Culture and tourism have been identified as key drivers in a bid to transform the socio-economic fortunes of Plateau State and by extension, Nigeria. This resolve by the governor of Plateau State, Simon Bako Lalong along with culture and tourism experts was further corroborated by the Director-General, National Council for Arts and Culture, Otunba Segun Runsewe, while delivering a speech at the first Plateau Tourism Conference held in Jos with the theme: Unlocking the vast potentials of tourism as a financing option for sustainable socio-economic development. Runsewe who was one of the speakers at the occasion, commended the governor for looking in the direction of culture and tourism while seizing the moment to inform the world that Plateau was safe and ready for business with its vast potentials in culture and tourism destinations. The NCAC chief debunked stories making the rounds that the state was in crisis stating that he would not have travelled to Plateau along with his staff for the conference if the state was not safe. Runsewe added his voice to several other speakers at the event who collectively expressed determination to hit the ground running by working with the governor to market Plateau to the rest of the world as a preferred destination.
He was positive that with the new interest and efforts from stakeholders, Plateau can now assume the status of a culture and tourism hub in Nigeria. Giving reasons for the conference, Governor Lalong said the time had come for government to go beyond the drawing board and elevate tourism as key driver of the local economy in content and practice. He described the conference as one of the events mapped out to bring tourism to limelight by adopting it as the economic mainstay for Plateau among other indicators. He however paid tribute to the first governor of the state J. D. Gomwalk, who in his wisdom, saw the need to create and lay the foundation for tourism to thrive. He listed the legacies of Gomwalk to include the first museum, zoo, polo field, Citizenship and Leadership Training Centre, hotel, et cetera, pointing out that because of the subsisting tourism economy then, coupled with unique good weather and the people’s legendary hospitality, Plateau was nicknamed ‘the home of peace and tourism,’ and for a long time people kept on calling it home of peace and tourism until when the state started having some crisis. “But even after that crisis, we still use the same slogan for the state. Plateau is the only place where people run away from when there is crisis and return to when they need a cool place, for quiet time and for their holidays.” Governor Lalong admitted, in an interview with travel writers that for a long period, government wanted to pay attention to tourism, as an instrument to grow its economy but lack of a masterplan suffocated the dream until recently when the conference was conceived. He said,“We need to develop some policy frame work to guide the process of resuscitation, that unfortunately we have not done, all we always said about tourism we never did. But this time, with the presentations and conference I was touched and we decided that we would invoke a state of emergency on tourism. It means we are going to focus and put more attention on tourism as a source of revenue for not only Plateau State but also for Nigeria, and instead of Nigerians running to Kenya or UK because of their weather, we would do the needful by developing the content and upgrading facilities that are in place and people will find the destination irresistible.
“When I mentioned state of emergency, I mean full attention will be paid on tourism, because we have many sources of revenue in the state, we have agriculture, which we are developing right way, we have minerals that are already there and we also made tourism as part of our five policy thrust; first of all, we are ready on the number which is peace and security. You cannot introduce tourism without peace and when you have peace what do you do? You must enjoy it.”
Dwelling specifically on brand positioning and sustainability, Lalong declared: “If you are thinking about a policy for tourism development, it is not a one year thing or a one tenure thing, in order to develop stability you must have a framework, which is an introduction to the tourism development strategy. We will develop a policy which will be approved by the executive and when it becomes law and it is working in the state, subsequent administrations will find it difficult to do away with. We have seen it happen in so many states, we have seen the benefits in so many countries which have strategically positioned tourism to grow their economy. And so it will be unfair for anybody to dump a viable venture. What I am doing is not for my tenure but we are developing it for posterity, so that whoever comes instead of bringing it down, will be expanding it for the benefit of the people of Plateau State.”
On wrong impression about Plateau, he pointed out that the impressions given about Jos outside are different from the reality of things. “When I hear people say that there is no peace in Plateau, I wonder which part of Plateau they are referring to. As the governor, I know it is a peaceful, accommodating place and very hospitable for people to dwell. Although we have some pockets of crisis in some villages here and there, which is what happens in every state and in most countries of the world, there is no state or country that will say they are living peacefully without having any crisis, if there is no crisis, it then means there is no need for police and the Army. But since it occurs at one time or other, we have the Police and Army to maintain the peace. In about three and a half years of my tenure, we all enjoyed the serenity of the state, we celebrate homecoming of most footballers, musicians and other stars that started their career from Jos and as it is now Christmas season, we are also planning to enjoy ourselves at the end of the year, because on yearly basis we invite people to come and enjoy the weather so I think the impression is not a true reflection of what is on the ground. Jos is a very attractive place to stay considering the weather and standard of living. One good thing about Jos is that when you come to the city, you will find it very difficult to leave because of the hospitable nature and its serenity. So I emphasize that Plateau is still home of peace and hospitality. On golf tourism, he announced that in the last two years the state has produced more than 20 professional golfers who can compete at any international level. He spoke of plans to revive Rayfield Golf Course, described as the oldest golf course in the country, constructed in 1913. “Miners came and they started playing golf here in Nigeria, so there is no reason why we should not have a golf course. We are trying to bring out the beauty of the golf course back, so by the time we finish the greening, the historical aspect will be a brand that will bring international golfers to the state.”