Lokoja, the Kogi State capital may be ancient in structure and history but it has something millions of Nigerians can’t resist, its food, drinks and atmosphere of splendour. Its location as a city that connects over 19 states of the federation on both sides of the Niger River has made it a Travellers Delight. AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE (Abuja) and SAM EGWU (Lokoja) reports
The ancient city of Lokoja, Kogi State capital and one time administrative capital of Nigeria, is not just a state capital in the country that could be waved at in a passing. There are more to it than can be imagined in the confluence town.
The Kogi State capital has more potential inherent in it than mere facial outlook. Prominent among the potentials is the hub of business activities when travellers arrive. This is the only state capital in Nigeria where tens of thousands of people from over 19 States of the federation travel across every day to the northern states and Abuja, and people from northern states cross to either South South, South East or South West for business entails.
The ‘Lord Lugard’ city may not be famous for its structures when compared to other highbrow Nigerian cities as Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano, Kaduna, Uyo, Calabar and the almighty Abuja the nation’s capital city, but it remains the toast of travellers, endeared for its stopover food joints that have now coloured the landscape of the city.
Lokoja, even as a capital city, has no airport, neither a train station nor a vibrant inland port to welcome and see off travellers but Lokoja is Nigeria’s Dubai, connecting Nigerians to all parts of the country.
Musa Ademola, a businessman who frequent the Abuja-Lagos route almost on a weekly basis, wondered why all drivers prefer to berth at Lokoja for a meal just after two hours of leaving Abuja.
“Abuja-Lagos trip takes up to 12 hours travelling time but after two hours of leaving Abuja, the drivers would stop at Lokoja for a meal. There must be something special in this town that attracts travellers and their drivers,” Ademola said.
The attraction of travellers to the town has forced many of the restaurants operating along the Abuja-Lokoja highway on the bypass of the town to operate 24-hours services.
For those travelling to Lagos, Ibadan the choice of Lokoja ahead of Akure, Owo, Ikare in Ondo State and Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital which are the midway towns shows the uniqueness of Kogi in the hospitality needs of Nigerians.
LEADERSHIP Weekend learnt that the convergence of several major transport companies on Lokoja for meals and relaxation has been made official by the parent companies and the restaurant operators.
The transport companies have specific restaurants and joints where their buses stopover for meals depending on the take homes and other mouth-watering condiments their drivers enjoy. It is a big business that encourages competition among the operators of restaurants and joints in Lokoja.
While the big food vendors smile to the banks with millions of naira daily, there are smaller makeshift food joints and traders who are also cashing in on the frenzy in Lokoja. Even newspaper vendors have also found a veritable place to sell papers including LEADERSHIP Weekend seen being carried by the vendors at the various joints.
LEADERSHIP Weekend visited Vincent’s food centre, one of the stopover eating centres at the popular NATACO area along Lokoja-Abuja highway and a good number of persons who had travelled from Abuja enroute Lagos told our Reporter that it was convenient for them in Lokoja to avoid unnecessary delays when traveling.
Mr. Akpan Julius, trader, said he had been traveling through Lokoja from Abuja to Lagos and discovered that “once I have my meal in Lokoja on my way from Abuja to Lagos it sustains me till I berth in Lagos,” he said, adding “for me the quality of food around this joint, in Lokoja, is appreciable and in the last three years I have been on this route, I appreciate God, no issues.”
The Manager of Vincent’s Inn, Onyedika Ogwu, in a reaction to why people always patronise his food compared to the frequency at which they stop at other joints, he said, “We always try to meet the demands of customers, it isn’t other magic than always reading the psychology of your customers through that you will know what they want.
“We have a suggestion box which reads ‘tell others if we meet your demand but tell us if we fail’ from there we are able to set a standard becoming trailblazer for others to follow. One important thing about business especially in food vending is one needs a lot of courage because it could happen that you don’t make good sales, but could you leave when people have known you, that is how we got to where we are today,” he said.
The concept of the business of food vending, with enduring character, emanates among a group in Lokoja, popularly called NATACO, and even the name has become a household name among travellers and motorists in Lokoja.
Mr. and Mrs. Nndubuisi Egbo, with their two kids have been customers of NATACO for years, according to him after leaving Enugu town, “there is no convenient place to eat before reaching Abuja and Lokoja has almost brought out the centre that could be a place to relax before the final lap of the journey.
“In fact, when you are in Lokoja, traveling from East to Abuja you are already at home. Though the fish here is costly but you have more time to relax. The boys here are not bad,” Mr. Egbo said.
Most of the travellers who appreciated the opportunity to relax and feel at home in Lokoja before completing their journeys however, are a little worried over the state of sanitation in the environment.
Many who would not want their names mentioned in prints, stated that the only problem with the environment is how to improve the hygiene situation of the place.
Despite that, it does not prevent people from patronising the food joints, “it’s as well important to improve the environment,” said a traveller.
They enthused that even the business managers alone cannot carry out the sanitation on their own without the support of the government.
“This place, particularly this part of Lokoja is prone to flooding. As it is the gateway, to Northern end and Southeast, Southwest and South South, the first impression of the city is noticed from the entry point that is where the business men alone cannot do it without the support of the government. Preferably, a synergy between the government and the business men in resolving the intractable problems of environmental situation will benefit the businessmen and the people,” a food vendor said.
Apart from the food available at the points with relative convenience in Lokoja, the possibility of meeting friends from different parts of the country was not ruled out. Alhaji Hussain Abubakar said it was in Lokoja that he met two of his friends who he had not seen for two years. “It was a happy moment for us to meet after two years of separation,” he said.
Many of the travelers point to the serenity of Lokoja, as the reason they always berth in the city for relaxation before completing their journey. Some tourism experts were of the view that the Kogi State government should take advantage of its location in the country to improve and showcase its tourism potential which in the end, will generate revenue for the state.
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