(First published in ONGOING CONCERNS, my NEXT newspaper column, in June 2010)
By Tolu Ogunlesi
It is the shame of the century. The fact that Lagos, a city of fifteen million, is without a proper National Museum. If you think the “National Museum” at Onikan is a museum you’ve got another think coming – that place, dusty, dimly lit, supremely depressing, is a disgrace to this country. It is a disgrace to the legacy of Murtala Mohammed, whose official car (in which he was shot and killed) lies forlorn in a padlocked garage. It is a disgrace to the memories of all of those great Empires that once made up this “geographical expression” now called Nigeria. Disgrace, period.
If Lagos is serious about becoming a city to be reckoned with, then the government needs to pay a lot more attention to making history feel at home amidst the enchanting dysfunction that is Lagos. Following therefore is a proposal to kickstart a reinvention of Lagos. The proposal revolves around the iconic Lagos yacht known as the Sunborn (Sunburnt?). But a little history first:
The Sunborn was once a proud resident of the city of London. In 2003 it won an award for ‘Best Kept Hotel in the United Kingdom’. Twice (2005 and 2006) a London newspaper group awarded it the prize for ‘Best Hotel in London’ in the ‘Food and Drink’ category.
But that was then. The floating hotel soon became a victim of its own success. Unable to cope with a rapidly-expanding clientele, it had to be replaced by a bigger boat. That was the first misfortune. The second misfortune was even more overwhelming: the hotel caught the attention of the Lagos State Government. The state Commissioner for Tourism, Tokunbo Afikuyomi thought the Sunborn would look good on the Lagos skyline. In 2008 the yacht arrived in Lagos.
Afikuyomi was ecstatic. He boasted that the Sunborn would “would put [Lagos] in the league of the first five major cities of the world with similar hospitable facilities and tourism earnings capabilities.” He spoke too soon, too loudly. Two years after the Sunborn berthed in Lagos waters, it has become a museum piece. It lies derelict, an eloquent monument to the inimitable ‘Nigerian factor’; its trans-Atlantic trip now clearly a drawn-out journey to Death Row.
My proposal seeks to take drastic measure to salvage the yacht. I hereby propose that the Sunborn, the “Pride of London” that has become the Shame of Lagos, be converted into a Museum: The Floating Museum of Folly – a testament to the infinite ability of Nigeria and its people to energetically inflate ambition with foolishness; to complicate good fortune with bad luck; to transmute child’s play into rocket science. The idea of the Museum will be to serve as a one-stop shop for the patently irresponsible legacies of Nigerians and their leaders.
The Lagos State Government is in good company. Nigeria’s history is littered with monuments to folly; ill-conceived projects dreamt up by governments in active collaboration with the armies of ‘consultants’ and ‘contractors’ that have occupied the land from the Beginning.
First in will be Ayodele Fayose, swashbuckling former Governor of Ekiti State, who ‘chickened out’ into the hands of the EFCC. The man sunk billions of state funds into a poultry project that never took off. The money did however succeed in taking off, crash-landing well out of sight.
Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha, men whose administrative style can be justifiably summed up in one line: “if in doubt, set up a government agency!” will be prominently represented in this Museum, with the relics of MAMSER (Babangida), and the National Reconciliation Committee and War Against Indiscipline and Corruption (Abacha). Obasanjo will make it in with the tricycle-buying NAPEP.
Ojo Maduekwe’s famous bicycle, the one he almost committed suicide on in Abuja a few years ago will be on display, as will Patricia Etteh’s (proposed) 98 million naira massagers. There will also be famous “Star of David” from the monstrous carbuncle that Timipre Sylva inflicted on the impoverished face of his oil-rich state. Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke’s legendary ‘Obama Dinner’ will be recreated full-scale within the Museum. On display will be thousands of National Identity Cards, bankers’ payslips from a few years ago, and Margin Loan documents.
It is not only our leaders and who will be memorialised in the Sunborn. Ordinary Nigerians will have a section devoted to them; to the mindless spending culture that sees weekend after weekend transformed into naira-burning orgies. That section will feature embossed invitation cards and hypnotisingly-patterned, horribly overpriced aso-ebis.
The idea of the Sunborn as a Floating Museum of Folly will serve a number of purposes:
It will in some ways redeem the Sunborn dream. That yacht was built to be a crowd-puller; if, in Lagos, it cannot draw the crowds as a luxury hotel, it surely will as a museum.
It will create jobs and provide income for guides, souvenir dealers, and tour package firms.
In a land with a curious predilection for amnesia it will ensure that the past and present never fail to walk cheek by jowl. The hope is that the past will eventually shame the present into sensibleness.
Take this piece as an open letter to Mr. Afikuyomi (representing the Lagos State Government). I volunteer to be an unpaid Consultant (that word again!) to the project. In my mind I can already see the Floating Museum of Folly, its rich red carpets worn out beneath the feet of the tens of thousands who will visit annually.
And I can picture scenes at Nigerian embassies across the world, as foreigners hustle for visas to enable them pay obligatory pilgrimage to what Aunt Dora will inevitably refer to as “Africa’s biggest museum!”
[UPDATE: That ‘ship’ has since sailed away, back to God-knows-where. A Thames sighting has been reported Most disappointingly, the ruling party in Lagos has simply dismissed it as a “bad business” deal that has now been “done away with.” (see link)
Seriously? Do we know how much that “bad business” cost the state’s taxpayers? Are we allowed to know?