Nigeria has what it takes to attract visitors if we do things right, argues Joshua J. Omojuwa

South Korea is an economic miracle. It is a phenomenon and a great example of what is possible when a country sets out to change its course. Its success reflects beyond the economy as Korea’s global cultural influence has proven telling elsewhere, especially through music and movies. K-drama, like it or not, is the favourite of someone you know. It is almost impossible to look at that country and imagine that as recent as 1987, they were in a military dictatorship. Beyond South Korea, examples abound of countries like Malaysia and Singapore that maintained the same leaders for decades, yet managed to prosper the average citizen.

These countries managed to thrive on account of many factors. Some, correlational, others you’d have to agree had causative effects, especially as they apply through all of them. Whether modern economic miracles or established ones, having adopted a market system, a country’s best bet for prosperity is stable money amidst low taxes. This is called The Magic Formula. It of course assumes a wide tax net, something Nigeria cannot boast of now. As the tax administration goes through reforms, one thing that needs to be kept under control is the state of the naira.

The naira’s yo-yo over the last year or so, irrespective of whether it trades low or high, is a bad signal for business. If your money is not stable, your market cannot be attractive. A weak currency that is stable will attract investors before a stronger one that only guarantees instability. Around certain low percentage points, one should be able to project the value of a currency over a short period of time, if not over the long term.  We need to stem the naira’s dance; a currency doesn’t look well to anyone when it stays dancing, to and fro, up, and down. Enough of the uncertainty. This is urgent, because while the effects are insidious, they compound into unwholesome outcomes over time.

Dancing has looked great elsewhere. If you haven’t been under a rock during the week, you’d have seen visuals from the Ojude Oba Festival in Ijebu Ode. It signaled the pride and prosperity of the Ijebu people and the Yoruba generally. In a certain sense, it also reflected one of many opportunities for Nigeria to attract the attention of the rest of the world. It got me reflecting on what it’d take for a foreigner to experience Ojude Oba and other such festivals.

I had an experience at the airport recently that the average foreigner would have found shocking, if not nauseating.

After going through the first scanner, I handed an NDLEA officer my international passport at a point several of these officers from different agencies are lined up, looking to manually run through the same luggage that just got scanned. The officer then asked me for my ID card. I asked her, what other personal identification document can be more important than the passport I just handed you? She was not pleased with the question, so she did the next thing that could express her powers; took her time to do a thorough hand search of my luggage. You’d wonder if someone who was carrying an illegal item would dare trigger such a row.

This incident aside, the idea of having several agencies line up after the first and the second scanner to interview travelers is uniquely Nigerian. Ours is the only country I know where this happens. Imagine entering a country for the first time and after collecting your luggage, about seven people are lined up in different uniforms ordering you to come over. What probably started as a random search — pick someone out for certain reasons — has become the protocol. Everyone goes through it. It costs zero naira to make some change. But some societies get so used to their anomalies, they can’t see a different way to live.

When our tourist survives the airport experience, there is then the threat of insecurity. We transited from a country under attack from terrorists to one, in the most unfortunate way, bedeviled by bandits and kidnappers. Over the last week or so, there have been high level incidents on the Lagos lagoon and at a night club in Abuja. One such news report is enough to discourage would be tourists, when they become the norm, you’d need a lot more than an impressive and elegant festival to attract foreigners.

The Nigerian economy needs wins, and it needs them from everywhere and urgently too. Efforts must be made to address these challenges. However, some of them only require a commitment to turn things around. How much do you need to have passengers engage only immigration officers at the airport, to involve other agencies like the DSS, Customs and NDLEA when the situation calls for it? Why should every passenger have to interact with all these agencies and more each time they travel? Why do we assume that just because we are used to being frustrated, our visitors will understand the anomaly? It’s madness to those who aren’t used to it.

CNN correspondent, Larry Madowo, wrote about having to pay $170 for biometrics on each of his visits to Nigeria over a three-week period. As a Nigerian, you probably have tales of the difficulty of applying for some visas. However, I assure you, when you hear what others go through to secure our visa, you’d be glad applying for a Nigerian visa isn’t something you have to go through. I have heard tales that suggest our country is desperate to keep visitors away. Why?

Next year, there will be more Nigerians who aren’t of Yoruba or Ijebu origin going to witness the Ojude Oba festival. Its contribution to the GDP will increase. So it was with Afrobeats. First Nigerians, then the rest of the world, thanks to streaming. Unlike music, festivals need people to physically come. We can’t escape the responsibility of building the infrastructure and systems that’d make sure of that. Do we even see this as an opportunity for commerce?

 Omojuwa is chief strategist, Alpha Reach/BGX Publishing

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