The Benin Moat
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The Benin moat were declared national monuments in 1961 but today the moats and the ancient walls of Benin are disappearing due to flagrant abuse of environmental and building regulations. The sad thing however is that as the moats disappear they take down with the biggest possibilities for Edo state to shore up it´s revenue base. Even as the moats face the onslaught of extinction other sites of cultural tourism in Benin-city are on the throes of the vagaries of human avarice and neglect.

In this interview with Augustine Evue, Dr Joe Eboreime, curator of the National Museum Benin and Coordinator, Nigeria UNESCO World Heritage program gives a recipe on how to arrest the destructive onslaught on the cultural heritage sites in Benin and suggests a blueprint for the transformation of Nigeria’s vast cultural tourism market into a realistic economically viable industry.

Most cultural and technological heritage centers have like Igun street in Benin-city seem to have been neglected despite their great potentials as earners of revenue from tourism.

Q: What is your organization doing to arrest the destructive onslaught on the cultural heritage sites in Benin.

A: As I said a taskforce may be set up soon to maintain these monuments. But you must realize that the maintenance of the monuments is from a multi-dimensional angle. There is the sanitation aspect, which is not in our control, for instance refuse dumping in the moats, there is the house approval aspect that is not within the ambiance of the museum. Those who approve building plans are the ministry of land and survey and, may be the Edo state property Development corporation. There is the environmental aspect too. Ours is to advise. The rules have been set out and are clear: “do not destroy these monuments.

Before you erect a building you must give a distance of 50 feet from the moat. From the crest 50 feet, from the edge 50feet. If it is the wall 100 feet. But what do we see today? The question now is, is it the museum that should implement the regulations or the building authorities which have apparently turned their eyes away from the way people are building their houses, even on top of the moats. The museum is to set the grand rules, which have set under existing relevant pieces of legislation. I believe that if the state government is interested in cultural tourism it has to take a more decisive step in incorporating developments in the master-plan for Benin-city.

The master plan for Benin-city as it currently exists has no cultural content. It was done in a western mode, which does not go beyond mere mention of Ring Road, museum in a very peripheral aspect. They did not talk about how the moats can be integrated and the moats being the second largest earthworks in the world ought to be part of the master plan but it was ignored. And the future development of master plan for the various urban center in the state I am not sure that culture is included. It is a big missing link. And cultural tourism remains the biggest possibilities for Edo state to make money. If they enlist the support if UNESCO and the agencies that know about it.

Environmental abuse turns Benin Moats and other cultural tourism centers into brick walls.

Q:Given the way the moats have encroached upon making them to disappear gradually, and the given the fact that even if the moats are reclaimed they will no longer be a wall round the city rather they would be cutting through the city center. Are the moats still in modern day Benin. How do you reclaim the moats. Or do you think they should be forgotten?

A: The moats can not be forgotten. Even the Kano walls have problems like this: It is a problem of urban development, which have not been planed properly.

Culled From Sunday Times…

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