Ambode, destination branding is Next!
I believe it is in order, to congratulate Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, one of the very rare hardworking governors we have seen since our return to democracy in 1999. I must also commend those whose hard work he is building upon, namely Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola. I have lived in Lagos all my life, but I remember seriously considering relocating to Abuja many years ago. I was quite unhappy with the state of insecurity and chaos in Lagos. With Nasir el Rufai running the FCT, I was attracted to Abuja and was making relocation plans. Because el Rufai was doing a great job. But that idea didn’t last long enough for me to actualize it.
After el Rufai we have had a series of clowns running the FCT. These people had no idea what the capital city of the world’s largest black nation was supposed to look or feel like. The simple task of even getting the traffic lights working was too much for them! Babangida moved the seat of power to Abuja in 1985. That was 22 years ago. Between then and now, we have failed to build a capital city that truly reflects the status of Africa’s most powerful country or the world’s largest black nation. We have failed to build iconic monuments that provide postcard pictures of the FCT. For a long time, we were even using Aso Rock, an accident of nature, as the iconic monument to symbolize the FCT! We have not created any destination branding initiative which positions Abuja on the world map of tourism destinations. It seems with the relocation of the seat of power, we have only been sustaining the greed of a shameless legion of visionless politicians.
Lagos, on the other hand has been blazing the trail and showing the centre how states are supposed to be run. For years now, we have all seen that some of the blights on the landscape of Lagos are Federal roads and other Federal assets in decay, such as the National Theatre and National Stadium, the Federal Secretariat and of course, the Tafawa Balewa Square. For years, those in Abuja have put politics and personal ego before the national interest, thereby frustrating any plan to fix these federal roads, the most embarrassing of which was, and still is the airport road. One monument that demonstrates our leaders’ lack of seriousness is the Tafawa Balewa Square. Formally known as Race Course, TBS is one of the most iconic monuments of our nation for several decades. It was here that our Independence Celebration took place on October 1, 1960. The structure has four gigantic horses and seven red eagles, which are symbols from the Coat of Arms. There was also the Remembrance Arcade with memorials to WWI, WWII and Civil War victims. And of course, the 26 Storey Independence House which was the tallest building in Nigeria. What kind of leadership would neglect a monument with such significance to our history?
Worse still, what do we have in Abuja as the equivalent of the Tafawa Balewa Square? They call it Eagle Square. A bare space with no monument and which is absolutely uninspiring! It could easily pass for a secondary school parade ground. This is where our clownish leaders parade their buffoonery every year! If we had leadership that built great monuments in the past, with only a tiny fraction of the kind of resources we have today, why aren’t current leaders building on the good legacies of the past? Why can’t they at least give us a few things to be proud of? Good leadership understands that people need to be proud of their identity and they need to have bragging rights. If in the 60s and 70s, I could boast that my country had the tallest building in West Africa, what can I boast of today? Whether it is the Abuja national stadium, or the federal secretariat, or even Aso Villa, our leaders have failed woefully in building iconic monuments. Why can’t they commission projects we can boast of? Is there a particular kind of air that blows into the heads of these guys once they get into the corridors of power such that their vision becomes blurred and their thinking becomes impaired?
Today, I am proud of Lagos. I would also beg the powers that be, to please hand over these federal monuments to the Lagos State Government, whatever it takes. As they say, give gold to those who know its value! We have all seen the huge difference between Lagos@50 and Nigeria@50. Let those in Abuja take a cue from Lagos and work to move this nation in the right direction. We are sick of the embarrassment that being a Nigerian means outside of our shores.
As Lagos celebrates at 50, the state is more than ready for destination branding. This is the logical next step. With a well implemented program, the state can become one of the leading tourist destinations on the continent and earn hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Tourism will also create hundreds of thousands of jobs and will further accelerate the development of the state. Let’s take Victoria Island for example and position it as an exotic tropical vacation destination, where you can go to the beach anytime of the year, regardless of the season. We have all kinds of restaurants, from Japanese, Chinese, to Indian and Brazilian. There are exquisite waterfront bras and lounges. There are exciting beach resorts. There are world class hotel brands as well. On Victoria Island, you can drive freely anytime of the day or night. We have all the ingredients for destination branding. The state must now move in this direction and be positioned on the world map of top tourist destinations.
Once we begin to think in this direction, we will see the imperative of preserving our cultural and historical assets and monuments while building new ones.
We will see the need to think in superlative terms and commission projects that make bold statements about who we are. I commend the boldness and vision behind the Eko Atlantic City project, as well as the Lekki Free Trade Zone, which in a couple of years will host the largest refinery in Africa. I hope the airport to be built in Lekki will be the best airport in Africa. This is the kind of thinking we want in our leaders, and which is so lacking at the federal level. I hope other states will follow in the footsteps of Lagos, by delivering visionary leadership and unleashing the potential of their people instead of relying like beggars on the federal purse.
Congratulations Governor Ambode. Long Live Lagos!