Travelogue: An adventure in the woods
In this report, Taiwo Obe, a journalism trainer in Nigeria, narrates his adventure into the backwater of a once-backward area in a part of Western Nigeria where he found a hidden treasure. It is a place waiting for the world to explore; a place to go when looking for pleasure, peace and purpose; a home away from home.
I needed to be where only the chirping of birds would be the environmental sounds if at all, to wrap up a job I had started during the Covidian lockdown. For 10-12 days.
That was why I took the train ride from Lagos to Ibadan the other Friday, My destination was Oloyo village, Ona-Ara Local Government Area in Oyo State, about 19.7 kilometers from Iwo Road.
The nearest I’d got into entering a train in Nigeria was in the 1970s whenever my now late uncle, T. S. Obe, then Principal of the Nigeria Railway Corporation Training School visited Ibadan. I remember fondly walking down the tunnel at the Dugbe station to get to the trains.
I had two choices for resorts, one in Ilesa and this one in Oloyo Village. I chose the latter because I was assured while booking, that the internet was functional. But, my first night wasn’t as promised. I was sufficiently vexed to decide to check out the next morning.
As I stepped out of the Front Desk into the cavernous car park, a man in shorts and a T-shirt approached me and asked if there were no complaints. A lady in colourful ‘iro and buba’ was with him. I told them. They listened raptly. I didn’t know who they were. then.
The man told me calmly how he had invested so much into getting the resort to have good internet service. He paid for the mast, fibre optic cables, “everything, but we’ve had to call them now and again.” He said a thunderstorm the previous night might be the cause. I left anyway.
On our way out, the driver told me: “That’s our chairman and the wife.” No wonder. As we drove away, how and what the man said tugged at my heart; so also did the efforts of the two young men to troubleshoot the problem. I decided to return to Ilaji Hotels and Sports Resorts.
Who was by the entrance into the car park, apparently seeing off another lady? The Chairman’s wife. Was she excited? Soon, the Chairman himself was by my room’s door to welcome me back. I decided I’d chat with him later. Coincidentally, it was their 22nd wedding anniversary on April 24, 2021.
I achieved my objectives. Did my work. There were occasional downs but the internet worked. I had a lengthy interview with the Chairman/CEO, Engr Dotun Jubril Sanusi. I also did a two-hour guided tour of the complex. It’s an interesting story, I assure you.
An Ibadan native and a Petroleum Engineering Graduate of the University of Ibadan, Sanusi is a Deliberate Man. After making tones of money through his TNL Drilling Services, he decided to “put back in the society.” He chose Ona-Ara LGA: “the most backward of the 33 LGAs in Oyo.”
He acquired 350 hectares of farmland, six and half years ago and began with a farm. “We have, among others, 75,000 layers of chicken on that farm.” Two years ago, he started the resort and to conserve the ecosystem, he built around the trees.
As you can see,” said Ademola Alabi, PRO/Marketing Manager, who took me round, “some of the vegetations were conserved and trees were named according to botanical name, family and uses. It was done by our Chairman’s varsity mate, a Professor of Forestry.”
But, Sanusi noted that his mission in Ona-Ara was to reverse the fortunes of the area which was the epicentre of Agbekoya Revolt in the old Western Region “which led to denial of amenities.”
An electrification project stretching a distance of about 12 kilometres, from Idi-Iroko to the resort was a game-changer. Even so, on the resort, you won’t know if/when the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company strikes. The power mix (solar/diesel generator) assures uninterrupted power supply.
Sanusi who has a room on the resort as he has made it his “retirement home” and often walks around like your regular guy, talking on his phone, said that before his intervention, “1 acre was N30,000-N50,000. Today, 1 plot is N400,000-N500,000. From Zero GDP”
Besides that Sanusi built a police post near the resort, there’s a Divisional Police Headquarters in the LGA. Guests are screened at the entrance. Uniformed Cops and those in mufti are around while the local vigilantes work at night. No joking with security here.
If you’re on a special diet, no worries go with your “raw materials” and Kwasi, the head chef whose mum is Ghanaian and dad Beninoise, and his team will treat you right. I was. I caught the “Food is the symbol of love…” at the entrance to the restaurant.
Speaking of restaurants, there is a low-cost one, where meals are sold for a minimum of N1,000. At Kwasi’s, it’s between N2,500 and N3,000. One of the evenings, I tried out the ‘moimoi’ at the “Local Kitchen” and it was splendid.
Oh, if all you prefer is ‘pékeré’ or chin-chin or biscuit or sausage roll or meat pie and a soft drink or “Fan Ice” or the like, there is a Mini Mart. There, you can pick up some toiletries too. All sorts of stuff in sachets: corn flakes, milk, etc.
Or, you want ram/beef suya or fish barbecue or shawarma, this is the hub. There’s a big foyer where you can sit comfortably to munch it. With any drink of your choice.
Although payment via POS is preferred, there is an ATM truck with two cash points on the premises. By its side is also a brick/mortar ATM with two points also.
If you fall ill, there’s a well-equipped Sick Bay with a resident nurse. If there’s a need to take you to a hospital, there are two ambulances, I was told, though I saw only one. Nurse Yemisi told me of a recent case of a boy who had an asthmatic attack. Treated free of charge.
There’s a Mini-Zoo. For now, there’s this restless ostrich. That’s why the Zoo keeper is standing by with a thick bamboo stick. A couple of donkeys and a camel (or are there two?), a couple of goats, a tortoise.
There are places of worship with staff imam and chaplain.
