Yankari Game Reserve
As Nigeria inches towards another independence day, OMOLOLA ITAYEMI writes about the slow pace of the country’s tourism industry, which has the potential to mobilise wealth, empower people, generate jobs as well as raise the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) estimates that tourism accounts for up to 10 percent of global gross domestic product, making it the world’s biggest and fastest developing industry. From natural to artificial tourist sites/hubs, countries are developing, restoring or priming these sites to attract tourists and the multiplying effect cannot be ignored.
More than contributing to the gross domestic product, tourism’s potential to contribute significantly to poverty alleviation is more than considerable. And nowhere is this most evident than the WTO’s report on Tourism and Poverty Alleviation published for the World Summit on Sustainable development in Johannesburg in 2002 which drew substantially on the work of the pro-Poor Tourism Partnership. Interestingly, there are now a range of initiatives taking place on pro-poor tourism.
2002 might be ten years ago but the problems bedeviling developing countries and their tourism drive might not be far from over. A few have managed to scale these hurdles such as The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya (despite its internal crises) but Nigeria with its natural tourist sites, huge population, concept and ideas is still grappling with tourism as a major GDP earner.
But history is replete with instances that suggest our forebears saw tourism as a major GDP earner. And this was the mindset and posture of those leaders who dominated the political and administrative sphere of Nigeria at the independence years with an economic blue print that more than gave special attention to the development of tourism as a serious economic activity.
Private sector participation did play its own role in the development of tourism as well-travelled Nigerians who saw the benefits of tourism to the economies of host countries formed the first ever tourism association called Nigeria Tourism Association (NTA) in 1962 under late Ignatius Atigbi .
It was the first ever public sector tourism association in the whole of Africa with the objective of sensitising the government on the import of tourism and spreading its gospel among Nigerian populace. Though a private sector initiative, late Atigbi turned the association into a veritable organ of calling the world’s attention to Nigerian tourism .
The association was popular globally and Nigeria was recognised as early as 1963 as a “country with immense tourism potentialities waiting for crystallization’. Late Atigbi displayed Nigerian’s tourism capacity glowingly that UNWTO ranked the country as one which would become a vibrant tourists’ destination in future, according its high tourism status. His vibrant strides in the industry and other activities of Nigeria Tourism Association achieved amongst other hallmarks September 27 as World Tourism Day every year.
This international honour brought by the activities of a non- governmental organisation impressed the military government so well that it not only recognised the association but engaged it in a collaborative partnership for many years that latter led to the metamorphosis of Nigeria Tourism Association into Nigeria Tourists Board. Transiting from a public association to a government institution, the military government of the day also set the tone for the shape of tourism to come, by inaugurating the Nigerian Tourist Board in 1976, with a Decree to back it up under Gen Olusegun Obasanjo as the Head of State.
After some years, bureaucracy and office politics crept into the running of Nigeria Tourists Board leading to the exit of the brains behind Nigerian Tourism Association from the Board and the civil servants took over. The accession of Obasanjo’s regime once again re-kindled the action of hope in the Nigeria Tourists Boardi8ioi as the regime supported the Board in its activities. One of such support was at the tail end of his tenure when he gave out one million naira to each state governor with the specific instruction of developing its tourism potential.
It was coined “go and develop a tourism site in your state“. Sadly this didn’t serve the purpose it was meant for as most of the 19 state governors saw the money as a free gift given to them by an outgoing Head of state to make merry, and aspirations of being top tourism sites went down the drain. Former Ondo State Governor, late Chief Michael Ajasin in collaboration with the Nigerian Tourist Board used his judiciously touching projects such as ikogosi Warm and Cold Water Spring .
Under the popular governments of Gen Babangida, Gen Abacha and Gen Abdulsalami, the Nigerian Tourism Board was changed to the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) with a larger scope of not only promoting but 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 which genuinely desired the best in tourism.
Under the military, tourism suffered another lull until Chief Alabi Aiyegboyin assumed leadership of NTDC. He made positive impacts in the sector and for the first time piloted the corporation in co – hosting of the first Nigeria Trade and Tourism Fair which took place in Kaduna.
