On a sunny afternoon in February 2022, I engaged my principal, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, in a talk over the propriety of an international conference centre that hosts a four-star hotel at a location just a spit distance from the iconic Kwara Hotel, Innovation Hub, and Visual Arts Centre. He grinned, and calmly asked if I had been to Dubai before. I told him I hadn’t. He told me right there that I would be joining a contingent from the state to the Emirati in April.
That visit answered many of the questions I had for him on the under-construction Ilorin International Conference Centre — and a lot more. That trip helped to further explain in practical terms his vision for Kwara without him saying a word more on the topic, apart from our usual long sessions on his projects, programmes, and approaches. Dubai is an economy built around tourism, conferencing, hospitality, and trade. I now see a man wanting to build an economy on the back of the strategic location of Kwara as the gateway between the south and the north, a state that is peaceful, rich in arable land, and is home to some of Nigeria’s oldest monuments like the Mungo Park, Owu Fall, Sobi Hill, Patigi Regatta, the first national museum in Esie, and a potpourri of rich cultures and hospitable people.
The recent visit of a powerful delegation of French government to Kwara State offered another insight into how this dream is steadily gaining a toehold. As the Governor and many government functionaries accompanied the French minister of state for development, francophonie and international partnership Chrysoula Zacharopoulou and her entourage on a tour of the visual arts centre, and they were talked through different things that the centre offers in arts and tourism attraction, what came to my mind was my failed visit to the Museum of the Future. My 11-year-old son had requested me to visit the place, which he himself had only read about. The Museum of the Future is a beauty to behold, and clearly a gold mine that generates millions of dollars for the Dubai economy. My visit was a failed one as I could not enter, having not bought a ticket online ahead of the time. My quick search showed that I had to buy a ticket online many weeks earlier before visiting. Even so, I watched in awe, from the exterior architecture, how the Dubai authorities had deployed Arabic calligraphy in the designing of one of the most beautiful structures in the world, one superbly etched in the Arabian culture. The Museum of the Future is a signature architectural masterpiece that clearly fits its name. Of course, the museum is just one of the many iconic structures that define Dubai, including the much-talked-about Burj-al-Khalifa, world’s tallest building to date. It is a place you really want to visit. Vision!
Studio Contra’s Jeffrey Adjei, who took the visitors round Kwara’s visual arts centre, mentioned one of the things to wait for as the project gets to its final stage: art galleries that will host exhibitions of great works and monuments from different parts of the world. I instantly had an eureka moment: the Governor once mentioned to me how Ilorin could well host a display of the world’s oldest manuscript of the Qur’an and other great relics. I had wondered how this would happen.
The presence of the visual arts centre, also called the Institute of Contemporary African Art & Film, already makes Ilorin, Kwara State, a destination for tourism and arts. This is exactly one of what the French visit pointed at. A section of the facility will house a Dolby studio and high-end facilities for last-mile movie productions, creating a unique hub for the creative industry in Africa. It also has a film screening room and lecture hall, a café to enhance the local food and beverage industry, a co-working space, a bookshop with wide selection of books on art, culture, film, architecture and literature, a multipurpose room, and a sculpture garden with additional courtyards for public use.
Next door is the innovation hub, one of the reasons the French delegation was in Kwara. Nothing better points the bright future of the facility than the traffic it has attracted. Alliance Francaise, French version of the British Council to push its soft power, has just booked itself a space at the innovation hub. With that comes an opportunity for rich cultural exchanges between the French and the people of Kwara, a state bordered to the north by French-speaking Benin Republic. This opens huge opportunities for residents of Kwara and surrounding areas to learn French and give themselves a leap in social mobility.
Sometimes, the facilities may not be the big deal themselves. The real deal is that each of these facilities has its quality crowds, who in turn move thousands of enthusiasts, events, businesses, jobs, and huge revenues in any direction they travel worldwide. These crowds need hospitality and conferencing facilities that support quality relaxation and conducive networking. That brings in the Ilorin International Conference Centre (IICC) with a four-star hotel. Vision!
Add those to the sugar film factory, a garment factory, multimillion dollar agroprocessing zone that is to reduce herders-farmers’ conflict and strengthen food security, industrial park at Eiyenkorin, completion of the Osi and Ilesha Baruba campuses of the state-owned university, and Shea-butter processing plant in Kaiama, investments in human capital development, unrelenting efforts to link rural communities to the city centres, and the push for sustainable living through the phased master plan for the capital city and other parts of the state. Again, vision!
- Ajakaye is Chief Press Secretary to the Governor