored the past through relics, artifacts, antiques shrines, observation posts, sculptures and sundry memorabilia of past kings and heroes of Egbaland.
From within the comfort and security of the transparent glass elevator, Mr. Jimoh Olushola showed us important landmarks in Abeokuta. In the distance, within the panoramic view, we identified the Baptist Boys Highs School, the alma mater of late M.K.O. Abiola and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who was a military head of state and, subsequently, a civilian president of Nigeria. One also felt good watching the tower of St. Peter’s Cathedral at Ake, near the palace grounds of the Alake of Egbaland.
According to our tour guide, Mr. Jimoh Olushola, the four Egba kings that took refuge in these rocky precincts were the Oshile of Oke-Ona, the Alake of Ake, the Agura of Gbagura- land and the Olowu of Owu – land. The fifth Oba in the constitution of the five-crown city-state of Abeokuta is the Olubara of Ibara. The Olubara, by the early 19th century, had already owned farmlands that covered parts of the present-day Abeokuta. So, in the spirit of royal synergy, he was incorporated into the composite kingdom of Egbaland.
It is interesting to learn that the Alake of Egbaland was a prince who had hailed from the Yoruba Kingdom of Ketu, now situated in the present-day Republic of Benin. The present Alake, Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo, is the paramount ruler of Egbaland.
The inspiring beauty of this Rock of Safety is not only about its salacious role of sheltering four Yoruba kings from the horrors of war but also about its provision of the royal cradle from which four different kingdoms got so harmoniously designed into one city-state called ABEOKUTA.
This imposing, mysterious Rock that exudes peace and royalty must definitely connect with the economic world of profitable business.
“The management is actually striving to make the Olumo Rock Tourist Centre a highly profitable venture in such a way as will give maximum value to its patrons,” revealed Mr. Idowu Alade. “For now we record an average of between N1.8 and N2million every month from between five to six thousand visitors .
“The weekly peak periods run from Thursday to Sunday. But, for the calendar year, the tourist traffic is at its peak from February to May and from November to December.”
The national anthem of the Egba nation is sourced from this very Olumo Rock. It starts off with:
Maa yo, maa yo, maa yo, o l’ori Olumo
Maa yo, maa yo, maa yo, o o l’ori Olumo
Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice! On Olumo Rock
Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice! On Olumo Rock
And that’s the ultimate purpose of all tourism business: to create a diversity of platforms on which people can freely and purposefully REJOICE. So whenever your travel plans include a visit to Olumo Rock, all you need to do is not only prepare to rejoice but to equally climb up to the hill top.