… as NTDC authenticate centre
Despite the low attention given to the development of tourism in Nigeria, promoters of tourism in the country have continued to sort themselves out by sojourning to different parts of the country discovering and promoting tourist products at their own expense.
One of such products that has attracted so much attention in recent times is AOKPE PILGRIMAGE CENTRE, a key religious and faith tourism site,
, located in Okpokwu Local Government area of Benue State. The centre is managed by the Catholic Diocese of Otukpo.
The authentication of Aokpe Pilgrimage Centre coincided with the 21st Special Day of Grace Anniversary of Our Lady of Aokpe Mediatrix of all Grace, held at the pilgrimage centre.
The centre became a tourist and pilgrim site, when the Blessed Mary, made an first appearance in October 1992 at Aokpe, to a 12 year old girl, Christiana Inegbu Agbo (the visionary). Apparently the then young Christian had no idea of “the beautiful and shinning lady” who made appearance to her on the day.
However, the appearance of the blessed Mary, mother of Jesus Christ all over the world, which is often called APPARATION, has reportedly happened in different Africa countries. The first acknowledged appearances were in Egypt where her images and shapes appeared on a wall for several nights. Another historic appearance was also recorded at Kibeho, in Rwanda. Since then Kibeno had since been consecrated as the a Marian site by Christians in that country.
Since about 23 years of consistent appearance of the Blessed Mary in Aokpo, with the recent appearance which occurred in September 2004, the centre has attracted millions of pilgrims and devotees, who converge at the site every August 4, declared as the Special Day of Grace by the blessed Mary, for worship and prayer.
Besides the celebration of the supernatural appearances of the Blessed Mary, devotees also visited the site annually for spiritual healings, divine encounter and deliverances. The most significant are the miracle of the Sun and healing from Holy Spring water.
Having discovered the potential as a tourism site, tHE Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) has recognized and identified the pilgrimage centre as a religious tourism site, worthy of recognition and onward publicity to attract more local and foreign pilgrims.
The Director-General of NTDC, Mrs Sally Mbanefo, while delivering her speech described the pilgrimage centre as one of the many credible religious tourism sites in Nigeria that need to be promoted within and outside the country. She observed that Kano State also has a religious tourism for Muslims (Edil – Moulud) as well.
Mbanefo said: “Aokpe Pilgimage Centre is our Jerusalem in Nigeria. You do not need to go to Israel for pilgrimage anymore. God has blessed us in Nigeria with one of the world’s most privileged and blessed sites by the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“The Aokpe itself, like so many apparition places, has continued to attract visitors and pilgrims from all walks of life since the activities of the pilgrimage centre hit the headlines in 1995 in Nigeria.
“Aokpe, an Idoma territory in Benue State has become the second largest town in the state due to the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary who appeared to the Visionary, Christiana Inebu Agbo in October 1992. Since then this place has become a religious pilgrimage centre for both Nigeria and foreign pilgrims who visit Aokpe for spiritual healings and genuine evidence of Christian fidelity and divine entrustment of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of all graces.
“Therefore, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation has recognised and identified Aokpe Pilgrimage Centre as a religious tourism site worthy of recognition and for onward publicity to attract more foreign pilgrims all over the world like Jerusalem in Israel. This will form part of religious tourism for NTDC like Shiloh and Redeemed Pilgrimage convention which holds in December every year in Ota and Lagos respectively and Edil – Moulud which holds in October yearly.
“In view of the importance of this site to the good people of Benue State, Aokpe Community in Ugbokolo, Okpokwu Local Government area in Benue State, and Nigeria at large, I hereby approve and authenticate Aokpe Pilgrimage Centre as Religious Tourism site under the Tourism Development Corporation Act, which encourages religious tourism in Nigeria.”
The NTDC boss, while reiterating the NTDC’s commitment to exploring tourism to ensure a sustainable growth to the nation’s economy and human capacity development, and also, maintain high best practices in our operations in Nigeria, enjoined the Benue State government to intensify efforts at making the road to the pilgrimage centre motorable.
Meanwhile, the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, in his keynote address noted that his administration is willing and ready to provide the necessary enabling environment for the realisation of authentication of Aokpe as a pilgrim centre.
Ortom who underscored the importance of pilgrimage to Christianity and Islamic religion, noted that if the volume of pilgrims who troop to Mecca, Jerusalem and Rome for pilgrimage vis-a-vis the monetary value on the economy of the countries can be replicated in Aokpe, “not only would the rural economy get a boost but the state and country at large would benefit from the multiplier effects of these.”
The governor corroborating the fact that Aokpe apparition ground has become a prominent religious tourist destination which deserves international attention expressed optimism that NTDC would project the site as a credible and must-visit pilgrimage centre.
Ortom lauded the efforts of the Sally Mbanefo-led administration for promoting domestic tourism, adding that “Your choice of visiting Aokpe at this time is most appropriate, when Nigeria is currently experiencing economic hardship as a result of dwindling oil revenue. As such the time has come for a diversification of the economy from the mono-oil economy to a multi-economy and, tourism is seen as one of the preferred sectors.
The Sally Mbanefo-led administration is practically championing the promotion of tourism in Nigeria with domestic tourism as a viable catalyst.
Benue State Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism, Sekav Dzua Iyortyom, appreciated the efforts of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation for adopting and encouraging the pilgrimage centre as a tourist site on the Nigerian Tourism Map.
Iyortyom, represented by Benue State Director of Tourism, Mrs Dooter Ajoko, expressed optimism that “The world would also come to Aokpe just as we go to Israel and Mecca for Pilgrimage. God has provided for us what we have been praying for, and we shall make sure we sustain it.”