Home to an estimate of 21 million people (National Population Commission of Nigeria, 2016), Lagos is the smallest state in Nigeria with a landmass of 3,345 km2. It is one of the prominent pulse-centres of commerce, industry, and entertainment in Africa. In addition, Lagos has a thriving arts and culture scene, convenient climate, and peaceful socio-political situation. These factors amplify the appeal of living in Lagos, while selling dreams of fun and excitement to intending tourists.
Tourism, as a business, means heightening the appeal of a particular place in order to attract visitors. It also includes having facilities that ensure visitors are catered to while they satisfy their desire for visiting, be it for business, educational, and/or recreational purposes. As Adun Okupe (Ph.D), Senior Advisory of Red Clay Initiative puts it, “Tourism (as an activity) refers to people coming from outside a city to spend time within it for more than 24 hours, but for less than one year, for leisure, business and other purposes. This means that the same attractions and resources designed for residents are accessible to those coming from out of town. Cities should be designed for work and leisure, and as such recreational activities can be available to residents as well as tourists.”
A residents-friendly city is mostly tourists-friendly. Lagos is not residents-friendly: It would seem as though Lagos is trying so hard to kill its occupants, especially those belonging to the lower and middle class. Stress is a synonym for Lagos. A melange of several factors has made this so, and most accusing index fingers point at the Lagos State Government.
Lagos, with all its verve and vive, is like that person blessed with charm and intellect, but has decided to focus on charm alone at the expense of intellect. A line from “New York, New York” goes: “If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere.” We can say the same about Lagos. Lagos encourages a vast gamut of ideas that tilt towards commercialisation. If you can hustle here, you can hustle anywhere. People come from other places – within and outside Nigeria – and thrive here. This is one of Lagos’ charms. As for intellect, it would seem as though the State Government is not inventing creative ways to make life easier for the Lagos populace. This je m’en fiche and slothful approach towards residents’ welfare ultimately stomps on the budding tourism prospects sprouting within the city. Poor planning and weak policy implementation is Lagos’ undoing.
Speaking with Raymond Bola-Browne, Director of Socials, Freedom Park, he asserted that the Fashola administration contributed in a little way to tourism in Lagos state. “Fashola’s administration had started something that was actually encouraging tourism by supporting Professor Soyinka’s Black Heritage Festival and the Lagos Carnival, to name a few. These events were to bring visitors from all over the world. The present government (Ambode administration) thinks that people will come from all over the world to come watch Davido or Wizkid at their end of the year music Festival. When tourists think Africa, they think Culture.”
Freedom Park is one of the hubs of art and culture in Lagos: it holds an art gallery, literary events are hosted there, one can see stage plays there, etcetera. One would envisage that the State Government gives it attention. Browne says this is not the scenario at play. “Apart from setting up the place, they prefer to support private clubs like Ikoyi Club Island Club. However, they have done their own part in a little way. Event organisers, in collaboration with the Park management, fund most events (in Freedom Park). The government simply steps in to endorse these events. With the letter of endorsement, one can seek sponsorship. It means the event is government authenticated.”
The Fashola Administration renovated Heritage Museum, Badagry. Nonetheless, this gesture is akin to a person brushing his/her teeth before bed. It is the barest minimum; it does not deserve a standing ovation. What is the point of refurbishing one museum if the roads leading to Badagry are cursed with life-endangering potholes? Oke-Tojinu Setonji, Jinuset Travel and Tours ltd., and PRO of Badagry Local Government Tourism Committee, agrees that infrastructures would go a long way to boost tourism in Lagos State, especially in Badagry. When we consider cities with a bubbling tourism sector, we notice that they have one thing in common: an environment conducive enough to support its dwellers and visitors.
In all sincerity, Lagos’ tourism sector is crawling slower than a snail’s pace when compared with other cities that have been blessed in similar capacities as Lagos. In the past, the private sector has shown so much zest towards tourism. From this, we can infer it is willing to contribute so much in future. This is evident in the case of Badagry: The Mobee Family of Badagry runs to the Mobee Museum; The Anglican Church sees to the First Storey Building; and Gberefu Community tends to The Point of No Return, Gberefu. Asides Badagry, we see that most hotels, galleries, and even beaches, are solely in the care of the private sector.
Prima facie, it is tempting to believe that the Lagos State Government has deliberately dumped on the private sector the onus of tending to tourism in the guise of capitalism via privatisation. But Adun thinks differently. “There is a role for government, there is a role for private sector, and there is a fine space in the middle for both parties to align their interests and work together to enhance the quality of life and well being of Lagosians.”
Asked if it would be quintessential for the Lagos State Government to have complete autonomy of tourism in the state, Setonji replied in the negative. “Never. They only need to provide enabling environment.” Browne shares a similar sentiment: “The government does not have time for proper tourism. Unfortunately, it does not understand the multi dollar industry will positively affect everyone in the state. Also, they can’t regulate tourism in this part of the world because the private sector is doing more for tourism than the government.”
Personally, I feel it would scream catastrophe to the highest decibel if the government wielded absolute agency in such a promising aspect of our economy. We should bear in mind that it has shown almost total apathy to this sector in the past by refusing to introduce effective ways to exploit the tourism possibilities the city sits on. In addition, my reservations are entrenched in trust issues. As in the case of many Nigerians, I am wary of anything solely run by the government. I am scared of zero accountability and poor maintenance culture, to mention a few. The ideal scenario is for the government to put pertinent mechanisms in place to aggrandise this sector. Setonji concurs: “Social amenities are government’s role which private sector can never provide.”
Then again, providing social amenities is not all that is required to revamp Lagos’ tourism sector. “Lagos needs to sell itself in a better light,” Adun says. According to her, this can be achieved by concentrating on its Unique Selling Points (culture, former capital of Nigeria, and economic nerve-centre of the country). She explains, “To enhance tourism activity, the right Lagos brand needs to be shown in an authentic, simple, and compelling manner. The (Lagos State) Government can provide tax reliefs to support new businesses that cater to recreation, leisure, and tourism spaces. In addition, it should be vested in collecting regular data on population, visitor arrivals, etc, to ensure it arrives at an evidence-based decision.”
If tourism in Lagos were a moving vehicle, the private sector have been the driver, while the government has complacently sat in the back seat dozing and waking to ask, “Are we there yet?” This should not be the case. We need more government involvement. Lagos State tourism can witness exponential growth with the right amount of government collaboration with the private sector. It would not be overreaching to aim for a city that sees tourism as another major source of revenue. Making Lagos an easy place to live by would be the first step in infusing more life into tourism in the city. This act, which bears a slight semblance to a tourism revolution, has chances of influencing other parts of Nigeria that possess huge chances of receiving and accommodating visitors.
It is high time the government upped the ante to do what is right by Lagosians – creating a Lagos that is easy to live in by providing basic life-upgrading facilities and conveniences. In the long run, this would suffuse more life into tourism. As I stated earlier, a residents-friendly city is a tourists-friendly. We (Lagosians) deserve to live in a city that is suitable for business and pleasure in one breath.