By Mike Ebonugwo
IT was an Independence anniversary public holiday to remember for food loving Lagosians. A well prepared food certainly appeals to all. So, it was not surprising that Lagos Bar Beach was the destination for many on Sunday and Monday, October 2- 3, 2016. The attraction was a food and beverage fiesta tagged “The Flavours of Lagos”, an event organisers said was a celebration of the culinary delights that abound in this commercially active city with a mega city ambition.
While the event, an initiative of the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, lasted, visitors to the historic Bar Beach, a popular tourist destination, could not get enough of the sight, sound and smell of it all. With the constant melodic appeal of recorded music and live musical performances, the tantalizing aroma of different cuisines that pervaded the air and the enchanting setting provided by numerous food vendors; the experience for all who came was at once heady and intoxicating. Indeed it was a rich blend of menus that successfully tempted and seduced the most jaded palate.
In fact, one could not help but be tempted to sample the varying offers of food, drinks and spices as you toured the display stands of the 56 participating food and beverage vendors. The variety of their menus proved very inviting and exciting indeed, leaving you wondering how much you can taste and take away. From vendors displaying local and foreign cuisines, there was enough variety for all who had come to partake in this culinary adventure.
For foreign menus, there were many vendors offering Chinese, Italian, Continental, Caribbean, Thai, Jamaican, Belgian, etc. delicacies in grilled, cooked, baked, stewed and peppered servings. As usual burgers, shawarma, chicken and chips, cheese burger, French fries, cookies, cakes, pastries, etc. featured prominently alongside cocktails, deserts and several varieties of fruit juices and other assorted drinks. The local menus were fully represented through vendors such as Ourdelicacy, Ounje Express, Nellies Nigeria, Slimolobe, Homemademealsng, etc, which offered popular local delicacies such as roasted plantain, ofada rice, coconut rice, amala with ewedu and gbegiri soups, semovita and pounded yam with Oha and other types of soup, smoked peppered fish, mashed beans(ewa agoin),etc.
They were complemented by offerings of kuli-kuli by Afrolems and kilishi, danbu, massa, zobo from Arewa Pot Limited as well as health-based teas, ready to drink coconut milk, palm wine, etc.
Other notable vendors included Casper & Gambini for its gourmet restaurant menu, Harriet and Claire for fresh farm produce, Ocean Basket for sea food, Our Majesty Chinese for Chinese cuisines, Viande Butchers for its premium butchery, and not forgetting ice cream vendor, Hans and Rene and Sugarush Confectioners for its candy, popcorn, snow cone and candy floss offerings. Many of the vendors also provide online services enabling prospective customers to book their orders online. For Chinyere Mba of Jumia Foods, it is a convenient and satisfactory arrangement that has worked for the mutual benefit of her company and its numerous customers.
Also staking their presence were non-food vendors such as Looping with its virtual reality gaming and Access Bank that provided a mobile ATM to ensure that visitors had enough cash to indulge themselves.
From the steady traffic of visitors milling around the stands, it was easy to assume that most of the vendors certainly smiled their way to the banks. Indeed most of them tacitly acknowledged this, an indication that participation in the food fiesta was a roaring success to them.
Mrs. Yetunde Simpson of Tourism Research and Development, Lagos State Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, said the timing of the fiesta particularly, helped in this regard. “The fiesta opened on a Sunday. It was interesting to see many people trooping down here on their way back from their different churches. The following day, Monday, was a public holiday, so it was easy for quite a number of families to take time out to come here to enjoy themselves because the atmosphere, the setting is quite convenient for them to do so,” she said.
Tourism Commissioner speaks
Speaking on the Flavours of Lagos fiesta and the consideration that gave rise to it, the immediate past state Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Folorunsho Folarin-Coker, had this to say: “It’s a celebration of the culinary diversity that we have in Lagos. A lot of people don’t know what is available in Lagos. If you don’t know what is available in Lagos, it’s difficult to be motivated to go out to seek to do something. So, we looked at something that is very strong in Lagos….. The foods of Lagos: Yoruba food, Hausa food, Igbo food, Lebanese food, Chinese food, and then there are a fusion of all of those culinary delights.
“So we said, let’s try something; let’s get the people who make different types of food in Lagos to 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 out on the celebration of Nigeria’s 56 Independence anniversary, being a public holiday, to come and display their wares, … to show people that these are the culinary delights we have available in Lagos.”
He was also quick to acknowledge that it was a success from the point of organisation and business for the vendors. “We’re encouraging the consumption of Lagos by driving revenues directly to the small businesses within the small communities. This afternoon I walked around and I was delighted to find out, from some of them, about 60 per cent of the vendors, and everyone I spoke to said they sold out everything they brought to sell. Now that is a delight for me and it shows that people will come out to consume knowing that if they come out to do so it will be in a clean and safe environment and that is what we have achieved here,” he said.