On his exit, NTDC suffered another lull. However, the second coming of Obasanjo as a civilian President ushered in a new dawn. He created a full fledged Ministry of Culture and Tourism with eleven parastatals to enhance the various units of tourism in the country and align it with the national vision.
He also 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 Minister of Finance and others ministers whose ministries are directly linked and essential to tourism , some state governors whose states are model of tourism assets and who are interested in developing these and representatives of the tourism private sector associations .
The Tourism Master Plan was also drawn and presented to the president, while many policies aimed at encouraging tourists and investors to Nigeria were inaugurated such as the 48 hours visa for intending tourists to Nigeria, cancellation of police check points on Nigerian roads and so many others .
Nigerian Tourism Development Commission, principal tourism marketing body was further strengthened with the appointment of a Director General, as helmsman and Mrs. Omotayo Omotosho was the occupant of that position.
Nigerian Tourism and octopus effect
Everyone agrees that the Cephalopods are unique among the invertebrates in the extent of their intelligence. Yet little is known about how they use that intelligence. I can’t help but relate it to that of the Nigerian Tourism. These parastatals are unique in their own rights and are working individually to form a world-class culture and tourism product but that’s far from what we get. Like the Cephalopods, they’re intelligent but little is known about them.
Like the octopus effect, the parastatals are supposed to be working together but what you get is a disconnect of sorts and maybe that’s what brought about the suggestion of a merger amongst some of the ministries by the Oronsaye Committee. Most affected amongst these parastatals are Nihotours, NTN, CBAAC, NGA and NICO. While some are accused of not performing functions which they were formed for, others are performing overlapping functions.
Currently, the ministry supervises no fewer than 10 parastatals namely National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN); National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism Services (NIHOTOURS); Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC); National Gallery of Art (NGA) and the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO); Nigerian Tourism Development Commission (NTDC); the National Orientation Agency (NOA); National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC); National Commission for Museum and Monuments (NCMM) and the National Theatre complex.
The development stride of Nigeria in the tourism sector since independence is replete with stories of rising and falling in decades interval which has not really brought the country any appreciable benefit. One would have expected that a country which has started tasking the world on tourism issues since 1992 , just two years after independence should by now be a front runner in the comity of tourism nations. But regrettably this is not.
NTDC is the pivot of tourism in Nigeria and seems to be the most visible out of all the parastatals, because of its pro-media helmsman. NTDC has in no small measure exposed to the world our culture, natural and artificial tourism endowments through well packaged products, promotional tours and aggressive marketing at international fairs and shows. Chief Olusegun Runsewe, the present DG has been able to take tourism into the door post of Nigerians through his proactive and pragmatic sensitisation of tourism issues, products and appreciation of local programmes.
He has used tourism to shore up Nigeria’s image and ensured that Nigeria is recognised and accorded its respect at the comity of tourism countries.
Sorry state of tourist sites and monuments
The sorry state of some of these tourist sites and monuments means we’re only paying lip service to our tourism drive. Monuments such as the War Museum, Yankari Game Reseve, Mungo Park House, a popular colonial relic of pre-fabricated wooden storey building code named ‘Mungo Park House’ which now serves as the National Museum, Asaba is in a state of deterioration. So no matter how much marketing and promotion NTDC embarks upon, how can we expect both internal and external tourists to flock in.
Tourism development and enhancing is not done haphazardly particularly by a country that pride itself of looking for multi – economic revenue sources .
Nigerian leaders should be ready to first of all enact relevant legislations and acts to guide the sector and also go the whole hog by injecting heavy fund into the enhancement and development of designated tourism sites and provide the necessary infrastructure as done by countries like Malaysia and Indonesia which despite of having oil made more money through tourism .
Also, there must be deliberate attempt at luring Nigerians to embrace the culture of tourism and leisure through heavy sensitisation of the people on the importance of tourism and leisure and also through proper legislation by attaching a value to visiting a tourism site in Nigeria when on leave .
Lastly, the tourism sector must be run by competent and fit persons with proven track second and those who have passion and the patriotic zeal for the sector.