• Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Endless wait for Jackson Park


The news of the plans by the famous Jackson family from the United States of America to establish a theme park and resort of international standard in Gberefu Island, Badagry, Lagos State, was greeted with appreciation by lovers of tourism and community development.

The multi-million dollar project involves the building of a Michael Jackson Memorial Centre, a five-star hotel, an auditorium and a golf course under a group known as the Motherland.

But since 2009 when the Jackson family last visited and raised the hopes of the residents of the sleepy island on immediate action, nothing has been done on the site. The residents are disappointed because four years down the line, the project seems to have been forgotten as nothing has been done; not even foundation has been laid on the site of the proposed project expected to attract over one million foreigners and African Diaspora in a year, and by so doing create jobs, give the needed facelift to facilities in the town and improve revenue generation for further development in the area.

Those in search of adventure, who are already bored with visiting Badagry and seeing the usual sights – the first storey building in Nigeria, the Angia Tree where the gospel was first preached in Nigeria, the baracoons and the slave relics – are even more disappointed because of the delay in the project they thought would bring the long overdue spice to sights in the border town.

The rationale behind the project is the fact that about 200 years after the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, not much has changed about the island and for the natives, Gberefu is a home that is yet to come to terms with modernity. Besides this rich historical background, the Jackson family is interested in developing the island because of its breathtaking landscape and tourism appeal.

The island is a tropical rainforest covered by coconut trees. There are little or no buildings on the island except for the tiny huts of the natives built over the years. Gberefu, separated from Badagry by the lagoon, bears a touch of mystery. Digging a little further, one would discover it was also a theatre of nightmare. Years back, it was the place where the final nail was driven into slaves about to be taken to the New World.

In the past, here was the place where a young lover’s dream of getting back his heartthrob was shattered. In the soil of Gberefu, a father’s hope of reuniting with his family died. Here in Gberefu, dreams died fast. Gberefu has the foreboding name of the ‘Point of no return’. It is the notoriety of the ‘Point of no return’ saga on the island, rather than the fame, that the Jackson family wants to undo with the planned theme park.

However, N. A. M. Sanni, the Baale of the Island, regrets that the project is taking time to come to fruition because since the first, second and third editions of the Black Heritage Festival from 2000, during the administration of Bola Tinubu, a lot has been written about Gberefu, but there is still not much in terms of development.

The Michael Jackson Memorial Centre, according to the Baale, is an appropriate investment on the island reserved solely for tourism by the Lagos State government.

While the Lagos State government was for ages waiting for the right private developer or investor to partner in projects that would turn the place into a tourism paradise, the Baale said the kick-off of the Jackson centre would have been the driving force for other investments on the island. According to the Baale, the project is being done in partnership with the Lagos State government.

Although the late pop icon, Michael Jackson, was part of the project before his demise, the Baale notes that the family would still continue with it. “Both Marlon and the elder sister of Jackson, Latoya, are still continuing with the project. It would likely kick off next year.”

That was in 2009. ‘Next year’ has, unfortunately, dragged into the second quarter of 2013 with no sign of work on site.

It baffles a lot of tourism stakeholders that at the signing of the initial documents for the project in Badagry some years ago, the Jackson family and the Lagos State government were well represented, yet the state seems quiet over the partnership that will turn things around for Badagry.

A statement from an anonymous senior staff of the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism and Inter-Governmental Affairs notes that the state participation implies providing land, necessary assistance, enabling environment and security, while the funding is supposed to be provided by the Jackson family.

Marlon, one of the Jacksons, was quoted to have said in November 2011 that the project would still go on, especially now that Michael is dead, to immortalise him and draw many Diasporas back to their roots. But some tourism stakeholders believe that lack of fund is most probably the reason the project is yet to kick off.

“Michael Jackson was almost bankrupt before his demise and lots of money went into his burial. There may be nothing left for this project,” according to a source, who notes further that Michael Jackson’s fans, Lagos State government, and especially Nigerians in the Diaspora should organise fundraising to get the required fund for the project.

However, the point, according to the Baale, is to not let the dream and project die. Truly, what better credential to fame could a place have than to be part of the legacy of probably the greatest showman the world has ever seen.