And, there’s the Kegites’ Shrine. PRO Alabi said the “Convergence has been adjudged as the best in Nigeria by Professor Kolawole Kazeem (A.K.A. Ara Kay), the Provost, Osun State College of Education, Ilesa, Nigeria and World Chief (1983-1984) who dedicated the Convergence.”
Shall there be a Convergence without palmy? Here, for N200, you’d get a litre of chilled palmy and “bush meat” at N300 apiece, peppered or un-peppered. There’s a dedicated tapper from the hood who ensures constant supply of the unadulterated stuff.
Yesterday (April 16), some Rotarians converged on the Resort for a meeting. Oh yes, there are meeting spaces. The Conference Hall and two VIP Lounges named after Sanusi’s daughters (Favour and Divine).
Do you want to throw a party? There’s a marquee for you. It’s named the Olugbade Hall, after Sanusi’s family compound at Oja’ba, Ibadan, where he’s currently the Mogaji.
Charity sure begins from home. So, you have to understand that there is an arena carved out to showcase Ibadan history; with images of all the town’s rulers from Lagelu, through the first crowned Oba Adebimpe to the present Olubadan.
On his 52nd birthday last year, Sanusi unveiled the Art Gallery where icons/symbols of other Nigerian cultures/ethnic nationalities are exhibited. I learnt that Ooni of Ife Oba Enitan Ogunwusi (Sanusi’s birthday mate) came to commission it.
Remember there’s “Sports” in this facility’s name. And its motto is “…home of hospitality and fitness.” This is the Sports Zone and we start with the Mini Gym; complete with an instructor.
There are courts for volleyball, basketball, handball and tennis. During my visit, these amateurs were on the tennis court
No worries, in case you forgot your sports gear, there’s a Sports Shop on the premises.
There’s a prototype golf course laid out with cultural motifs.
There’s a swimming pool which was being cleaned during my visit another one, for VIPs, is under construction.
More constructions: an artificial beach and a beach football ground because Sanusi is deliberate about having international beach football competitions at the resort.
The five-a-side football pitch is nearing completion to host (inter)national competitions.
Sanusi told me he was a goalie while in Secondary School at CAC Elekuro, Ibadan. During that time, though, football competitions such as the Principals’ Cup had ceased. To re-enact the era, Sanusi organised football competitions in the State, and created Ilaji FC and Soccer Academy.
The academy, Malaga CF Academy Nigeria in partnership with Malaga CF, is headed by Coach Tunde Odubola aka Zico, ex-Asst Coach at Shooting Stars, among other coaching jobs. “I love coaching young ones. Unlike our time when we got beaten for playing, parents are more supportive,” he told me.
Mustapha Bolaji, a computer science graduate of LAUTECH, Ogbomoso, is Team Captain of Ilaji FC. Caught at the Ilaji Youth League, organised by Sanusi in 2019, he told me: “Football is for the intelligent because you have to think for yourself and think ahead of your opponents.”
I watched 70 lads of the academy on Thursday being drilled by Asst Coach Sesan Ogundele.
These ones stay in the hostel on the resort. Scores, still in school come in on Fridays. New hostels are being built.
Of course, all of them have hopes that they will be selected by scouts and agents who throng Ilaji Stadium for talents. Sanusi told me that two Ilaji FC Players – Temitope Abraham and Busari Abdullahi – traveled last month to join SWIEQI FC of Malta.
There might be another for more to be selected as a 7-day scouting and coaching training holds at the resort from May 1.
There is a sense in which I think that Sanusi wants many people to afford staying at the reason. Because most of the rooms are the Silver type which rate is N10,500. In fact, new Silver rooms (the bungalows) have just been completed and new ones are being built.
These are dorms built for students or youths who chose to host their events at the resort. Rate: N2,000 each. PRO Alabi told me that an association of English Studies undergraduates recently used the place.
Find the rates for other accommodation types here. None of them has up to ten. The Chairman has “colonised” one of the few Diamond rooms. I stayed in the Silver Room and I didn’t miss anything.
Well, perhaps a family needs the chalet but I think there are seven of its type.
I caught up with Ayo Adeniran, who told me he works in Shell, Canada, as he was headed out, after staying the night. He said a friend in Canada recommended Ilaji to him. I asked for his assessment in five words. He gave one, with a smile: “Impressive.”
Sanusi named the Resort after his late mother’s trading name: Ìlajì, which, by the way, means half in Yoruba language. She was from Ìlajì Compound in Idi Arere, Ibadan.
I asked Engr Dotun Jubril Sanusi two last questions during our one hour interview 1. What brings you joy? “Seeing people around me happy. One rig can feed about 1,000 people.” 2. Are you a billionaire? He laugh out loud. “I’ve put in billions here.” So, are you? I insisted. “I think so,” he stated.
On my first night, the internet was down. And I checked out but reconsidered. Sanusi, The Deliberate Man, is also thinking of a satellite option. Not again, a guest dissatisfied because of internet. Pointing at the mast, “we don’t use this on the rigs.”
I went to Ilaji with my box and a bag containing books I consulted for my assignment. I left with an additional sac of grapes, courtesy of El-Mubarak Ibn Bashir one of the staff who made my 9-day splendid. He and Ade Folorunsho, the IT consultant, were the internet warriors.
I also came back with some words, er, on marble. I didn’t see a bookstore, or, maybe there was a place I missed out on my two hours facility tour; a refreshing exercise on its own. Thanks too to Hazeez, my first contact with Ìlajì via their Facebook page.
~ Obe is the founder of TheJournalismClinic and lives in Lagos