Badagry town is situated on the western tip of Lagos, the former Nigerian capital, and is famous because of its slavery heritage. Tourists, Nigerians and foreign visitors alike, troop there to explore not just the relics of the horrendous trans-Atlantic slave trade that spanned at least three centuries and the museums established to preserve its memory, but also the heartwarming legacies of European missionaries (Christianity, Architecture and Schools, to mention but a few) as well as the surviving indigenous culture and religion.
I travelled to Badagry for the first time sometime in 2002, when the “Badagry Heritage Museum”, symbolically housed in a single-storey prefabricated building built by the British in 1863, was commissioned and its doors open to the public. Since then I have returned a couple of times for various reasons, including sightseeing and research trips; but in 2010, I started to take daylong excursions to the coconut-rich town.
Badagry is the only place in Nigeria I know where the locals—the youths mainly—have been the key drivers of tourism activities. The daily influx of tourists in the past decade has birthed a clique of resourceful local tourist guides, who take their jobs seriously, because it has proven to be a source of constant income. What’s more: they tell the local history—and the story of slavery—with relish, and this has ensured a steady stream of tour buses.
In 2012, taking inspiration partly from The Gambia and one or two countries in East Africa, where the initiative has proven successful, some of the existing tourism services providers in Badagry, including crafts makers, boat operators, hospitality businesses and motorcycle-taxis, among others, then operating independent of one another, formed a collective known as SCATE (Small-scale Allied Tourism Enterprise) to better co-ordinate all the tourism activities in the town and enhance the linkage between tourism and economic empowerment.
“Our objectives cut across economic, social and environmental considerations,” one of the initiators told me. “SCATE is an opportunity to create jobs and serve as an intervention for the good of all our members.”
One of SCATE’s founder-members told me that the local tourism practitioners, for instance, have agreed to deduct and save a tiny percentage of the daily revenue from the boat rides across the Badagry lagoon (it takes tourists to the Gberefu Island, from where they walk to the infamous ‘Point of no Return’) to be spent on low-budget projects that impact positively on the community.
“We recently invested part of the money in stocking the health centre,” one of the guides told me. “We have been talking to our people, young and old, educating them about the contributions the visiting tourists are making to Badagry town. We encourage them to continue to be friendly and welcoming to visitors, because the more these people come, the more money that comes to the community. We see that they are taking our advice and we have noticed an improvement in indigene-tourist interactions.”