I was excited about visiting Benin City. Its sculptures fascinated me on my first visit but its touts almost took away the joy.
My last was my first visit to Benin City that lasted more than two hours. I visited to report the 2012 governorship elections in the state in July.
I entered the city on a Friday, ahead of the elections that held the following day. On entering the city, I was immediately fascinated by it sculptures.
Benin is an ancient city, with a tightly knitted traditional rulers hip structure dating back to the BCs.
The city has managed to maintain its traditional government structure up till this moment. Both the traditional ruler, the Oba of Benin, and the traditional gods are revered in the city.
Besides the Oba’s palace, the Ring Road, a popular Round About in the city houses it’s largest collection of sculptures. The Round About also houses the state’s museum and a park.
On all roads leading into the ring road, are ancient sculptural relics, some new and a few, really very old.
Because I had a brief stay in the city, I had no opportunity to get trusted explanations of the art from a museum staff. But an informal tour guide told me the sculpture are explanation of the traditional system of the Bini Kingdom.
Most, were crafted in honour of past rulers of the kingdom.
A few of the sculptures you would find at ring road, Benin City.
The love for sculpture is not only restricted to the Oba’s Palace and the Ring Road.
Almost every large organization, business or wealthy individual, have sculptures in their premises. Most sculpture found in such homes are used to their beliefs or explain philosophies and roles in the society.
Indoors, wealthy resident use it to adorn their homes and emphasis wealth.
Outside the city, other towns also have sculptures in central and strategic part of the towns to show off their unique tradition or abilities.
Although Beini City have great potentials for leisure tourism and archeological or historical research based tourism, both it’s people and government do not fully comprehend the potentials.
The people of Benin are naturally aggressive and considers intimidation as a normal way of life.
On two occasions, I was harassed by touts for taking pictures of sculptures.
First was on my first day in the city, at the premises of the Nigerian Union of Journalist. A man who claimed to the secretary of the union almost exchanged fist cuffs with my colleague and I, for taking a picture of the sculpture in the premises without identifying ourselves and seeking permits first.
The same scenario played out on Sunday at Ring road.
After attending a press conference at the government house, I came to the Ring Road to appreciate its art works and take picture.
Soon after taking few shots, a tout walked up to me aggressively, yelling “where is your permit?” “who give you authority to take pictures here?” ”oya bring that camera!”
I look to my right, into the museum’s park where a platoon of soldier gathered to probably appraise their next moves after the elections, and turned back, stared directly into his eyeballs and and answered, “the federal government of Nigeria“
Quickly, he waved at me, signing that I should go ahead.
A taxi driver later explained to me that touts in the city intimidate toruists visiting the city and extort money from them for snapping of filming artworks in the city.
He explained that if the soldiers were not within sight at the park, the tout and his colleagues would have taunted me until I gave them money, in the name of a permit to take photographs.
Such aggressions, coming from the middle class educated journalist and a street urchin, impresses badly about the city’s attitude to visitor and tourists.
And definitely, I am not going to Benin City for my next vacation. Unless, I have police escorts.
The other bad side of tourism in Benin City is that The hotel I lodged, Boston White, offered unrestricted porn in their TV channels.
Even when I didn’t want to watch, the guy next door didn’t bother to tune down the volume of the show in his set.
When I protested to the management, I was told it is the practice of hotels in the city. Having free porn on the menu was an edge.
What if I had lodged with my family? My kids will have an unrestricted access to porn?