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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Tourism in Nigeria: Quietly budding

font size decrease font size increase font size Print Email 01.Oct.2014 DISQUS_COMMENTS Wale Ojo-Lanre Rate this item1 2 3 4 5 (0 votes) ONE of the sectors, which Nigeria banked and hoped on for rapid growth and quick germination into a full-scale economic activity and pride before it clocks 50 years, is tourism. According to historical record, the sign was vivid right from 1472 when the first foreign vessel that ever landed on Nigeria’s shore was a Portuguese merchant ship with trade-tourism mission. It gave hope that Nigeria would soon become one of the most sought after tourism destinations in the world. While the colonial masters did not show any move at deliberate development of tourism sites except some games and forest reserves, no tourism sites was developed by them. However, two years after Nigeria’s independence, some Nigerians who had seen the unbundled tourism potentialities and interested in promotion and marketing Nigerian tourism formed the first tourism club in Nigeria, Nigeria Tourists Association (NTA). Late Ignatius Atigbi; one of the well travelled and highly exposed Nigerians who have seen what tourism has contributed to others countries led this association. It may surprise all that this association who saw the gold in the tourism sector right from independence took its enthusiasm to international conference of International Union of Official Tourism Organisation (IUOTO), the then world Travel Organisation in 1963 where Mr Atigbi, shook the world and moved a motion calling for the consecration of a day as World Tourism Day. After Nigeria received a round of applause and global commendation at the conference, IUOTO, consecrated September 27 as the World Tourism Day. The international honour and pride, which this like-minds association cultivated to Nigeria impressed the government of the day which offered hands of support and cooperation with the association. The Federal Government too recognised the awesome tourism potentialities in the country and having realised the passion of the members of NTA, made available a grant-in-aid to the association, which it used to register as a member of IUOTO. Thus, in 1964, when NTA registered with IUOTO, which metamorphosed into World Travel Organisation, the public expected the association to hit the ground running. But nay, that was where the crusade stopped. NTA went into comatose and killed the enthusiasm of Nigerians towards tourism. However, in 1971, the Federal Government commissioned Nigeria Development Bank (ADB), to do a feasibility report on Nigeria tourism potentialities. The report showed that Nigeria is blessed with awesome tourism sites and hospitable people, but needed institutional and legal framework for it to blossom. This led to the replacement of the NTA, a private voluntary association of interested Nigerians, with a government public board established by Decree No. 54 of 1976, and which is known as the NTB Decree. The decree No. 54 however did not come until 1978. This Decree of 1976 empowered the NTB to: Encourage people living in Nigeria to take their holidays therein and people from abroad to visit Nigeria. Encourage the provision and improvement of tourist amenities and facilities in Nigeria, including ancillary facilities. Provide advisory and information services. Promote and undertake research in the field of tourism. Grade or classify hotels in such a manner as may be prescribed. Military government and tourism-unsettling relationship The military government, which ruled Nigeria then, set the tone for the shape of tourism by inaugurating the Nigerian Tourist Board in 1976, with a decree to back it up under General Olusegun Obasanjo as the Head of State. Years later, bureaucracy and office politics crept into the running of NTB leading to the exit of the brains behind NTA from the board and the civil servants took over. This seemed to be the undoing of a once proactive and internationally respected association, which had earned it honour and respect. Thus, the once internationally proactive association became complacent, redundant and went into coma. The ascension of Obasanjo to the leadership of the country once again rekindled the action in the NTB as his government supported the board in its activities and even at the tail end of his tenure, Obasanjo gave out one million naira to each state governor with the specific instruction to “go and develop a tourism site in your state.” Under Generals Ibrahim Babangida, late Sani Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar, the NTB was changed to the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), with a larger scope of not only promoting, but also developing tourism sites in Nigeria. Also, some tourism friendly activities were injected into the system such as the formation of the National Tourism policy, which stipulates that each state must create Ministry of Tourism and Culture. Several moves and processes were initiated to ensure that the nation has its own tourism master plan, a policy implementation document necessary for a nation that genuinely desired the best in tourism. Under the military, there was another lull as the military officers in power then paid lip service to tourism. However, sign of good things to come started rolling out when Chief Alabi Aiyegboyin, assumed the leadership of NTDC. Though a civil servant to the core and a permanent secretary then at the Planning Commission before his deployment to NTDC, Aiyegboyin stooped low, learnt from members of the private sector and for the first time, piloted the corporation in co-hosting of the first Nigeria Trade and Tourism Fair that took place in Kaduna. The retirement of Aiyegboyin also led to the retirement of the sparks of success being recorded at the tourism front in the country. This was so because, the NTDC is a pivot of tourism in Nigeria and the pace at which it speeds depends on the vision and influence of whoever tends the corporation. So for many years the Nigeria tourism progress de-accelerated. President Obasanjo’s tenure However, the second coming of Obasanjo as a civilian president turned a light of hope into the tourism sector’s tunnel. The first thing he did was the creation of a new full-fledged