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Why is Badagry a ghost town for tourists?

Why is Badagry a ghost town for tourists?

Badagry, Nigeria’s most popular border town, is less than 60 kilometers from Port Novo and Cotonou, Benin Republic’s political and commercial capitals respectively. An ancient point of entry into Nigeria dating back to the slave trade era, since the 15th century, Badagry with all its historical recordings including many ‘firsts’ in Nigeria, remains a shadow and ghost town for both local and international tourists. An insignificant number is seen exploring the many monuments daily, monthly and annually, according to local tour operators.

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We had gone on a humanitarian drive of encouraging prison inmates at the Badagry Custodial Centre on the invitation of Inmates Educational Foundation (IEF), a Nigerian non-governmental organisation dedicated to educating persons in Nigeria prisons for self and societal transformation. The IEF is founded and led by Mahfuz Alabidun, a Mandela Washington Fellow 2023. After our talks and donations to the five inmates, who were registered to take the General Certificate of Education (GCE) examinations, beginning this mid-November, we proceeded to explore Badagry.

Our first point of call was the Badagry Slave Market Museum International, the original site of Badagry slave market established in 1502, one of the earliest slave markets in the world, transacting about 300 slaves every five market days. Despite its gigantic structure, which was recently commissioned, the museum looked deserted by tourists as we were the only visible persons attending as at 3pm Nigeria time. In fact, Dolapo, the museum attendant and tourist guide, sped out of the entrance earlier on to welcome us as we alighted from motorbikes. When we arrived, we looked unsure if we were at the right place. Although the museum is newly built, less than two years old and began full operations in August 2022, the history and artefacts housed in the museum should be enough attraction for both local and international tourists.

From the Vlekete shrine to the trial of Richard Lander, the British explorer who visited Badagry in 1825 after Britain had abolished slave trade in1807, to the slave dungeon depository and the continuous story of slave trade in Badagry, until the last slave ship that left Badagry for Bahia, Brazil in 1888, Badagry Slave Market Museum International embodies colossal transatlantic slave trade history.

Less than 10 minutes walk from the Badagry Slave Market Museum International is the famous first storey building in Nigeria, built over 178 years ago and still standing with many of the original building materials intact. The building signifies the first church, school and bank where Nigerians began the first learning of Western education, Christian religion and how to save money and important documents. Amongst the few displays inside the building are the original Yoruba translation of the Bible by Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a captured slave, who later got freed and trained in Freetown, Sierra Leone through British intervention. The building built by Reverend Charles Gollmer, which is 44ft in length and 26ft in width, is estimated to cost £325 as of 1845 when the building was completed. The amount is equivalent to £48,731 today according to official data.

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As we explore the streets of Badagry, Tolani Oni, a Mandela Washington Fellow 2015, Semasa Ojo, 2021 general secretary of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Lagos State Network and I, centered our discussions on the many tourism opportunities wasting in Badagry. The government and the private sector needed to take tourism seriously by investing not only in the tourist sites, but by consistent marketing, showcasing of the products,services through local and international channels. Also, other enablers include good road network, security; an important complement in attracting tourists, which will result in huge foreign exchange for the government and job opportunities for the locals.

 

Mohammed Abdullahi, a communications consultant and public affairs commentator, writes from Lagos.