Lagos State, with more than 180 kilometers of sandy beachfront, myriads of islands, some inhabited and others lying fallow, probably boast of the highest tourism credential in West Africa. Lately, Lekki, one of Lagos’ LCDAs has taken up the gauntlet to maximally harness these gifts of nature and turn them into real value-for-money tourism assets that can lure tourist traffic from far and near. Omolola Itayemi writes
The Lekki Council Development Area (LCDA) of Lagos has resolved to use tourism as a tool for socio-economic transformation and in the process put the area in the tourism map of Africa.
The area has tourism assets that have been lying fallow prior to this time. For those who know, it was just a huge waste of God’s gift. Lekki’s foray into tourism goes back more than 100 years. The colonialist saw the potentials of the zone as a tourism haven, and that was why they decided to build a chalet there where they could go and unwind and generally have quality leisure time. That gave birth to the place that was later made more famous when the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was detained there in the ‘60s.
Aside from the detention centre, there was no major high profile tourism project of the government until when the then Military Governor of the State, Colonel Buba Marwa developed the Eko Tourist Beach Resort at Akodo, Lekki in the ‘90s. A private sector initiative was also put in place by Otunba Wanle Akinboboye when he opened the luxurious La Campagne Beach Resort, Ikegun in the early ‘90s. Presently, it is as if the scale has been removed from everybody’s eyes and they can now see that this part of the state is a tourism gold mine. A free trade zone will soon be operational there, complete with its own international airport. There is also a 27-hole golf course, myriads of hotels, leisure centers, Lekki Market for crafts, Elegushi beach and Nike Art Gallery. The future is looking bright.
One would then ask, what, in terms of natural tourism asset, does the Lekki area have to offer? It has a lot; it has history. Scattered on the beach front of the area is the slave baraccon that was used during the slave trade; the Refugee Island; the Freedom Flag; the Awo Detention Centre; some colonial relics at Orimedu and many others. Of course, there is close to 30 kilometres of white sandy beach, including that of the famous Eleko Beach. The council also boasts of about 16 lakes, in addition to the lagoon areas and smaller islands.
It is in the light of this that the former local council development area chair, Barrister Mukandaisi Ogidan decided to turn the area into a Tourism Zone years back and, since then, remarkable progress has been made. The axis has metamorphosed into a full tourism zone, especially with the full grading of the Lekki-Epe express way.
Ogidan made history made history, as he was the first LCDA chairman in Nigeria to do so, and this was also to his credit as an administrator.
Asked why he declared the area as a tourism zone, Ogidan said with the declaration, the council would welcome investors in tourism and that they would be given all the necessarily co-operation to put projects in place for them to have returns on their investments.
Looking back, it was a high profile event because on hand as the special guest of honour, at the declaration ceremony, was the president of the World Council of Mayors from the United States of America, Mr. James Walls, who came with his entourage. Others were, a former commissioner in Lagos State, Chief Tunde Kasali; World Council of Mayors Tourism Ambassador to Nigeria, Otunba Wanle, who is also the owner of the La Campagne Beach Resort. He believes the position of the council was a welcomed development and promised to work with the council to develop the area. Also in attendance were traditional rulers from the council and other notable individuals.
Ogidan said the ceremony was a catalyst for the transformation of the area and he couldn’t have been more correct. His words: “We see this kind of transformation as the only way we can bring the economic potentials of this local government development area. Awo said in the ‘60s that this place will be the best in terms of development. Thank God this is coming true while we are still here and while our former leaders are still present. We have seen our brother, Mayor James Walls, and their coming here today is good. It is also to secure the assurance that when they come here to invest, you will be prepared. We will give them every co-operation required for the transformation of Lekki LCDA.”
The President of the World Council of Mayors spoke on why he decided to be part of the history. His words: “It is truly an honour to be here for the declaration of the Lekki Tourism Zone. Ambassador Wanle Akinboboye called me on the phone and said Mayor, I need you to be in Nigeria next week. And I said to the ambassador, are you crazy? I am in the middle of an election, and you want me to stop what I am doing and travel to Nigeria, and the ambassador said yes, and I replied okay. And before you know it, I am here in Nigeria. I came to Nigeria because this is something very important. Prior to becoming, the President of the World Council of Mayors, I served as the Vice President for tourism and ambassador Akinboboye told you, my first experience of the motherland was right here in Nigeria and right here in Lekki. Since 2008, I have had the opportunity to visit the motherland and here in Nigeria over 30 times. So, when you talk about tourism, it is very important because men and women and brothers and sisters of African descent need to reconnect with the Motherland. I believe that it is projects like this that will give African-Americans, Africans in Europe and others an opportunity to not only come back and reconnect but also come back and reinvest in Mother Africa. So, this tourism zone is an opportunity for Africans to come back and re-establish their ground and reinvest in our community and I will leave you with this: this is our day, truly it is, this is our hour and as Africans we shall make sure we do not miss our time.”
Interestingly, Chief Kasali, going down memory lane to talk of the efforts of the leaders of the area to open up the place in the past, only reinforced the need to make this dream a reality. “When you talk about the economy of an area, you talk about commerce, industry and tourism. We thank God we now have the Lekki Free Trade Zone in this area. At the beginning of this free trade zone, it was like a tug of war because we needed enlightenment and a lot of talking to let our people know that this is the future that we have been talking about. Once we have the free Trade Zone, we are opening the place for commerce and industry and then when we have the tourism project, then we are opening up the place for the whole world. I believe, and I am so passionate about it, that we haven’t seen anything yet.”
And with over 100 hotels and accommodation types, scores of leisure centers, very colorful and vibrant markets selling everything from fish to artifacts, golf resorts, galleries, a conservation centre and loads of sandy beaches, one can say Lekki has not only become a tourism zone but is also fast taking over as one of West Africa’s major destinations.
Lekki is about an hour’s drive from the city of Lagos, off the Lagos-Epe Expressway.