Ministry of Culture and Tourism with about 11 parastatals. These parastatals are supposed to helm in, enhance the various units of tourism in the country, and align it with the national vision. Also, Obasanjo inaugurated the Presidential Council on Tourism, a body formed with the intention of servicing the need of the tourism sector with presidential dispatch. The council was made up of ministers of finance and other ministers whose ministries are directly linked and essential to tourism, some state governors whose states are paragon of tourism assets and who are interested in developing these as well as the representatives of the tourism private sector associations. Under Chief Obasanjo’s administration the tourism sector leapt up and made substantial advancement both in awareness creation domestically and international exposure. Many policies were enunciated which showcased Nigeria as a tourists friendly nation. The first that endeared the nation to tourists was the 48 hours tourist’s visa policy, which was issued to all Nigerian embassies and high commissions all over. Also, the disbandment of police road blocks, which was the aftermath of the SOS sent to the Federal Government of Nigeria by the then Culture and Tourism Minister who counted 45 police road blocks on his way to the Badagry Slave Centre. Under Obasanjo all the parastatals were given the necessary latitude and autonomy to perform with clear mandate and vision. To accelerate the growing of domestic tourism, the Abuja Carnival was initiated with the first two editions recording unprecedented success and commendation while the president gave approval for the introduction of five per cent tourism development levy chargeable per bill issued by hospitality and tourism establishments. Yar’Adua and Jonathan The fortune of tourism decelerated after the exit of Chief Obasanjo and late Yar’Adua. A combination of many factors ranging from sequential emergence of pockets of chaos and militia insurgence, lack of vision and ideas of political office holders that man the various tourism offices, degenerated national infrastructure and facilities, financial incapacitation and dwindling budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Tourism and infusion of personal and selfish aggrandisement into national assignment. The nation’s tourism suffered most as tourists were scared by the various travel advice churned out by the various international agencies and embassies alerting foreign nationals of the activities of the Niger-Delta militants and of late Boko Haram. The quality of the various ministers appointed to superintend the tourism sector has contributed and still contributing to gloom, which the tourism sector is witnessing. Some of the ministers have failed to match their so called credentials with proof of performance particularly the incumbent Minister, Chief Edem Duke who was seen as an harbinger of good things to come to the sector, but whose tenure has become an embarrassment to the sector and President Jonathan. Under him, it appears that the centre cannot hold as things are falling apart. Instead of him to build on what he met on ground, Chief Duke has consistently put the gear of progress into a reverse by engaging in an unnecessary show of power to subordinates who manage the parastatals under his ministry. The Abuja Carnival which he inherited healthy and whole, is in a state of coma without the sparks and glamour. There is no effort at resuscitating the Presidential Council of Tourism where he could have gotten the attention of the nationals to tourism matters arising Almost all the parastatals under him are suffering from low budgetary allocation, which has kept activities therein at the lowest level. Under the watchful eyes of the minister, the basic function of the ministry which is hotel registration, classification and grading was sequestered off a corporation just because of a personal tiff between him and a former head of that corporation. Also, instead of resuscitating some of the national monuments for tourism promotion, Chief Duke is seriously looking for whoever is interested in buying the National Theatre without taking cognisance of socio-cultural and historical import of such monuments. The Tourism Master Plan, which was almost completed before Chief Duke assumed duty, is moribund and dead, as the capital set aside for the implementation has been allegedly expended on irrelevant projects. Last year, Chief Duke gathered a selected group of people to the Villa and with glee and unprecedented publicity inaugurated a brand theme for Nigeria called Fascinating Nigeria. He assured the guests including the President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan who was represented by his Vice-President, Alhaji Namadi Sambo and promised heaven and earth at making the brand fly. It baffled the tourism world that the reality of Fascinating Nigeria started and ended at Aso Villa where it was launched. It was a project, which was dead on arrival. However gloomy the era of Chief Duke is, turning to the appointment of Mrs Sally Mbanefo as the Director- General, NTDC seems to be raising the hope for the sector. Mbanefo has been able to show sparks of beautiful and commendable performance despite the stake of challenges. She has taken NTDC into the corridor of private sector whose practitioners have been able to identify with her projects. Mbanefo has also been able to take and talk her domestic tourism into almost all the states of the federation where she re-kindled the passion of tourism in the stakeholders. She has also visited most of the prime tourism sites in Ondo, Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Lagos, Anambra, Abia, Rivers, Bayelsa, Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa states, while she has signed MOUs with major relevant corporate entities as well as attracted foreign investors to Nigeria. The sector has started seeing and identifying with her vision of developing domestic tourism, which she has been able to not only talk of, but also walk and worked off. She has definitely exposed to all that she is coming out not to make noise on the pages of newspapers or gallivant all over the world selling what is not on ground, but assuring all within a year as NTDC Director-General, that all hope is not lost for Nigeria tourism in the coming years.