In this report, Demola Ojo writes on how Lagos can truly be a state of aquatic spledour

A little over a year ago, when Lagos Governor Akinwunmi Ambode was seeking votes to occupy the seat he presently occupies, he mentioned tourism as one the major planks of his administration, repeatedly stating how tourism, hospitality, entertainment and sports would be given prominence in the economic drive of his government.

Specifically, he promised to create water-based theme parks and develop the waterfront by providing recreational facilities and encouraging investment in tourism infrastructure in order to make Lagos a tourism destination in Africa.

The plan is a no-brainer for a state named after lakes (which is what Lagos translates to in Portuguese) with a 180 kilometre coastline, a massive lagoon, and numerous creeks.

Lagos being one of the most populous urban agglomerations in the world and one of its fastest growing cities is a major business and financial centre in Africa, housing one of the largest and busiest ports on the continent. The city doesn’t lack visitors, and is certainly one of the top-three most visited African cities. However, a large percentage of the guests come strictly for business and would rather go to neighbouring African countries for fun. Lagos does not have a reputation for being a leisure destination.

At the moment, the major pull of the city for fun seekers is the cultural aspect; an emerging fashion scene, a growing list of entertainment icons and a thriving nightlife are the city’s claim to fame. The new administration’s most notable imprint – the One Lagos Fiesta, which was in celebration of the crossover into the New Year – toes the line of selling the city through concert-based festivals.

Recently, the commissioner for Tourism in Lagos, Folorunsho Folarin-Coker, has been on a ‘Buy Lagos’ campaign, with Instagram posts highlighting how cost effective it is vacationing in Lagos rather than travel abroad. The question is, what options are there for those bound to take his advice? Certainly not the quality obtainable in other coastal cities Nigerians love to visit. Cape Town and Dubai are just two of numerous examples that come to mind.

For a metropolis with more than a fifth of its total area made up of lagoons and creeks, the water in and around Lagos is grossly underutilized, especially for the purpose of tourism.

Humans have always gravitated towards water which has over time been synonymous with development. More than half of today’s world population live in coastal areas (within 60 km from the sea) and this number is on the rise.

Additionally, among all different parts of the planet, coastal areas are those which are most visited by tourists. Water has a powerful attraction for people. When people decide to plan vacations and travel for recreation and pleasure, many have a strong tendency to head towards water.

Coastal tourism supports businesses like hotels, resorts, restaurants, outdoor outfitters, chartered fishing services, and travel agencies. In many coastal areas, tourism presents the most important economic activity. In the Mediterranean region for example, tourism is the first economic activity for islands like Cyprus, Malta and Sicily.

For Lagos, water-based activities fueling tourism are practically non-existent. Not even the annual boat regatta which may have been exciting a hundred years ago but certainly not in the 21st century can paper over the cracks.

The coastline resorts in Lagos can be counted on your fingers. There’s La Campagne Tropicana on the Lekki-Epe axis, Whispering Palms in Badagry and a few more. To be candid, they are all average and can hardly be described as world class. There is no reason why Lagos does not have its own version of Durban’s Golden Mile, with hotels, restaurants and theme parks competing for tourists and the attendant spend.

Inland, the story is no different. There are a few properties bordering the creeks of Lagos but only a few see the need to even operate their jetties. There’s the Radisson Blu Anchorage Hotel in Victoria Island, the Ikoyi Westwood and Sailor’s Lounge in Lekki. Not many more.

The Federal Palace Hotel apparently doesn’t see the need to further expand its entertainment options beyond the casino to include water sports and other water-based activities. Like many other outlets in Lagos, they seem content selling the view.

Those in the know may regale you with stories of islands with pristine beaches minutes away from the city centre by boat. The beach strip that includes Inagbe, Ilashe, Ibeshe, Ikare and other villages is a favourite location for many of the city’s well-to-do. But the options are limited, with most of the properties on the peninsula being private beach houses.

The Inagbe Resort is probably the only one worthy of the “resort” moniker, while parties and other events are held at La Manga, the Pop Beach Club and Kamp Ikare. There aren’t many more. Why is there no equivalent of say, Diani Beach in Mombasa?

