Check: Nigeria, 200 million people, 36 states, 774 local governments, 350 local dialects with abundant blessings on vegetation and mineral resources, two great rivers, Niger and Benue, oxygenating massive virgin agricultural landscape, colourful cultural diversity and festivals, hospitable people, smoking hills and surrealistic valleys, flora and fauna resources, many unknown to science, delta and desert ecosystem yet undiscovered and the biggest black nation in the world.
Turnoffs: Raped by citizens and their foreign collaborators, abused and neglected, lacking in patriotism, hated and unloved, gives all but not appreciated, denied and rejected, projected as the worst place on earth despite its famed richness and profoundness as home to the best brains on earth. Most vilified and attacked and with a passport hardly respected because the owners have sold their soul to the devil, rejecting their history, tradition and way of life in exchange for a life on the street of perception from the eyes of the white man.
In 1992, we had sat down to look into the crystal ball of Nigerian tourism. The late Pa Matthew Ebaboje Dasilva, Ogbeni Tope Awe and my humble self. It was an honour to sit with these two great minds of tourism and learn from them.
There were other fathers of tourism like great hospitality giant, Samuel Alamutu, irrepressible Mazi Kingsley Onuoha, tourism economy diplomat Ignatius Atigbi and father of defunct Nigerian Hotels Limited, Garba Gumel.
Today is not about great giants who sold and marketed Nigeria as a tourism brand, but to put paid to the many lies imported to mess up the Nigerian cultural tourism brand and which many people, including some irritants, now parade to demarket the country.
Having been privileged to interview most of the forerunners of Nigerian tourism, I find it extremely mischievous, an act of betrayal, for Nigerian tourism promoters to engage and promote foreign destinations more than Nigeria. Though it may make business sense for the jankara or oyingbo tourism persons to sell more of outbound travels, the truth is that it was not so in the beginning. Marketing destinations remains one of the richest profiling of the world as global village with each player exchanging and sharing tourism gains and resources.
Jimi Alade Tours was in the forefront of promoting Nigeria when many believed the country was a hard sell. Jimi began with the defunct Nigerian Airways, worked his way with into the minds of foreign tourists with well researched profiles about Nigeria’s virgin tourism sites and festivals. He invested heavily in research and visitation, carefully noting iconic places and traditions of the people. He sought out tour operators in the United States interested in what Nigeria had to sell, our culture, festivals and destinations.
Sometimes, he received the visitors at the airport in Lagos for onward country experience; at others times, when the group was better handled from the source to Nigeria, he would fly out to escort them down.
Such was also the likes of Teresa Ezeobi, formerly of Tess Travels. She turned the Kano Durbar into a must-visit locally and internationally. Hers was a planeload of tourists to the Kano Durbar, so much so that the government of the day had no option than to approach her for collaboration.
She did not complain of security and access, she creatively worked around it and made a statement worthy of the attention of all and sundry. And, before she left Nigeria, Tess Travels held the travel portfolio of most foreign embassies in Nigeria.
Why? Because she worked hard to prove that Nigeria was a wonder. She was not tempted to promote Rwanda, Ethiopia or Kenya in Nigeria. She knew that everyone wanted a pie in Nigeria but the biggest pie was in promoting Nigeria for Nigerians, and other things would follow.
There are also others who kept faith with Nigeria, journalists, transporters, artists, writers and such like.
Ineed, it beats me, how we easily fall for the age-long but wornout propaganda that Nigeria is unmarketable. Some very unbelievable, lazy, anti-Nigeria tourism advocates are wont to parrot poor security and access to some few sites as root of our backwardness. It is certainly laughable and I have the powerful presence of Otunba Segun Runsewe as another verifiable testimony of how proactivness and uncommon determination can change a sad story.
In 2006, a man out of our world was brought to change the Nigerian tourism narrative. His name is Olusegun Matthew Runsewe. We held our breath as he moved from the house of each notable tourism name to another to ask for support. He sat with the travel press and told them that the image of Nigeria was good business and must be protected. He also told them that the history of tourism in Nigeria would begin with him and, therefore, all hands must be on deck to turn around the battered image of Nigeria.
He took a tour of Nigeria, first to the Eastern Region, which claimed marginalisation, and won their hearts back for a united Nigeria. In appreciation, the Igbo in tourism bestowed upon him the traditional title of “Obi Agu” of Igboland. Runsewe certainly saw the challenges of marketing Nigerian tourism and confronted them headlong. No pretences, no grammar but pure marketing creativity, believing in Nigeria and knowing that, if Nigerians do not blow their trumpets in the local and global marketplace of tourism ideas, other trumpeters and trumpets would drown Nigeria.
Hopefully, some of my readers still remember the famed tourism slogans from Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) under Runsewe such as “Oil is good but tourism is better,” “Tourism is life” and many practical tourism engagements that made both Nigerians and foreigners to change their perception about Nigeria. Indeed, the Nigerian domestic tourism profile changed and led to massive expeditions and discovery of Nigerian destinations. All roads led to NTDC under Runsewe for cultural festivals collaborations and endorsements. The period certainly became a renaissance in the history of tourism in Nigeria. Honestly, you don’t need to live in Nigeria to notice.
At the World Travel Market in London, in Madrid and Dubai Arab Travel markets, it was Nigeria all the way. Mouths wide open in surprise and envy. Nigeria showcased its cultures and traditions, festivals and gastronomic wonders. Who said access and security would ever stop people visiting the biggest black nation in the world?
Runsewe proved beyond expectations that we can promote Nigeria without fear and distrust. He is doing the same thing today with our huge cultural resources. In Port Harcourt two years ago, during the National Festival for Arts and Culture, he brought the nation together through drummings, dances, fashion and special array of our local delicacies.
Our communal sports and moonlight storylines were not left out, ditto our historical farming methods and implements. I wept when I met and saw our children dressed out in the best of costumes and interpreted the stories of our legends through drama.