Former Lagos State Commisioner forTourism Arts and Culture and newly appointed Director-General, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) Mr. Folorunsho Coker is back on familiar terrain after he left the Lagos State cabinet late last year. As the chief driver of the nation’s tourisn sector, Coker’s strong desire is to make the agency an alternative foreign exchange earner for the country. In this interview with Effects, Coker speaks about NTDC’s lofty goal of making Nigeria a congenial tourism destination for indigenous and foreign tourists.
You served Lagos State government for many years before you were appointed as NTDC DG, what was your first day in office like?
My first day in office was a different experience and what remains memorable is that I met a lot of good people. I saw a lot of potentials in the workers and we are a work-in-progress.
Can you throw more light on the Tour Nigeria project?
The focus of NTDC is domestic tourism. It’s about using what we have to our advantage. There is nothing grand or special about Tour Nigeria, it is very focused, very direct. We believe that inflow of international tourism can only be built on the solid foundation of domestic tourism. If Nigerians visiting hotels in the country fly Nigeria airlines; move around in buses, that completes the value chain in tourism. By that, those institutions will begin to grow. Those institutions will get better in terms of standard and quality; in terms of making Nigerians get value for the money they are using and the institutions that govern those establishments will also grow.
In the area of domestic tourism, I don’t need to change the Naira into any foreign currency. I don’t need to roam my phone. I would only speak the language of where I am going or I have a friend, an auntie or cousin in the location. Nobody would be able to cheat me because my currency is what I’m farmiliar with.
So, I’ll keep my hard-earned naira in my country and by that grow my currency. There is nothing wrong in using Made-in-Nigeria things. I’m made in Nigeria. So, Tour Nigeria is only saying that Nigerians from Lagos should come to Abuja and have the most peaceful weekend in a modern city instead of those tickets to South Africa or Dubai. One business class tickets to Dubai ,what will it fetch you in Nigeria? The question people should ask themselves is, what will be the effect of stopping 20 percent of the exodus to South Africa and Dubai? What are the effects, in terms of conserving our foreign exchange. The Tour Nigeria campaign is not a ‘one-off’ campaign but part of a holistic promotional approach to developing community clusters and identifying events and festivals such that when put together, it would provide our visitors and citizens with authentic and memorable experiences. The key components of tourism are travel, accommodation and entertainment/hospitality. These can be explored through airlines, hotels, car hire services, tour operators and others in order to bring about affordable package tours and encourage Nigerians to tour the country.
But people travel abroad because we don’t have fascinating tourism destinations here.
Dubai didn’t happen overnight. A lot of money was sunk into Dubai. Just look back at the villages in Dubai 20 to 30 years ago and the villages today. There’s the issue of affordability. There’s nobody who does not travel home to see his/her parents wherever they come from. By that, you are a tourist. I’m a political tourist in Abuja. The Senators are political tourists in Abuja.Members of the House of Representatives are political tourists in Abuja, the president and vice president, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House are political tourists in Abuja. There’s no nation that does not have disciples who come to pray in Nigeria. Everybody is looking inwards in Nigeria. So, why are Nigerians not looking inward? The point I’m making is, people must tour by air; by bus, in their private cars. It is by touring Nigeria that people will strengthen the institutions and establishments in Nigeria and attract international tourism .
How will you sell Tour Nigeria amid growing insecurity in the country?
I want to ask, when was the last time somebody drove a car unto the pavement anywhere in Nigeria and killed people? When last did somebody go into a school with a machine gun and killed people at random or somebody took a butcher’s knife on a Friday evening and stabbed people? We are also good at amplifying our problems but lazy when it comes to amplifying what is good about Nigeria. Egypt has security problems. An aircraft was blown up by terrorists there yet tourism is still there. The highest crime rate in the world is not in Nigeria. The highest kidnapping rate is not in Nigeria; the highest accident rate is not in Nigeria, so why do people talk as if Nigeria has a problem that is unique in the global context. We do not have security problem, Brazil or countries with similar population, they have worse security issues than we have. Agreed we have security issues, but we’re addressing them and that should not stop our day-to-day living. Should that stop the development of tourism?
We don’t have the type of crime you see in Paris, France and London, England. I want you to carry out your research, Where is the murder capital of the world, it’s not in Nigeria, where is the kidnapping capital of the world, it’s not n Nigeria.
Having worked and lived in Lagos and now in Abuja,what has life taught you?
Life has taught me one word. SURULERE. Patience is a virtue.
As commissioner, you left an indelible mark with ‘One Lagos’ are you bringing the concept to NTDC?
I was fortunate that Governor Akinwumi Ambode gave me the opportunity to package One Lagos. It was a unique experience to experiment with certain things. We only repackaged the cross-over ceremony from December to January of the following year and give it a name. We gave had it in multiple locations and asked people to come and do what they enjoy doing best. There was something to eat, drink, and some entertainment to relax with, with your neighbours. There was no serious crime recorded in Lagos in the five to six days the festival held. It started in 2015. Its important to take a lesson from that, in that tourism brings diverse people together; create an understanding that mitigates again social conflicts. If you and I are sitting together today, eating, drinking, listening or watching something, or enjoying whatever tourism offers, we’ll start getting to know each other. It then becomes difficult for conflict to arise between us.
What would you say about ‘One Nigeria’?
That is an old brand that we are going to resuscitate. If we are saying tour Nigeria, we are also saying proudly Nigerian. We are talking buy Nigeria , we are saying so many things and at the end of the day we need to go back to the central thing about what anchors us with Nigeria and that is our flag. That is our creed, our national anthem that is the pledge.
We need to go back and refocus those things in order to bring out more of the emotional connection with Nigeria.
You are a stylish man; must it be designer for you?
This dress is sewn by my tailor, made in Nigeria, this trouser was made by my tailor, Made in Nigeria too.
Eeeeh, well, I have big feet, so I’m working with a couple of people to see if they can help me get my feet into shoes that are worth it. Nigeria is your cheapest stylist, your most versatile stylist.
You look trimmer and finer, what are the secrets?
I’ve just came out of the Ramadan. I do some press up, press down, I try and control what I eat more than anything else. I try not to eat too much rice, too much bread, I’m not a young man so I must watch what I eat.
What food do you like best?
I like Amala, Gbegiri and Ewedu
How do you relax?
I like boating. I like water. I”m a water person. I swim, I boat.