It’s All about the Water…

The answer lies in the water. Clean water contributes to the recreation and tourism industry worldwide by accentuating beautiful beaches, white-water rivers and aquatic ecosystems such as coral reefs. The water around Lagos is mostly dirty. It discourages water-based activities and sometimes, the view being sold is an eyesore.

Considering the summer-like weather in Lagos almost all-year round, it’s unforgivable that more has not been done over the years to harness the potential that the water around Lagos offers.

There are indications the populace is ready. Jet skis can be found zooming and hopping along the Five Cowrie Creek especially during weekends, while there are weekly kayaking lessons on the Lagos Lagoon.

The Eko Atlantic City currently under construction is gradually becoming the new beach hub. Concerts and sporting activities are now being held with the Copa Lagos Beach Soccer competition around Christmas, and the Gidi Cultural Festival during Easter the standout events. But the possibilities are endless; a sporting calendar that includes fishing competitions, a cruise ship culture, paragliding, sea planes for aerial tours…

Drone shots and underwater camera footage by avid sea-goers around Eko Atlantic also reveal that clear, blue water hasn’t totally disappeared. The Lagos government now has to take the lead in restoring the purity of the water surrounding it.

Sensitise the People

Greater public awareness can make a positive difference. There should be an intense campaign to stop citizens from throwing rubbish in the water, done in the erroneous belief that it flows away and never comes back to shore. Defaulters should be fined.

A visible problem is the menace of plastics which can be seen across Lagos’ shorelines. It is the most common substance that washes up with the waves. It’s light and floats easily so it can travel enormous distances. Most are not biodegradable, which means that things like plastic bottle tops can survive in the marine environment for a long time. A plastic bottle can survive an estimated 450 years in the ocean.

Citizen activists also have a role to play. In the early 1990s, when surfers in Britain grew tired of catching illnesses from water polluted with sewage, they formed a group called Surfers Against Sewage to force governments and water companies to clean up their act.

People who have grown tired of walking the world’s polluted beaches often band together to organize community beach-cleaning sessions. The organisers of COPA Lagos always incorporate a beach cleaning initiative as part of activities for the three-day fiesta.

Anglers who no longer catch so many fish have campaigned for tougher penalties against factories that pour pollution into our rivers and creeks. For example, the Coca-cola depot in Apapa spews oily substances into the canal that separates Apapa from Ajegunle. The same body of deathly black water flows behind Marine Road all the way to Liverpool roundabout and beyond. Who knows just what toxic substances are in it?

In saner climes, the quality of both inland water bodies and coastal areas is regularly monitored. For inland water bodies, the parameters monitored include pH, dissolved oxygen, biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, ammonia and sulphide. Coastal water samples are analysed for metals, total organic carbon, and other physical, chemical and bacteriological parameters.

Most environmental experts agree that the best way to tackle pollution is through something called the polluter pays principle. This means that whoever causes pollution should have to pay to clean it up, one way or another.

Polluter pays can operate in all kinds of ways. It could mean that tanker owners should have to take out insurance that covers the cost of oil spill cleanups, for example. It could also mean that shoppers should have to pay for their plastic grocery bags, to encourage recycling and minimize waste.

Ultimately, the polluter pays principle is designed to deter people from polluting by making it less expensive for them to behave in an environmentally responsible way.

Bring Back our Fish

It goes without saying that marine life has suffered greatly due to the pollution of the waters around Lagos. An ingenious way in resuscitating marine life involves using a serious menace for good. Along the Lagos coastline and the route leading to its ports are disused ships, many of them below the surface. A few years ago, they were estimated to be around 30.

The shipwrecks can be cleaned out, sunk and converted to artificial reefs like has been done in Florida. Reefs are primarily a habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals that flourish when the surrounding seawater is relatively nutrient poor, largely because they can utilize nutrients very effectively. It goes without saying then, that this diversity in marine life is sure to be an attraction that would help boost the state’s tourism drive.

In the past, the Lagos State government insinuated being hampered by federal authorities, especially the National Inland Waterways Authority, in putting the waterways to the best use. There has been bickering over jurisdiction and responsibilities. However, now that the state and the federal government are being controlled by the same political party, there is no better time to push the city towards a water-centred tourism-based economy.