NTDC AUTHENTICATES AOKPE PILGRIMAGE CENTRE, BENUE
Director-General, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Mrs Sally Uwechue Mbanefo, said Aokpe Pilgrimage Centre is one of the many religious sites in Nigeria that needs to be promoted within and outside the country. She noted that NTDC in line with its statutory mandate recognises and identifies Aokpe Pilgrimage Centre as a religious tourism site worthy of recognition and onward publicity on the corporation’s website to attract more foreign pilgrims all over the globe.
“This will form part of religious tourism like the Winners’ Shiloh and Redeemed Church convention which hold every December in Ota and Lagos respectively. In view of the importance of this site to the good people of Benue State, Aokpe community and Nigeria at large, I hereby approve and authenticate Aokpe Pilgrimage Centre as religious tourism site under the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation Act which encourages religious tourism in Nigeria,” she added.
Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom has promised to support the Aokpe Prilgrimage Centre, near Ugbokolo.
He spoke at the 21st anniversary of the centre at the Our Lady of Aokpe Mediatrix of All Ages.
Ortom, who was represented by Director of Tourism, Mrs Dooter Ajoko, reiterated his administration’s commitment to promote tourism, saying that the government takes pilgrimage seriously and has spent much on sponsoring people on pilgrimage.
He said tourism is a big money spinner which can boost the economic fortunes of a country.
He said indices abound of what countries such as Kenya, Gambia, Bahamas and cities like Calabar benefit from their investment in tourism.
He stressed that time had come for a diversification of the economy from the mono-oil economy to a multi-economy and that tourism is one of the preferred sectors.
“The Aokpe apparition ground has become a prominent religious tourist site/destination that deserves international attention and which I believe the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation would project considering its significance as a pilgrimage centre. The importance of pilgrimage to Christianity and Islamic religion cannot be over-emphaised. If you consider the volume of pilgrims who troop to Mecca, Jerusalem and Rome for pilgrimage viz-a-viz the monetary value on the economy, and you imagine that replicated here in Aopke, not only would the rural economy get a boost but the state and country at large would benefit from the multiplier effects of these,” he said.
Ortom stressed that as soon as the pilgrimage centre is authenticated, some of the pilgrims would come and perform their religious duties at Aopke, noting that government is very willing and ready to provide the necessary enabling environment for the realisation of authentication of Aokpe as a pilgrimage centre.
Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism Mr Sekav Dzua Iyortyom recalled that 20 years ago, the story of apparition in Aokpe of mother Mary started and her consistent appearance to Christiana Inebu Agbo. He noted that there were apparitions in Mexico, France, Portugal, Egypt and Rwanda but that ‘our own joy today is that we are also recognised by nature to see with our own eyes what we used to hear.’
“Today, as Aokpe comes on the Nigerian Tourism map, we should expect that the world would also come here to our door step just as we go to Israel and Mecca for pilgrimage. God in His infinite mercy has provided us what we have been praying for, it is now left for us to sustain it,” he added.
Mrs. Ajoko assured that the government was determined to develop tourism as income from oil has continued to dwindle. She said tourism is one of the priority areas the new administration is given attention to generate income alongside agriculture, entrepreneurship development and creating enabling environment for industry to strive.
She said Aokpe is of interest to the state because it has spent much money on pilgrims to abroad. “With Aokpe, government intends to promote it to encourage domestic tourism instead of spending foreign exchange on pilgrimage abroad. Unfortunately, not many people in Benue are aware of the centre at Aokpe. So, the government wants to promote and develop the centre,” she said.
According to her, the state government has concluded plans to revive the Makurdi airport and construct the access road to Aokpe recalling that past administrations in the state started the seven kilometre Ugbokolo-Aokpe road project, which was abandoned. Mrs Ajoko praised Mrs Sally Mbanefo led Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) for the promotion of domestic tourism, which she said, has lots of multiplier effects on job creation.
Director Benue State Council for Arts and Culture, Mr Terseer Aernyi, assured that tourism can drive the economy because the state has all it takes – cuisine, dance and folklore to offer tourists. He however observed that for Aokpe Pilgrimage Centre to thrive, the road leading to it should be made accessible and conducive for pilgrims. He added that government is keen in turning the centre around as one of the best in Africa.
On what kept the state troupe successful, he said: “We have had lots of encouragement from successive administrations. That has been our source of strength and it forces us to do more.”
The visionary Mrs Christiana Agbo Ejeh, a lawyer, said the Blessed Virgin Mary started appearing to her since 1992 when she was 12 and that Virgin Mary told her She would appear on August 4, 1994 to bestow grace on her children.
“Virgin Mary told me that every August 4 should be set aside to celebrate a special day of grace,” she said.