Africa tourism

The Badagry Museum, a sobering reminder of the long history of the slave trade in Nigeria

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It’s Saturday afternoon and students from a primary school in Lagos, Nigeria, traveled with their teacher to the Badagry Heritage Museum to learn about the transatlantic slave trade.

“We wanted to see how people were enslaved at that time,” teacher Temilade Akinola told RFI’s Africa Calling, as the tour ended in Badagry Heritage Museum.

“We wanted to feel their pains, see the chains, see the things they went through so that we understand our heritage.”

Badagry, a border town between Nigeria and Benin, became a thriving slave port in West Africa when European merchants bought and shipped human labor to work on plantations in America.

Visitors to Badagry will learn about the history of this trade at the Badagry Heritage Museum, which contains collections on the slave trade between Africa, Europe and America.

“We try to use the trip to the museum to improve students’ learning ability,” Akinola said of the trip.

“So seeing first-hand those things that we’ve seen in our books and what people have actually gone through, it really helps them understand what they’ve learned in the classroom.”

Inside, Hundeyin Isiaka, originally from Badagry, acts as a tourist guide in a place built in 1863 for administrative purposes to house the district officer.

It was converted into a museum in 2002 on the instructions of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Governor of Lagos State.

“The Badagry Heritage Museum is one of the best sites to visit when talking about slavery,” says Isiaka.

Not far from the Badagry Heritage Museum, the Mobee Slave Relics Museum completes the journey into the past.

The private museum is managed by the descendants of the traditional chief of Badagry.

400 years of history

On display are the original chains used on slaves during the trading days.

“These chains were brought here by white men in the 15th century,” says Prince Abiodun Mobee, a descendant of the royal family. “And all this environment around was used as a slave corridor.”

Chief Sunbu Mobee’s grave is within the plot. The traditional ruler of Badagry at the time of the slave trade died on October 16, 1893.

Abiodun says that it was in 1886 during the reign of Chief Sunbu that slavery stopped in Badagry.

Towards the end of the 18th century, a movement emerged in Europe calling for an end to the slave trade and, later, to slavery itself.

But while Britain – responsible for 50% of the trade in enslaved Africans – supported the abolition of the slave trade, this did not apply to their colonies. Britain’s involvement in the slave trade officially ended in 1833.

Abiodun talks about the importance of this region as Nigeria was an important colony for Britain.

“Every market day here in Badagry 300 slaves were sold. About 17,000 slaves were sold here in Badagry every year.

“And this trade that we’re talking about lasted 400 years. So that tells us that the slave port of Badagry happens to be the largest slave port in West Africa.”

Investment needed

At the water’s edge, several young people relax on makeshift wooden chairs as music blares from a small speaker.

Right in front of them, a man is stoking a fire for a barbecue. A few local hawkers add to the color.

“But this place is a wasteland. The land is in ruins,” laments Abiodun.

Abiodun, itself a tour operator, says the former slave port is operating well below its potential.

He tells how he once organized tours for celebrities like musician LL Cool and other American tourists.

But he says a lack of supporting infrastructure means guides like him struggle to earn enough money from tourism.

“If you come to some advanced countries, tourism is what they use to propel themselves.

“We just need the government’s help to invest more in this type of tourism so that we too here in Nigeria can have something to say.”

Abiodun calls on the government to renovate all sites around slavery and tourism in Badagry to attract more visitors and boost the local economy.

“Before Covid 19 a lot of people were coming to Badagry. We are just trying to get back to those levels now,” Abiodun added.

Listen to the interview in episode 15 of RFI’s Africa Calling podcast.