From the road that leads from Edo to Delta, at Udumuje Ugboko in particular, is an incredible view in geography and architecture. Situated at about 1000 feet above sea level, rich in wildlife with traditional settings infused with modernity, you only approach the entrance through a 9-hole golf course. Listed as Mount Delta by the state tourism board among 21 accredited sites, it is aptly described as a haven of peace. With mild climate, during both harmattan and rainy seasons, the 100-feet tower and the tropical jungle, the tunnel, zoo that boasts of crocodiles, ostriches, horses, sea eagles, porcupines, monkeys, rabbits and other animals and the Olympic-size swimming pool all make it a place to visit. The mansion has over 20 rooms fit for kings with a combination of Arabian and Western designs. Passionate about tourism and deep in culture, the man behind all this comes from the Nwoko family that has produced the protean designer, architect and master builder, Prof. Demas Nwoko. Ned Munir Nwoko is embarking on a cultural revolution. No wonder the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, NTDC, appointed him Chairman of Project Tourism, a committee saddled with the task of revolutionising the sector. He takes Stanley Nkwazema down the rich cultural heritage and the quest to redirect the minds of government on tourism
Nwoko says his life generally has been influenced by traditions, coming from his background as a member of a royal family. According to him, while growing up all you saw around you were traditional activities.
“I have always been fascinated with by the history of arts and over time, I have come to realise that individually and collectively, we can help to sustain and promote our culture. More important, I have also come to appreciate the fact that in most countries of the world, if not in all, people do appreciate the arts and cultures of others. As a matter of fact, there is no country in the world today even in Nigeria, where tourism is not principally linked to arts and culture of a people. It has become the hub and most important source of earning for most countries. From Britain to France, Thailand, Brazil and the US tourism has suddenly become the number one source of revenue.” Nwoko explains.
To Nwoko, it has reached a point when Nigeria needs to harness all that she has.
“We are blessed with so many resources. I believe that I can in my own little way help to spearhead this inevitable revolution. It will happen. It has happened in other countries. We have all that it takes to make it a reality. We just need to organise ourselves and sustain the tempo when it eventually becomes a reality.”
Spearheading Project Tourism…
Nwoko says he wants to make success of his assignment of the chairmanship of Project Tourism. He says the journey has just begun and it is going to be a very long journey and not a one stop affair or event.
“I foresee a lot of difficulties ahead of us but I want to see how we can overcome them and make a success out of it. To start with, we need support like the platform we have gotten from the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, NTDC. With the partnership, the private sector will be fully involved. There will be a lot of awareness which needs to be created. All we can do now is to have the ideas and drive it to that point where every Nigeria will appreciate what we are doing.”
He added, “What we intend doing for the global road show is to highlight the tourism assets of the country where manufacturers, businessmen hoteliers, airlines, transporters and entrepreneurs will showcase their tourism related products. We will elicit the support of notable Nollywood stars and sports’ celebrities from Nigeria and agencies of government will be offered the opportunity to showcase their products. It will be rotated among states in Nigeria, countries in Europe, the Americas and Asia.”
“The centre will build on already established/existing monuments, arts and sites as one culture village in every state across the country. The village or city to be selected for the project must currently have natural and acknowledged monuments and historical sites. It must also be safe and accessible to encourage growth using cultural contents.”
The Passion and the Urge…
“We need the media to publicise what we are doing. We need to develop domestic tourism first. We need Nigerians to know what we have and what they have and be able to appreciate it. For instance, in my place, how many people are aware of its existence? So we need to help government and government also needs to help the private sector in a symbiotic relationship. It has to work. There must be well thought out government policy or policies that could drive these projects. For example, in every state, we expect the Ministry of Education to look at the possibility of including tourism in theory curriculum and then ensuring that apart from the theoretical aspect of it, there are practical visits and demonstration of what tourism is all about. This will entail schools visiting tourism sites, location. There must be education of how Nigerians should be able to appreciate what we have. We can begin to do this from the primary schools; inculcating it into our kids the idea that it is not only in France that they have to go and see Eiffel tower, London Bridge in London, Mausoleum in Italy or Disney World in Florida or the Taj Mahal in India or the Pyramids in Egypt. Through the development of curriculum of what we desire, school kids will travel from place to place within and outside the states. The schools will have to provide vehicles and make adequate security arrangements for such visits.”
‘We Have to Pay for Tourism’
Nwoko says people come here every day and Nigerians still do not understand that they have to pay for such things.
“We are still experimenting, encouraging people and trying to create the awareness. Sometimes we even have to give people money to come here, but we cannot do that forever. By the time the government makes it a policy that school kids must go to particular sites as part their curriculum and pay for the upkeep of those places and help to develop other locations, or encourage private sectors to develop their own, you will see things happen. It is not every time they go to locations that they must go back same time. The transporters must be involved, hotels, cooks and all of that. It is a dynamic process that once it starts, it will keep going on.”
It Starts from the Family
My children, when they come to Nigeria, do not want to be in Abuja or in Lagos because they love our tradition, culture and what they see here. They spend more time in the village when they come from the UK. Even my children who are in Abuja prefer to be in Udumuje Ugboko than the Federal Capital Territory. We have a responsibility as adults to let and encourage our children to appreciate our culture and traditions.”
Who is Prince Ned Munir Nwoko?
“I am a prince of Udumuje in Delta State. I am a lawyer, businessman and was a member of the House of Representatives for four years. Honestly, my being abroad in no way affected my appreciation of our rich culture and tradition; it will also not negatively affect my children. I think that it has enhanced my appreciation of our deep cultural heritage. It has also increased my appreciation of my culture because I have seen how they have promoted and preserved theirs.”
Only Nigerians Shop during Holidays
“Over the years, I have seen how their high sense of adventure to go to places like Peru, Brazil, Thailand, India etc. In the United Kingdom, for instance every year, peoples’ lives revolve around holidays. They do not go on holidays to shop like we do. They go with their slippers and shorts. They fly economy class booked well ahead that sometimes you begin to wonder if the seats were over-discounted. They plan ahead. Nobody or very few fly business class. They want to discover places; they have a very high sense of adventure and they want to climb mountains, valleys, diving, abseiling and go into caves and discover monuments. They have other things but they want something different. Every year they go to such places, they spend foreign currencies and that is what makes those countries thick.