Until I met and worked with Susan Akporiaye, first deputy national president of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), I had thought that the era of great women with impeccable character, loyalty and drive had ended, after the glorious reign of Theresa Ezobi, who brought an uncommon leadership quality to drive NANTA through some of its low moments in its 43 years lifetime, possibly with the yet to be broken record of getting travel agents and NANTA as an institution to embrace tourism promotion.
Tess Travels, Ezobi’s trade organisation was then in the forefront of packaging the Kano Durbar, with chartered aircraft from Lagos, and also unfolded a tourism window into the Nigerian cycling federation’s activities, generating tourism funds for the federation and promoting cycling as tourism product.
Ezobi also fought the thieving officials of Nigeria Airways and at any private and public forum warned that the unpatriotic activities of the airline’s officials would kill tourism and also leave traveltrade professionals at the mercy of foreign airlines.
Ezobi, who later left Nigeria for the United Kingdom, till date, still counts with informed followers of NANTA’s evolution and history. She is indeed tough, very humble and was noted to strongly defend her position on critical issues affecting the sector, apart from taking NANTA to more than greater heights, Abuja, under Ezobi, NANTA’s AGM in 1994 at the prestigious Nicon Noga Hilton (now Hilton Hotel) is yet to be equaled in the annals of public activities in planning, content and attendance till date. It was a showpiece, an Ezobi trademark, a challenge to the new generation NANTA leaders on how to make the body great.
Indeed, today, the same kind of Ezobi’s image and personality is about to break forth. Even though my column rightly bears “People and Tourism,” rightly captured the drive and vision that tourism is for the good of mankind, I had for many years distanced myself from profiling industry players and each time that was done it was in absolute conviction that such an individual truly deserved my time and focus.
Susan Akporiaye, earlier introduced here, takes me down memory lane on Ezobi, Akporiaye has guts, is fearless, humble, a kind of expressive presence dotted with deep understanding of the intricate business of travel trade and its politics.
Let me add also that she is as beautiful as Ezobi, warm, caring and with loads of patience and perseverance that could break any tough situation. Susan Akporiaye is loyal to a fault. For the past three years of Bankole Bernard’s leadership of NANTA, she has sacrificed all to make NANTA a household name in the Nigerian tourism community. She has led with passion the restoration and rebranding of the association as the foremost private tourism and travel sector watch dog.
Let me digress here, just to say it was not easy to get Susan to join the Bankole revolutionary winning train. My unpaid duty is to deliver Bankole’s vision for a new NANTA, an assignment to which I brought my years of staying power in the industry to bear and actualise.
I had told Bankole that we need a woman, someone in mould of Ezobi, to “dress” down the all-conquering presence of men who constituted majority in his executive council. It is a long story to recap, how and why Susan Akporaiye stayed away for the first one year of this administration, but, suffice to say with some sense of gratitude that when she eventually changed her mind and joined the team, she brought vision and strength, particularly her organisational and marketing skills in rebranding NANTA’s many public meetings.
From the award nights, AGMs, meetings with government institutions and airlines, Susan left legacy marks, not satisfied at where NANTA is today, working hard to prove to all that women in NANTA can equally provide leadership. At each meeting with stakeholders, the enduring futuristic submissions always focused on Susan being the discovered Amazon to sustain the good works of the Bankole Bernard administration. Akporiaye is indeed the answer but, again, politics of men against women and also women against women remain a factor to watch.
Femi Adeshina, Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, once took on Bankole on this challenge and to which the world would find out soon what Bankole told Adeshina on Susan Akporiaye.
Another Amazon in Bankole’s “women” inner team is Lola Adewole, who holds forth as vice president, NANTA, Lagos zone. She is tough in a different way, unassuming but practically brilliant. Another day on Lola Adewole as NANTA strides to rediscover its strengths and power.
Next week: Tourism, the divided kingdom.