It is not in doubt that the nation’s economy is in deep crisis. Many concerned Nigerians have proffered diverse solutions to get the economy out of the woods. While some Nigerians have supported the convocation of an economic summit, others have canvassed for the diversification of the economy through agriculture, exploitation of solid minerals and industrialization. All the suggestions on how to grow the economic beyond oil are good but I am highly fascinated by Otunba Olusegun Runsewe’s well argued position on diversifying the economy through the exploitation of our numerous tourism potentials.
I share the belief that tourism is one potential area of economic growth stimulation that has been grossly neglected by several administrations in the country. Many countries in Africa and elsewhere depend much on their tourism for most of their foreign exchange earnings. Nigeria can equally tap its tourism potentials. Runsewe’s views are contained in his keynote address: “Our Heritage, Our Destination in a new Economy,” presented at the New Telegraph Economic Summit held in Lagos on March 17, 2016 anchored under the theme: “Nigeria: Beyond Oil Economy.”
Runsewe has full grasp of the subject under discussion having served as the Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) between 2006 and 2013. He is aware of the dangers of our over-dependence on oil. His diversification agenda is based on the slogan, “Oil is good, but tourism is better, because oil is exhaustible while tourism is sustainable and environment friendly.” He stated that the nation’s economy was primarily based on agriculture before the advent of oil in 1970. According to him, “before 1970, agriculture contributed more than 75 per cent of Nigeria’s export earnings.
Since then, however, agriculture has stagnated, partly due to government neglect, poor investment and ecological factors such as drought, disease and reduction in soil fertility. By the mid 1990s, agriculture’s share of the nation’s export had declined to less than five per cent, thus giving way to crude oil as the mainstay of the economy.”
He contended that the era of much money from crude oil has its good and bad sides as well. While it led to development of infrastructure and improved standard of living of Nigerians, it also brought its woes. Runsewe asserts that Nigerian oil wealth has tended to becloud our sense of initiative and economic vision, while promoting a national culture of unbridled corruption, laziness, opportunism and primitive acquisitive tendency. He says that the fluctuation in the world prices of petroleum products posed great threat to the stability of our economy.
I agree with Runsewe that the low price of crude oil which made the government to peg oil price benchmark for the 2016 budget at 38 USD makes a compelling need for the diversification of the economy as the only way for a sustainable economic development in Nigeria. He believed that “our rich heritage, when carefully harnessed and packaged, has the potential to support a robust tourism industry that could serve as a major pillar and key player in a new economy.”
Contextually, tourism is the active process of harvesting profit from culture by converting the raw ingredients of life into money making enterprise through the conscious and deliberate development of culture into products for sale and consumption. Tourism is a remarkable economic and social phenomenon of the 21st Century service-led economy. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UN-WTO), international tourism arrivals shows an evolution from less than 25 million arrivals in 1950 to 66 million in 1999, corresponding to an average annual growth rate of seven per cent.
It projected that international tourism arrival would increase from 56.4 million in 1995 to 1.5 trillion in 2020. Similarly, earnings from international tourism is expected to increase from USD 477 billion in 2000 to about USD 2.0 trillion in 2020. Besides, tourism is the highest employer of labour in the world. According to Knox and Marston, “tourism is the largest global industry in terms of employment and revenues. It is estimated that one of every 15 workers worldwide is engaged in transportation, feeding and otherwise serving tourists. The Tourism National Re-Orientation Thematic Group (NTWG) Report states that: environmentally, tourism, when properly developed and managed, can serve as a mechanism for protecting natural environment; preserving historical and archaeological and religious monuments; and stimulating the practice of local cultures, folklores, traditions, arts and craft, and cuisine.
And economically, tourism brings many benefits to the central government, local authorities as well as private sector though the generation of foreign revenue, financial returns on investment, taxation on tourism and tourism products and linkages to other level industries such as agriculture and fisheries. No doubt, tapping of the nation’s tourism potentials is bound to engender sustainable economic growth through the creation of employment, alleviation of poverty and empowerment of the people, the skilled and the unskilled, whether educated or not.
Nigeria has a landmass of over 923,000 sq kilometers stretching from Atlantic Coast and the Rain Forest in the South through the Savannah to the semi-arid region in the North. The diverse ecosystems manifesting in varying climatic zones, network of rivers, lakes, beautiful beaches, awesome caves, warm and cold springs and waterfalls add to the beauty, glamour and vagrancy of Nigeria’s natural environment.
Nigeria’s great ecotourism resources include Wildlife zones that have been created and protected as National Parks, Game Reserves and Sanctuaries. There are 36 Game Reserves in Nigeria, established for the protection, preservation and conservation of Wildlife. These include the Okomu National Park in Edo, Old Oyo National Park in Oyo State, Oban National Park in Cross River State, Kainji Lake National Park in Niger State, Gashaka Gumti National Park in Adamawa and Taraba states, Kamuku National Park in Kaduna State and Chad Basin National Park in Borno State.
Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-religious and multi-cultural nation state with over 350 distinct ethnic nationalities. Each of these ethnic groups has its unique cultural heritage. Nigeria remains the most culturally diverse nation in black Africa.
Notable cultural festivals in Nigeria include Nwonyo Fishing Festival in Taraba State, Osun-Osogbo Cultural Festivals in Osun State, Igbo-Ukwu New Yam Festival in Anambra State, Igue Festival in Benin-City, Edo State, Olojo Festival in Ile-Ife, Osun State, Eyo Festival in Lagos State, Abuja and Calabar Carnivals in the Federal Capital Territory and Cross River State respectively.
Nigeria has potentials for religious tourism. A lot of religious activities take place in Nigeria and they draw participants from different parts of the world. They include the Annual Conventions of the Living Faith Church and the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Lagos. Tourists throng into Prophet T.B Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations, Lagos for worship and deliverance on a regular basis.
Conference tourism is one of the emerging sectors of the Nigerian tourism industry. National and international conferences, seminars and workshops hold in major cities in the country. Apart from Abuja and Lagos, cities like Port Harcourt, Enugu, Owerri, Calabar, Kano and Kaduna are also important destinations for conference tourism in Nigeria. Bar-Beach, Lekki Beach, Badagry Beach, Eleko Beach in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Bonny Beaches in Rivers State, Ibeno Sand Beach in Akwa Ibom and others are also tourist attractions. Let government tap these tourist potentials in its bid to diversify the economy.