Victor Mfon is passionate about youth development in Nigeria. With the setting up of Impact Mission Initiative in 2017, birthed out of a strong desire to motivate, sensitize and groom young people into becoming independent, he has used every avenue to preach the gospel of entrepreneurial independence. Since he graduated in Urban and Regional planning from Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, Mfon has busied himself with promoting tourism, youth empowerment and human capacity development. In this interview he asserts that tourism has a role to play in sustaining the economy…..Enjoy.
Oil business in Nigeria is not stable and the economy too, is down. In all of this, what role should tourism play in reflating the economy?
We can borrow a leaf from countries in the world which from nothing, have become something today. If you look at Malaysia, Dubai, Ethiopia, Singapore and other countries in Africa, Nigeria is yet to come to that understanding that tourism is a major sector that can really be tapped. Apart from oil and the extractive industries, tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors not just in Africa, but throughout the world. It will create jobs and employ a lot of Nigerians and also aid diversification. Tourism can retool the economy fast. Young people are graduating yearly, coming out to look for jobs, some of them have chosen to stay put in their houses, because our governments are not doing fantastically well in creating jobs. Some have given up already, it is a terrible situation. At this point in time, we need to embrace tourism as a way out. With tourism people will get jobs, some will have the opportunity to travel out and see what obtains in other countries and when the come back they are able to be creative and now that God has blessed us with so much natural resources, if we are able to harness these, Nigeria will attain a great height in tourism ranking. Tourism is an area government should invest tremendously, and if they take off our attention from the oil sector, things will begin to jell. To achieve this, there has to be proper security in place because tourism and security work hand in hand. People cannot come to your country for tourism when their life is not secure.
Will it not surprise you to hear that when we talk of tourism in Nigeria, people just think of hotels only, so how do you correct this impression?
Those studying tourism in higher institutions, lay so much emphasis on this. They just believe it is about hotel, hospitality, hotel management and nothing else. But it goes beyond. It is a broad sector, where you talk about travelling, some people choose to travel round the world, they want to see other countries, their cultures, educational tour, sport, nature walk, so it is not limited to hotel management, it is very vast sector. People do ticketing, picnics, wild life, group tours, inbound or out bound, beaches etc. Now when Nigerians go on holidays, they run to Dubai, Kenya, Seychelles and other tourist destinations, so it goes beyond just hotels.
The Federal government is still playing pranks with tourism. As we speak, there is no road map to guide tourism activities. The one prepared 10 years ago is obsolete, so, what do you think government should do concerning the master plan?
Everything still boils down to the government of the day. For any given country, for any given nation will actually attain a good level of comfort there has to be quality. At the senate, our law makers sponsor laws that favour them. But they forget what will bring about the paradigm shift in the economy especially now the economy is down is enacting laws with human face. We need to put in place policies that would enable the sector grow. People have difficulties getting visa to Nigeria, so we must ensure good relations with the international community so that getting visa out or into the country will not be tough. I understand some Nigerians have really destroyed our image abroad, and people are now sceptical to do business with us. Once you are a Nigerian they see you as coming from that bloodline, so we need to recreate the sector with good policies, and then people will sit up, work on their integrity so that the international community will not see us as dubious but decent people.
The other day you organised an annual award and conference where a lecture was delivered on using tourism as tool for financial empowerment. Why the award?
The award was to celebrate people that have impacted on the society especially in the area of human capacity building, growing our economy, so the idea came, and we had the programme to celebrate people that have done well and encourage them to do more, a kind of motivation. The event was a huge success as all the invited guests turned up despite the heavy rain, that goes on to show that people value it when they are invited to go into tourism and harness the sector.They need to invest in this sector, because the topic itself was, ‘Tourism, the Bedrock to Socio-economic Growth in Africa’, so, those who came were all hungry to start something in tourism. That’s the future business we know. This is something we do every year, but this last one we decided to look at tourism because it is the way to go. Even the oil we are looking at, the price fluctuates and very soon the new technology will overwhelm oil and gas. People are using solar now and it is cheaper to do so many things comparatively.
Which means in targeting tourism, you wanted to make a statement with the award and seminar?
We should see beyond oil. There are so many other sectors we can develop and still have comparative advantage as a people, as an individual or as a group. In doing that once people’s attention is shifted from oil to other areas they will begin to see the other side of the economy. The Calabar carnival is a product that is turning the fortunes of many people around and boosting the economy. In a very short time this country will be like London.
Between states and the federal government what type of relationship do you think should ignite meaningful relationship to grow the sector?
The federal government is like a father to the states so there should be some relationship to grow the sector. States with interest in a particular sector like Calabar Carnival, no matter the vision, should be encouraged to grow. It takes a man with vision to come up with something like that so, the federal government at all times should be able to guide and advice any state that has any project on the way forward. That way we will have a smooth relationship and there will be not any competition or suspicion or frustration but collaboration to develop the economy. For instance the deep seaport project at Eket which was conceived during the Obong Victor Attah regime is still in the works, sometimes the state is ready to move on but politics at the centre will rubbish that strategic move. Everything is not politics.
The state of our infrastructure is not tourism friendly. What should we do to change the narrative?
As I said earlier, proper security, and good infrastructure promote travel trade. In area of hospitality, the country is doing well. We have number of good hotels. But what we lack is good road network, because if people are coming to explore Nigeria, it will not make any sense to fly but go by road to see the hinterlands. That is where the government should ensure that our roads are really motorable. It may not be hundred percent but with time the roads will be in great shape, from the airport to major tourist centres nationwide.
So, when was ‘Impact Mission Initiative’ formed?
The outfit was launched in 2017 where we made a statement in Akwa Ibom. More than 2,000 youths attended the programme and we used the avenue to mentor them, sensitising them on the right things to do going forward instead of waiting for government. The vision is broad. One of the things we do is encourage the youth to realise their potential. From time to time we come up with such event like workshop, training, seminar, all targeting the youth who are still considered as the future of tomorrow.