It was one occasion that gladdened the heart of the governor and his team, adding to the upward swing with which the Akinwunmi Ambode administration has been moving in the past several months.
And before anyone could say Up Barca!, Lagosians too, in their millions, had got wind of the news and became expectant – the world’s biggest football club, Barcelona FC of Spain, has chosen Lagos as the next destination where it plans to build a Football Academy and help develop both the technical skills and entrepreneurial acumen required in nurturing a formidable and profitable football team.
That was the good news that started the week for Governor Ambode and some members of his cabinet who welcomed the leadership of Barcelona FC team on a courtesy visit to the Government House in Alausa, Ikeja. And what a piece of good news that runs in sync with Lagos’ fresh appellation as Africa’s destination of choice when it comes to sporting and entertainment activities.
When it finally berths, the Barca Academy in Lagos will be the first of its kind in Africa, since the other 17 similar academies that the club runs are scattered all over the world with none in Africa. Bringing the 18th Barca Academy to Lagos, of course, says nothing other than reaffirm the preeminence of this world’s largest black metropolis which is lucky enough to have a governor that is keen to explore the potential that sport offers in placing this wonderful city-state on a global map.
It was expected, therefore, that Governor Ambode would not mince words in giving his unflinching support to this laudable proposition that sits well with his campaign promise of using sports, entertainment and tourism to drive youth empowerment in this bustling city-state of 21 million people, 65per cent of which are youths.
I do not think anyone should be in doubt over Barcelona FC’s capacity to deliver on its promise. I had the opportunity of doffing my hat to the Barca phenomenon in June 2014 while attending the World Editors Congress in Barcelona. A tour of and dinner at Camp Nou, Barca’s impressive stadium, was one icing on the cake of taking several hundreds of media chiefs across the world to the city that is as ferociously patriotic as it is accommodating and multicultural like Lagos. Central to the success of this club is the philosophy of developing home-grown players through the youth academy and soccer camps. The Barcelona Soccer Academy (BSA) has since established itself as a breeding ground for talented ball jugglers and future millionaires.
Lagos can certainly do with such a veritable platform for self discovery and expression among its teeming youths, moreso that it’s a direct foreign investment.
Coming barely a month after the hugely successful Lagos City Marathon, Barcelona FC’s recent visit touches the heart of Governor Ambode’s core promise to Lagosians. For it must be recalled that throughout the several months of breath-taking electioneering campaign all over Lagos in 2014/15, Project T.H.E.S.E was a major campaign point. To Ambode, the need to use Tourism, Hospitality, Entertainment and the Arts as well as Sports to bring Excellence to Lagos State would be paramount in his administration.
As one whose word is his bond, the crux of the matter is how in nine months, he has left no one in doubt that Ambode’s Lagos will be an eye-opener in matters of sports, entertainment and tourism. The first indication of the new glorious Lagos came in December when the governor ingeniously decentralised the idea of fun and merriment that normally usher in the New Year. Before him, Lagos had joined other world’s global cities to celebrate the cross-over night with pomp and ceremony. It had the Lagos Countdown that caught the world’s attention for its effervescence.
But the Lagos Countdown held only at one venue (Bar Beach) and just for one night. If everybody must be carried along, and feel the impact of a new government, then the concept of cross-over night must spread to every nook and crannies of the state, so to speak. And so, the One Lagos Fiesta was born as an audaciously ambitious cultural extravaganza, running for five days (December 27 – 31) across five venues (Agege, Bar Beach, Epe, Ikorodu and Badagry) and thereby carrying along all the five administrative divisions of the state. With this, a new dawn has set with a new way of celebrating The Countdown.
Music, theatre, comedy and tourism all neatly rolled into one to give a stamp of approval to an idea that reinforces the concept of unity in diversity that Lagos better exemplifies. The fiesta provided a platform for talents to flourish and for a profitable merger of commerce and the arts to emerge. Artisans got engaged; food and snacks vendors saw business opportunities in places they had once neglected and consumer brands that identified with OLF as sponsors discovered millions of new customers who were sold on the idea of one city-state serving as the ultimate rallying point of men and ideas.
At the Agege stadium alone, more than a million people turned up on the last night of December 31st. Sea of ecstatic heads and not a single untoward incident was recorded. And from Bar Beach to Badagry and Epe to Ikorodu, it was one huge ball…of music, chatter, camaraderie, life! What else could have better captured the essence of Lagos?
But the world noticed and applauded.
Perhaps, this is what explains the enthusiasm that heralded the Lagos City Marathon, first of its kind in this city in 30 years, when it held to a global acclaim on February 6, barely four weeks after OLF. It must have been evident through the Lagos Marathon that global cities do not function in isolation; they share their story with the world; present themselves as destinations of choice and constantly oil the wheel of engagement with the rest of the world.
This is what Lagos State government has succeeded in doing with the marathon. Getting over 20.000 people to compete with several hundred coming from abroad, including about 60 A-list world record holders shows the world that Lagos has arrived and is on the same page with other global cities.
Lagosians will not forget the 68-year-old woman, Abiola Oshodi-Adeniyibada, who completed the marathon: from the National Stadium in Surulere, down to Western Avenue, all the way down to Ikorodu Road, to Gbagada and the whole stretch of Third Mainland Bridge down to Ikoyi-Victoria Island before terminating at the Eko Atlantic City. A 42-kilometre stretch that signposts the curly glory of Lagos metropolis.
The multiplier effect of this global endorsement for Lagos as a global city can only better be imagined.
With a successful world-class event like that, we are not just telling the world that our citizens can embrace the culture of running, fitness and better living; but that our city can also welcome, safe guard and entertain the best of world visitors. It was an eloquent testimony that the huge investment in security equipment donated to the Nigerian Police by Governor Ambode has not only brought crime down by 65 per cent, but can also reassure foreigners that they are safe in this Africa’s most populated city. Indeed, it is a message in self-confidence and invitation to potential sponsors and investors that they can partner with and indeed bank on Lagos.
In welcoming the Barcelona Soccer Academy, just like London, Dubai and other cities have done, therefore, Lagos is only joining the big league that it rightly belongs. It will play host to the African Nations Cup Beach Soccer Championship in December just like it will identify with the series this year of world-class, continental events that celebrate the arts, culture and entertainment and of course sports.
They thought it would be long in coming, but this city of bright lights, courtesy of the Light up Lagos Project has since announced its arrival. Its glory shines even to the visually impaired and its message is unambiguous: It’s One Lagos, Love Lagos!