Demolishing Heritage Sites In Badagry Uninformed, Misplaced Priority, Coalition Tells Lagos Assembly

by Olamilekan Okeowo

…House Clarifies, Says No Such Bill Exists

A concerned group under the aegis of Coalition of Badagry Tourism Practitioners has warned that a proposed bill in the Lagos State House of Assembly, LSHA, purportedly to demolish heritage sites in Badagry, is not only thoughtless, uninformed but a misplaced priority.

This is even as the coalition called on the Lagos State Governor, Babajide SanwoOlu, to distance himself from such a bill.

The Coalition made this known in a statement over the weekend while calling on the State House Of Assembly to carry out heritage legislation that has the statutory role or responsibility to save heritage resources and not to destroy them.

“One would have expected the Lagos State House of Assembly to concern itself with legislation that would improve the standard of living, legislation that will support the establishment of tourism-related Micro Small Medium Enterprises, MSMEs and community-based enterprises, legislation that will create special fund or agency for preservation and conservation of heritage sites, legislation relating to land tenure and community right, legislation that will facilitate tourism business security, access to credit and the operation of public-private partnership, legislation on the completion of abandoned tourism projects, legislation to make adoption of heritage sites possible.

“We want to make a passionate plea to Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Executive Governor of Lagos State, to distance himself from this bill, (because) the backlash will too much for the state bear. We can assure the Honourable members that the Badagry people will be ready to lay down their lives to protect these heritage sites and monuments that have come to define their lives and experience for over 350 years!

“Such acts will be condemned globally. History doesn’t forget, may you never go down in history as the Governor who ordered the demolition of heritage sites in Badagry” the coalition warned.

Tracing the historical significance of these heritage sites, the coalition reiterated the importance of the sites to history.

Badagry often referred to as “Slave Coast” is unarguably among the frontline cities that suffered the historical tragedy of slave trade. It was a major slave port along the West Coast of Africa for upward of four hundred (400) years. Aside from this, one of the oldest slave markets in West Africa (Vlekete Market) was established in 1502. Badagry was called the Slave Coast because it accounted for at least three (3) out of ten (10) slaves that left the shores of West Africa. Ghana was called Gold Coast while the area of Sierra Leone and Guinea were referred to as Grain Coast.

Badagry signed the treaty abolishing the slave trade with the British Government in 1852. Hence, up till now, the ancient town still has within its confines those artifacts, relics and historical monuments like the ruin of the slave port, the slave market, shackles of slavery, slave Baraccoon (slave cell), the Cannon gun, the Slave Route and Point of No Return, among others.

As a result of the global importance of these cultural assets that Badagry became a popular Cultural Tourism destination in Nigeria and placed it in the world tourism map. The name BADAGRY became much bigger than the town itself and its popularity transcends the shores of Africa.

The group further warned that the historical, cultural, political, and economic significance of the heritage sites makes it difficult to be demolished.

“Studies have shown that cultural heritage sites are very unique because they cannot be transferred or reproduced in other locations. Consequently, there is doubt that destinations endowed with natural landscapes, historical sites, cultural attractions, and heritage have a relative advantage when it comes to attracting tourists. Considering the economic impact of cultural heritage tourism, according to Clarion Associates (2005), a state-wide survey of heritage tourism in Colorado in the USA reveals that it created $3.4 billion in direct and indirect economic impact and supported some 61,000 jobs through the state.

“ It was because of these heritage sites earmarked for demolition by Lagos State House of Assembly that Badagry and Calabar were listed in the Slave Route Project initiated by UNESCO in 1999. And for its recognition of the importance of history, UNESCO declared every 22nd and 23rd of August as the International Day For the Remembrance of Slave Trade and its Abolition. In the year 2000, UNESCO organized the Aspnet (Associated Schools Network) project in Badagry where students from different parts of the world gathered in Badagry. The Aspnet project emphasizes the teaching of the slave trade in school curricular. This is with the view of promoting a culture of peace, tolerance, and harmonious co-existence among all races of the world.

“These heritage sites that qualified Badagry to be listed among the nine (9) destinations in Africa for the Collaborative Action for Sustainable Tourism (COAST) project by World Tourism Organisation are the monuments of memories that the Lagos State House of Assembly seeks to obliterate. Under the COAST project, 48 local tour guides and 18 boat operators were trained in heritage interpretation and visitor management and safety. 136 youths were trained in local art and craft production. Seven thousand (7,000) copies of visitor’s guide book were produced and distributed freely to tourists. Awareness was created in environmental management likewise responsible management of tourism assets.

“These heritage sites that Lagos State House of Assembly is planning to destroy attracts nothing less than 200,000 (Two hundred thousand) local and international tourists to Badagry annually. The domestic market constitutes 70% while the internal market completes the remaining 30%. The majority of international tourists are Americans. Obviously, they came because of these heritage sites.

“These sites have offered direct and indirect jobs to hundreds of youths within and outside Badagry. They are involved in the tourism supply chain as tour guides, tour operators, caterers, local transporter, souvenir vendors, boat operators, bar attendants, craft sellers, ice-cream vendors, and cultural dancers, among others” the statement said.

The Coalition further added that those sites have attracted international figures like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Evander Holyfield, Marlon Jackson, LL Cool J among others to Badagry. The late King of Pop Music Michael Jackson died the year he was supposed to visit Badagry, reputedly for the Badagry Historical Project spearheaded by the late pop star.

They also posited that the only comparable horror to the slave was the Nazi Holocaust when over six million Jews were killed in most undignified manners during the Second World War.

“Consequently, after the war concentration camps were preserved to serve as places of memory and Holocaust museum sprang up in different countries in Asia, Europe, the Americas even in Africa (South Africa to be precise). The essence of this action was not to spread hate or racism or seek revenge, because what manner of revenge could equate this horror, the whole idea was to say Never Again! After the genocide in Rwanda, Genocide Museum came alive, again the rationale was to say Never Again,” the statement added.

The group, therefore, posited that any demolition would be akin to doing away with memories that aim to prevent reoccurrence of sordid past.

“Calling for the demolition of these heritage sites in Badagry is like asking for the demolition Holocaust Museums and concentration camps in Israel, Russia, Japan, France, Canada, Germany, Poland, United States, Argentina, South Africa, Greece among others. These sites serve as places of memory, and to prevent a reoccurrence,” they concluded.

Recall that a lawmaker — Honorable Noheem Babatunde Adams (Eti-Osa 1), Deputy Majority Leader — in the Lagos State House of Assembly has been alleged to have proposed that slave relics and monuments in Badagry be demolished, purportedly in the wake of Black Lives Matter agitation that swept across the world recently.

However, Tolani Abati, the Chief Press Secretary to The Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudasiru Obasa, has shot down the allegation, informing TCN that no such bill exists in the LSHA.

“There is no such bill. It was just a resolution of the House that visages of slavery should be removed” he said. But he did. It expatiate on what constitute “visage of slavery” and how such removal Will be carried out without amounting to an erosion of history and monuments.

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