‘Lagos promotes food variety to create wealth’
Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Folorunso Coker, recently opened ‘Flavours of Lagos’, a carnival of culinary diversity in the state. Coker spoke with reporters on essence of the initiative, its place in travels and tourism promotion and other sundry issues. WOLE OYEBADE was there.
What is the objective of the Flavour of Lagos?
Flavours of Lagos is a celebration of culinary diversity that we have in Lagos. A lot of people don’t know what is available in Lagos and if you don’t know what is available, it will be difficult to be motivated to go out and do something. So, we look at what is very strong in Lagos. The food of Lagos is Igbo food, Yoruba food, Hausa food, Lebanese food, Indian food, Chinese food and then there are fusions of all of those culinary delights.
This made us to decide and say, okay, let’s get the people who make different types of food come together with government and some of the corporate sponsors to have what we call the Flavours of Lagos, so we invited all the vendors at the celebration of Nigeria’s 56th independence, which is public holiday to come and display their wares to show people that these are the culinary delights of the people who live in Lagos.
On the surface that is what it is but below that everything you see here is business. We are creating and encouraging small businesses in different communities in Lagos. I spoke to some of them and about 60 per cent of them told me that they have literally sold out their products and have even run out of what they brought to sell. This shows that people will come out and consume, given the opportunity, with clean and safe environment. I think that is what we have achieved here.
What do you think is the impact on tourism in the state?
This is just one aspect of tourism. If you define tourism properly, Lagos is the Dubai of sub-Saharan Africa. Everybody from within Nigeria and outside Nigeria come to buy things in Lagos. Lagos is the Mecca of sub-Sahara Africa. Do you know how many people that come here to pray? We have many big churches in Lagos. Many people from outside the country come here to attend services in these churches. So we have religious tourism in Lagos. We have business tourism and we have religious tourism.
This is one of the aspects that support tourism. People need to eat when they move from place to place. People need safety when they go to somewhere to enjoy themselves. People need to move from one place to another through safe transportation. So, all these are attracting business. Network providers are making money from data consumed everyday here through the Internet; the food sellers are making brisk business and making profits and people are generally happy. The security services are wonderful; they have been supporting us very well.
With the right kind of support and encouragement how much do you think Lagos and even Nigeria could be generating from activities related to tourism?
Because of the population of Nigeria, tourism is like an oil well. We don’t even need to look at people coming from outside the country. If people come from Abuja to Lagos and people from Lagos go to Abuja and people from Uyo come to Lagos, our population gives us a large market to encourage community tourism. For example, people go from New York to Miami; people go from London to Brighton so that is internal tourism. There is no leakage of their economy because what they do is still within.
I believe that Nigeria can benefit tremendously from tourism in terms of creating jobs, in terms of businesses and in terms of boosting our economy. If we continue to spend $10 or N1 million among all of us here there won’t be any leakage and we will start to grow because we are not taking our money outside. As I grow, because my throughput is coming from you, you must grow also.
How does the Lagos state government intend to sustain this event?
This event was funded by the vendors and our corporate sponsors; it was not funded by the Lagos state government. But it is government’s initiative. We partnered with the vendors and corporate sponsors to deliver this event. As an agency of government, we are creating a platform that is encouraging the consumption of the products of the corporate sponsors by being sold through the vendors to the general population that we already have captive at home. People cannot afford to travel to London or Dubai. If you take one dollar, which is N480, it can only buy you one burger. Minimum cost of a burger in MacDonald price index is about $2:00. Take N480 and enter mama-put, you will know that you have solid meal for one day. Burger is not a meal.
So, I am encouraging the consumption of more variety of foods from Nigeria from what we already have within our jurisdiction and our control we all will benefit from it. Imagine if you run this event monthly. What will it do to that cocoanut seller cash flow? What will it do to the cash flow of the person the cocoanut seller is buying the cocoanut from? If we do that in five locations once a month, imagine what it will do to the local community economy? We are driving the money directly into the pockets of the businessmen and women at the grassroots. But we don’t have the unique Epe fish and shrimps in the menu.
No! This is the Flavours of Lagos, which deals with cooked food. The Ministry of Agriculture will have an agreement to do a seafood festival because Lagos is an aquatic city. You have heard of seafood festival at Eko Atlantic? We are going to do something in conjunction with them. We are going to collaborate with the Ministry of Agriculture to push this. I have been to Epe and the fish market. Some of the fish you get in Epe you cannot buy it anywhere else. Even the Tilapia that you will get at the Lagos Lagoon is different from the ones you buy in Epe. There are different species of fish. There are plans to develop the Epe fish market to make it a tourism site. We are planning to dredge the Lagoon from Epe to Badagry so that you can get into the boat and go to Badagry and entertain yourself, eat some fish and from there go to Ejirin, to the slave market and the slave port. You must understand that some of these things you cannot do over night.
We have created three tourist brands in Lagos in less than a year, including the Flavours of Lagos. If we entertain 100,000 people and they spend an average N5000 each over a two-day period, including transport, multiply that. What is the implication on GDP? So these are the areas we are thinking about in terms of community domestic tourism; driving consumption down to the grassroots level.
There is no tourism without security. What are you doing to ensure that people are safe in Lagos?
If you move around in Lagos you will find that Lagos is safe. Lagos is safer than many cities in the West. The amount of money Lagos state government expends in providing security in the state is second to none in Nigeria. Any time the government spends money on security, it is not just for you and I alone; it is also for anybody that comes here. There is a lot of security in Lagos.
In February last year we had a marathon of 26 kilometers in Lagos, there was no incident. But if you compare Lagos to any of the cities in advanced countries, I don’t want to name any of them, when last did you hear of somebody going into a supermarket and starts shooting? They will say Lagos is not safe, but I will say your city is not safe. I am more at risk in some of those cities in some of those countries than I am here.
They may have a bigger voice but let us not delude ourselves; let us stop thinking negatively about Lagos. You need to talk positively about this city. For example, this is a Blackberry phone produced by Canadian company. It is a global product. Where it was made the people there consumed so much of it, they loved so much, so it grew from one country to the whole world. If we want to grow our own we must state positively about what we have. And let not the non-African thinking dictate our future. Whoever said you have to go through the Dubai or London model before you grow your own tourism? We are just 56 years old. We may not have a national carrier but this does not mean we cannot develop our own tourism. Let us believe that with our own hands we can shape our own destiny.
Where do you want to see tourism in the next 10 years?
I want to see a Lagos that is loved even more by all Lagosians. I want to see a Lagos that its vibe is second to none. I want to see a Lagos where Lagosians are consuming so much of Lagos. That the people from Yoruba land come to consume more of Lagos; that the people from the rest of Nigeria come to consume more of Lagos and people from West Africa come to consume more of Lagos. It is in that consumption of what is indeed ours, of all the skills we have here; of all the assets that we have here that we generate employment and generate income. It is from there that I will be surprised to see non-African, Europeans coming to Lagos because they must have heard there are 24 million people living in this state of aquatic splendor, merry making tribe of sub-Saharan Africa and having fun, let us go there and see. Let us shape positive images of the aquatic splendor of Lagos.
It isn’t about negative things all the time. Let us know that anytime you put something negative out there it is consumed by the world and that suppresses our potential advancement. So, anytime you write something think about the implication.