There have been many campaigns to promote Nigeria as a tourist destination. The last campaign was titled ‘Fascinating Nigeria’ under the last Minister of Culture and Tourism – Edem Duke. The campaign resulted in a website, a well edited magazine, a campaign video and even a tourism ambassador with wide appeal. The idea was sound, the execution was seamless and the campaign was well communicated. Yet, what were the results? The outcomes of the campaign and even ones before it such as the late Dora Akinyuli’s ‘Good People, Great Nation’ have always been mysterious. But to hazard a guess, the outcomes have not been positive. In Africa, Nigeria is not in the top 10 or even top 50 destinations . We frequently read about Mauritius, Seychelles, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and more. Even within West Africa; Senegal, Ghana and Gambia are more popular for recreational tourism.
In the years prior to our current economic difficulties, Lagos has been a hotspot for business tourism. In the past three years, Nigeria’s economy attracted multinationals, foreign investment and expatriates. However business tourism is entirely different to recreational tourism. These expatriates come for work and financial incentives.
The insurgence of Boko Haram has not helped matters in trying to encourage tourism but even before Boko Haram tourism has not been Nigeria’s strength. This is due to many reasons, a lack of information, where do you go? How to get there? And the infrastructure – if you get there what are the attractions? What are you going to do? Where are you going to stay?
Attracting tourism is a challenge yet internally there is not a lot of local tourism. We keep to our locales unless work requires us to travel. We may travel locally for the occasional out of town wedding or funeral but apart from that we are essentially stationary. Of course there is an exception to this rule, and she is known as Chiamaka Obuekwe also known as the ‘Social Prefect’. This young lady has taken it upon herself to rediscover Nigeria and West Africa. She creates very affordable tourist packages that stem from one to four days in different parts of Nigeria and most recently Ghana.
She shares her experiences in detail on her blog and instagram page, with a great deal of honesty, optimism and youthful exuberance. You are unlikely to find lies on the Social Prefect blog, last year she went on a ‘three states in three days’ trip in the South West. In a particular state, she struggled to find good food. She makes no claim that Nigeria in it’s entirety is an exotic tourist haven but in certain corners of this land, there is beauty, culture and peace. The Social Prefect introduces you to places that most people are unaware of and she rediscovers well-known locations. In this economic crunch she is providing a much needed service. The economy is forcing us to embrace Made In Nigeria products, why not embark on a ‘Travel in Nigeria’ journey as well?
Where did the idea for ‘Social Prefect’ come from?
Social Prefect was born out of my passion for adventure and travelling and also my desire to connect with people and bring them together. I saw a need to tell beautiful stories about tourism in Nigeria and show people beautiful places. I noticed that there was a lack of good travel writers who are telling good stories about Nigeria. I got tired of everyone showcasing other countries and travelling to other countries and yet very few people were talking about the beautiful places in Nigeria.
On a trip to an African country, I saw so many foreigners everywhere, from the airport to the tourist attractions and the restaurants. To be honest, Nigeria has better and more beautiful tourist attractions than that country. So I was wondering why they would not come to Nigeria instead? Even the foreigners in Nigeria are not aware of the tourist attractions. I saw a need to educate people (both local and foreign) about the sites, attractions and beautiful places in Nigeria.
Another reason why I started, especially the tour guide services and tour organisation part was because I noticed that people did not know how to go about organising it themselves and some did not even have anyone to go with, therefore I decided to be that guide for them.
How did you transition from employee to entrepreneur?
Well basically nine to five was no longer working for me. With all the travelling and tour guide opportunities opening up and also having to plan for my group tours and excursions. There was no way I could serve two masters at the same time; one would definitely suffer and I did not want mine to suffer because I knew it had a lot potential which I was not willing to let go. Being an entrepreneur is not particularly easy, but I’m learning and doors are opening for partnerships and collaborations, so that’s a good thing.
You were selected by the Bauchi government for a tourist trip to the area what was the experience like?
My trip to Bauchi was awesome. That’s if that adjective even describes it well. It was a trip sponsored by the Governor as an effort to get people to Explore Bauchi. There was an online contest and I was one of the winners; being a travel blogger was the edge I had in winning. While in Bauchi, I experienced a different kind of beauty that I was not used to in the South. There were so many raw, unspoiled and picturesque wonders of nature. At Sumu Wildlife Park and Yankari games reserve, we had the opportunity to see free and unhindered animals of different species. We also visited a town called Dass, which is surrounded, by hills, rocks and stones; it was beautiful. The hospitality we experienced was amazing, I actually could not believe it was the same North I had been hearing stories of violence, Sharia law and extremism. It just made me understand more what Chimamanda Adichie called the ‘danger of a single story’. Having a negative single story of the North can actually stop one from experiencing the true beauty that is there.
Is the North a possible tourist destination, or is it too early?
The North is a tourist destination. On my way to Bauchi I passed through Kano and Jigawa and on my way back to Lagos I passed through Jos. They were all very beautiful states. Why would I not want to visit these places? There are so many places to see in the North, but only a few are being talked about. I saw a lot of people at Yankari games reserve. That is the most popular destination in Bauchi, but that is not the only destination. The other sites need equal marketing like Yankari. If it is a question of safety, nowhere in the world is really safe. It is just how the media portrays it. If we are talking about terrorism, the U.S and U.K have been affected. So has Belgium, France, Turkey and Kenya but are people still going to these places. So why not visit Northern Nigeria too? To be honest, the best thing is to avoid the states that have been affected especially recently. For example, if one hears that there has been an attack in Borno, it is not so safe for one to visit Borno that same week or even month. But not all states in the North are affected by Boko Haram. Some states have actually never been attacked, while some others have only been attacked once. The North is so beautiful and there is a lot of unspoiled beauty natural wonders there. Why leave that to waste? I know not everyone is as adventurous as I am, but really most states in the North are secure and we need to give it a try.
What needs to improve to encourage local travel?
The government needs to improve on transportation systems and road networks. I don’t think I need to talk about this so much. There is a deficiency here and that needs to be worked on to encourage people to travel more within Nigeria. Airlines need to diversify their flight routes. The government also needs to improve on their communication and marketing of Nigeria. They can partner with travel bloggers and tour guides like us, also influencers, writers, photographers and other creatives to tell great stories about Nigeria. Communication is now easier these days because of social media and technology. State Governments need to take a cue from states like Bauchi, Akwa-Ibom and Cross River. Those states are currently making efforts to improve Tourism. Lagos also launched an app and campaign called ‘One Lagos’ to promote tourism, so they can also learn from that. We all need to work together basically.
Also concerning the tour sites themselves. There is this lack of maintenance culture and that needs to change. The staff should be made to do their jobs well, clean and take care of the sites properly to make it attractive to visitors. They also need to train their staff to speak properly and be confident in order to attend and communicate to all types of visitors, locals and foreigners alike.
What is the future for Social Prefect?
We plan on launching school excursions and educational tours for all levels of students from primary to tertiary. They say catch them young and there is a lot for these children to learn about Nigeria from touring. We also plan to launch tailored and affordable corporate retreats for companies. We are working on various partnerships and collaborations to make this possible. We also plan on creating an online booking platform, which would still be linked to the blog, where people can book for custom and tailored tours within Nigeria and Africa, but Nigeria mostly. Tour guides will be trained to guide people and to ensure safety. We want to be the first Tour guide services and tour organisation company that comes to mind when they want to tour Nigeria and Africa and we are very confident that this will happen. We are also open to lots of opportunities and collaborations, so the sky is really the beginning point for Social Prefect.