On this beat for over two decades, one has come to appreciate the need to remain steadfast and patient in our collective national desire and aspiration to make tourism gains. In the course of this quest, one has seen Nigeria take some critical steps, such as giving tourism a space at economic and political discussions during the time of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as President of Nigeria, between 1999 and 2008.
Consequently, and remarkably, certain vision statements on national tourism blueprint projected to guide our future tourism dream came to the fore and the follow-up process challenged this feverish reality.
Sadly, we lost the initiative to that ever destructive metaphor known as the Nigerian factor, as we picked the worst in our midst to destroy the tourism gains achieved from 2006 to 2013, under the watch of Otunba Segun Runsewe, at the turbocharged Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), which he aggressively coordinated and mentored to help our national tourism rebirth and growth, to the surprise of competing and competitive tourism destinations in the world.
And just as President Muhammadu Buhari rightly noted in his New Year address, the Nigerian response to processes and fulcrums of national development surely highlights most depressing drawbacks to the need to speed up our arrival at tourism uhuruland.
In this attempt to give us a picture into how tourism activities in Nigeria may play out, one is challenged to keep hope in view yet determined to say it as it is, not for the sake of encouraging the growth of pessimistic tourism community in Nigeria but to help the Presidency and the National Assembly to quickly address the failed national tourism frameworks and quicken the processes of tourism development across Nigeria.
Indeed, it is important to put a critical knife to the globally accepted reality that tourism is a private sector-driven business, which the infamous Nigerian factor has built into a factory of deceit and lies that gave birth to a systematic and carefully packaged conduct pipe to fritter away government tourism funding. In other words, the structures or processes that drive tourism development were converted and manipulated by our national economic planners into private pocket, and the crumbs therefrom channelled to sustain the deceptive swan song that tourism was private sector-driven.
The truth elsewhere captures deliberate state support and encouragement in infrastructural windfall, easy access to funds, assurances of adequate security, open border initiatives and an appreciation of tourism education and awareness to encourage a deliberate buy-in by the citizens to help power job creation and development of local economics through culture and tradition.
The templates of national tourism development all over the world revolves around strong partnerships and collaboration across all frontiers, the government, citizenry and investors dutifully playing their parts.
The time has come for Nigeria to take a second look at some of institutional drivers and enablers of tourism to either reorganize or merge them. The prodigal and wasteful national tourism institutions or processes that need urgent and critical attention to either remove the leadership or merge their activities include Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Centre for Black Arts and African Civilisation, Gallery of Arts and National Institute for Cultural Orientation.
Revisit the Steve Oronsaye Report, scrap the overloads.
The Buhari initiative for tourism must begin with a well-funded Ministry of Tourism and not the current confusing merger initiative that has brought more troubles than solution to the sector. The President should also consult more to avoid the looming implosion in the industry due to tourism workers’ restiveness encouraged by the poor leadership that has become the face of the industry in recent times. The activities and poor management relationship between the current MDAs’ leaders and workers will embarrass this government if the changes are not quickly effected. CBAAC, NICO and Gallery of Arts should be scrapped and the wastage recouped to enhance the poor budget allocation to the sector.
National Council for Arts and Culture
This once moribund national enabler of cultural tourism is back on strong since Runsewe took over the place. It has been good news, work, work and work to reinvent and reposition Nigeria’s cultural products and also rebrand Nigerian tourism. A waiting and expectant nation has seen President Buhari’s heartfelt desire to use culture to create jobs and give the people a sense of national unity through the diversity of our culture fully interpreted and presented to the populace for a buy-in.
The period under review also showcased a strong NCAC with clear understanding of its mandate not only to organise private sector culture entrepreneurs into formidable providers of jobs but also to assist them in accessing fund to expand their businesses. It was an enduring intervention that no government tourism institution has ever achieved and clearly sets NCAC on the path to more glorious interventions for tourism.
It is very clear that NCAC, under Runsewe, is set to break new frontiers and market President Buhari’s policies to the teeming lovers of Nigerian cultural offerings. A strong and better African Arts and Culture festival (AFAC) will bring Nigeria more global gains in tourism visits and investments. The National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) will also put the Nigeria on the international tourism map.
There is a proposed farm trip for Nigerian Commissioners of Culture and Tourism to South Africa, China or Indonesia, a learning curve that will sustain government vision statements and expectations for the future. That is not all, a recent retreat for NCAC’s top directors to help shape them up to competition, stands the nation on a stronghold, just as a critical reappraisal of media, publicity and promotion content in the culture and arts sector forms part of Runsewe’s NCAC agenda.
A critical government tourism institution enslaved by poor leadership since 2013 may still have nothing to offer tourism today. As far as NTDC is concerned, except there a change of leadership and management, which has, sadly, stunted the growth of the sector and affected private sector contribution and investment, Nigeria will continue to be a laughing stock in Africa.