Until lately, Lagosians were not known to spend festivals and public holidays indoors. Such days, which are far in between on the social calendar, are unique moments when families go out to experience fun on a full scale.
No wonder then the nation’s commercial capital has always been reputed for high-flying celebrations, which had earned it the sobriquet, Eko for show. On a day like today, Easter Sunday, residents are usually spoilt for choice with places to visit and be thoroughly pleasured.
But social re-engineering, security concerns, economic distress and horrid living conditions, which have all combined to make living in Lagos as stressful as living in a war zone, have made such choices limited to church events, the beach, Silverbird galleria, and the National Theatre Iganmu.
One of the few places that have over the years retained its tourism essence in spite of the infrastructural and social makeover of Lagos is the Whispering Palms Resort, a leisure and retreat resort for tourists and researchers at Badagry.
Tucked away on an expansive land overlooking the lagoon in the border town of Badagry, the resort is an ideal environment to escape from the city stress, unwind, relax and reflect.
Replete with the wonders of nature, such as a mini zoo, various sculptures, Oduduwa fountain, thatch huts, heritage museum of slavery and terraced lagoon front with concrete tables and seats, it is a unique spot for those who want to stand and stare, reflect and write or simply spend idle time for recreation purposefully.
Chairman of Whispering Palms, Prof. Deji Femi-Pearse, had in the 70s visited Benin Republic and Togo each months for three nights to unwind and reflect on his research data, particularly in Tropicana Hotel, Lome, a German resort by the Atlantic Ocean shore, where some of his best scientific papers were written and published in peer-reviewed journals.
Later, it became increasingly difficult to travel because of the growing nuisance on the road – police checkpoints, immigration, customs and plant quarantine, especially when the journey, which should normally take four hours took over 11 hours from Lagos to Lome.
This emboldened Femi-Pearse to establish a resort of sort on the Nigerian coast. He, at first, procured a piece of land at Ojo, near Alaba market, but in a few years, it was encircled by heavy human habitation, noise and garbage. He eventually acquired the present location in 1981, which has since grown to become a soar-away success.
On offer for the Easter Extravaganza is a Whispering Palms cultural festival where guests would be treated to a potpourri of local flavours featuring dances in Sato, Zangbeto, Igunuko, Egungun, Agbe, Akere, Gelede and a tortoise parade.
Easter Monday offers more with adult dance competition, children dance competition, yam pounding competition, tug of war and Whispering Palms marching band.
Sadly, these interesting scenes that could keep the mind fully engaged away from the burden of daily routine, would be sorely missed by a lot of would-be visitors, mainly because of the tortuous journey to the site.
On this, the resort’s receptionist, Miss Clement Margaret, reads her chairman’s mind succinctly: “Our major challenge is the bad road, which has affected the business adversely. It is hell getting here from central Lagos, especially with the traffic from Mile 2 to Agbara.
“No matter the money at one’s disposal, not everything here can be recreated in the bustling city of Lagos, particularly the serenity of the park that can only be found in a graveyard. Coming out from Agbara, the real journey begins as the visitor is confronted with bad roads from Aradagun through Iworo down here.”
IWORO is a sleepy community in Olorunda Local Council Development Area (LCDA) on the outskirts of Badagry. Despite its location, it has become a popular place and a Mecca of sort to picnickers due to the presence of Whispering Palms.
Despite the rich historical and cultural heritage that it represents, Iworo suffers from abject neglect and there is little to show that the community is under the management of Lagos State. Both the LCDA and the state government would be scored low going by the state of infrastructure available to the people.
Besides the sorry state of the road, there is no electricity, potable water and security in Iworo. The road is dilapidated, causing endless pain and agony to users. Market women, commercial bus drivers and private car owners plying the route are constantly groaning under stress and untold hardship caused by the degenerating roads.
A journey through the route is a risky venture, especially for visitors. Between Aradagun and Iworo, which shouldn’t take less than 10 minutes, motorists may sometimes spend up to two hours or more, as only a few motorists dare to navigate the area due to its swampy nature. Unfortunately, this dilapidated road is the link to Ajido, Epeme, Mogoh and other communities.
The Guardian gathered that during the rainy season, car owners ignore the area due to the damage caused to their vehicles. The few that dare ply the route charge exorbitant prices to the discomfort of residents.
Despite the self-help efforts of Whispering Palms’ management and the community by filling some of the roads with rough gravel as a palliative measure, it gets worse every year.
Hopes have, however, brightened of a lasting solution with the mobilization of Chinese construction company, CCECC to the area to commence rehabilitation works. The Guardian spotted CCECC already clearing a bush path to mount its onsite workstation, while earthmoving equipment have been moved to site.
The challenge of bad roads and epileptic power supply notwithstanding, the relationship of the resort owners with the host community has helped to grow a dream into stability. “The community is proud to have this resort in their village and our guest have never for once had problem with the villagers.
“We won’t have recorded this huge success without their cooperation because they can decide to upset the resort by posing as security threat and nuisance to our guests with their festivals, but such has never been the case,” Margaret noted.
LAST week, the ancient town was the centre of attraction when the Lagos Black Heritage Festival opened up the people of Badagry to the huge potential in tourism located in their doorsteps, which had long been ignored by the state government.
Apart from the misery of bad roads, construction of facilities that would facilitate patronage of tourists is still in limbo. From the world-class golf course along the Marine Beach to Vlekete Slave Market, where slaves were sold during the period of the infamous slave trade, to the Slave Tunnels and other landmark slave trade relics, Lagos is yet to deliver to enhance tourism.
Badagry has, therefore, remained a rustic community and is perhaps the poorest among its sister towns with heavy slave trade on the West Africa coast. But in spite of these setbacks, the locals are upbeat about the cultural resource at their disposal.