WHILE COUNTRIES SERIOUS ABOUT TOURISM ARE DEVELOPING AND RESTORING THEIR TOURIST SITES WITH HUGE MULTIPLIER EFFECTS, NIGERIA SEEMS TO BE ON THE PATH TOWARDS DESTROYING ONE OF ITS MOST POPULAR TOURISM LEGACIES (THE LAGOS BAR BEACH) AND THE MEMORIES IT HOLDS. OMOLOLA ITAYEMI WRITES ABOUT BAR BEACH’S METAMORPHOSIS TO A REAL ESTATE AND THE NEGATIVE IMPACT ON TOURISM
The Bar beach on Ahmadu Bello way, Victoria Island is officially closed to the public, don’t let the colourful kiosks and huge boulders fool you, its no more for lounging by the sea-side, collecting sea-shells, swimming (if you are that brave), religious, traditional and other entertaining activities.
Any attempt to walk towards it, sometimes just as soon as you’re alighting from your car, security personnel tell you to leave in no smiling manner, demanding you go to Elegushi Beach, a smaller beach, some kilometres away, if you wish to enjoy that beach experience.
Disappointed, people leave. Eko Atlantic City project is on (the land reclamation actually started in February 2008 with a seven-year dredging operation planned to create 8,000 square metres of new land every day but was officially declared last year in a glitzy ceremony including Bill Clinton, former President of the United states) and Bar Beach is part of it. Cranes, bull dozers and other construction equipments littered all over the beach line shows active work in progress and dashing the hopes of fun seekers still visiting hoping to savour some tranquil moments or just gaze at the beach for motivation etc
With the World Tourism Organization [WTO] estimation that tourism accounts for up to 10% of global gross domestic product (GDP), making it the world’s biggest and fastest developing industry, are we not circumventing tourism’s potential to contribute significantly to GDP.
But it’s not only the fun seekers that are affected, three different parties consisting of not less than 5 were turned back when this correspondent was there. Across the road, the horse and its master sit down looking forlornly at cars driving past, its obviously a bad time for him as business is on a low ebb (horse riding is one of the popular side attractions).
Bar Beach, even in its declining state and with the rash of public beaches springing up all over the city is still a prime spot for hanging out. One couldn’t help but notice the absence of street urchins, vendors hawking different kinds of wares from crafts to culinary delights to car washes, officials making money form gate takes and car park, red and yellow cab drivers generally found here, a far cry from its busy state even on week days.
With a total area of 923,768 square kilometers, land area of 910,768, with water – 13,000 square kilometers and coastline 853 kilometres, the country indeed has abundant tourism potentials from our beaches dotted all over the country but these prime spots are rarely harnessed, from Lekki to Oniru beach, the story is same.
Bar Beach means a lot to people who belong to the age bracket of mid 30’s and above. Its where a lot of childhood fun took place. A prime tourist and entertainment spot in the 80’s and 90’s, it became a permanent fixture on people’s social calendar. Many a memories were made there. Alhaja wunmi Mohammed in her mid 50’s, a beach visitor, is of the belief that the Eko atlantic city project could have been built without taking that huge chunk of Bar Beach. ‘’Its completely absurd for Lagos state government to convert Bar Beach into this futuristic city as its being projected. All over the world, beaches like this are being preserved not using it to build cities that the ordinary man cant afford. I work on the Island and often come to theBar Beach during break time to walk around, its helps to relax me and its one period I cherish. Now I cant savour that again as im being referred to elegushi beach. This is so sad, Bar Beach holds a lot of sweet memories for me. It’s a pity I wont be able to show my grandchildren when their older landmarks of my childhood.’’
Unlike other countries like Gambia, Maldives, Mauritius who have got it right with their beaches turning it into money spinners we seem not to be able to tap into this and make our beaches world class. With a whopping 80 kilometres of coastline to speak of, Gambia’s tourist industry has largely been geared towards these 80 kilometres and the resorts which mark them. And sure, the combined joys of beaches and sunshine are a worthwhile holiday, but Gambia isn’t a one-trick pony. Gambia is a very popular getaway for package tourists from Europe, escaping the European winters.
Although it only has a short coastline and only a handful of really good hotels, these fill up quickly. The Atlantic beaches are long white and sandy areas fringed with palms and some fine swimming. There are several villages where hotels are concentrated, all offering restaurants, bars and some nightlife. The seafood is particularly good here. On the beaches all you will find is glorious sunshine a slight balmy breeze and tranquility, none of those noisy banana boats or jet skis to ruin your snooze in the sun.
The promoters of this project (Lagos state government and Energyx Nigeria Limited) promise nine million square metres of land reclaimed from the sea will provide some of the finest development properties in West Africa. This thriving 21st Century city will have seven districts housing about 250,000 people and 150,000 more commuting to work each day. From the plan on ground, this magnificent city will be similar to the skyscraper district in Manhattan Island in New York City and will provide enormous investment opportunities in homes, businesses and tourism but will it available to people of all and sundry like Bar Beach was. How affordable will these tourism potentials be to the public?
Even though this project is seen as one that will help reverse the environmental damage at Victoria Island caused by a century of coastal erosion by its promoters, this is definitely more than a project helping to convert an impending disaster into a valuable asset with its very expensive selling rate.
That the Bar Beach was under attack was very obvious, suffering heavy blows from severe coastal erosion and flooding which seriously threatened the milieu in which it is situated even when the multi-billion naira shoreline protection barriers constructed by the Lagos State government,. In the early 90’s, one had to walk quite a distance from the tarred road before you came face to face with the Ocean. Over time, the flooding and erosion brought the sea shore to the same tarred road. What’s more, it even threatened to wash away the road and the adjoining buildings by overflowing its banks time and time again.
But even with this ugly turn, the huge traffic to Bar Beach and its Kuramo Beach neigbour didn’t abate despite other beaches all over the country, weekends and public holidays witnessed throngs of people. This only suggests there is a need to turn our beaches into world class spots and show us as serious players when it comes to tourism.
According to Agbaje-Williams, it is the recognition of these two – natural and artificial resources, always form the basis of any country’s tourism programme. On this, therefore, the East African Countries of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, for example, base their tourism industry on their wild life and animal population and Western Europe on ancient Monuments. So why are we not getting it right with our beaches, bar beach and others, which is one of our natural resources.
Can the bane of tourism which extends to beaches be the fact that the colonial masters did not wait to develop fully our tourism sector. According to Ikechi Uko, Organizer Akwaaba and publisher of African Quarterly magazine, Gambia, Egypt and other African beaches with developed beach attractions yielding good revenue have their tourism sector developed by the colonial masters. ‘’The master plan was drawn by the colonial masters who have left the locals and few western practitioners involved in this business a plan to follow. The beach is seen as prime tourism spot and attractions along this line, from beach resorts to hotels, is provided to facilitate immense tourism benefits to visiting tourists,’’ he said.