It is one of the beautiful features Oyo State Governor Abiola Ajimobi has given the state capital, Ibadan. From a derelict, weedy, marshy and abandoned grove, old Agodi Botanical Garden has come astir and a much sought-after haunt for fun-seekers, students and the middle class in the sprawling city.
Located at the foot of Mokola Hill, where Premier Hotel stands imposing, the garden, which used to be a tourist resort with a wealth of floral resources, had suffered decades of neglect, as it was overgrown with weeds and thickets. Its facilities were also dilapidated while the grounds remained unkempt, a situation, which affected its patronage.
But that was until two years ago, when the state government in partnership with a private firm embarked on its rehabilitation. The result is an aesthetic showpiece of well-landscaped ambience with a generous dose of preserved nature that opened to the public last Christmas.
Re-christened Agodi Resort and Conferences, the multi-billion naira facility on Parliament Road, nudging the Dandaru Lake, offers a comforting recreational harbour, with ever-green shrubs, decades-old exotic trees, flapping wings of colourful birds and the gentle lapping of water waves on the bank of the lake.
To these have been added other modern features including swimming pools, play areas for kids with mounts, inflated balloons and toys, a zoo, walkways, bar and eatery. There are also toilets, each of which is equipped with modern accessories suitable for all ages.
To sustain its greenery, a lake that surrounds the park supplies all-year-round water to plants and life in the garden, and somewhere farther to the boundary over-looking a large natural pond that supplies the city with fish, a dam-like pool flourishes to the excitement of members of the boat club. Here, three red inflatable rafts bubble to and fro on the water when not in use.
Remarkably, the exotic tropical trees in the garden have been preserved to provide shade for visitors and home for the birds. Plaques providing information about the various species stand next to these trees.
The almond trees, indigenous to the high forest and the kadan trees found mainly in wetland to lowland of African forests, with their aroma extending 100 meters, reflect the splendour of nature. The fig tree, for instance, tourists are made to know, attracts thousands of bats from across the continent because of its fruits. Also at the park are lilac tree, which was used in 1958 to preserve Ibadan rivers and streams, and the age-long dracaena tree commonly found in high forest.
Up North of the entrance is the swimming pool with spiraling water slides. Apart from the zoo, it is the most guided section of the park. Its seclusion is marked by high wire fence and a gate. Operators of the pools forbid children without swimming jacket in it and non-swimmers are not allowed access. However, there are life guards watching swimmers in both pools in case help is needed to rescue someone.
The zoo, set completely under tall trees, is yet to be equipped with many animals.
However, it can boast of two lions in the largest cage. Two little crocodiles can be seen in a shallow pond while at the middle of the zoo, there are cages where monkeys are kept. However, it can boast of two lions in the
Although the Agodi Gardens has existed for many decades, it has never attracted so many tourists as it is now. The beauty of the park is not limited to the day. At night, the garden is illuminated by Christmas lights, which will soon give way to neon lights.
Ajimobi said he was motivated to invest in the park by what he saw in other countries:
“I was just passing by one day and I asked what was in the bush. In fact, it was a forest by then. What struck me was that the place was so desolate. The animals were hungry. They were not well fed. Everything was just bad. Then ideas started flowing into my mind. I know there are places like this in South Africa, Dubai and everywhere. Why can’t we make ours so? I thought.”
Managing director of JD Capital, Mr John Darlington, said his company agreed to work with the government based on Ajimobi’s vision to restore the state’s old glory and monuments of which Agodi Garden is one:
“This is where JD Capital comes in to partner through the PPP structure to support the governor and people of Oyo State to bring the dream and vision to fruition. The first step in this rebirth process is the rebranding and creation of a brand identity for the garden.
“This has commenced with the renaming of Agodi Gardens to Agodi Resort and Conferences.”
Managing director, AM and Sea Ltd, Mr. Adegbemisola Adio-Moses, said in executing further works, his firm had entered into partnership with a South African development group to ensure that Ajimobi’s vision for the garden is accomplished.
Since its launch in December, the recreation centre has attracted thousands of families, groups and individuals, young and old. Mrs. Folasade Ayeni, who came with her children, said it was a great joy to have the gardens back in the new form: “We have had only the U.I Zoological Gardens, especially since the Trans Amusement Park also packed up some years ago. Visiting the same place year in-year out can be boring.”
An all-night concert featuring D’Banj, Yemi Alade, Sir Shina Peters, P-Square and other top artistes including comedians was held there on December 30, 2014. Students and groups now hold get-together-parties on the grounds.
One of such was organized by students of the Library and Information Studies Department, University of Ibadan, on January 10, 2915.
It is expected that N500million will be generated at the park each year. For the old Agodi Gardens, life has ideed returned with greater vibrancy as it sheds its old rusty garb.