Last week, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) took off without the input and position of the Nigerian tourism economy.
The trade bloc is worth about $2.5 trillion, aimed at breaking barriers to commerce among African countries. The process is expected to become the largest trading bloc since the formation and birth of World Trade Organization in 1994.
To show some operational readiness through activation of its borders, a major requirement for participating countries, Nigeria is indeed going into the trade show without its tourism and creative industry players.
No doubt, industry players lack coordination. However, there are templates of progressive government intervention through the office of the director-general National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), ably anchored by Otunba Segun Runsewe. Certainly, the haste to go into the continental trade engagement without carrying key stakeholders along is bound to open the Nigerian market to freeloading by countries in the ecosystem with advantages in marketing and promotion budgets more than Nigeria.
Nigeria, with the biggest population in black Africa, primed by years of exposure to foreign goods and services, particularly love for destinations outside Nigeria even where such destinations do not measure up with similar attractions in Nigeria, leaves stakeholders in Nigeria wondering at how to nuture the various cultural tourism products to compete favourably as AfCFTA takes off.
Minister of Culture and Tourism in Nigeria, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, seems too far away from this continental trade reality but his counterpart, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, believes that there are opportunities good enough in the African commerce initiative to promote made-in-Nigeria goods, and boost exports.
According to the minister, Nigeria has worked tirelessly to become a signatory not just in name but to become a major economic and trade powerhouse more than its presence in the ECOWAS region.
Francis Anatogu, secretary, National Action Committee on AfCFTA, says Nigeria will double its export trade to about $50 billion within the decade. He also stated that his office will be coordinating all critical stakeholders to ensure smooth playing field for Nigerian traders and businessmen to explore the vast African market.
Sadly, there are no process to coordinate the cultural tourism and creative sector, leaving gaps to the effects that the huge Nigerian tourism industry would be left for foreign bidders, making the players at home merely operators in bondage.
There is no denying the fact Nigerian stakeholders in the hospitality and tourism industry are small players with little or no financial resources to trade at the continental trade zone, while their counterparts in Africa are blessed with open trade and financial support, sometimes with interest-free features, which help stimulate aggressive presence and takeover of lucrative markets such as Nigeria.
Though most operators are studying the potential and opportunities of the huge African market, feelers from concerned operators point to a gathering of influencers in weeks to come.
Runsewe, who has been at the forefront of engaging the creative and tourism sector to buy into NCAC projects geared towards providing jobs and advancing a more coordinated architecture of the industry, believes that Nigeria will make a bold statement in the African commerce market once the details are brought before stakeholders.
“As president, Africa Region of World Crafts Council (WCC), we shall fully study and partner with all relevant government agencies in Nigeria and other parts in Africa to ensure it is a win-win situation for everyone.
“The Minister of Industry Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, has done well in the AfCFTA initiative and we in the cultural tourism family will take it from there. Nigeria must showcase why we are the biggest black nation in Africa,” Runsewe told me.
Yes, Nigeria is big, but if we fail to get a proper response buy-in from all stakeholders, we shall again play the slave in the African market, where our competitors are coming to the table well prepared and with organizational skills well oiled in patriotism and dedication to the good of their people today and tomorrow.
At our end, it is not out of place for Minister Lai Mohammed to put some sense of seriousness to our AfCFTA cultural tourism expectations and give the industry something to cheer about, but will he live up to this critical billing? Anyway, we are on the watchout as Africa goes into a big deal!