A TRIP TO PORTO NOVO: Exploring Nigeria’s Untapped Waterways Tourism

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By Innocent Orok

On Saturday 15th June 2024, the Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria ( FTAN) Lagos State Chapter in collaboration with Sim Top Ventures Limited organised a boat cruise from the Marina Jetty in Lagos State to the Porto Novo Jetty in Benin Republic. Sim Top Ventures Limited is owned by Tope Fajemirokun , National President of Waterfront Boat Owners and Transporters Association (WABOTAN) and one of the top boat owners and major investor in Lagos waterways Infrastructure .This is the second time of recent, Sim Top Ventures has sponsored such trip to Benin Republic .

Tope Famijerokun, Managing Director, Sim Top Ventures Limited.

Despite the heavy rain that started around 4am on that day, members of FTAN and some friends who were eager to make the journey have already arrived the Marina Jetty as early as 8am. Though, the heavy down pour have subsided, the team which made up of several women and few men numbering over 30 all were provided with rain coats set for the journey. The team of Frank Meke , an award winning Tourism journalist, Tunde Kolade , South West Vice President of FTAN and others were on ground coordinating, to make sure, all names were in the manifest, life jackets provided and properly kitted, while all other safety rules were observed before the two fibre boats provided by Sim Top Ventures Limited were boarded.

Aside from our boats going to Porto Novo that morning, we heard other boat operators calling on passengers, Porto Novo! Porto Novo!!. This means there are daily routine boats plying the Marina – Lagos- Porto Novo – Benin Republic waterways route.

THE JOURNEY THROUGH UNTAPPED TOURISM WATERWAYS

The two fibre boats comprising of 13 passengers each left the Marina Jetty under a light rainy situation, but we were all kitted with both our rain coats and life jackets. From Marina waterfront, we navigate through Apapa -Tin Can- Mile waterways, heading to ijegun -satellite – Badagry axis.

After leaving the port environment which harbours terminals and tank farms along both sides of the river banks which ended around after mile two, the rest were forest like expand of land with bushes , wild coconut trees and shrubs . These large expand tourism sites are just there begging to be tapped and exploited. We also saw many dilapidated jetties, with few new ones constructed , but looking abandoned and unutilized. The journey , though was on water, but it’s seems we were traveling along a thick forest in between , as there were no sites and sound of tourism along the river banks to visit or memorized for the journey.

Along the route are security checks namely , the Nigerian Navy, Marine Police, Nigeria Customs Service ( Western Marine Command) and National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA, Marine Command). For many first timers, they were surprised to see the security agencies they normally see on land , doing the same work on Water. Also, interesting were points were boats can refuel their engines .

It was a little above an hour we arrived at the Badagry Jetty, where our host Tope Famijerokun and few others joined the trip with drinks, water and food to make the journey a really tourism type.

From the Badagry Jetty we voyage to Gbaji, enter Ogun State waters and headed to Porto Novo. The same forest like waterfronts on both sides were all adoring, with few coconut trees and water hyacient serving as tourism attraction, no beach, no fish market, nor any hospitality center along the waterfronts which span several kilometers along the river banks.

At the water boundary between Nigeria and Benin Republic, our boat have to report to the security agencies stationed there , namely NCS, NIS, Marine Police and NDLEA. The same was done to the Benin Republic counterpart, the only difference is that, at the Benin point, is only two Security agencies,their Customs and Police, both stationed together. There our captain submitted the manifest to them.

And so with less that 20 mins we landed at Porto Novo Jetty. Old Jetty, but with no modern facilities, even no concrete Jetty has been constructed. At the jetty we saw some products supposedly heading to Nigerian markets.

OUR JOURNEY INTO BENIN REPUBLIC ( PORTO NOVO- COTONUO)

At the Porto Novo Jetty, one of our team leaders has addressed the tourists , before we boarded the Coaster bus with Benin Republic registration Number. Driving through Benin Republic was fun as their roads are smooth, no area boys ( Agboros), no rowdiness or harassment by anyone ( mind you, we did not go with any security escort).

Our first tourism site to visit was a statue of three warriors carrying gun, machete and sword with one of the inscription written in French (MARTYRS DU DIMANCHE 16 JANVIER 1977). Our second site to visit was another statue of a woman warrior very tall. Her name is Seh Dong -Hong Beh, the leader of all female warriors ( mimo) of the ancient Kingdom of Dahomey ( now Republic of Benin). These two sites apart from their artistic attraction, also have a serene and very well land scape environment for fun and recreation.

Driving through the city of Cotonuo was interesting , we saw huge construction sites , well paved and tarred roads, serene and organized buildings and environment.
Most captivating was the large and long kilometers sandy beach area , which the government are planting coconut trees covering several kilometers along the water/ beach fronts. The government is also carrying out land scaping of the beach area with some internal roads to turn it into a world class tourism attraction.

Our journey to Cotonuo finally landed us in one of the beach sites called ” Club Des Rois”. This fun seeking place is a segment of the expanded portion of the beach area along the waterfront. It has all the settings and splendour for pleasure , fun and relaxation. Anything you order is available on request. Surprisingly, you can bring in your food and drinks and also buy from the owners.

A CALL FOR ACTION BY NIWA/ NIGERIA’s MINISTRY OF TOURISM

Sadly, in Nigeria and over the years, while there have been a deliberate efforts for the successive governments not to develop new revenue base for their agencies, they have often expanded huge budgets into non- existence/ non profitable projects and programs. Every appointee of government is looking for what to grap, they prefer commissioning building projects than investing in ventures that will generate more revenue to government.

With the creation of the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy, it a fact that if Nigeria is serious of truly exploring the enormous financial potentials endowed in the waterways, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) should shift away from commissioning only buildings, but collaborate with other agencies to develop the tourism attractions and potentials that could generate both foreign and local currencies to Nigeria.

It is high time the Minister of Tourism and its agencies think outside the box, stop spending yearly allocated funds which are generated from other sources, while their industry which has huge potentials to invest and generate revenue are lying idle.

INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES ALONG MARINA- PORTO NOVO WATERWAYS:

From Marina to Porto Novo, there are various tourism attractions untapped along the waterfronts. With strategic partnership and collaboration among government agencies and private operators, such revenue generating tourist sites like International Fish market, Coconut market, irrigation farming , factories and export markets can be established.

Another wasting product along our waterways are Wrecks and Water hyacient. With proper collaboration, these wasting products can be turn to goldmine along our waterways. What about Sand Beach Market, recreation center , guest house and hotels, non exist along the waterways. What about large scale farming activities along the waterfronts? Like seen in the Cotonuo beach area, where million of coconut trees are being planted , which in few years will become a boom business .What are we doing in Nigeria?

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