The history of Nigeria’s tourism cuts a very funny and sad face. The industry is not only directionless, buffeted by poor funding and lack of policy, it produces records of portfolio operators and stakeholders, many of whom possibly think it is a business out to massage their egos.
From my well-considered point of view, the industry has produced more tourism “policy” comedians and has no enduring road map to its immediate and future destination. We have heard so much of the good and benefits of tourism to create jobs, open frontiers of development and sustain verifiable economic countdowns, projecting undiscovered history and culture of people and powering the rural poor into socioeconomic and political emancipation. Elsewhere, the story is as sweet as honey, yet ours remains a trajectory of misplaced priorities and ignorant postulations in the past 59 years.
Our tourism is as old as Methuselah, yet it lacks the visionary power of Nostradamus to engage the future, a template of very dynamic engineering driven by the power of people to seek new attractions and respond in the most scientific way. The game in this business is about people and money, a creative challenge that government institutional response through Nigeria Tourism Authority (NTA), Nigeria Tourism Board (NTB) and lately Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) has woefully failed to address.
Significantly, also, the ministerial overlord birthing and incorporating tourism issues and development under commerce, information and in some cases, a web of other developmental pillars, further impoverished the sector, subjecting it to more departmental attention usually engaged by “waka pass” students of history, geography, philosophy and transportation. The industry seems to have refused the oxygenation and revival mechanics applied over the years, only possibly enjoying attention as an afterthought.
Its “decade” leap under President Olusegun Obasanjo possibly presented the only focal point of government’s notable push to get the industry out of the woods. It failed, its exclusive ministry failed and the policy outlook and parameter became a drainpipe, a corruption zone.
At the coming of this administration of President Muhammadu Buhari four years ago, in which we had Lai Mohammed as the engineer in charge, we struggled, even though Lai Mohammed made some positive, spirited efforts.
He got us to review tourism; unfortunately, that process became of platform for attention seekers and name droppers, same crowd of portfolio tourism managers and “been to’s” who wasted opportunities presented in the past to push the cause of tourism and culture beyond noisy nuisance engagements. At that stakeholders’ conference in Abuja, Lai Mohammed cut the image of a general going into war with a rag-tag army of disgruntled stakeholders, orphans left too long in confusion without help.
The information portfolio that was his major forte took all his attention. I knew we were in trouble as Boko Haram, the President’s health status, and other sundry issues of national importance engaged his attention. Lai Mohammed, no doubt, is good at his job, a media general who does not spare enemies; yet, where and when would our tourism policy begin the refreshing focus promised at the stakeholders’ Abuja conclave became a challenge.
While one truly appreciates the experience and strategic response of Lai Mohammed to government’s desire to address the information agenda, there is no gainsaying that Lai Mohammed may not enjoy my support and that of the aggressive Nigerian travel press on rescue efforts towards tourism development, if he does not pay same attention to it as he does information. I was particularly loud and stringent in my quest to defend our tourism corner. It was difficult for us to understand that Lai Mohammed must place information above tourism.
Lai Mohammed was not happy about this relentless cause and, from various interactions with his backroom staff, this man from Kwara ought to be understood. From Spain to Africa, Lai Mohammed took off on tourism expedition, brought UNWTO conference to Nigeria, registered our global tourism presence, tried out creating a window for presidential focus for tourism, got certain financial influencers to support the creative art sector, took off on lone-ranger visits to some tourism assets and locations across the country, and made spirited efforts to engage the travel media to help understand his challenges and aspirations.
While we waited in transition after the election for a new Federal Executive Council to be constituted, the travel press became deliberately loud in the call for a stand-alone tourism ministry. We have had enough of “brotherhood” or conjoined-twin status with other sectors and Lai Mohammed on his second missionary journey.
On Sunday last week, in Lagos, the media general responded in such a deliberate manner, rolling out areas of tourism profiles, which his new time out as Minister of Tourism would address.
And as it included, but was not limited to, empowering the creative art sector, powering the Motion Picture Council of Nigeria Bill, endowment fund for arts, summit on culture and tourism, a unified culture and tourism celebration and regional summit on culture and tourism, the focal promise to bring back the Presidential Council on Tourism (PCT) and the re-assessment and re-evaluation of the tourism master plan, it gladdened my heart.
The tourism master plan may set the tone for a holistic tourism policy direction and so also the PCT, if it would not become a distraction and a platform for “Judas(es)” in tourism and other pretenders seeking backdoor tourism appointments and waivers of taxes, would give the President Buhari government a direct hold on what we stand to gain as a tourism nation. If Lai Mohammed can break the tourism policy jinx, than he could retire in peace and be remembered not only as a media general but a tourism legend of our time.
I would be counting positively to see these goals achieved under Lai Mohammed. Praying he would not disappoint in this second attempt.