10 cities (and towns) in Nigeria rich in history, culture and nature
Badagry town in the western tip of Lagos has many things going for it. Aside from the fact that it remains serene and full of unspoiled nature, it also happens to be a very historic place with regards Nigeria’s journey to independence. What’s more: Badagry was also a major slave port while the Trans-Atlantic slave trade lasted for four decades. At some point it became the largest slave market on the West African coast, seeing to the buying and selling of 300 slaves a day. There are two museums displaying some relics from the slavery years, and a preserved pair of cells. Visitors will do well to trek on the Gberefu Beach to the ‘Point of No Return’. African-Americans eager to identify with their African roots will find a great deal to connect with in Badagry.
Yorubas worldwide trace their roots to Ile-Ife in Osun State, South-West Nigeria. Ife is the base of the Ooni of Ife, the spiritual head of the Yorubas, and where Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba race, is believed to have first settled down. The palace of the Ooni is a spectacle in itself, and a tour of the place is recommended. The small adjoining museum is also worth a look-in.
Jos, the Plateau State capital is fascinating for its natural endowments. In the past, its temperate climate ensured that it became the favourite holiday spot for the colonialists; perhaps, due to global warming, the weather has lost much of its cool, though it still supports the growth of some vegetables and Irish potatoes. Physically, Jos is a jumble of granitic rocks, which can be very attractive in some areas. The missionary influence on the city has seen the establishment of many church denominations and a host of impressive bookshops for Christian literature; one of them (ACTS) reputed to be the largest on the continent. While the likes of Assop Falls, Shere Hills, Rayfield Resorts are famous attractions, I would also recommend a visit to the pottery section of the Jos National Museum.
Abuja — Nigeria’s federal capital since 1993 — is arguably the prettiest destination in all of Nigeria. It has seen loads of infrastructural development over the past 17 years and the construction works are ongoing to develop other areas of the city. A network of gardens and relaxation parks will appeal to visitors, not to mention the wide and well paved roads. Arts-related events are on the rise in Abuja, which is a good thing, since many people see Abuja as a largely administrative and diplomatic setting.
Birnin Kebbi, the capital of Kebbi State, North-West Nigeria, is renowned for its annual fishing festival, where tens of thousands of local fishermen participate in the competition to net the biggest fish from the Rima River. Hosted in the dusty town of Argungu, the festival is a crowd puller, drawing both local and international visitors. Besides that, there is a host of other water-related activities and contests to relish while there. Another highlight of the festival is the traditional boxing competition, known as Dambe. On the side, visitors can visit the local Kanta Museum, within which is an intriguing burial ground of all the past traditional rulers of the Emirate.
Enugu, formerly the capital of South-Eastern region of Nigeria, rode to national prominence when a large deposit of coal was discovered there sometime in 1909. Commercial exploitation followed a few years later. Though mining of the resource has since stopped, Enugu still holds on tenaciously to its past; it is to date known as the ‘Coal-city state’. The one major attraction not to be missed in the city is the impressive Museum of National Unity, which currently houses an exhibition in three large galleries. If you really want to know the many things that bind the different ethnic groups in Nigeria, here is the place to be.
Lokoja is blessed with very unique historical assets, dating back to 1900. Some of these include, prefabricated buildings, which served as residences and offices for the then colonial administrators; exclusive cemeteries for the European settlers, which now lay unkempt; and a memorial in honour of men who died during the two world wars. The fact that the city is traversed by both the Rivers Niger and Benue means that fish is aplenty, though not cheap. Lokoja will, for a long time, be a must-see destination.
The Kemta Kampala market and local factory in Abeokuta comes highly recommended. This is one of the few spots in Nigeria, where traditional print making is carried out with indigenous expertise, passed down from one generation to the next. The men and women who toil daily to produce the fabrics are protective of their craft and will not share the knowledge with outsiders. It is an enriching experience to see these folks at work, and the display of the finished works is a treat for the eyes. Visitors beware: photographs are not welcome
When next you travel to Benin City, the Edo State capital, make it a point of duty to call at the King’s Square. If the beautification works already going on there is any clue, then in a matter of weeks, the place is going to be the most eye-catching and culturally loaded city centre in all of Nigeria. In addition, take a walk into Igun Street, known for its history of bronze and brass casting, where very industrious men work hard on their craft. The finished works are a hit with foreign visitors.
Calabar has evolved over the last decade to be the most widely visited destination by Nigerians, especially in December when the city hosts the world in a month-long fanfare that ends with a must-see carnival. Calabar ranks as one of Nigeria’s cleanest cities and it has preserved a bit of its early Christian heritage, personified by the Scottish missionary Mary Slessor. Beyond Calabar, tourists in Cross River State would do well to visit Ikom (four hours by road) to see the amazing collection of monoliths, engraved with indecipherable markings and dating back thousands of years.
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