By Frank Meke
To the Nigerian tourism community, President Muhammadu Buhari certainly did not factor Culture and Tourism in his game plan to revive the Nigerian economy. The octane voices of aggressive lobbyists for the new economy under the Buhari government, had no time and space to lubricate the biggest driver new jobs and rural development and it caused some of us the palpitations of the heart.
And with the merger of Culture, Information and National Orientation as a ministry, industry stakeholders, particularly the very vocal travel press, folded up in despair.
We had invested prayers and faith in Buhari, after the Jonathan boys, even though with a focal tourism-driven ministry and the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), was not impressive.
Edem Duke as Minister of Tourism and Sally Mbanefo as Director-General of NTDC didn’t live up to the expectations of the industry players. Therefore, we have nothing to convince President Buhari and his economic team that we in Culture and Tourism have a story to tell.
It was a divided house, with stakeholders bitterly disappointed with the missed opportunities and lack of focus.
This development and the merger of Information with Culture, did foreclose any springboard for the industry, so we thought. I recalled begging the president in my several interventions through my column to give the industry a chance and suggesting names that can do the job.
It appeared President Buhari shut his ears from our plea and concentrated on revamping Agriculture and certain infrastructure decay and to which needed careful interpretation as drivers of tourism.
Something, however, told me not to lose hope even though the frustrations of the industry been left out of the major pillars of Buhari administration, was uncontrollable and unbelievable.
I must confess to had taken this frustrations on weekly x-ray of the roles of officials in the ministry and NTDC who failed us to no end.
It was as if President Buhari was reading my mind as he graciously appointed Otunba Segun Runsewe as Director General National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC).
A week before President Buhari intervention, we had through the very visible and powerful presence of National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), under the leadership of Bankole Bernard, recognised Otunba Segun Runsewe as one of the industry’s eminent persons.
Either by Providence or prophecy, we also zeroed on Folarin Coker, then a former Commissioner of Tourism in Lagos, a clear dark horse in the business and to which Bankole and I believed he does not deserve the rod of unfavourable political decision that beclouded his rising. His story for another day.
NANTA intervention which was not driven by any pecuniary and mundane glorifications, was all that we needed to prove to President Buhari administration that we have the will and power to change the narrative.
Indeed, Otunba Segun Runsewe appointment has proved beyond measure that president Buhari has listening ears. It is therefore not surprising and effectual that Nigerian Culture today is at the forefront of telling Buhari’s five years developmental story.
From rural empowerment, homegrown skills acquisition and feverish revival of the lost glory of Cultural tourism endowment, Segun Runsewe as Buhari’s Culture driver has repositioned our people and our pride in the very best of the intrinsic values inherent of what is innately ours.
That Nigerians are eating and dressing “Nigeria” is because the President made the right choice to correct the very depressing Cultural pictures of the past. To the President’s credit under our ongoing Cultural transformation, social and Cultural deviant characters were shown the red card.
To signpost the arrival of the Cultural economy, the national festival of arts and culture was given a new vista, creatively taken out of pedestrian suasion and lifted beyond local appreciation and uniting Nigerians more than ever before.
While some elements are busy tagging this administration as tribal tiger, NCAC under Runsewe was busy uniting Nigerians, interpreting President Buhari’s message to Nigerians to see our diversity in Culture as a blessing and driver of national development.
Do we forget the new Culture market of Africa, made-in-Nigeria, our own International Arts and Crafts festival (INAC)? From Europe, Asia, America and all over Africa, they came to the Abuja in the past three years to see and hear about Buhari Cultural story.
Bigger and better every year, the culture entrepreneurs and nations attended the Nigerian Culture world market and told the story in Oman, India, Bangaladesh, Denmark, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Namibia, Ghana, Togo, China, Russia and to a world looking for Culture as root of man’s peaceful resolution to remain united.
And to the various sectors of the economy, the culture bank of Nigeria has never been so highlighted and to which President Buhari’s messages to the people find expressive and impressive understanding.
And even with COVID-19, it was the systematic and analytical skills of Runsewe to turn the tide against the national fear and anxiety of the pandemic to the restoration of the confidence of the industry and Nigerians at large, domesticating the scarce protocol expectations on facemasks and hand sanitisers which became strings of additional financial and job openings to many unemployed Nigerians.
As we look forward to the next three years of exciting end of President Buhari administration, we look up to God to help Runsewe finish well in the service of the nation and people. The Buhari Cultural story is going to be bigger and better.
–––Meke, writes from Lagos