By Ayo Oyoze Baje
“Your perception is your reality. When you see something wrong and you refuse to talk about it, you are part of the problem. In my candid opinion, Nigeria is a beautiful destination of choice for tourists from across the globe”
–Prince Bamidele Obaitan (Honourable Commissioner of Arts, Culture, Tourism and Diaspora Affairs, Edo State)
The highly engaging discourse on the timely and thematically relevant topic titled: ‘Insecurity in Nigeria: Which Way Forward for Tourism ?’ held at the recent Tourism Parliament hosted by the Ayo Omotoso-led Association of Travel and Tourism Writers of Nigeria (ATTWON) turned out to be rich, robust, in-depth and informative. In fact, it became such an eye opener that one had the compelling urge for wide dissemination to the public. The event took place at the CitiHeight Luxury Hotel, Ikeja Lagos.
It should be noted that tourism creates great economic benefits such as income and substructure development especially for the rural areas and can provide organic economic growth for small trade. The bitter truth however, is that Nigeria has not maximized the potentials inherent in tourism. It was ranked 165th in the world, put at 0.026 tourists per resident, coming 8th in Western Africa, and generating some paltry amount of $321.00 million US Dollars out of approximately 5.8 billion U.S. dollars in the world tourism sector in 2021. That is according to https://www.worlddata.info › Africa › Nigeria. Therefore, this topic could not have been more auspicious.
Amongst the erudite minds and tourism experts who did justice to the topic were Prince Yemisi Shyllon, Nigeria’s tourism icon who happens to be Africa’s largest private art collector and founder of OYASAF, Charles Ukomadu, a Tourism Consultant/ Trainer and Hon. Prince Bamidele Obaitan, Commissioner of Tourism, Edo state. Others include Ambassador (Dr). Okhidievbie Roy, a security consultant and Chairman, ChrisHerm Ltd, Rotimi Aiyetan, Director, South-West ,Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and Tewo Jegede, Head Trust Legal Services, a female lawyer. According to them, some of the critical factors that act as frictional forces on the path to maximizing the huge potentials of tourism in Nigeria include the hydra-headed monster of insecurity, unemployment, lack of impactful legal framework, and the weak institution of ill-motivated, ill-equipped security forces. There are also the lack of credible data on tourist sites, inadequate focus on domestic tourism and of course, corruption across the social spectrum. The obvious lack of application of modern information technology; lack of strong synergy between the public and private sectors, on one hand, and between the related ministries, at the federal and state levels are equally responsible.
Significant too, is the negative perception of the country’s security profile, as wrongly projected even by some Nigerians outside our shores which has served to de-brand the country away from the status of a tourism destination of choice. This was the position of Roy as supported by Ukomadu, who described tourism as a fragile, sensitive industry which responds easily to safety and security issues.
Interestingly, one state that has put the positive perception of tourism into practice is Edo state. As expertly amplified by the Commissioner of Tourism, the Ososo-born Obaitan who returned from the United States with his family to add value to the industry, the governor, Godwin Obasaeki has taken bold and audacious steps to rewrite the tourism narrative. He did so by revamping the civil service, creating an enabling environment for businesses to thrive, investing heavily in the communities and developing technology using the optic fibre cables and CCTV cameras.
In addition, all manner of bushes are cleared off the two sides of the highways. So confident is he on the safety measures in place that he has brought in foreign music stars to perform in his hometown and is going round the tourist sites across the state for credible data base. This is commendable and worthy of emulation by other states. And lest we deceive ourselves, Nigeria is not yet a tourism destination, Ukomadu insisted. For instance, countries where tourism has thrived took the responsibility to safeguard their treasures while projecting same; with the right synergy between the public and private sectors. One of the shortcomings he identified is the gap that currently exists with regards to when acts of insecurity take place and how fast the security personnel on ground respond. The proactive measures taken based on intelligence information gathered is few and far between. Painfully too, some security operatives who are supposed to protect us become accomplices to the crimes so committed. Training and re-training of the tourist operators and the police has therefore, become an imperative.
That reinforces the position of Jegede, a legal expert that we should admit, to begin with that the entire security architecture in Nigeria has broken down. She boldly asserted that some lawyers and judges are equally guilty of the insecurity challenge because of corruption. The issue got to a heady point that she left the law profession for some time because of the rot in the system.
The way out therefore, is to retool the laws on security and implement them. We should return to community policing. Fast-tracking the judicial system is also a sine qua non to speedy delivery of justice. She questioned the impact of the Amotekun in the absence of arms and ammunition. On his part, Rotimi Aiyetan highlighted the fact that tourism should be viewed as the king of all enterprises in the world and positively projected. That explains why his company is partnering with Google to promote domestic tourism. From Ondo to Ekiti and Osun states the digital projection of tourism sites is being done through virtual reality.
The challenges ahead include the digital dynamics of the 5G network service likely to be launched by November, this year. Also MTN network will be selling sim-less phones as from February, 2023.He highlighted the fact that most of the tourist sites are in the rural areas but unfortunately we are not doing enough to promote domestic tourism. Indeed, Nigerians should be encouraged to visit our own places of attraction instead of jetting out to Dubai, Seychelles and the Caribbean at the drop of a hat. In addition, we have to go back to develop agriculture and tourism because the crude oil we have so much relied on for eons will soon become a thing of the past. That was also the firm position of Prince Shyllon, who stated emphatically that clean, nuclear energy is coming.
On the best way forward he strongly canvasses for a thorough review of the 1999 Constitution foisted on us by Decree 24 of 1999. It is questionable that some local community security personnel in some parts of the country are legally armed to the teeth while Amotekun has remained a toothless bulldog! That is because security is on the Exclusive List at the federal level, making the state governors ‘chief security officers’ without the power of security matters! What an aberration. He also canvassed for the revival of the Tinapa Resort, the light rails as well as River Basin Authorities, once located in Anambra, Osun and Ogun states. Leadership should be proactive with the use of CCTV cameras and focus our resources on the development of domestic tourism. It is not rocket science. But what is germane is for the policy makers to adopt and implement these useful ideas on the rejuvenation of the tourism sector in Nigeria.
1Other dignitaries in attendance included Mr. Olufemi Talabi, Chairman of CitiHeight hotel,Mr. Dada Bankole, Prince Folasagbade Kudehinbu, Richard Inumah, and Olalekan Akinruli, both media consultants. to rein in the monster, characterized by some unpatriotic policemen and soldiers acting as accomplices in the crimes as perpetrated by Boko Haram insurgents, free-wheeling bandits, armed herders and of course, kidnap.
Baje writes from Lagos