Controversial plan to promote Nigeria or the Jackson 5?

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A controversial facelift of the historic slave port of Badagry, Nigeria, consisting of a museum dedicated to double Grammy-winning pop-soul group, the Jackson Five, and a slave history theme park, — which will have a slave route, a slave memorial, an African History Museum, a life size replica of a slave ship, an amphitheatre, a music pavilion, a golf course, condominiums, hotel, casinos, a soccer field and other well planned sporting and medical facilities, shops and restaurants, a drinking well, a harbour as well as fire and police stations — mainly to attract African-Americans and other African diasporans willing to trace their ancestry to Nigeria is said to be underway.

The Motherland Group (TMG) LLC in District Heights, Maryland, USA, the brain behind the planned project says it will honor the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and provide employment opportunities for Nigerians. The developers say they will treat the slave memorial with sensitivity and honour the memory of slavery, which became the driving force behind the economies of Brazil, Europe, The Caribbean, and even the United States of America. They hope it will become a “historical destination” similar to the Holocaust museum in Berlin.

The resort is estimated to pull in about 1.4m visitors representing $407m in revenue in the first year alone, rising to 4.4m visitors that would translate into $1.3b in five years, during which 151,724 direct and indirect jobs would be created. But these figures would be attained if the government changes some of the bureaucratic restrictions on tourists. Nigeria currently receives less than 300,000 tourists visit in a year.

Memories: Slavery and The Jackson 5

Despite insufficient tourist infrastructure and the commonly held opinion of Nigeria as a disoderly and violent destination, TMG argues that their project will be a success. “This will be an adventurous ride giving you an historical overview of African music. From hologram images, concert footage, a state of the art recording facility, to robotic figures displaying the rhythmic beats from 300 years ago where music began leading up to the biggest African group in the world, The Jackson Five/Jacksons”.

“Visitors will be able to see the route their ancestors walked, shackled together as they were whipped toward the point of no-return. Visitors will also be able to pay their respects at the site of a mass grave for those who died before boarding ships across the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors can then travel a few yards in a buggy to play a round of golf. They can visit a replica slave ship to see the conditions Africans suffered, before visiting the world’s only museum dedicated to the memory of the Jackson Five.” said Mr. Gary L. Loster, currently the chairman of TMG and also the CEO of G.L. Loster and Associates.

Condemnation versus Diversification

But the controversial $3.4bn slavery memorial and luxury resort in Badagry has been condemned as being of extremely bad taste even though countries like Ghana and Senegal have successfully turned slave ports into tourist attractions. Critics claim the project is wrought in capitalism and disrespects the sacred memory of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. “It is not appropriate from a cultural or historical point of view, those who are looking for money care about money and no other thing. Money-making and historical memory are allies in the extension of capitalism. You cry with one eye and wipe it off with cold beer, leaving the other eye open for gambling.” Said writer, historian, Professor Toyin Falola of the University of Texas.

However, following the abysmal drop in global oil prices as well as the country’s loss of almost 20 per cent in oil exports due to violent militancy, experts have urged the Nigerian government to find ways to diversify its mainly oil dependent economy. This project could mark the beginning an important shift, albeit small, from a principal economic sector. According to TMG, “The Badagry Historical Resort Development Project of Nigeria in essence can become the newly desired and sought-after vacation destination of the world”.

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