Food fiesta as a tourist asset
For Coker, the Flavours of Lagos was more than a mere food fiesta. According to him: “This is just one of the tourist assets of Lagos. If you define tourism properly, Lagos is the Dubai of sub-Saharan Africa. And everybody from within Nigeria and outside Nigeria comes to buy from Lagos. Lagos is the Mecca of sub-Saharan Africa…I mean do you know how many people come here to pray? You got the Redeemed Christian Church of Christ, we got Winners, The Synagogue Church of TB Joshua, etc, which is why a huge number of Africans come here to pray…….So you have religious tourism, you have commercial tourism, ….you have economic tourism. Now this is just one of the things, the assets that support tourism: people need to eat when they move from place to place. People need safety when they go somewhere to enjoy something; they should be able to move from one place to another by safe transportation”.
Food and agric businesses
The former Commissioner said the fiesta also aims to promote the economic benefits of local food and agriculture, saying: “The more you consume Lagos in terms of what we’re doing here in the Flavours of Lagos, the more products of agric business is promoted and encouraged …I walked out and found a young lady who was packaging agricultural produce and delivering it to homes; she operates from an online platform. You may not need to go to the market any more, you can order what you want to buy, your tomatoes, onions, etc from home; it’s delivered to you; it’s clean, it’s packaged. ….When I look at somebody doing this, it inspires me about how we are to redefine Lagos in terms of what our needs are and addressing them.”
Sustaining this kind of tourist project
On the organisation of the fiesta itself, Mr Coker informed that it was led by the vendors and the corporate sponsors. He did not stop there. “This is not funded by the Lagos State government. It’s an initiative of the Lagos State government, but the initiative itself is like a public-private liability company. So, it is in that environment that we can shake hands properly with the vendors and corporate sponsors to deliver this. Now, who are the corporate sponsors? The corporate sponsors included the Nigerian Breweries, Pepsi, Mikano, etc. All of them benefit from activities like this. People are consuming their products. So, it’s a symbiotic relationship. And that means that I as an agency of government I’m creating a platform that encourages the consumption of the products of the corporate sponsors sold through the vendors to the general population.
“People can’t afford to travel to London anymore to ….I mean if you take one dollar, 480 naira, it can only buy you half of one burgher. The minimum price of a burgher at MacDonalds is about two dollars. Take two dollars and enter Mama Put, you have a solid meal for one day.
“So, I’m encouraging the consumption of more assets of Lagos, of Nigeria, of what we have already within our jurisdiction and control. And I think we can see the benefits of that. Imagine if we ran this monthly, what will it do to that coconut seller’s cash flow; what will it do to the cash flow of the person the coconut seller is buying the coconut from? If we did this in five locations once a month, what does this mean to the economy of the local community? So, we’re driving the money directly into the pockets of the businesses at the grassroots.
“This is just the beginning, a test of what is possible. From what I have seen, it’s something that can continue and can work. On this particular location, this is easier because it’s a historic location, Bar Beach. We have had Bar Beach Shows and all that. So the history helps to drive it. Very easily I think we can make a road show of this just to encourage …consumption at the grass root level by driving the revenues….I mean, every musician is a small business, the screen is a small business, the stage is a small business …….the lighting is a small business, this canopy is a small business. Look at how many small businesses are affected. Yes, a huge sum of money is spent in putting it together, but look at the multiplier effects in terms of how many more people will benefit from this. It’s encouraging and we will look closely to expanding to continuing this as a road show.
Flavours of Lagos will never end. Everyday you discover something new: A Calabar woman that cooks Indian curry in a special way; a new flavour that is new to Lagos,” he stated with enthusiasm.
Coker also informed that the Flavours of Lagos initiative was in keeping with the tradition of similar fiestas in the state. “We started somewhere; we started with One Lagos fiesta, that was the end of last year. We’ve done Flavours of Lagos now. We’ve created three brands in less than a year. And they are all strong and powerful brands. We’re nurturing and creating the contents in the hope that we will start to do more. This can be done in five locations. If we entertain a 100,000 people and those 100,000 people spend an average five thousand naira over a two-day period, inclusive transport, to eat, drink and transport themselves home, multiply that. Those are the lines we’re thinking along in terms of community tourism and driving consumption down to the grassroots,” he noted.
He also attributed the success of the programme to team effort, including the support of the state governor, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode. “I have a leader that permits the flexibility of thought; I have a good team; this is not possible without the security services, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Transportation; everything everybody does affects me positively. There’s nothing I could do without their support. So, this is all team effort; this is Team Lagos.
He also used the opportunity to assure that Lagos is safe for Lagosians and tourists, adding: “Lagos is safer than it has ever been. A lot of money that have been expended in terms of providing the security apparatus, the equipment and support that they require is second to none in Nigeria. Every time the governor spends more on security, it’s just not only for you and I, it’s for everybody that comes here because that is the level of security that is available….within Lagos. If you look at February last year we had a marathon; people ran 26 kilometres in Lagos. There was no incident of crime…If you look at One Lagos Fiesta, there was no single incident of crime recorded…..Compare that to some of the European cities. When last did you hear of somebody walking into a supermarket and shooting at people. They will say Lagos is not safe, but I will say it’s your city that is not safe. I’m more at risk in some of those countries and their cities than I am here. So, let us stop thinking negatively about Lagos.”