The Ilorin Metro Park, situated at a very strategic and vantage area of Unity Road, Ilorin, Kwara State, was an irresistible rendezvous in the 1970s and 1980s for relaxation and entertainment.
Adults and children came from Kwara, Niger and Kogi States and beyond to catch a glimpse and enjoy the refreshing ambience of the park. It had a zoo section, bar and many lawns where events were held. Also, different types of trees and flowers not only dotted the parks, they provided refreshing breeze for tourists and fun seekers.
But today, those features have become moribund, while some sections of the park are now parking lots for trucks of a ministry in the state. This scenario has left many residents reminiscing about the park's pristine glory and wondering why it appears it has been left to dilapidate.
The Kwara State Government says concerted efforts are being made to restore the park's past grandeur and even transform it to a modern amusement park and shopping arcade, with magnificent structures and attractions.
An Ilorin resident, Alhaji Ismaila Ishola, says it is sad that Ilorin Metro Park is currently wearing a look that is not encouraging. He recalls that when he was growing up, the park used to be the hub of activities where families used to relax and unwind.
He recalls that an ace broadcaster, Mrs. Moji Makanjuola, used to host children's variety shows there and families went there, even on weekends, to catch a glimpse of the then alluring amusement park as their children participated in the variety show.
To him, the agitation of residents for the renovation of the park is in the right direction. He laments that in Ilorin now, there is no place like such that caters for family relaxation, a role the Metro Park played for a very long time.
He wonders why, these days, children and tourists should be denied the opportunity to enjoy recreational and entertainment adventures that the park once provided.
Ishola said, "As children growing up in the '70s and '80s, we were able to go there and see different kinds of animals, while our parents used the opportunity to relax at the park's bar.
"Now, the place is dilapidated and animals are no longer there. In fact, the last time I went there, I saw that it had become a parking lot for a ministry in the state. It is not a good development."
Another resident, Mrs. Mercy Mogaji, says "Kwara State is reputed to be a state that is trying to harness its tourism potential. As a matter of fact, the Metropolitan Park was a tourism site because tourism entails the attraction that can galvanise people towards it for relaxation. The park served that purpose in the past and it is supposed to be part of what we should be enjoying so that people coming to Ilorin would wish to visit places like that."
Chief Executive Officer, Boggie Events and Tourist Support Company Limited, Mr. Muhammed Ayotunde, says the government could revamp the park and make it a revenue-generating entity through public-private partnership.
He says for it to meet international standards, there should be different kinds of games for children. He adds that the new Ilorin Metro Park should have collapsible swimming pools and lots of kiddies' stuff. He suggests that the current bar which, in his estimation, is quite big, should be re-equipped to cater for the relaxation needs of adults.
Ayotunde also notes that the lawns are no longer green. unlike when they used to serve as venues for weddings and other ceremonies. He suggests that they should be made to serve that purpose again, adding that the Army Remembrance Day used to be celebrated at the park because of monuments there. He decries the decay and says it has been going on for a very long time.
He also recalls that when he was growing up, trees lined the front of the park, and expresses regrets that instead of leafy greens, rows of shops have taken over.
He therefore, calls on the government to ensure that strategic mechanisms are initiated to transform the park to an international model.
Ayotunde says, "Kwara State Metro Park is supposed to be our own Disney Land. If it is going to be so, it could be public private sector-driven because the facilities are there, though they are dilapidated and the animals are no longer there.
"I am sure that genuine investors could come in and handle different aspects of its rehabilitation. If you go to Abuja, Lagos or some other states, they have something similar to that.
"If Kwara State has this earmarked in the master development plan of the government, it should serve the purpose for which it is meant. If so, it could be revamped to look like the Disney Land so that people can go there and unwind.
"It is also going to be a source of internal revenue for the government if it invests in it. But if the government does not invest directly in it based on valid agreement, the private sector will engineer the development of the area.
"They can work out a way they will recoup their money over a period of time. But then, for no reason should Kwarans lose the kind of pleasure and relaxation the park used to serve for the people."
Investigations show that the expectations of the residents and tourists may be met if the current efforts of the Kwara State Government materialise.
The Senior Special Assistant to Kwara State Governor on Media and Communication, Dr. Muyideen Akorede, says the state government has entered into partnership with Spar International in an effort to transform the park.
He says the partnership started with the administration of Dr. Bukola Saraki, and that the current administration of Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed is committed to ensuring that the Metro Park is resuscitated to satisfy the yearnings of tourists and fun seekers.
Similarly, the Senior Special Assistant to Kwara State Governor on Investment, Policy and Strategy, Mr. Abayomi Ogunsola, says Spar International - a retail giant in over 36 countries on four continents with access to no fewer than 12,000 stores - is set to expand its Africa franchise with an outlet in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.
He says the 80-year-old conglomerate will have a retail store as part of the integrated shopping and entertainment arcade set to be developed in the old park on Unity Road, Ilorin.
He reveals that the plan for the re-development of the Amusement Park started some years back when the promoters initiated a discussion with Kwara State Government to change the face of the Amusement Park.
However, the global economic downturn made the developer and the retail giants to slow down on the pace of the proposed development.
Ogunsola assures that the developer has confirmed that all that is required for the integrated shopping and entertainment arcade has been finalised.
According to him, key retail giants have signified their commitment to the project.
He says, "The retail giants for the Ilorin Arcade include Spar International, Mr. Price, Park & Shop, KFC, and Woolworth."
Construction work may likely commence in the last quarter of 2012 or the first quarter of 2013, he hinted.