[By Pelu Awofeso]

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Bad dream, bleak year

We are all feeling the pinch.

Nigeria is officially in a recession and going through one of its worst economic quakes in decades. The Naira has weakened significantly against the dollar and there isn’t much of it in circulation. Earlier in the year, the federal government raised the pump price of petrol by some 60%, effectively increasing the prices of everything else—garri, tomatoes and all.

To cope with the tough times, Nigerians across all economic divides re-mapped their day to day spending by only buying what they considered most essential for survival; many frequent flyers and holidaymakers have had to cut down on overseas trips, while others who don’t travel that often have narrowed down their leisure pursuits and what other desires they splurge on.

Now with the Christmas holidays almost upon us, many families are already wondering where and how they’ll entertain themselves, have plenty fun time and still not bore too deep a hole in their pockets.

Bright sparks, Nature calls

Lagos has kicked off the festive season with two days of street parties (3rd/ 4th December). We can already hear carol bells sounding from the Island to the Mainland and Christmas-themed decors adorn highways, streets and buildings across the city. With the mood already so set, here are my recommendations for what to do and where to go in the days leading up to New Year’s eve.

Hint: In many of the fun spots/ attractions/ places on my list, access fee is as little as N200. In some others, gates are free.

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A Mona monkey perches on a trunk inside the Lekki Conservation Centre

[Here’s the tweet that inspired this article].

Lagos prides itself as the “State of Aquatic Splendour”.  While it hasn’t maximized the commercial and leisure opportunities of that natural resource, it has done slightly better with establishing and managing nature parks and gardens around the state. Given that that hardly any of the state’s 18 million inhabitants ever gets close to nature, I strongly recommend that you spend this holiday visiting as many “green areas” as you can with friends, colleagues and family: bring along that book you couldn’t settle down to read because of work; roll out the mats, unpack your picnic box and listen to music from your playlist.

At Ndubuisi Kanu Park (Lands bus-stop, Alausa), for example, kids have a dedicated play area with bouncing castles, garden swings and all; there is also a mini ice-skating ring (N1, 000 per half-hour session). Adults have options of sit-outs and several garden chairs scattered about. You can bring your own food and drinks or buy from the vendors in the park. It closes at 6pm.

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An American tourist walks towards the Canopy walkway of the Lekki Conservation Centre

 

Freedom Park (Broad Street, Hospital Bus Stop) is a place of architectural and natural beauty. In four short years, it has become the go-to destination for many individuals who love art, live music and a bit of history (It was formerly a colonial prison and slave holding cell before it was re-designed to what it is now). With an entry fee of N200/ head, you and your companions enter a rich world that combines elements that can make a day out worth all the traffic trouble.

There is a food court that serves everything from swallows, soups and sharwama to French fries, asun and smoothies.  While there, take in the surroundings: roam the large compound and enjoy the calming atmosphere of the pond and trees; both the old and the young will learn a lot of indigenous cultural practices from the life-size sculptures that dot the surroundings, representing regions across Nigeria. On top of these, there are multiple stages for plays, concerts and poetry performances—and they put up quite great shows there. December will be no different.

 

I consider Family Park (Lekki-Epe Expressway) as one of Lagos’ best kept secrets. Most lagosians and visitors to Lagos don’t know it exists. Built by the Lagos State government in 2014, it was created to complement the 26-year-old Lekki Conservation Centre, which sits on 78 hectares of preserved rain forest vegetation.

Far removed from the vehicular noise on the highway, the Park supports two fish ponds (Tilapia and Koi), a Tennis/ Volleyball court, life-size floor games (Snake & Ladder; Chess; Draught, Ludo, etc), vast savanna-like vegetation perfect for picnicking, gazebos and huts which can sit between four and 60 persons, and a barbecue spot. (Last time I visited, there was a Suya guy in the premises.) If you are in the mood for some adventure, you can take on the Jungle-Gym facility.

Adults pay N1000 and teenagers N200 as entry fee, which covers a tour of the LCC with a guide; an added thrill is walking across the recently installed canopy walkway (only persons older than 14 are allowed and cost N1, 000 extra). At 401km, it is said to be the longest of its kind in Africa. Spread the word: stand on it, take a picture and share away.

The LUFASI Nature Park (KM 41 Lekki-Epe Expressway), an animal sanctuary, ecotourism and educational centre situated just a short drive from the Lekki Conservation Centre. Entry is also same as the LCC. Here kids have a bigger playground plus football pitch, while also having rare opportunities to learn about wildlife and endangered species (Donkeys, horses, etc). My favourite spots include the fern garden, the Ekki Forest, the green restaurant area and Lake Nora.

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The green restaurant, one of the many relaxing hangouts at the Lufasi Nature Park.

Go Gallery hopping. The art scene in Lagos is more vibrant than it has ever been. It appears that no month passes nowadays without an exhibition opening somewhere in the city. In the last few years new galleries have opened, bringing some hippy verve to the artistic climate of the Centre of Excellence. And take it from me: even if you don’t consider yourself the arty type, you will love the works on display.

This is only a preview. You may read and download the full report here.

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